Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Of all the contributors at STACLU, I don’t think I’ve ever fisked Bosun before, but this post is positively begging for it. He credulously repeats the standard religious right rhetoric about this being a Christian nation and, absurdly, cites the Mayflower Compact as evidence. He begins:

This was a nation founded on Christian principles.

Congratulations, you’re the 50 millionth person to make that claim. Like the others, however, I imagine you’ll be just as incapable of defending it. This nation was founded by and is based entirely upon the Constitution. If it was really founded on “Christian principles”, then it shouldn’t be too difficult to point to specific provisions in the Constitution and point to their analogs in the Bible. I doubt you can.

I can point to provision after provision in the Constitution and trace them directly to the writings of John Locke and the Baron de Montesquieu, among other Enlightenment thinkers. Separation of powers? Checks and balances? The notion of unalienable rights? Religious freedom? These things are utterly non-existent in the Bible, and were throughout the history of Christian thought as well. They come from Enlightenment philosophy, not from Christianity.

According to research conducted by my senior editor, Rosemary (at Bosuns original weblogs. Rosemary is not affiliated with Stop the ACLU, I am a contributor here), the very first document, the Mayflower Compact, that was signed and witnessed in the United States. So, if anyone tries to tell you this is NOT a Christian nation, refer them to the Mayflower Compact

And listen to them laugh as they inform you, as i will here, that the Mayflower Compact was not “signed and witnessed” in the United States because the United States did not exist at the time. The Mayflower Compact founded the Plymouth Colony (later merged into the Massachusetts Bay Colony), not the United States, which would not exist until more than 150 years later. The Plymouth Colony was, as the name suggests, not a state but a British colony. You do know that the revolutionary war overthrew British colonialism, don’t you?

That this colony’s founding has no bearing on the meaning of America’s founding under the Constitution is understood by anyone with even a mildly comprehensive education in American history. The society that was formed in this colony could scarcely be more different than the one envisioned in the Constitution. It was not a liberal democracy, as the Constitution envisioned, but a theocracy – the very thing that the Constitution sought to prevent.

There was no religious freedom in the colony, including even for Christians of other denominations. In 1651, Obadiah Holmes, John Crandall, and John Clarke were arrested for holding an unauthorized church service in the home a blind Baptist preacher, William Witter. Clarke and Crandall had their fines paid by friends and were eventually released; Holmes refused to allow his friends to pay the fine and thus he was dragged through the streets of Boston and whipped on September 6, 1651. Is that the sort of “Christian nation” you have in mind? It’s the one that the Mayflower Compact founded.

But the Baptists got off light compared to the Quakers, many of whom were put to death in this “Christian” colony. In 1656, the authorites heard that there were two Quaker women, Mary Fisher and Ann Austin, on a ship in Boston Harbor. They had done nothing wrong; they hadn’t even set foot in the colony. But the mere fact that they were Quakers was enough. They were arrested, stripped and examined for “tokens of witchcraft”. They were eventually released and forced to leave the colony; they were the lucky ones. Other Quakers, like William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson, and William Leddra, were put to death for defying the law banning Quakers from the colony.

This is the colony whose founding document you are lauding as evidence that the United States, founded by the Constitution, was founded on “Christian principles”. But the society built by the Constitution was starkly different. Religious freedom is guaranteed, not merely to those in the ruling church, but to everyone. Religious establishments are forbidden. Religious tests for office are forbidden. And all of those ideas came not from Christianity but from Enlightenment philosophy.

The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were an explicit repudiation of these practices. The Declaration’s insistence on unalienable rights could not have been more in contrast to the theocratic rule of most of the colonies. The Constitution’s guarantee of religious freedom and ban on religious tests for office were the beginning of the end for the authoritarian madness that masqueraded as Christian piety under religious establishments.

Comments

  1. #1 Aaron M
    August 28, 2006

    We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&.

    So, if anyone tries to tell you this is NOT a European monarchy, refer them to the Mayflower Compact.

