Brooke Allen: Our Godless Constitution
[Mr. Allen is the author of 2 collections of essays including, Twentieth-Century Attitudes.]
It is hard to believe that George Bush has ever read the works of George Orwell, but he seems, somehow, to have grasped a few Orwellian precepts. The lesson the President has learned best--and certainly the one that has been the most useful to him--is the axiom that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. One of his Administration's current favorites is the whopper about America having been founded on Christian principles. Our nation was founded not on Christian principles but on Enlightenment ones. God only entered the picture as a very minor player, and Jesus Christ was conspicuously absent.
Our Constitution makes no mention whatever of God. The omission was too obvious to have been anything but deliberate, in spite of Alexander Hamilton's flippant responses when asked about it: According to one account, he said that the new nation was not in need of"foreign aid"; according to another, he simply said"we forgot." But as Hamilton's biographer Ron Chernow points out, Hamilton never forgot anything important.
In the eighty-five essays that make up The Federalist, God is mentioned only twice (both times by Madison, who uses the word, as Gore Vidal has remarked, in the"only Heaven knows" sense). In the Declaration of Independence, He gets two brief nods: a reference to"the Laws of Nature and Nature's God," and the famous line about men being"endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights." More blatant official references to a deity date from long after the founding period:"In God We Trust" did not appear on our coinage until the Civil War, and"under God" was introduced into the Pledge of Allegiance during the McCarthy hysteria in 1954 [see Elisabeth Sifton,"The Battle Over the Pledge," April 5, 2004].
In 1797 our government concluded a"Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli, or Barbary," now known simply as the Treaty of Tripoli. Article 11 of the treaty contains these words:
As the Government of the United States...is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion--as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity of Musselmen--and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
This document was endorsed by Secretary of State Timothy Pickering and President John Adams. It was then sent to the Senate for ratification; the vote was unanimous. It is worth pointing out that although this was the 339th time a recorded vote had been required by the Senate, it was only the third unanimous vote in the Senate's history. There is no record of debate or dissent. The text of the treaty was printed in full in the Philadelphia Gazette and in two New York papers, but there were no screams of outrage, as one might expect today.
The Founding Fathers were not religious men, and they fought hard to erect, in Thomas Jefferson's words,"a wall of separation between church and state." John Adams opined that if they were not restrained by legal measures, Puritans--the fundamentalists of their day--would"whip and crop, and pillory and roast." The historical epoch had afforded these men ample opportunity to observe the corruption to which established priesthoods were liable, as well as"the impious presumption of legislators and rulers," as Jefferson wrote," civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time."
If we define a Christian as a person who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ, then it is safe to say that some of the key Founding Fathers were not Christians at all. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine were deists--that is, they believed in one Supreme Being but rejected revelation and all the supernatural elements of the Christian Church; the word of the Creator, they believed, could best be read in Nature. John Adams was a professed liberal Unitarian, but he, too, in his private correspondence seems more deist than Christian.
George Washington and James Madison also leaned toward deism, although neither took much interest in religious matters. Madison believed that"religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize." He spoke of the"almost fifteen centuries" during which Christianity had been on trial:"What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution." If Washington mentioned the Almighty in a public address, as he occasionally did, he was careful to refer to Him not as"God" but with some nondenominational moniker like"Great Author" or"Almighty Being." It is interesting to note that the Father of our Country spoke no words of a religious nature on his deathbed, although fully aware that he was dying, and did not ask for a man of God to be present; his last act was to take his own pulse, the consummate gesture of a creature of the age of scientific rationalism.
Tom Paine, a polemicist rather than a politician, could afford to be perfectly honest about his religious beliefs, which were baldly deist in the tradition of Voltaire:"I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.... I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church." This is how he opened The Age of Reason, his virulent attack on Christianity. In it he railed against the"obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness" of the Old Testament,"a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind." The New Testament is less brutalizing but more absurd, the story of Christ's divine genesis a"fable, which for absurdity and extravagance is not exceeded by any thing that is to be found in the mythology of the ancients." He held the idea of the Resurrection in especial ridicule: Indeed,"the wretched contrivance with which this latter part is told, exceeds every thing that went before it." Paine was careful to contrast the tortuous twists of theology with the pure clarity of deism."The true deist has but one Deity; and his religion consists in contemplating the power, wisdom, and benignity of the Deity in his works, and in endeavoring to imitate him in every thing moral, scientifical, and mechanical."
