Too often bad news swirls into one’s consciousness as abruptly as thousands of sparrows descending on an open field. Over the last week several newsworthy events occurred that demanded my attention, and at first it was difficult to decide which subject to address.
Should I dwell on Michael Chertoff, head of Homeland Security, who announced the need for national identification cards to combat illegal immigration and terrorism? The cards would be the capstone of a “security” system that is largely a sham and an outrageous and costly public relations ploy that dishonestly “assures” traveling Americans that their government is on the alert for terrorists. Giddy with the power of punishment he and his agency have over ordinary American citizens, who are presumed guilty until proven innocent by a privacy-violating frisk at airport checkpoints, he warned in the staccato tones of a drill sergeant at a news conference that residents of states that do not “cooperate” in the federal program would no longer be able to use their driver’s licenses at airports as valid ID.
Why is Chertoff insisting now on creating a federal database to keep track of everyone? It is probably because he does not expect to be head of Homeland Security much longer, and wants to stick it to the country before a new president dismisses him.
Should I focus on Hillary Clinton, whose “teary moment” in New Hampshire last week was transparently calculated and orchestrated to win sympathy votes to jump-start her sputtering campaign for the White House, and who has just proposed a $70 billion federal “stimulus” package to rescue the housing market? Her political ambitions discount the fact that Federal “stimulus” packages of any nature are about as life saving for the economy as an injection of diluted arsenic is for a stroke victim. This is aside from her obsession with imprisoning everyone in a national health care plan, which would cost many more billions, and which maybe, just maybe, might be as efficient and efficacious as that of Great Britain, Canada, and of other semi-socialist countries.
Daniel Pipes, in his January 10 Jerusalem Post review of a new book that corrects the standard political spectrum and puts fascism where it actually belongs, as a necessary and inevitable partner or socialism, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning, by Jonah Goldberg, cites the author’s chronology of that secret history. It begins with Woodrow Wilson’s Progressivism policies (which gave us the Federal Reserve system and the income tax) and ends with Clinton hoping “to insert the state deep into family life,” which Pipes correctly interprets as an essential step of totalitarianism. State involvement in family or personal life was standard policy in Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, Imperialist Japan, and Soviet Russia. It is still so in Communist China and all Muslim countries.
Pipes writes of Goldberg’s book:
“To sum up a near-century of history, if the American political system traditionally encouraged the pursuit of happiness, ‘more and more of us want to stop chasing it and have it delivered.’” True enough.
Or do I then fault Pipes for his interpretation of “conservatism”? He writes in the same review that in contrast to fascism, “conservatism calls for limited government, individualism, democratic debate, and capitalism. Its appeal is liberty and leaving citizens alone.” Perhaps that characterization of conservatism might have been accurate over a century ago. The “conservatism” practiced by Republicans in Congress, however, has been, ever since Wilson’s time, more or less in partnership with progressivism’s social legislation, which has never been seriously challenged either in Congress or by the Supreme Court.
Looking around at our culture, where can one find that “limited government,” or the “liberty,” or the government “leaving citizens alone”? Republican conservatives are as much to blame for the creeping totalitarian socialism in our lives as are the Democrats. They have consistently refused to discard the altruist element in their political philosophy, and consequently can only second any proposals to fit the nation into the straightjacket of statism. One must ask: What is it that “conservatives” wish to “conserve,” if not the status quo, which, ever since at least Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, has been anything but?
And while Pipes is perceptive enough to appreciate Goldberg’s thesis, his perspicuity does not extend to distinguishing between “democracy,” which is mob rule (debates or not), and the principles of individual rights, which our now much-emasculated republican form of government was supposed to protect against the populist assaults of democracy without any debate on the matter.
(But then, Pipes, a leading authority on the Islamic jihad against the West, unfortunately believes that our salvation lies in “moderate” or “reformed” Islam, which is much like believing that Andy Hardy could single-handedly repel a Nazi Tiger tank offensive during the Battle of the Bulge.)
I swore to myself that I had finished discussing God and religion, but something perilous has come to my attention: a subtle but sleazy attempt to make Christianity the official state religion of this country.
One of the most enduring but pernicious myths about the United States is that it was founded as a specifically and exclusively Christian nation. The fallacy is not the monopoly of evangelicals, or of politicians such as Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney, or Barack Obama. It is an unquestioned and undigested fallacy that is simply passed on to the average American without any thought, qualification or insight, much as was the assertion of divine right of kings to rule in Europe, most of whom presumed to act as “God’s stewards” (now it is unelected European Union bureaucrats).
