Monday, July 16, 2007

Brayton, Rodda, Church/State, Founding Ideology:

Ed Brayton and Chris Rodda today both have good posts dealing with current Church/State contoversies. First, Brayton's post, continuing an argument over the Hindu chaplain, now moves onto Madison's thoughts on the chaplaincy. "Christian America" folks often argue Madison supported Congressional chaplains because:

In 1789, Madison served on the Congressional committee which authorized, approved, and selected paid Congressional chaplains.

Madison's own testimony, though, is that he never supported such. Many of my readers know of Madison's Detached Memoranda where he noted chaplains, in principle, violated the Establishment Clause (even if in practice, Congress had them). Some assert this was Madison changing his mind as he got older. But Madison's letter to Edward Livingston on July 10, 1822 claims he never supported chaplains. He may have served on that committee but didn't agree with its final decision:

I observe with particular pleasure the view you have taken of the immunity of Religion from civil jurisdiction, in every case where it does not trespass on private rights or the public peace. This has always been a favorite principle with me; and it was not with my approbation, that the deviation from it took place in Cong. when they appointed Chaplains, to be paid from the Natl Treasury. It would have been a much better proof to their Constituents of their pious feeling if the members had contributed for the purpose, a pittance from their own pockets. [Emphasis added.]

Chris Rodda deals with this same issue in a post which seeks to answer PBS's "Wall of Separation" program, stunningly produced by a Christian Reconstructionist. I saw a five minute excerpt which looked fair, probably because that clip showed only two very respectable scholars -- Daniel Dreisbach of American University, and James H. Hutson of the Library of Congress.

The "Christian America" historical revisionism which Rodda so effectively debunks, unfortunately, and expectedly seems to have seeped its way into the narration. This isn't surprising because almost all Reconstructionists save Gary North buy hard into the Christian America fraud.

Rodda's post deals with, among other things, the Congressional chaplains and the proposed Great Seal. She writes:

James H. Hutson, Chief of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress: At one point when he [Jefferson] was working on designing the Great Seal of the United States, he suggested that you have Moses leading the Israelites through the Red Sea.

Hutson is a fine scholar. The programs' producer probably took snippets of his testimony out of context to support their point. That was indeed Jefferson's proposed Great Seal. Though, the way in which the "Christian America" (or sometimes the "Judeo-Christian America") proponents deal with it is dishonest. They cite this one proposed illustrative narrative only, but don't tell you about the others. As Rodda puts it in her book:

All of the religious right American history authors leave the same two things out of this story. The first is that, while Jefferson did propose the children of Israel for the front of the seal, he proposed Hengist and Horsa for the back. Hengist and Horsa, according to Anglo-Saxon legend, were Germanic heathens hired as mercenaries to protect Britain after the fall of the Roman Empire in the fifth century. These two brothers tricked and defeated the King who had hired them, stopping the spread of Christianity and keeping most of Britain pagan for the next few hundred years. Regardless of whether or not Hengist and Horsa were actual historical figures, it was during this period of time, as Jefferson pointed out on numerous occasions, that the common law was introduced in Britain, making it impossible for the common law to have been based on the Bible. The second omission is that John Adams, the most religious of the three committee members, did not propose a Bible story, but proposed Hercules surrounded by a few pagan goddesses.

Rodda then reproduces a marvelous letter from John Adams to Abigail, which I had never seen before, talking about his experience:

I am put upon a committee to prepare a Device for a Golden Medal to commemorate the Surrender of Boston to the American Arms, and upon another to prepare Devices for a Great Seal for the confederated States. There is a Gentleman here of French Extraction, whose Name is Du simitiere, a Painter by Profession whose Designs are very ingenious, and his Drawings well executed. He has been applied to for his Advice. I waited on him yesterday, and saw his Sketches. For the Medal he proposes Liberty with her Spear and Pileus, leaning on General Washington. The British Fleet in Boston Harbour, with all their Sterns towards the Town, the American Troops, marching in. For the Seal he proposes. The Arms of the several Nations from whence America has been peopled, as English, Scotch, Irish, Dutch, German &c. each in a Shield. On one side of them Liberty, with her Pileus, on the other a Rifler, in his Uniform, with his Rifled Gun in one Hand, and his Tomahauk, in the other. This Dress and these Troops with this Kind of Armour, being peculiar to America—unless the Dress was known to the Romans. Dr. F[ranklin] shewed me, yesterday, a Book, containing an Account of the Dresses of all the Roman Soldiers, one of which, appeared exactly like it....

...Dr. F. proposes a Device for a Seal. Moses lifting up his Wand, and dividing the Red Sea, and Pharaoh, in his Chariot overwhelmed with the Waters. This Motto. Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.