Paine's rhetoric was so fervent that he was inevitably branded an atheist. Men like Franklin, Adams and Jefferson could not risk being tarred with that brush, and in fact Jefferson got into a good deal of trouble for continuing his friendship with Paine and entertaining him at Monticello. These statesmen had to be far more circumspect than the turbulent Paine, yet if we examine their beliefs it is all but impossible to see just how theirs differed from his.
Franklin was the oldest of the Founding Fathers. He was also the most worldly and sophisticated, and was well aware of the Machiavellian principle that if one aspires to influence the masses, one must at least profess religious sentiments. By his own definition he was a deist, although one French acquaintance claimed that"our free-thinkers have adroitly sounded him on his religion, and they maintain that they have discovered he is one of their own, that is that he has none at all." If he did have a religion, it was strictly utilitarian: As his biographer Gordon Wood has said,"He praised religion for whatever moral effects it had, but for little else." Divine revelation, Franklin freely admitted, had"no weight with me," and the covenant of grace seemed"unintelligible" and"not beneficial." As for the pious hypocrites who have ever controlled nations,"A man compounded of law and gospel is able to cheat a whole country with his religion and then destroy them under color of law"--a comment we should carefully consider at this turning point in the history of our Republic.
Here is Franklin's considered summary of his own beliefs, in response to a query by Ezra Stiles, the president of Yale. He wrote it just six weeks before his death at the age of 84.
Here is my creed. I believe in one God, Creator of the universe. That he governs it by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them.
As for Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as it probably has, of making his doctrines more respected and better observed, especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any particular marks of his displeasure.
Jefferson thoroughly agreed with Franklin on the corruptions the teachings of Jesus had undergone."The metaphysical abstractions of Athanasius, and the maniacal ravings of Calvin, tinctured plentifully with the foggy dreams of Plato, have so loaded [Christianity] with absurdities and incomprehensibilities" that it was almost impossible to recapture"its native simplicity and purity." Like Paine, Jefferson felt that the miracles claimed by the New Testament put an intolerable strain on credulity."The day will come," he predicted (wrongly, so far),"when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." The Revelation of St. John he dismissed as"the ravings of a maniac."
Jefferson edited his own version of the New Testament,"The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth," in which he carefully deleted all the miraculous passages from the works of the Evangelists. He intended it, he said, as"a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus." This was clearly a defense against his many enemies, who hoped to blacken his reputation by comparing him with the vile atheist Paine. His biographer Joseph Ellis is undoubtedly correct, though, in seeing disingenuousness here:"If [Jefferson] had been completely scrupulous, he would have described himself as a deist who admired the ethical teachings of Jesus as a man rather than as the son of God. (In modern-day parlance, he was a secular humanist.)" In short, not a Christian at all.
The three accomplishments Jefferson was proudest of--those that he requested be put on his tombstone--were the founding of the University of Virginia and the authorship of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. The latter was a truly radical document that would eventually influence the separation of church and state in the US Constitution; when it was passed by the Virginia legislature in 1786, Jefferson rejoiced that there was finally"freedom for the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammeden, the Hindu and infidel of every denomination"--note his respect, still unusual today, for the sensibilities of the"infidel." The University of Virginia was notable among early-American seats of higher education in that it had no religious affiliation whatever. Jefferson even banned the teaching of theology at the school.
If we were to speak of Jefferson in modern political categories, we would have to admit that he was a pure libertarian, in religious as in other matters. His real commitment (or lack thereof) to the teachings of Jesus Christ is plain from a famous throwaway comment he made:"It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." This raised plenty of hackles when it got about, and Jefferson had to go to some pains to restore his reputation as a good Christian. But one can only conclude, with Ellis, that he was no Christian at all.
John Adams, though no more religious than Jefferson, had inherited the fatalistic mindset of the Puritan culture in which he had grown up. He personally endorsed the Enlightenment commitment to Reason but did not share Jefferson's optimism about its future, writing to him,"I wish that Superstition in Religion exciting Superstition in Polliticks...may never blow up all your benevolent and phylanthropic Lucubrations," but that"the History of all Ages is against you." As an old man he observed,"Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been upon the point of breaking out, 'This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!'" Speaking ex cathedra, as a relic of the founding generation, he expressed his admiration for the Roman system whereby every man could worship whom, what and how he pleased. When his young listeners objected that this was paganism, Adams replied that it was indeed, and laughed.
