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It’s been weeks since the election, but endless words still gush forth from our pundits, re the significance of religion in Bush’s triumph. Its “the wave of the future,” is the bipartisan refrain, with Democrats confessing their sins & promising to give saintliness one more try in these last few days before the apocalypse.
Antigay marriage amendments have taken Nader’s place in Democratic cleanups for good ol’ Anybody getting his ass kicked. They brought out white Protestant fundamentalists. Antigay feeling, combined with clerical greed for US funding for church-run drug clinics, raised Bush’s Black vote from 8% in 2000, to 11%. His Hispanic vote went from 31% to 43%.
All true. But a lesbian, was elected sheriff of Dallas County, Texas & at least 41 other gays & lesbians won their races. US elections are no better than a fun-house mirror reflection of trends in our society. Every indicant shows traditional American religion in decline.
Bush’s support for Sharon, lust for government funding of yeshivas, & gut-basic Old Testament hatred of Sodomites, propelled 70% of Orthodox Jewry into Bush’s camp. But Orthodoxy is less than 10% of American Jewry.
Sixty percent of all US Jews are college grads. The result? A majority of born Jews reject all Judaic sects, Orthodox, Conservative or Reform. Twenty-eight percent declare themselves atheists.
Catholicism is our biggest denomination. Spokane’s Bishop was recently elected president of their Conference. His diocese is filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Its the 3rd to belly up after altered-boy settlements. More filings are expected. Apostasy inexorably spreads.
Christian Century, a sociologically excellent journal, reports that by early 2005, Protestants will fall below 50% of Americans. Many drop out in college & don’t join churches when they get married. The Southern Baptist Convention is still the largest Protestant sect. But they declined from 10% of Americans in 1993, to 7% in 2003. They’ve had 4 straight years of declining baptisms. Many upper class WASPS, Episcopalians, Presbyterians & Co., now move to atheism in college.
Tens of millions modify the theology of their original church or jump from 1 Christian sect to another. Major denomination are racked with conflict over female & gay clergy.
Folks saying they have no religion are 1 out of 7 Americans, 14%, up from 9% in 1990.
Bush had money to mobilized our most sectarian elements, who know they are losing the culture war. But there isn’t a hint of a religious revival. To the contrary, the crucial question about this singular election is why our growing liberal religious & atheist sectors so weakly opposed Bush’s use of God & country religion to build support for his wars & domestic pro-rich policies.
1 Corinthians 14:8 still tells it like it is: “For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?” Most church/state separatists abandoned their principles to support Kerry. Atheist George Soros vouched for him in a NY Times ad. Lawyer Michael Newdow got the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals to cut “under God” from the school Pledge of Allegiance. He told me that he was for Kerry.
There is a wee problem there. Within hours after his 2002 victory, the Senate voted 99-0 for a Democrat-authored resolution “to seek to intervene in the case to defend the constitutionality of the Pledge of Allegiance.” Kerry told Boston TV that the ruling was “half-assed justice … the most absurd thing … That’s not the establishment of religion.”
The Democratic Party hired its 1st-ever director of religious outreach in 2004. Disciples of Christ minister Brenda Peterson quit after 2 weeks. NYC’s Catholic League denounced her. She signed a “friend of the court” brief, supporting Newdow.
She still endorsed Kerry but wouldn’t comment on her resignation. Presumably, she did it, on her own or at Kerry’s urging, to render Kerry less vulnerable to attacks from the League (about as related to our times as the Pope’s Swiss Guards).
Such secularists fell into “Chicken Littlehood,” as Reform Judaism’s Leonard Fein put it in his confession. Frightened out of their wits by Bush, they overlooked the unique aspect of America’s separation of church & state. Its in the Constitution.
Article VI: 3 “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and the several States, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
A successful candidate affirms support for these clauses & laws allowed under them. You can’t call yourself a secularist & vote for someone known to be an opponent of Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation between Church and State.” Serious secularists must take the issue directly to the people, exposing each & every politician who would break it down.
Our bipartisan hacks get away with religious demagoguery because 66% of Americans don’t know that “We hold these truths to be self evident: that all men are created equal” is from Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. Fifty-three percent don’t know that the 1st 10 amendments to the constitution are called the Bill of Rights, much less who authored it.
On the other hand, 26% have college degrees, with millions more in school. However, even most educated Americans have hazy ideas re the centrality of church/state separation in the country’s struggle for religious liberty. Now, however, with Bush reelected, some liberals acknowledge that, at the very least, they need substantial knowledge about the issue. More important, educated right wing fundamentalist youth can’t reject out of hand anything coming from their patriotic icons.
Jefferson & Madison On Separation of Church and State contains excerpts from 101 documents & 332 of their letters. It puts their writings on religion & secularism under 1 cover to be used to expose the antagonism between their anticlerical principles & the fanaticism of the religious right. They are 2 of history’s clearest writers. Read them, & you will be hot to defend their separatism, best done by challenging freedom’s foes to read & heed them. Bush tries to further involve religion in politics. Madison asked whether “the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom?” Our pleasant task is to make the public ask Bush ‘how come you ain’t asking that?’
THE STRUGGLE FOR DISESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION IN VIRGINIA & THE U.S.
America’s successful democratic secular revolution was the work of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) & James Madison (1751-1836). They met in 1776, after Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, & worked together until his death.
Their 1st joint task was disestablishing Virginia’s Episcopal church. Jefferson drafted a Statute for Religious Freedom in 1777. Introduced into the Assembly in 1779, it wasn’t adopted, due to the opposition of Patrick Henry, master orator & religious ranter. Madison reintroduced it in 1785. It passed in 1786.
