Jim Gifford 11-Jul-93 12:32pm Debate analysis A user in my local net recently posted a Pat

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Jim Gifford 11-Jul-93 12:32pm Debate analysis A user in my local net recently posted a Pat Robertson "action letter," making the usual list of nonsense claims about the Evil Leftist Conspiracy and its efforts against Moral Christian America. At the center of the arguments is the usual tired claim that the US's problems stem from the fact that it was founded as a "Christian" nation and has fallen from that "grace." An initial flame war (started by the very angry atheist moderator of the local chat conference, yers truly) has evolved into a debate on the subject. After a few rounds of somewhat silly point- counterpoint, I posted a lengthy message detailing my position. This message follows. I would appreciate any analysis, assistance or criticism. Thanks. * Original Area: OUTSIDE * Original To : Steve Batson (1:203/289) * Original Subj: Debate: Thread 1a (Threads you originate get letters; those I start get numbers. See?) I think that too many of the arguments that have been put forth by both you and others are shooting wide of the mark. Rather than tediously counter each point, as I've done in my replies to your posts, I'll open my argument with a summary of what I believe to be a reasonably accurate overview of the issue. Feel free to spin each and any of these points off into a thread of its own: 1) The US was founded by persons of Christian heritage and teaching, but not as an explicity "Christian" nation. The text of the Constitution makes this abundantly clear. With the sole exception of the dating line containing the (rhetorical) phrase "in the year of our Lord," there is no mention whatsoever of a deity, or of religious preferences or beliefs. The sole mention of this topic anywhere in the complete Constitution is in the first Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." ...which is an energetic rejection of any notion of Christianity as the state religion. The Constitution is the base legal document of the United States. It was hammered out in compromise after compromise over four grueling summer months. All law, all governmental principles in this country ultimately rests on this document, and no other. *And it contains not one mention of Christianity.* Had the founding fathers intended to form a Christian nation, they could have at the very least inserted one or more of the following phrases into the preamble, at which point the argument I am making would be absolutely invalid: "We the People of the United States[, guided by God], in order to form a more perfect union[ under God] establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty[ and our Lord] to ourselves and our Posterity, do[ by the grace of God] ordain and establish [ in the name of our Lord] this Constitution for the [ Christian nation of the] United States of America." I don't need to point out again that no such phrases appear anywhere in the Constitution or its amendments. That, to me, is conclusive evidence that the 55 delegates to the Convention and the 39 who finally signed the document absolutely did not intend the US to be founded as an explicitly "Christian" nation, no matter what their personal beliefs. I feel that any attempt to second-guess the clear nature of the Constitution by applying Christian or Christian-deist quotes from the founders, or other extraneous arguments such as state-founded churches (all of which were spun off or disbanded), is pure malarkey on the part of those who would benefit from promoting the notion that the US was founded as a devout Christian nation whose problems stem solely from a "fall" from that "grace." 2) The beliefs of men change over their lives. That's true for you, for me, for Thomas Jefferson, for Franklin, for Adams, for everyone. Almost no one holds the exact same set of beliefs at 40 that they do at 20, or at 60. Thus, quoting TJ at 25, even on a similar subject, is not completely valid when his writings of the Constitutional era demonstrate a completely different set of beliefs. 3) Christianity has changed, evolved and splintered incalcuably over its 2000-year history. This includes Christian-derived religious belief subsets such as deism and agnosticism. It is not possible to determine the beliefs of a particular historical figure without understanding the status of his stated beliefs in context of his era and milieu. Analyzing a quote from Franklin in 20th-century deist or fundamentalist terms is a null argument. The meaning has shifted so radically that validly analyzing historical phrases and quotes in a different era's context is not possible. This is something that all too many historians, both amateur and professional, misunderstand. 4) [in light of #s 2 and 3] The era of the founding fathers (approximately 1725-1800) was an era of great religious turmoil (intellectual turmoil, rather than wars, for a change). The doctrines of deism, atheism and freethinking were in their infancy (modern infancy). It is not surprising that men who were raised in a Christian milieu, with even secular studies centered on scripture and a general atmosphere of Christianity being "the only way" (as opposed to Judaism or Islam), expressed their deist and freethinker beliefs in a manner tinged with Christian language, symbology and thinking. It is not surprising that, as of some fixed date, each did not drop Christianity like a hot potato and began espousing a pure atheist or non-Christian deist theology. What is quite clear is that the beliefs of many of these men evolved from Christian beginnings (I do not know of any one that was not at least nominally raised as a Christian, save the two Jewish signers) to freethinking Christian, to Christian deist, to deist, to agnosticism, to atheism. Not all expressed all these steps in their writings, and not all made it past the freethinking stage, but a surprising number were expressing very non-Christian deist thinking in their later lives. (Franklin, for example-- examine his quotes on religion from early middle age through his death. The progression is clear. The progression is even more striking for Adams and TJ.) 5) Most of the signers were business men and those in positions of public trust. It is not safe, in any era, to express radical beliefs if you wish to have the business of the community at large. When you compare the public writings of many of these men with their private letters, a subtle-to-sharp dichotomy often appears. In public, they espouse vague Christian principles where needed "to ensure the domestic tranquillity" , but their private letters are strongly arguing a non-Christian deist and even atheist doctrine. I'll close my argument with a public quote from the greatest of the founding fathers, a man who was quietly devout his entire life, the President of the Constitutional Convention, and perhaps one of the best and greatest men in Western history; the opening line from one of the nation's earliest documents of state, a treaty with Tripoli: "As the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion..." --George Washington, 1796


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