In their fascinating and eloquent valetudinarian correspondence, Adams and Jefferson had a great deal to say about religion. Pressed by Jefferson to define his personal creed, Adams replied that it was" contained in four short words, 'Be just and good.'" Jefferson replied,"The result of our fifty or sixty years of religious reading, in the four words, 'Be just and good,' is that in which all our inquiries must end; as the riddles of all priesthoods end in four more, 'ubi panis, ibi deus.' What all agree in, is probably right. What no two agree in, most probably wrong."
This was a clear reference to Voltaire's Reflections on Religion. As Voltaire put it:
There are no sects in geometry. One does not speak of a Euclidean, an Archimedean. When the truth is evident, it is impossible for parties and factions to arise.... Well, to what dogma do all minds agree? To the worship of a God, and to honesty. All the philosophers of the world who have had a religion have said in all ages:"There is a God, and one must be just." There, then, is the universal religion established in all ages and throughout mankind. The point in which they all agree is therefore true, and the systems through which they differ are therefore false.
Of course all these men knew, as all modern presidential candidates know, that to admit to theological skepticism is political suicide. During Jefferson's presidency a friend observed him on his way to church, carrying a large prayer book."You going to church, Mr. J," remarked the friend."You do not believe a word in it." Jefferson didn't exactly deny the charge."Sir," he replied,"no nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I as chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. Good morning Sir."
Like Jefferson, every recent President has understood the necessity of at least paying lip service to the piety of most American voters. All of our leaders, Democrat and Republican, have attended church, and have made very sure they are seen to do so. But there is a difference between offering this gesture of respect for majority beliefs and manipulating and pandering to the bigotry, prejudice and millennial fantasies of Christian extremists. Though for public consumption the Founding Fathers identified themselves as Christians, they were, at least by today's standards, remarkably honest about their misgivings when it came to theological doctrine, and religion in general came very low on the list of their concerns and priorities--always excepting, that is, their determination to keep the new nation free from bondage to its rule.
comments powered by Disqus
Rex RexCurry.net Curry - 9/18/2005
Shocking historical facts were exposed by me (Rex Curry) during research for court litigation against the Pledge of Allegiance. Elk Grove’s new Pledge case (9/14/05) virtually guarantees the high court again will consider the constitutionality of the Pledge, and I will be there to tell the whole truth, (including the parts that are hidden by the courts and media). As a libertarian lawyer, I provide pro bono services in schools nationwide to educate the public about the news:
1. The USA’s first Pledge used a straight-arm salute and it was the origin of the salute of the monstrous National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazis). It was not an ancient Roman salute. http://rexcurry.net/pledgesalute.html
2. The Pledge began with a military salute that then stretched outward toward the flag. Historic photographs are at http://rexcurry.net/pledge2.html and at http://rexcurry.net/pledge_military.html Due to the way that both gestures were used, the military salute led to the Nazi salute. The Nazi salute is an extended military salute. http://rexcurry.net/book1a1contents-pledge.html
3. The Pledge’s creator was a self-proclaimed socialist in the nationalism movement in the USA and his dogma influenced socialists in Germany, and his Pledge was the origin of their salute. "Nazi" means "National Socialist German Workers' Party." A mnemonic device is the swastika (Hakenkreuz in German). Although the swastika was an ancient symbol, it was also used sometimes by German National Socialists to represent "S" letters for their "socialism." Hitler altered his own signature to use the same stylized "S" letter for "socialist."
The Pledge is part of the USA’s growing police-state. The insane government in the U.S. could cause comatose persons to Pledge dis-allegiance, desecrate the flag, and recite a declaration of independence. Remove the Pledge from the flag, remove flags from schools, remove schools from government.
Government schools will never teach children about their Pledge rights, nor the truth about the Pledge and its author.
