A reader sent along an op-ed piece written by Rep. Bill Sali of Idaho, the Congressman who made the absurd comments about how horrible it is that Congress now has a Muslim member and the Senate let a Hindu chaplain offer an opening prayer. That op-ed was in an Idaho newspaper that does not have free access on their webpage, so he sent me the full text, which I will quote below along with responses. He begins:
This nation was founded on the principle of freedom of religion – a principle that I emphatically embrace and have taken an oath to defend. But our nation’s freedom of religion does not mean, as some history revisionists would like us to believe, that our Founding Fathers weren’t religious, nor that they didn’t embrace Christian principles. They most certainly did. The Founders recognized that “it is impossible to rightly govern the without God and the Bible.” It is unfortunate those words, which come directly from George Washington, would be deemed narrow-minded or bigoted if they were spoken today.
I hope your irony meters managed to survive the blow of hearing someone accuse someone else of historical revisionism while using one of the infamous fake quotations from David Barton. No, George Washington did not say “it is impossible to rightly govern without God and the Bible.” No one has ever found that statement anywhere in his writings or speeches. Historical revisionism, indeed. And Sali is just warming up.
He makes the same mistake that every other Christian nation revisionist makes in taking any statement he can find from any founding father talking about God or religion and presuming, unjustifiably, that they’re talking about the “Judeo-Christian” god; this is especially ironic given how much the Christians of that day ranted against Jews and how the new Constitution – the one that includes the no religious test clause that Sali doesn’t seem to like – would actually allow Jews to serve in Congress.
James Madison and John Adams would also be viewed as bigoted. Madison spoke of how the Almighty had extended his hand at critical stages of the American Revolution, allowing our nation to survive and thrive.
Adams wrote, “The general principles upon which the Fathers achieved independence … were the general principals of Christianity. … I will avow that I believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”
Pure historical ignorance and wrong on multiple levels. First of all, Madison and Adams were both theistic rationalists, not orthodox Christians. And remember that Madison opposed Congressional chaplaincies and officially sponsored prayers in the legislature and argued that they are a violation of the first amendment; Madison would not have wanted any such prayers at all, whether Christian or not.
Adams, who wrote far more about religion than Madison did, was quite explicit about his universalism. Thus the irony that I pointed out in my earlier debunking of Sali’s freakout about the Hindu prayer, since Adams specifically pointed to a Hindu text as containing “orthodox” and correct views about the nature of God. Madison wrote to Jefferson:
Where is to be found Theology more orthodox or Phylosophy more profound than in the Introduction to the Shast[r]a [a Hindu Treatise]? “God is one, creator of all, Universal Sphere, without beginning, without End. God Governs all the Creation by a General Providence, resulting from his eternal designs — Search not the Essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; Your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough that, day by day, and night by night, You adore his Power, his Wisdom and Goodness, in his Works.”
So here we have Sali’s generic and presumptuous comments clearly in conflict with the specific words of Adams. Sali’s argument, stated in syllogism form, would look like this:
A. John Adams spoke of the “general principles of Christianity” as eternal and immutable.
B. Hinduism is not Christianity.
C. Therefore, John Adams would be opposed to hearing a Hindu prayer in the Senate and would consider it a rejection of the “general principles of Christianity.”
Sounds vaguely logical unless one sets aside these presumptions and looks at what John Adams actually said about Hinduism, Christianity and the nature of God. If one looks at Adams’ actual words on the subject and at his repeated use of the phrase “general principles of Christianity” in the broadest possible manner, meaning merely the general principles of good virtue and belief in God, it becomes clear that Sali’s argument is false.
Adams would not have been the least bit shocked or offended by a Hindu prayer in the Senate; he would have considered that prayer every bit as orthodox and appropriate as any other prayer. Bear in mind also that Adams explicitly was hardly an orthodox Christian by any means. Like Jefferson, Adams rejected nearly every aspect of Christian doctrine, including the virgin birth, the trinity, the divinity of Jesus, and so forth.
Was Benjamin Franklin culturally insensitive when he noted that it was difficult to imagine that our country could have come into being without the guidance, influence and governance of God? Franklin wrote that the Founders had “daily prayers for divine protection,” and that their prayers were “graciously answered.”
“I have lived a long time,” Franklin wrote, “and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs the affairs of men! And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?”
Again, notice that there isn’t a word here about Christianity, only about God being provident. We know that Franklin left Christianity behind as a young man; he says so himself in his autobiography. We also know that Franklin, like all the other founders, believed strongly in a provident and benevolent God. Even Thomas Paine, who scathingly attacked nearly all aspects of Biblical Christianity, believed as Franklin did; that alone is proof that it is absurd to make this casual equation of belief in God with belief in the Christian God.
And like Adams and the other leading founders, Franklin was a universalist. He famously said that it would be entirely appropriate to have a Muslim minister giving a sermon in a Christian church that he helped build in Philadelphia; he would hardly be shocked or surprised to hear a Hindu prayer in the Senate, or to find out that a Muslim was elected to the House.
I’m sorry that my comments in support of my faith have been taken grossly out of context. But I’m not sorry to defend my faith, nor should I be.
No, you’re missing the point. The problem is not that you’re defending your faith, the problem is that you’re claiming, falsely, that the faith of Adams and Franklin is identical to yours. That is clearly not the case. Their own words show that they reject your position on this, but you’re too ignorant to know that.