  2. #2 diego
    August 28, 2006

    The problem, with these people, is the “big tent” stuff.
    Like ID and creationism, they seems to postpone any discussion over what truth is The Truth in order to impose theocracy.

    But even if they would succed (which I hope will never happen), they will probably start a civil war to decide which version of the Bible is correct, which is the TRUE religion between catholics, Baptists, Calvinists and so on.
    It’s not a nice scenario, isn’t it?

  3. #3 Melody
    August 28, 2006

    I cannot thank you enough for addressing this. I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) and I get so angry — despite my own faith — at claims that this is a Christian nation.

    Whenever the so-called Christians on the far right decry the “discrimination” they are supposedly experiencing in our culture today, I like to refer them to my faith ancestors. Jailed, beaten, banished, and/or killed. Now that’s discrimination! And the nuts complain that we dare say “Happy Holidays” to them.

  4. #4 Mike Horn
    August 28, 2006

    Ed says:
    This nation was founded by and is based entirely upon the Constitution.

    Yeah, but the imbeciles I waste my time on start blabbering about intent and the religious makeup of the “founding fathers.” I usually follow this with the question:

    Then, why would the “founding fathers” purposely leave out any mention of their faith in the Constitution?

    If they get stuck on things like the “Mayflower Compact” or some other event prior to the Constitution I ask why stop there? Why not go further back… who was here before them and what did THEY believe?

    I mean, couldn’t I say that this nation (going with their “ignore the Constitution” approach)was founded on the polytheistic beliefs of the Native Indian?

  5. #5 Jason
    August 28, 2006

    The Mayflower? A bunch of johnny come latelies. Marcos de Niza and Francisco Vasquez de Coronado were looking for gold and souls to save (and slaves to kidnap) around these parts a hundred years before those pale English newbies got kicked across the ocean.

  6. #6 Beaming Visionary
    August 28, 2006

    Ed, I know it’s hard to keep up when it’s one rational blogger against a dozen or so reason-deprived, ADHD-stricken liars, but already Glib Fortuna has essentially taken Bosun’s post and raised him with his own latest complaints about the ACLU. One of these concerns actions taken by school officials, while the other is about a proposed Ten Commandments display; in the latter GF invokes the “America-was-founded-on-Judeo-Christian-principles” specter yet again, using capital letters in place of the nonexistent evidence for this stance.

    I think that even if Jefferson et al. retruned from the grave, walked up to these STACLU folk and said, “Look, you FOX-fed, shit-and-dingleberry caked assholes, you’re wrong and the ‘libs’ are right; we wanted a wall of separation, which is why we wrote what we did!”, the STACLU apes would still hold fast to their misbegotten ideas.

    I can’t imagine that these hapless yodelers are going to take it very well when America is no longer governed by religiously canted proto-hominids who are — endless complaints about a “war on Christianity” notwithstanding — more sympathetic to Jesus-mongering than any administration since Reagan. I don’t see how they could be any more irrational, but if they get even angrier they could quite possibly become even more entertaining than they already are.

  7. #7 Grumpy
    August 28, 2006

    That this colony’s founding has no bearing on the meaning of America’s founding under the Constitution is understood by anyone with even a mildly comprehensive education in American history.

    Ah, but Plymouth is overwhelmingly relevant to anyone with just a cursory education in American history. That’s because it’s the first thing you learn: Day 1, Lesson 1, The Pilgrims Made America. (There might be something there about Jamestown, too, but that was after the Pilgrims, right? 1607 comes after 1620, I’m pretty sure.

    It’s the same cursory education that has so many believing that Francesco Redi disproved abiogenesis. His maggot experiments are covered on the first day of biology class; Darwin, not until later.

