A "Conversation" About the Founding Fathers

A couple days ago, I received an email from a correspondent named Nick, a man I've encountered in a political chat room before as well. He's one of those really hardcore religious right types who, as you will see, absolutely glories in his ignorance, and he was bound and determined to "educate" me. His initial e-mail simply said this:

I know you are smarter than all of these folks but maybe you can learn something

And then it had a link to this article on someone else's webpage. There's nothing original in the article. It is the same article that has been emailed around a million times, so perhaps you've seen it. In fact, in December of 2003 I did a line by line refutation of this very same article, which I had traced back, naturally, to the Worldnutdaily. The article is literally full of falsehoods and irrelevant arguments to prove that the US is an officially "Christian nation". Here was my reply to Nick's initial email, detailing only a few of the outright falsehoods in the article:

The page that you sent me to is full of one false claim after another, and it is one that has been circulating on the internet for years. In fact, I wrote a line by line refutation of it in December 2003 on my webpage. You can find that refutation here. By my count, there are at least 3 documents quoted that are forgeries. There is no "George Washington's Prayer Journal", he kept no such document. Every single Washington scholar says it is a fraudulent document that is nothing more than copies out of the anglican Book of Common Prayers. The quotes from Patrick Henry are completely irrelevant to the question of the basis of our government because Patrick Henry didn't have anything to do with the Constitution. He refused to go to the Constitutional Convention specifically because he knew he was in the minority in wanting to establish a Christian theocratic government. He campaigned AGAINST the passage of the Constitution, partially on the grounds that it was a Godless document that would bring down the wrath of God upon us all. So citing him as evidence of the purpose of the Constitution is pretty silly, don't you think?

The quote from Jefferson claiming to be a real Christian is actually two entirely different quotes put together, neither of which was written "in the front of his well worn bible". Both are in letters to friends, and the context shows what he meant by a "real Christian". Jefferson rejected completely the divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth, all claims of miracles, the resurrection, the atonement, and so forth. He said so quite explicitly many times. He even denied that Jesus had ever claimed to be divine at all, arguing that the apostles distorted his mission, which Jefferson argued was a completely human one. He believed that Jesus was nothing more than a philosopher and that he had created an excellent system of ethics, but that is all.

The quote that is allegedly from George Washington's farewell address is also a complete forgery. Nowhere in it do the words "it is impossible to govern the world rightly without God and the bible" appear in that speech. You can look up the full text of the speech online.

The claim that John Adams was the president of the American Bible Society is also, surprise surprise, entirely false. The American Bible Society wasn't even formed until 1816 and Adams never had any involvement at all with the organization. Neither did his son, John Quincy Adams, as the document claims, and the quote attributed to him about the revolution the "indissoluble bond of civil society and Christianity" is also a forgery. You can find the whole list of forged quotations here, including the admission by Christian nation apologist David Barton that those quotes have never been found in any of the writings or speeches of the men they are attributed to.

There are many more falsehoods contained in that document, and I've documented them all in the essay I linked to above. You have, like millions of others, fallen for a document riddled with factual errors and lies, and every one of them has been thoroughly documented as such. You've simply been lied to.

Now, someone who actually cared about whether the beliefs he had were true or not would have read this and thought, "Hmmm. Maybe I better do some more research here." At the very least, they would have followed the links I provided to see what the evidence was. But my intrepid emailer, predictably, doesn't really care about silly things like evidence and logic. His reply, in total:

You really have a hangup on religion and try to mask it with your self agrandizing (sic) pompous fake intellectual posturing -it is clear to me what you are -you aways (sic) say -I wrote a paper on this or that -and the whole world is wrong -no -you are clearly an athiest (sic) with hateful intent

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the average religious right voter. I have run into people like this time and time again, enough that I believe it is pretty much the norm in the religious right (which does not mean everyone in that group fits the description, only that most do). He doesn't care about the truth a bit. He won't even look at the evidence. To this mindset, the world is a very simple place - Christians are good, everyone else is bad, and any suggestion that there is anything other than those two simple categories is nothing but high fallutin' fancy talk from the overeducated. They positively revel in their ignorance, actually proud of the fact that they don't know much (You can see it the way they use the word "intellectual" almost as a curse), and they have built an impenetrable wall around their beliefs to insulate them from all need to think about them once they are formed.

For such people, the world functions as little more than a cartoon, everything drawn in simple black and white to distinguish between the good guys and the bad guys. They don't just internalize their beliefs, they build their entire emotional security around their beliefs so that an attack upon their beliefs constitutes an attack on them. That is why the immediate response when confronted with evidence is to pronounce that you are an evil person (an "athiest", as he put it) and therefore nothing you say is worthy of consideration. It's a perfect force field to keep all rational thinking out because, if your beliefs are intertwined with your self image, if your beliefs turn out to be fraudulent, then you do too.

