Monday, August 09, 2004

Burying and Praising Gary North:

I’ve written before about theocrat “Christian Reconstructionist,” who duplicitously calls himself a libertarian, Gary North. He has written an interesting article and what looks to be an interesting book as well and North deserves to be buried and praised for what he has written.

Buried: The thesis of North’s book is that “the Constitutional Convention of 1787 was in fact an illegal coup d’état.” I don’t think I need to say more. But what’s interesting is why North is desperate to prove this proposition.

Praised: North recognizes, contra the claims of fundamentalist revisionists, David Barton et al., that the Constitution is the furthest thing from a “Biblical” document. That’s not to say that it’s hostile to Christianity—but it and the Declaration of Independence are indeed hostile to theocracy or any kind of understanding of orthodox Christianity (such as North’s) that seeks to use the state to impose the norms of Christianity or to preference Christianity in any way. The natural rights doctrines that undergird both of these documents presuppose religious neutrality.

North recognizes that while the Constitution is “neutral” on the matter of religion, the states at that time most certainly weren’t:

In 1787, the states, with one exception (Rhode Island), were explicitly based on faith in God. In most cases, elected state representatives were required to swear their belief in the Trinity. The new Constitution made all such oaths illegal for Federal office (Article VI, Clause III). By means of the 14th Amendment (1868), the U.S. Supreme Court has applied this prohibition to state governments, completing the transformation in the case of Torcasso v. Watkins (1961).

I told this story 15 years ago. In response, the silence has been deafening. The "Christian America" promoters have steadfastly avoided any reference to my 1989 book. So, I decided to create a stand-alone volume, add more documentation, put a title on it that might break through this wall of silence, and give it away.

In other words, the states had little theocracies or “Christian commonwealths,”—but the Constitution explicitly broke with this model. Thus, even though the Constitution initially preserved the ability of the states to enact theocracies, (just as the Constitution initially preserved the legality of slavery), it did nothing to advance the notion of “theocracy” (ditto with slavery), and, in founding the federal government, rejected the theocratic model. The federal constitution was revolutionary in its religious neutrality and in the fact that it explicitly left God out (a fact that did not go unnoticed). If this nation were truly founded on Biblical Christianity, the federal Constitution would have contained provisions that looked very similar to what the states had at that time.

The federal Constitution could have invoked Christ or the Trinity, could have required allegiances to such, or could have demanded “no religious tests” among the Christian sects only. But it didn’t do any of these things. And in instituting a “no religious tests” clause that didn’t distinguish between Christianity and non-Christianity, many observers at the time realized that, God forbid, “Jews, Turks, and Infidels,” now could hold public office in the United States.

A couple other notes: North notes Rhode Island as not having any kind of religious test. Rhode Island is significant in that it was founded by the great Roger Williams, who was as much of an orthodox Christian as anyone else, but broke with the common understanding among orthodox Protestants at the time who didn’t see a difference between the Commonwealth and the Church. For offering a novel but compelling case as to why the two should be separated and why “no civil state or country can be truly called Christian although Christians be in it,” Williams was banished from Massachusetts to found Rhode Island.

Also, although VA had in 1787, provisions in its laws invoking Christianity, those were rendered meaningless by Jefferson’s VA Statute on Religious Freedom, passed in 1786 (with the help of Madison). So it was Rhode Island and VA who, at the time of the founding, had established secular governments that separated Church & State. And each represented a separate tradition of secularism. Rhode Island represented the religious—the Protestant dissident rationale for secular government. VA represented the rationalist—the Enlightenment rationale for secular government. The US Constitution followed these states in establishing a secular, indeed a “Godless,” Constitution. Kudos to Gary North for recognizing that such secularism is hostile to theocracy. And hopefully he will convince his fellow theocrats—the David Bartons of the world—that if we want to implement theocracy in this nation, we will have to overthrow the Constitution.

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