Thursday, May 27, 2010
The Religion of Politics
Never discuss politics or religion if you want a civil discussion. That is probably good advice. Never the less, after reading and watching Glenn Beck’s animated, and perhaps chalk dust induced ramblings on the founding fathers I felt I had to had to put forth an opinion. It seems to me, that although most of the founding fathers would have counted themselves as Christians, there were wildly varying degrees to which their faith, or even lack of faith affected their actions in the founding ot the United States. I focused on the first five presidents, and on Thomas Paine. After reading The Age of Reason by Paine, I was particularly struck on how this book, if written today by a politician or political advisor would have him branded a heretic, and probably precluded him from any political influence, except perhaps in the same vein as Reverend Wright, i.e. negative. He actually advocated the tolerance of all religious beliefs, and even though he was a Christian, he had an equal disdain for organized religion, in particular the Catholic Church.
Like self described “rodeo clown” Beck, I too think many of the founding fathers would have been appalled at state of politics in the country they fought to give birth to, The fact that a candidate’s religion, or suspicion thereof was used by many as a reason to suggesting precluding him from office would have been viewed with disgust by the likes of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison. The abuses of the constitution under Presidents GW Bush and Barack Obama, the pandering to the Christians (Moral Majority) by Reagan, and all the other mixing of politics and religion over the past 50 years would have disappointed many of the folks who fought and sacrificed to create a nation that had a strong and meaningful constitution and did not just give lip service to the separation of church and state.
The following quotes, I think may surprise some people. I’ve done my best to make sure they are not taken out of context, and I have given the sources from where they were derived.
All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.
-- Thomas Paine, (1737-1809), The Age of Reason, pt. 1, "The Author's Profession of Faith" (1794),
He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression.
-- Thomas Paine, Dissertations on First Principles of Government (July 7, 1795)
Ecclesiastical establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption, all of which facilitate the execution of mischievous projects.
-- James Madison, letter to Bradford, January 1774
We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition ... In this enlightened Age and in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man's religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining and holding the highest Offices that are known in the United States.
-- George Washington, letter to the members of the New Church in Baltimore, January 27, 1793
As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?
-- John Adams, letter to FA Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816
The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature.... [In] the formation of the American governments ... it will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of heaven.... These governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.
-- John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1788,
As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen [Muslims] ... it is declared ... that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever product an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries....
"The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation."
-- Treaty of Tripoli (1797
I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved -- the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!
-- John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson,
Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.
-- Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814