Few politicians and establishment pundits challenge the fallacy, or dare to. It ignores the fact that when America declared its independence from Britain, it was solely on the grounds of political freedom, whose philosophical, intellectual roots were fundamentally secular in nature. That political freedom was established in the real world, and had nothing to do with God.
If God was mentioned at all in the course of the country’s founding, it was a God that the founders understood did not interfere in human affairs and played no part in their political endeavors. Many of the founders were tactfully agnostic or were discreet atheists. The concept of God and the morality of altruism, which is the basis of Christian faith, to the most intellectually active of them, such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, were not compelling issues, neither to refute nor to impose as dogma on the American people. Religion was a private matter.
House of Representatives Resolution 888, sponsored by Virginia conservative Republican J. Randy Forbes (Chesapeake) is in effect an attempt to repudiate the Enlightenment and the secular political principles championed by the Founders and incorporated into the country’s original political documents. It is an endorsement of medieval morality and intends a de facto establishment of one of the things that the Founders feared and fought a war to prevent from coming about: a state church or state religion.
The resolution, cosponsored by thirty-one other representatives, including two others from Virginia, was referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on December 18, 2007. Its preamble reads:
“Affirming the rich spiritual and religious history of our Nation’s founding and subsequent history and expressing support for designation of the first week in May as “American Religious History Week” for the appreciation of and education on America’s history of religious faith.”
One would need to be a fulltime scholar with a hefty advance from a publisher or a foundation grant to take the time to answer each historical “whereas” in the resolution. Each of the seventy-four conjunctions requires setting a context, which the resolution glibly neglects to do.
The conjunctions comprise a tossed salad of citations of historical events, such as inaugural ceremonies, of engravings or images on public buildings, or of quotations from some of the Founders, past presidents, and Supreme Court opinions about God and the Christian faith, God’s presence in mottos and coinage, and so on, which are all somehow supposed to add up to: a Christian nation!
A few of the more ludicrous ones should be mentioned here. Number sixty-six points to “the top of the walls in the House Chamber,” on which “appear images of 23 great lawgivers…but Moses (the lawgiver, who – according to the Bible – originally received the law from God,) is the only lawgiver honored with a full face view, looking down on the proceedings of the House.” Doubtless looking down with approval, as that Chamber betrays, sells out, and whittles away American freedoms.
Number seventy-two states that “in the Library of Congress, The Giant Bible of Mainz, and The Gutenberg Bible are on prominent permanent display and etched on the walls are Bible verses….” Well, I have a Bible in my reference library, together with some prayer books. The presence of these in my home do not make me a Christian, anymore than my owning a copy of Das Kapital or Mein Kampf makes me a communist or a Nazi.
Number three claims that “political scientists have documented that the most frequently-cited source in the political period known as The Founding Era was the Bible.” Not true. The most frequently cited sources in that period by political theorists and philosophers were ancient Greek and Roman political tracts, together with Enlightenment political thinkers.
Number seven cites the Declaration of Independence and its four references to God. Of course, Forbes and his cosponsors would never explain that the chief reason for that is that British political philosopher John Locke, in whose language the Declaration was written, ascribed political rights in men to the work of a “retiring” God. He was wrong about that one thing, and right about just about everything else. But, that was the spirit of the times. Men were focused on elucidating the ideal conditions for living on earth, not on refuting a hand-me-down mythology with its promise of an afterlife.
Perhaps the most offensive in its implication to me was Number twenty-eight, which states that “…in 1853 the United States Senate declared that the Founding Fathers ‘had no fear or jealousy of religion itself, nor did they wish to see us an irreligious people…they did not intend to spread over all the public authorities and the whole public action of the nation the dead and revolting spectacle of atheistical apathy.’” Anyone who has read my commentaries here knows that I am neither dead, nor revolting, nor apathetic.
Forbes’s resolution has met with voluble opposition. According to a Daily Press (Newport News, VA) article of January 13, “Forbes seeks official nod to religion,”
“…[C]ritics – ranging from atheists and Wiccans to mainstream civil rights groups – have accused Forbes of offering a distorted historical record and trying to use government authority where it isn’t needed.”
“’We don’t need the government to tell us that religion is important,’ said Jeremy Gunn, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s program on freedom of religion and belief.”