  8. #8 Rhampton
    August 28, 2006

    75% in Arkansas, Alabama Believe Bible Literally True
    Rasmussen Reports, August 26, 2006

    Not surprisingly, the Bible Belt region lives up to its name — Alabama and Arkansas came out on top as 75% say they believe the Bible is literally true. West Virginia (70%) and Tennessee (68%) are close behind. The northeast region of our map represents the other extreme. In Vermont and Massachusetts, only 22% of those respondents believe the Bible is literally true–the lowest percentages in all states surveyed. Earlier this summer, a national survey found that 54% of American adults believe the Bible is literally true.

  9. #9 kehrsam
    August 28, 2006

    75% say they believe the Bible is literally true

    Okay, so I attend a fundie church, but I still don’t know what they mean by this. Yeah, I get the part about reading Genesis as an history lesson and all, but what about the huge areas that no one — literally, no one — reads literally?

    There are entire books that are read metaphorically (if at all) such as the Song of Songs and most of Psalms. Then there are all the bits of prophetic writing that are tortured to give some vaguely Messianic message — this is literal? Isaiah allegedy writing about a baby some 700 years in the future — this is literal? I beg to differ that the origianl hearers might have had a different idea. Jesus and all those parables, we’re supposed to read those literally?

    It’s like trying to pin down what they mean when they call the Bible the “Word of God.” Is that a direct quote kind of thing, or are there copyists errors, or errors in translation, or errors of interpretation allowed? I warrant 75% of people in Arkansas have never read the Bible outside of the bits quoted in Sunday School lessons. That makes the figure easier to understand.

  10. #10 Ed Brayton
    August 28, 2006

    I suspect that those who answered yes simply meant that they believe the Bible is all true and is the word of God, as opposed to partially true or untrue or not the word of God.

  11. #11 dogmeatIB
    August 29, 2006

    I have to disagree slightly with the idea that the Mayflower compact didn’t play a role in the founding of our country albeit a rather small one. It, along with the House of Burgesses played a role in that the concept that their was a covenant, that the followers had some say in whether or not they’d be led, etc. That they conscented to being led …

    Now the basic tenants were violated, but the concepts were there.

    Pardon any spelling errors or misconstrued statements, just getting off a 16 hour day…

    dogmeat the tired.

  12. #12 David Wilson
    August 29, 2006

    Now the basic tenants were violated, …

    The landlords were a nasty lot in those days.

  13. #13 Prup aka Jim Benton
    August 29, 2006

    If you want to really have fun with ‘Literalists” ask them some of the following questions:
    What language was the Bible originally written in?
    What translation do you use and WHY do you prefer it over other translations?
    (Since most of them will use the “King James Version”)
    What do you know about King James? Was that King James the 1st or second? Did you know that King James was a homosexual?

    By that time, they should be running for the door, but maybe one out of a hundred will actually THINK about the second question and start questioning their certainties.

  14. #14 Splash
    August 29, 2006

    But wait a minute – I thought Katherine Harris just said the separation of church and state is a lie. Hmn, who to believe – Kate Harris or the text of the founding documents of the country? I just dont know ….

  15. #15 dogmeatIB
    August 29, 2006

    King James VI of Scotland/James I of England was a homosexual? What source do you base this on? (not debating, honestly the first time I’ve heard this contention)

  16. #16 Irrational Entity
    August 29, 2006

    Ed Babinski has collected a few quotes on the subject. I think such claims should be taken with a bit of salt, but whatever his orientation, he certainly made an impression.

  17. #17 zwilson
    August 29, 2006

    Ed,

    Separation of powers? Checks and balances? The notion of unalienable rights? Religious freedom? These things are utterly non-existent in the Bible, and were throughout the history of Christian thought as well. They come from Enlightenment philosophy, not from Christianity.

    Would you not agree that the institutions of separation of powers and checks and balances reflect a Christian understanding of the human condition – namely, that we are not inherently good?

  18. #18 Ed Brayton
    August 29, 2006

    zwilson wrote:

    Would you not agree that the institutions of separation of powers and checks and balances reflect a Christian understanding of the human condition – namely, that we are not inherently good?

    Absolutely not. They reflect centuries of experience with the abuses of government power, a good deal of it being attempts to impose Christianity on people by force.