Mr. Jefferson proposed. The Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a Cloud by day, and a Pillar of Fire by night, and on the other Side Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon Chiefs, from whom We claim the Honour of being descended and whose Political Principles and Form of Government We have assumed.

I proposed the Choice of Hercules, as engraved by Gribeline in some Editions of Lord Shaftsburys Works. The Hero resting on his Clubb. Virtue pointing to her rugged Mountain, on one Hand, and perswading him to ascend. Sloth, glancing at her flowery Paths of Pleasure, wantonly reclining on the Ground, displaying the Charms both of her Eloquence and Person, to seduce him into Vice. But this is too complicated a Group for a Seal or Medal, and it is not original. 27

Shaftsbury, if you didn't know, a disciple of Locke's, greatly influenced our key Whig Founders, and was a deistic-unitarian Enlightenment philosopher. Indeed, understanding their proposed use of Biblical narratives, in context, actually supports the notion that Enlightenment principles more so than "Biblical" ones undergirded America's Founding.

Secular leftists go too far if they try to completely eliminate the Bible's influence from America's Founding. Even though the key Founders weren't orthodox Christians, many in the population were and Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, et al. had orthodox Protestant roots. The Bible has strongly influenced Western Culture; it influenced culture during the American Founding and remains influential today. Many of us use biblical allusions daily without even realizing it.

America's Founders, however, used an Enlightenment approach to the Bible. The Bible was just one of many sources from which principles could be drawn, along with pagan Greco-Roman sources (i.e., Hercules), pagan Anglo-Saxon sources (i.e., Hengist and Horsa), common law principles, and even non-Western sources which could support Whig ideology. Enlightenment or "man's reason" was the lens through which all sources were to be viewed. It didn't matter where the principles came from, if "reasonable," they were used. "Reasonable," in reality, usually meant able to support Whig notions of political freedom. Even if Whig propagandists had to anachronistically "read" 18th Century Enlightened thought into those sources to make them "reasonable."

For instance, the Jews' liberation from Egypt could be used to support the notion of rebellion (though, not political freedom because God liberated the Jews to burden them with the yoke of the law of Moses, one of the most unfree legal codes ever written). But Romans 13, which clearly forbids rebellion, had to be "explained away" much in the same way today's liberal Christians try to explain away Biblical prohibitions on homosexuality.

What Jefferson's proposed Great Seal does not illustrate is that America was founded as a "Biblical" nation or a "New Israel," part of a covenant with the Biblical God. This is what the "Christian America" crowd tries to push. And though it's most often laughed off by the academy, millions of folks buy into it. For instance, former Navy chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt likely ruined his own career in part because he was influenced by Christian Nation revisionism. He writes on the recent Hindu Chaplain controversy, quoting the Christians who disrupted the Hindu prayer:

"The Senate was already being disturbed before we arrived," Ante told me after he was released from jail. "The sin of Hindu idolatry was greatly disrupting the sanctity of the Senate. We only prayed to preserve the covenant our nation has with the most-high God, who established our Republic, in Jesus name."

The problem is none of our Founding documents -- the Constitution, Declaration, or Federalist Papers -- contain a "covenant" with the Biblical God. Indeed, given that such covenants were explicit in earlier colonial documents, their absence from the federal founding documents is what is notable and conspicuous. And even Justice Scalia, in his dissent in McCreary, noted Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, as the first four American Presidents, almost never prayed in Jesus' name in their public supplications to God made on the nation's behalf.

[I emailed Klingenschmitt and told him that Washington was never recorded as praying in Jesus' name, like his original article asserted. He never responded but instead edited his article and dug himself a deeper hole. He reproduced an excerpt from Washington's spurious prayer book, debunked as inauthentic.]

I don't buy the ALCU's strict separation notion which takes founding principles of non-discrimination to a reductio ad absurdum. They draw a lowest-common-denominator between all religions and atheism. And that LCD is basically zero: no government endorsement of any religious point of view else someone's conscience be offended.

The founders' view was a softer form of non-discrimination/secularism. They welcomed religious expression in the public square, but didn't intend "Christians" to own it. Christians could have their voice right next to Muslims, Hindus and other pagan and secular sources. Even though not created during the Founding era, the Supreme Court Frieze more accurately reflects the vision of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Franklin than a "naked" public square with no religious expression. The frieze features, among others:

Menes, Hammurabi, Moses, Solomon, Lycurgus, Solon, Draco, Confucius and Octavian (Caesar Augustus). On the north wall to the left are lawmakers of the Christian era -- Napoleon Bonaparte, Marshall, William Blackstone, Hugo Grotius, Louis IX, King John, Charlemagne, Muhammad and Justinian.

The founders' vision was neither "strict separation" nor "Christian Nation," rather a benevolent neutrality between the various religions and between religious and secular philosophies. Different modes of thought were to have equal access to free expression in the public square. All of them subservient, of course, to enlightenment principles of liberality.

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