Saturday, December 16, 2006

Pat Boone's Ignorance of America's Founding:

I guess I shouldn't expect any better from the man who almost single handedly ruined rock and roll until the Beatles came along to save it. But his article shows one more reason why it's important to continue to debunk the Christian Nation myth. Such, myth, alas, invariably leads to religiously bigoted positions. So here goes. Boone writes:

Pop quiz: What was the primary source of the principles on which our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights, were based?

Answer: the Judeo-Christian Bible.


Bzzt. Wrong. At best, one could argue that the Founders drew from a variety of sources including pagan Greco-Romanism, common-law rights of Englishmen, Enlightenment philosophy, and include the Bible/Christian principles into the ideological synthesis of sources which produced our Founding documents. It is flat out false, however, to assert that the Bible is the "primary source of the principles on which our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights, were based." Every serious Ivy League scholar who has studied this issue, most notably Bernard Bailyn, agrees that it was Enlightenment philosophy which dominated.

Why don't we listen to Jefferson's testimony -- after all, he wrote the darn thing -- on the ideas behind the Declaration. As Dr. Gregg Frazer noted:

In a May 8, 1825 letter to Henry Lee, Jefferson identifies his sources for the Declaration's principles. He names as sources: Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, and (Algernon) Sidney -- he does not mention the Bible. Then again, the terminology in the Declaration is not specifically Christian -- or even biblical, with the exception of "Creator." The term "providence" is never used of God in the Bible, nor are "nature's God" or "Supreme Judge of the world" ever used in the Bible.

What about the Constitution and Bill of Rights? More from Frazer:

In the hundreds of pages comprising Madison's notes on the constitutional convention (and those of the others who kept notes), there is no mention of biblical passages/verses in the debates/discussions on the various parts and principles of the Constitution. They mention Rome, Sparta, German confederacies, Montesquieu, and a number of other sources -- but no Scripture verses.

Boone's column gets worse:

Question: From what religious writing did our Founding Fathers derive their concepts of individual liberty, equality and unalienable rights?

Answer: the Quran.


No, Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration, didn't credit the Quran. Nor did James Madison and John Jay, who wrote most of the Constitution. Instead, they openly credited two main sources: the Holy Bible and Sir William Blackstone.

As was shown, Jefferson and Madison never explicitly credit the "Holy Bible" for the principles of the Declaration or the Constitution. I challenge Pat Boone or anyone to show me one accurate quotation from Jefferson or Madison explaining that the principles of the Declaration or Constitution are derived from the Bible. Moreover, as I have repeatedly mentioned, nowhere does the Bible express concern for the concept of political (as opposed to spiritual) liberty or state that man possesses "unalienable" rights. Such were Enlightenment concepts put forth by John Locke.

But what about Blackstone's influence? Boone continues:

As Madison and Jay and Hamilton composed the Federalist Papers, which led directly to the Constitution itself, they were greatly influenced by Sir William Blackstone and his "Commentaries." Thus, the precious documents on which our very existence as a nation depend are informed by the renowned jurist who wrote: "The belief of a future state of rewards and punishments, the entertaining just ideas of the main attributes of the Supreme Being, and a firm persuasion that He superintends and will finally compensate every action in human life (all which are revealed in the doctrines of our Savior, Christ), these are the grand foundations of all judicial oaths, which call God to witness the truth of those facts which perhaps may be only known to him and the party attesting; all moral evidences, therefore, all confidence in human veracity, must be weakened by apostasy, and overthrown by total infidelity. Wherefore, all affronts to Christianity, or endeavors to depreciate its efficacy, in those who have once professed it, are highly deserving of censure."

There are a number of problems with this. First, almost as bad as his claim that Jefferson and Madison cited the Bible as the principle source behind our Founding documents is the claim that Blackstone was the "other" main source. Though, Blackstone, unlike the Bible, does get at least some mention in the Federalist Papers. But this is still irrelevant to Boone's point. Our Founders were very selective about the sources from which they drew, picking and choosing various ideas and modifying them along the way. Nothing about Blackstone's endorsement of a connection between Christianity and judicial oaths made it into the Federalist Papers. Again, as Dr. Frazer puts it:

In The Federalist Papers, there is no mention of biblical sources for any of the Constitution's principles, either -- one would think they could squeeze them in among the 85 essays if they were, indeed, the sources; especially since the audience was common men who were familiar with, and had respect for, the Bible. The word "God" is used twice -- and one of those is a reference to the pagan gods of ancient Greece. "Almighty" is used twice and "providence" three times -- but neither is ever used in connection with any constitutional principle or influence. The Bible is not mentioned.

Blackstone was an English Tory. Our Founders were Whigs, and as such were far more influenced by the Whig tradition in England. John Locke was without question the most important philosopher behind America's Founding. After him, British Whigs like James Burgh, Joseph Priestly, and Richard Price exerted far greater influence than Blackstone regarding the ideas contained in our Founding documents. (Priestly and Burgh, by the way, called for and used the phrase "separation of church and state," which is where Jefferson likely got it from.)

Where Blackstone's influence was greatest, his expertise, was in the English common law. But again, English common law was one source among many from which our Founders drew and such principles were, in the minds of our Founders, subservient to Enlightenment Whig principles. Indeed, the one area where Founders like Jefferson and Madison were least likely to agree with Blackstone was in the area of religion and government! Blackstone was famous for asserting that Christianity was part of the common law. And Jefferson vehemently disagreed and remonstrated at great length contra Blackstone as to why "Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law."

So when Pat Boone writes -- "All this, and so much more, is why we expect men and women we've elected to place their hands on a copy of the Holy Bible as they take their oaths of office." -- he misunderstands history and thus, should not be taken seriously.

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