Sunday, May 31, 2009

Example of How Activists Misuse History of America's Founding & Religion:

It shouldn't surprise that it comes from Pat Boone. In my last piece I cited an article by Alissa Wilkinson where she gave this bit of wise advice to conservative Christians:

[W]e lazily identify Christianity with a particular political system, rather than carefully examining the Bible to determine how we should understand and participate in various spheres of society—economics, politics, morality, etc.

When we understand the climate in which the country was founded, we can understand how the Founders could speak with a language that sounds Christian to our ears but not necessarily believe in the Bible as the totality of God’s revelation.

Pat Boone's article is a textbook example of confusion of his own evangelical faith for the theology of the American Founding. Boone's article responds to a pro-ACLU veteran who wrote the following:

Mr. Boone,

The ACLU is simply the Constitution in action, with particular emphasis on the First Amendment. If you don't like what the ACLU does, then either you really don't approve of the Constitution and the First Amendment themselves, or you don't fully understand what they say and mean.

As a combat veteran of World War II, I fought to preserve and protect our Constitution. So I joined the ACLU in 1950 and have strongly supported them ever since.

We most certainly do have an effort here in America to impose upon us the equivalent of an American Taliban. But that comes not from the ACLU, but from the ranting, raving Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists – the Christianofascists who are running rampant over America these days trying to cram their irrational theology and their silly Bible down our throats.

Well, our Constitution says that we don't have to accept that moral and intellectual fascism, and so – with the welcome aid of the ACLU we are vomiting back in your faces.

You "nutty" fundamentalists are the American Taliban, not the ACLU, and as long as we have the Constitution and the ACLU, you will not prevail.

I actually know the person (not very well, but through email) who wrote this note. He is an 80 something year old fervent atheist and a minor national figure in his own right. He sent me the following note when I asked him his opinion on the evidence of Christianity:

Without commenting at length, I meely point out that Cornthians was written around 54AD, some 24 years after the crucificion, in an eram without recorders, reporters, or other than word- of-mouth heasay. Similarly, the four gospels themselves were written (Mark) around 65-70 AD; Matthwe and Luke in the 70s,and John around 95. There were no tape recorders, or other means of recording. They are largely worthless as historical records. The whole thing, and the Christianity derived from it is a fraud, concocted for political purposes. resurrections don't happen. Period. Either the dead body was removed from the tomb, or he didn't actually die on the cross and revived later. There is no supernatural.

Here is how Boone responded to the writer's defense of the ACLU, broken down bit by bit with my comments following:

Are you aware, sir, that President Thomas Jefferson, "Mr. Separation of Church and State" himself, combined with Congress to appropriate tax funds to pay missionaries to "preach the gospel to the Indians"?

Chris Rodda debunks this notion:

[This] is based on a single treaty with the Kaskaskia, signed by Jefferson in 1803, which included a provision for a $100 annual salary for a priest for seven years, and $300 towards the building of a church. Of the over forty treaties with various Indian nations signed by Jefferson during his presidency, this is the only one that contained anything whatsoever having to do with religion. This had nothing to do with converting the Indians, as the words "missionary work" imply. The Kaskaskia were already Catholic, and had been for generations. These things were what the Kaskaskia wanted, and this being a treaty with a sovereign nation, there was no constitutional reason not to provide them.

Boone's article implies that a purpose of American government was to promote and convert those who didn't believe in Christianity to said faith. The Founders were more accommodating to religion than is Boone's atheist writer; however their ends were almost always secular. Think about it; Roman Catholicism was probably the least popular form of Christianity during the time of the Founding. Why would Jefferson, a man who hated "superstition" want to promote a sect of Christianity that was regarded as the most "superstitious." The answer is because that's the religion the Indians choose. In other words, this is an example of the religious indifference of the Founding. Any religion that the people choose we'll accommodate, even Roman Catholicism! That nuanced point, key to understanding American Founding political theology, is lost on Boone.

Back to Boone:

Our Founding Fathers, the creators of the Constitution you rightly admire, believed God created all men equal, and should at least hear about Him and His love for all of us, though they were free to reject it if they chose. Is this what you call "intellectual fascism"?

Again, this confuses the theology of the Declaration of Independence with biblical Christianity. The two are not the same. One might argue I am reading too much into Boone's words. However, carefully look at the letter to which he is responding: It attacks evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, of which Boone is one. Why would Boone use the words of the Founders in his defense if he didn't hear their words as evangelical speak?

But, the idea of God creating men equal is certainly incompatible with atheism; it's just a very broad based theology, not biblical Christianity.

Back to Boone:

You're a veteran, you say. How would you respond to the first military commander in chief this country ever had, Gen. George Washington, who in general orders to his troops on July 9, 1776, wrote, "The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor so to live and act, as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country."

Again, how do George Washington's words equate to a defense of politically active evangelical Christianity? On a personal note I think GW would like Boone more than the atheist because GW saw religion in general and Christianity in particular as having a salutary or civilizing effect on character, which is extremely useful for the military and self-government. I see Washington's statement as part of a unitarian theology of civil utility and man's works. The test of sound religion is that it produces virtue. And Christianity equates with being a good person, not necessarily someone who has accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. Ultimately Boone's quoting Washington is inapt to his argument.

Back to Boone:

Your ACLU is currently suing to prevent chaplains from praying in Jesus' name, and it would like to do away with chaplains altogether. What would they say to Gen. Washington?

Is the ACLU fighting to prevent Chaplains from praying in Jesus' name when acting as personal chaplains to military troops who are having their spiritual needs ministered to? I don't think so. Rather, it's when a Chaplain purports to pray on behalf of the entire nation. And Washington never ONCE was recorded publicly or privately praying in Jesus' name. In other words, the lawsuit is to get chaplains to pray more like George Washington did. That is, not in Jesus' name.

I know what Gen. Washington would say to them, because he already said, in his Farewell Address, Sept. 19, 1796, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens."

In light of these and so many other pronouncements by those who gave their lives and sacred honor to give us our freedoms – what is your definition of patriotism? And in light of their dedication to subverting these "great Pillars" Washington pronounced indispensable – what should we call the ACLU?

Again, this misfires. I know my atheist friend does indeed want to subvert all religion. But again, the context of his letter to Boone was an attack on politically active evangelical Christianity. That's not what Washington defends in his Farewell Address. Rather he defends the institution of "religion" generally defined. Most evangelicals are likewise spiritually at odds with Washington and the other key Founders because they don't believe in "religion" in general, but one specific path to God.

That is simply not what Washington or the American Founding are all about.

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