Most comments fail to ever mention that Francis Bellamy and his cousin Edward Bellamy were National Socialists in the USA, wrote for and supported their "Nationalist" and "New Nation" magazines, the "Nationalist Educational Association" and pushed their totalitarian dogma in their "Nationalism" clubs worldwide, including in Germany, and that the bible of their movement, Edward Bellamy's book "Looking Backward" was translated into every major language including the languages of those countries that became home to totalitarian socialism and the socialist Wholecaust (of which the Holocaust was a part) under the National Socialist German Workers' Party (21 million dead), the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (62 million dead), and the Peoples' Republic of China (35 million dead). It is easy to see why anyone would want to cover all of that up, but it should not be covered up.
In the USA, the Bellamy dogma supported a government takeover of education. The government's schools imposed segregation by law and taught racism as official policy. The USA's behavior was an example for three decades before the Nazis. As under Nazism, the Jehovah's Witnesses, and blacks and the Jewish and others in the USA attended government schools that dictated segregation, taught racism, and persecuted children who refused to perform the straight-arm salute and robotically chant the Pledge. Some kids were expelled from government schools and had to use the many better alternatives. There were acts of violence. When Jesse Owens competed in the 1936 Olympics in Germany, his neighbors attended segregated government schools where they saluted the flag with the Nazi salute. The U.S. practice of official racism even outlasted the horrid party. And the schools and the Pledge still exist. The Pledge is still the most visible sign of the USA's growing police state.
After segregation in government's schools ended, the Bellamy legacy caused more police-state racism of forced busing that destroyed communities and neighborhoods and deepened hostilities.
Bellamy was a self-proclaimed national socialist in the USA, with the "Nationalist" magazine, and he preached what he called "military socialism." The federal flag darkens schools because Bellamy wanted government to take over all schools and to eliminate all of the better alternatives. Worse, Bellamy wanted the government to take over everything, not just schools. He wanted the government to impose the military system on all of society. School flags are a symbol of nationalization, militarism, and socialism.
The Bellamy dogma was the same dogma that led to the "Wholecaust" (of which the Holocaust was a part): 62 million killed under the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics; 35 million under the Peoples' Republic of China; 21 million under the National Socialist German Workers' Party. It was so bad that Holocaust Museums could quadruple in size with Wholecaust Museums to document the entire slaughter.
Some schools in the USA are still named after Francis Bellamy. The Bellamy schools should be re-named because they send the wrong message to children and the community. It causes emotional distress to children who attend schools named after a man who popularized the Nazi salute and who helped the government institutionalize racism and segregation. I, and my supporters, will also assist in any legal means to defray the cost of re-naming Bellamy schools.
If government's schools (and the media) told the true history of the Pledge, then no student would chant it. If Americans knew the truth, then the Pledge would cease to exist.
Fight the flag hags and their flag fetish. Government's schools should not teach kids to verbally fellate flags each morning. It is like a brainwashed cult of the omnipotent state. For adults it is childish. Remove the Pledge from the flag, remove flags from schools, remove schools from government.
Listen to audio exposing the flag and the Pledge http://rexcurry.net/rexcurry4.mp3
As an attorney, I am asked if students can be forced to say the Pledge of Allegiance in government schools. Another school year has started, and it is important to educate children about their right to refuse.
Government schools deserve a failing grade for not teaching students about their right to refuse and about the horrid history of the Pledge. There are still some oddball states where government schools are required by law to begin each day with a robotic chant of the Pledge, after students hear the ringing of a bell, like Pavlov's lapdogs of the state.
Government schools in the U.S. were the origin of the salute of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nazis) because the Pledge's original salute was a straight-armed salute. It is a myth that the salute is an old Roman salute. Most students never see the eye-popping historic photographs. http://www.rexcurry.net/pledge2.html
I became involved in litigation about the Pledge of Allegiance before the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Wonschik v. United States http://www.supremecourtus.gov/docket/03-10249.htm Research in that case and other litigation involving the Pledge, led to astounding discoveries concerning the Pledge's past.
The history of the Pledge is suppressed because it is unlibertarian. The Pledge was written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a self-proclaimed National Socialist, who wanted a government takeover of education to produce an "industrial army" (a Bellamy term) for the authoritarian vision in his cousin Edward Bellamy's book "Looking Backward." The Bellamy cousins promoted national socialism worldwide for decades. It resulted in racist and segregated government schools that lasted through WWII into the 1960's, setting a horrid example for hate-spewing groups worldwide.