This kneejerk anti-intellectualism among the hard right rank and file is clear to anyone who has observed them. Thinking is bad, evidence is even worse, and the whole thing is probably a trick of the devil. HL Mencken, as usual, captured the mindset perfectly:

They find not only sanctuary in His arms, but also a kind of superiority, soothing to their macerated egos: He will set them above their betters.

Mencken, of course, believed that to be true of all religious people. I do not, as I simply know too many brilliant men and women of faith to whom it does not apply. But it is undoubtedly true of a sizable portion of the folks in the pews, who have been spoonfed lies for so long they don't know the difference anymore between lies and truth. And most sadly, they don't really care.


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I was going to write a post -- but I figured it would be redundant given how much I attack like minded folks -- on D. James Kennedy's programs; maybe I will in the future. Last night he had one on "Building Christian Nations," where he trotted out that fradulent John Q. Adams quote. He also posits the GW "prayer book" myth and loves to note how Washington kissed his Bible after being sworn in as President, not realizing that kissing your Bible is a Masonic ritual.

Next week he's going to have a program where he tries to argue that Abe Lincoln became a born-again Christian right before he was killed.

His program can be quite entertaining in its bizzare surreality.

Also amusing is that David Barton & Kelly Hallowell are associated with his group and sometimes appear on his show.

Yesterday Joe Farah was featured, on their "update" on the ACLU.

Unfortunately, I think your description of that delusional, closeminded worldview fits the majority of all humans, including many who are in no way affiliated with the religious right. As much as I hate acknowledging the fact, it definitely fits me well enough.

By coffeedrinker (not verified) on 30 Jan 2005 #permalink

Somebody really ought to fisk Kennedy's sermon -- it's atrocious, even by Reconstructionist Christian standards.

As God is my witness, Kennedy claimed that the Supreme Court spent ten years studying the question of whether the U.S. is a "Christian nation." Not once did he mention that the case involved dealt with an anti-Chinese immigration law, or that it was argued less than a year before it was decided (it was the hoary old Holy Trinity case).

Several years ago Kennedy argued that Clarence Darrow had argued that Leopold and Loeb should be acquitted for murder, because that was their evolutionary imperative according to Darwin. Darrow did nothing of the sort -- in fact, he pleaded the two kids guilty of the crime.

As a Christian, it pains me that D. James Kennedy uses his platform for such evil intent. It's way past time somebody took him to task for this stuff.

By the way, much of his material seems plagiarized, to me. Honest Christians worry abotu this stuff. Who is in charge at Coral Ridge Ministries?

By Ed Darrell (not verified) on 30 Jan 2005 #permalink

There is something quite amusing about Kennedy claiming that "revisionists are hard at work rewriting our history" while basing his argument on numerous false quotes and fraudulent documents. I watched the ACLU piece on line and it was, predictably, one long propaganda piece. The stuff about the boy scouts especially was pure demagoguery. The religious right hypocrisy on the Boy Scouts is endlessly absurd. On the one hand they say, "The Boy Scouts is a private organization with a free right of association and keeping out atheists and homosexuals is crucial to its goals." Okay, fine. No problem with me. On the other hand, they scream bloody murder when that argument also means they can't get any federal funding.

Alas, someone near to me has evolved into a right-wing fundy, an admirer of James Dobson & Kennedy & others. But the puzzling thing is, he used to be an intellectual, he read Mencken and didn't like intolerance. How do such people lose their capability for rational thought? Such blind fundy-ism must answer a strong need for boosting one's ego, for turning failures into "holier -than-thou"--in a way that ordinary religion cannot match.

Stroke, or nasty brain-numbing virus, Tristram.

By Ed Darrell (not verified) on 31 Jan 2005 #permalink

I tend to believe that much of the fervor of the religious right comes from ignorance -- not necessarily political, economic, or civic ignorance, but theological ignorance. Many of the evangelical conservatives I've met are remarkably ignorant of the history of the Church, of the evolution of theology, and even of the basics of Christianity. (Actual quote: "So, the Old Testament. Do I even need to read that?") They don't even understand the differences between different Christian denominations -- in many cases, even the history of the Reformation!

This problem is compounded when you realize that so many of the popular public figures of their movement (e.g., James Dobson) have no theological training and no background in the languages, history, and philosophies of Christianity; and the increasing popularity of "freeform" Christian churches like the Vineyard movement. Needless to say, comparative religion is a bit beyond them. (Conversations with them remind me of a discussion I had with a Muslim religious student. When I mentioned my belief that Muhammad sought to build upon conventional Christianity and Judaism, but was stymied by exposure to some kind of local Docetism in the first case and an almost certainly inadvertent corruption of Jewish history in the second, I was gently corrected: the Quran was correct in all ways, I was told: the Christians and Jews had deliberately altered their own texts to mislead people away from Islam.)

Ignorance is the father of certainty. By refusing to understand the complexity of Christian thought and the many uncertainties that permeate it, many evangelical conservatives (fundamental or pentacostal/freeform) do a grave disservice to a great religion, forcing it to fit their parochial prejudice.

By WatchfulBabbler (not verified) on 31 Jan 2005 #permalink