“’I don’t think Congress should embrace false history,’ said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.”
Gunn and Lynn are missing the point on two counts. Forbes’s resolution is intended to establish religion as official federal policy – what else could it be if it were approved by an elective body? And “false history” – or fabricated “facts” or contextless assertions about facts (see “Hoary Old Chestnuts”)—never checked or overruled a religionist’s emotional fervor.
Forbes, smarting from criticisms he obviously did not expect, according to the Daily Press article, countered, “The essence of what they believe is that God is a myth. Why is it that these people become so venomous when you talk about God?”
They wouldn’t, if he refrained from trying to force religion and that myth down their throats, and in the bargain make such critics political outcasts. “No legitimate person can say faith and religion haven’t played an enormous role in the history of this country,” said Forbes. Legitimate persons? Is he implying that a person who did not believe in God or acknowledged the over-emphasized role of religion in American history or who objected to rewritten history is illegitimate? That is, a non-person in the spirit of Michael Chertoff’s national ID standard? And the venom is in his imagination, to judge by the few calmly worded criticisms that were reported in the press.
One of the Founders’ objections to the British Crown’s policies was the plan to establish in the colonies an episcopate or bishopric of the state Church of England, which, as it did in Great Britain, would have had all authority over religious matters, and have been supported by taxes levied directly on the colonists, regardless of their religion. The state church in America, as it did in Britain, would have “tolerated” faiths other than the Anglican, but not permitted them their own churches – only chapels – and have probably required, as it did in Britain, that all political and military offices be filled with men who were of the Anglican faith and who took the “test oath,” subscribing to the rites and articles of the Anglican Church. The political implications of “packing the court” with Crown appointees, judges, legislators and functionaries all amenable to all oppressive Crown policies, should be obvious.
It was obvious to the Founders, and also to many American, non-conformist, non-Anglican ministers, most of whose Sunday sermons throughout the pre-Revolutionary period up to the Declaration of Independence were actually political disquisitions against the Crown and eloquent appeals for political liberty. In lieu of a 100,000-word book on the political stance of these clerics in answer to the allegations in Forbes’s resolution, I offer a few excerpts from their sermons, which can be found in Franklin P. Cole’s They Preached Liberty, a collection of statements by New England ministers, chiefly of Massachusetts, published by Liberty Press in Indianapolis.
“Those nations which are now groaning under the iron scepter of tyranny were once free; so they might probably have remained, by a seasonable precaution against despotic measures. Civil tyranny is usually small in its beginning, like ‘the drop of a bucket,’ till at length like a mighty torrent or the raging waves of the sea, it bears down all before it, and deluges whole countries and empires. Thus it is as to ecclesiastical tyranny also – the most cruel, intolerable, and impious of any….” Jonathan Mayhew of Boston, 1750.
“Arrogant pretenses to infallibility in matters of state and religion, represent human nature in the most contemptible light.” Samuel Cooke of Cambridge, 1770.
“The great and wise Author of our being has so formed us that the love of liberty is natural.” John Tucker of Newbury, 1771.
“Our danger is not visionary, but real. Our contention is not about trifles, but about liberty and property.” Gad Hitchcock of Pembroke, 1774.
“The God of nature has taught us by the situation and uncommon advantages of this place, that it was designed for extensive business: and here our fathers planted themselves, that they and their posterity might prosecute those branches of trade and merchandise which give riches and strength to nations and states.” John Lathrop of Boston, 1774.
“No man denies but that originally all were equally free. Men did not purchase their freedom, nor was it the grant of kings, nor from charter, covenant, or compact, nor in any proper sense from man: But from God. They were born free.” Samuel Webster of Salisbury, 1777.
The focus, as one can see in these examples and in numerous quotations throughout They Preached Liberty, was on political liberty, not on God. If a God existed, these men were of the position that he left it to men to achieve their freedom and happiness on earth. Observable nature, they thought, commanded men to contrive the best way to live with one another, not an unobservable supreme being. Their political thinking was as distant from the crude, barbaric dictates of the Ten Commandments as Pluto is from the Sun.
Representative Forbes, however, wishes to fabricate American history in the spirit of the Bible, which itself was woven from whole cloth. To paraphrase Jonathan Mayhew, perhaps the most “worldly” and consistent of the Massachusetts ministers, Forbes’s resolution is a “drop of the bucket” which, if not opposed by Americans, might portend the establishment of ecclesiastical tyranny.