A webpage helps students learn that the Pledge was written by a National Socialist and the rest of the Pledge's truly terrifying history:
The eye-popping new version of the popular graphic art "All in favor of gun control raise your right hand" is at http://www.rexcurry.net/pledgewonschik.html
In the new version, the original Nazi-style salute to the U.S. flag is exposed with the phrase: "All in favor of a Pledge of Allegiance raise your right hand."
The graphic art shows the original Pledge of Allegiance on the left and on the right it shows the salute of the National Socialist German Workers' Party.
It explains that the Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag is the origin of the salute of the National Socialist German Workers' Party.
In the 1930s, the National Socialist German Workers' Party passed laws that required everyone to pledge allegiance, similar to many state laws in the U.S. that have tried to require school-children to recite the Pledge. Jehovah's Witnesses believed that people who enjoy reciting government pledges are people who worship government. Jehovah's Witnesses were officially banned in Germany for refusing to join the raised palm salute of the National Socialist German Workers' Party in schools and at public events. Many of the German Witnesses were imprisoned in concentration camps.
The National Socialist German Workers' Party had adopted the U.S. salute and forced people to perform it. Many states in the U.S. had a practice similar to that of National Socialist German Workers' Party in forcing people to perform the salute created by a National Socialist in the U.S.
In the 1940's, before the phrase "under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, Jehovah's Witnesses refused to recite the Pledge in school on the grounds that it constituted worship of government. They hoped for a different response than they had met from the National Socialist German Workers' Party. In 1940, in the case of Minersville School Board v. Gobitas, the Supreme Court ruled that a government school could expel those children for refusing to salute the flag. Three years later (1943), in West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette the Supreme Court reversed itself and decided that school children may not be forced to stand and salute the flag.
In 1940, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter was freaking about France falling to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party when Frankfurter wrote the Gobitas decision that allowed schools to expel students who refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance. Frankfurter was very concerned about the progress of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party in the war and Frankfurter believed it was important for the country to come together and for everyone to be loyal. Yet, Frankfurter’s decision allowed compelled collective pledges by the government in government schools that were using a straight-arm salute similar to the National Socialist German Workers’ Party salute, for a Pledge of Allegiance that was written by a U.S. socialist who was a member of the "Nationalism" movement and a vice president of its socialist auxiliary group, whose members wanted the federal government to nationalize most of the American economy. It is fortunate that the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the Gobitas decision 3 years later.
The original salute to the U.S. flag was the same as the salute of the National Socialist German Workers' Party. An example of the salute is at http://www.rexcurry.net/pledge1.html (historic photographs of the original socialist salute being given to the U.S. flag are collected at that website, so please contact the website with information about any historic photographs of the Pledge).
"Nazi" was an abbreviation of "National Socialist Worker's Party of Germany." They advocated nationalizing the economy. After the Nazi's demonstrated full blown socialism, the U.S. flag salute changed to the modern hand over the heart.
The U.S. Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892 by a socialist, to promote socialism in the most socialistic institution -- government schools. The author, Francis Bellamy, belonged to a religious socialist movement known as "Christian Socialism," and belonged to a group known for "Nationalism," whose members wanted the federal government to nationalize most of the American economy. He saw government schools as a means to that end.
Libertarians like to say they oppose "the cult of the omnipotent state." There are many parallels between the legal arguments made by Jehovah's Witnesses and the libertarian catchphrase.
The Barnette case held that students cannot be forced to recite the Pledge or salute the flag in government schools. One admirable result of the Gobitas case and every Supreme Court case regarding government schools is that many parents removed their children from government schools. And that is the real solution to the Pledge debate and all other issues: reduce government and remove government from education. As Libertarians say: The separation of school and state is as important as the separation of church and state.
For more information on the U.S. flag's Pledge and salute see http://www.rexcurry.net/pledge1.html
Yours in Liberty,
Attorney At Law
- Stanford historian uncovers the dark roots of humanitarianism
- Historian hailed for offering a history of the culture wars
- Scholars to set the West straight about "Apocalyptic Hopes, Millennial Dreams and Global Jihad"
- Why Eugene Genovese’s 2 sentences about Vietnam went viral in 1965
- Historians named to the 2015 class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences