Dispatches from the Creation Wars

More Ten Commandments Nonsense

From Greg Laurie in the Worldnutdaily comes this little tidbit of absurdity:

It is my belief that one of the reasons for the great success of the United States of America over our 200-plus years can be found in our origins, the fact that our Founding Fathers built this country on a belief in Scripture and in the Ten Commandments.

What makes this so ridiculous is that his intellectual forebears, at the time of the Constitution, were making the exact opposite argument. From pulpits all around America, in pamphlets distributed in all of the original 13 states, and in newspaper editorials as well, the religious right of that day railed against the Constitution as a godless document that would bring down the wrath of God upon us all. A little history is necessary to understand why the Constitution made such a radical break with tradition on the matter of religion, and why the Christian Nation advocates of the time were up in arms about it.

In 1787, nearly all state constitutions included explicit language recognizing God. Even the Articles of Confederation, the first national charter that the Constitution was replacing, referred to “the Great Governor of the World”. Many of those state constitutions declared the sovereignty of God in human affairs, the state’s reliance upon his Providence, and so forth. And most of them also had explicit tests for public office requiring that one swear an oath to be a Protestant, or a Trinitarian, or a Christian in general, before one was eligible to hold office. Even the Declaration of Independence contained references to “Nature’s God” and “Divine Providence”, acknowledgements that were common to virtually every government charter in Western history up to that point.

Contrast that with the Constitution itself. Not a single divine reference can be found in it other than the perfunctory “the year of our lord” designation when dating the document. Not only that, but the document prohibited forever the sort of religious tests for office that were found in almost all state constitutions. This was not a minor difference, to say the least, and it did not escape the notice of the theologically conservative clergy of the day. They were up in arms over this oversight and predicted that, should it pass as written, it would surely bring down God’s wrath upon us all and doom America to destruction and failure.

Attempts were made to rectify this oversight at various state ratifying conventions, but all those attempts failed. Once the Constitution passed, there were nearly constant attempts to amend that document to include official “Christian Nation” language, led for over a century by the National Reform Association, which still exists today (reconstructionist minister Andrew Sandlin is the director now). The prevailing view among the religious right for a century and a half was that the Constitution was a godless document that must be changed. Then somewhere in the mid-20th century, they suddenly discovered that – voila! – it had been a Christian document all along. The fact that this sophistry has managed to convince so many is a testament to the value of propaganda, especially among those who are ignorant of history.

There are some in the religious right who are honest enough to recognize this. One of them is Gary North, author of Conspiracy in Philadelphia. And he takes his fellow conservative Christians to task for not recognizing historical reality.

Comments

  1. #1 kehrsam
    June 26, 2006

    The irony is that the Churches protesting the loudest in 1787 were the Established Churches, those who had money on the line. Here in NC, we had already disestablished the Anglican Church in 1776, but I believe Mass still recognized the Congrgational Church until 1833. Nonetheless, these are not the churches that have been pushing the America is a Christian Nation meme.

    To continue the irony, those pushing for the meme, such as my own Southern Baptists, have historically argued against establishment. Indeed, they have argued that any church-state entanglement at all was an invitation to corruption, that such involvement inevitably, “Sullies the fair complexion of the Church, without any gain therewith by the sovereign.” They were right.

    [The quote is from a 19th Century Baptist sermon. Unfortunately, I no longer have the cite, but there were literally hundreds of such sermons being delivered at the time.]

  2. #2 kehrsam
    June 26, 2006

    I should add that the NC Constitution still possesses a religious test, contrary to the Federal Constitution. Atheists are prohibited from serving as public officials. I am not aware that any case has ever been brought under the provision, as Strong’s NC does not even have a heading for the clause.

  3. #3 Jon Rowe
    June 26, 2006

    Religious tests were held to be unconstitutional under the First Amendment in the Torcaso v. Watkins case.

    This weekend D. James Kennedy is going to do a special on how the Constitution was in reality derived from the Bible.

    Refuting it is something I look forward to. Funny thing is, Kennedy’s TV Sermons are like college classes. He recycles the same topics every year (like teachers do with their lectures every semseter) with minor little revisions and updates every year.

  4. #4 Ed Brayton
    June 26, 2006

    Yes, many states still have religious tests for office, but as Jon said, they can no longer be enforced because of Torcaso. As for D. James Kennedy, he cracks me up. I’m still waiting for someone who thinks that the Constitution is based on Christian principles to trace some provision of the constitution to the Bible or to Christian theology prior to the Enlightenment.

  5. #5 sdanielmorgan
    June 27, 2006

    I’ve heard sermons like it before, Ed, let me give you an insight as to their reasoning:
    God is lawgiver, judge, and supreme authority
    Constitution has congress, judiciary, and executive offices
    Therefore, the Constitution is God!

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