Madison’s classic work in this effort was his 1785 Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. The controversy shifted since 1779. Supporters of establishment moved from maintaining Episcopalianism to omnibus support for all “teachers of the Christian religion.” Madison denounced the scheme:
“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?. Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offense against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered.”
He opposed the bill because it “implies either that the Civil Magistrate is a competent Judge of Religious Truth; or that he may employ Religion as an engine of Civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension falsified by the contradictory opinions of Rulers in all ages, and throughout the world: the second an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.”
Moreover, “the Bill is not requisite for the support of the Christian Religion. To say that it is, is a contradiction to the Christian Religion itself, for every page of it disavows a dependence on the powers of this world…. It is moreover to weaken in those who profess this Religion a pious confidence in its innate excellence and the patronage of its Author; and to foster in those who still reject it, a suspicion that its friends are too conscious of its fallacies to trust it to its own merits.”
Jefferson was ambassador to France, 1785-90. He played no role in designing the constitution. It is Madison who is called its “father” for his role at the c onstitutional convention. Jefferson critiqued it to Madison: “First, the omission of a bill of rights providing clearly & without the aid of sophisms for freedom of religion.”
Madison’s was unconvinced. “Repeated violations of these parchment barriers have been committed by overbearing majorities in every State.” But once he realized that opposition would sharply diminish if a bill was added, he became its chief proponent. On June 8, 1789, he presented it to the 1st House of Representatives.
“That in article 1st, section 9, between clauses 3 and 4, be inserted these clauses, to wit: The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed…. The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person…. That in article 1st, section 10, between clauses 1 and 2, be inserted this clause, to wit: No State shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.”
This ultimately became our 1st amendment’s “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” But Madison lost the fight to extend separation to the states. Some had established churches & wouldn’t join the union if forced to give them up. Massachusetts only disestablished Congregationalism in 1833. Nevertheless he created the Constitution & Bill of Rights of the 1st republic of modern times, the only national government in the world without an official religion.
We moderns know that the new US had a terrible contradiction. Democracy was intertwined with slavery. That could only be resolved, decades later, by the civil war. But, even with its racism, nothing better describes the impact of the American revolution & its Constitution than a 1789 note from Jefferson, in Paris: “Our proceedings have been viewed as a model for them on every occasion; and though in the heat of debate men are generally disposed to contradict every authority urged by their opponents, ours has been treated like that of the Bible, open to explanation but not to question.”
Jefferson returned home in 1790 to become George Washington’s Secretary of State. The major foreign policy issue before the new nation was to be its relationship to the new French regime. Jefferson’s support for the revolution in its heroic phase inevitably brought charges of atheism against him & his followers (known 1st as Republicans, then as Democratic Republicans, later as the Democratic Party), from the Federalists, particularly strong in clerically dominated New England. And indeed Jefferson’s 1800 election as President was the high point of patriotic anticlericalism.
His most famous Presidential statement in his period is from an 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association.
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”
But the public didn’t know that the note originally contained an immediately following statement.
“Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorized only to execute their acts, I have refrained from prescribing even those occasional performances of devotion, practiced indeed by the Executive of another nation as the legal head of its church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect.”
He explained the clause in an accompanying letter to his Attorney General:
“The Baptist address, now enclosed, admits of a condemnation of the alliance between Church and State, under the authority of the Constitution. It furnishes an occasion, too, which I have long wished to find, of saying why I do not proclaim fastings and thanksgivings, as my predecessors did. The address, to be sure, does not point at this, and its introduction is awkward. But I foresee no opportunity of doing it more pertinently. I know it will give great offense to the New England clergy; but the advocate of religious freedom is to expect neither peace nor forgiveness from them. Will you be so good as to examine the answer, and suggest any alterations which might prevent an ill effect, or promote a good one, among the people?”
Historians presume that his AG persuaded him to delete the passage, thus avoiding an unnecessary fight. But the author of America’s Declaration of Independence is its Thanksgiving Scrooge. He never issued any proclamations.
Altho many foes denounced him as an atheist, he believed in a god. But he explained that “from a very early part of my life,” he was a skeptic regarding “the difficulty of reconciling the ideas of Unity and Trinity.” He came to reject “the immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity, original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, & c. invented by ultra-Christian sects, unauthorized by a single word ever uttered by him.”
Jesus was a philosopher open to criticism. “It is not to be understood that I am with him in all His doctrines. I am a Materialist; he takes the side of spiritualism: he preaches the efficacy of repentance towards forgiveness of sin; I require a counterpoise of good works to redeem it &c. &c.”
Jesus was a product of his time & place.
“There are, I acknowledge, passages not free from objection, which we may with probability ascribe to Jesus himself; but claiming indulgence from the circumstances under which he acted. His object was the reformation of some articles in the religion of the Jews, as taught by Moses. That Seer had presented, for the object of their worship, a being of terrific character, cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust. Jesus, taking for his type the best qualities of the human head and heart, wisdom, justice, goodness, and adding to them power, ascribed all of these but in infinite perfection, to the supreme being, and formed him really worthy of their adoration….
“The office of reformer of the superstitions of a nation is ever dangerous. Jesus had to walk on the perilous confines of reason and religion: and a step to right or left might place him within the gripe of the priests of the superstition, a bloodthirsty race…. They were constantly laying snares too to entangle him in the web of the law. He was justifiable therefore in avoiding these by evasions, by sophisms, by misconstructions and misapplications of scraps of the prophets, and in defending himself with these their own weapons, as sufficient, ad homines, at least. That Jesus did not mean to impose himself on mankind as the son of god physically speaking I have been convinced by the writings of men more learned than myself in that lore. But that he might conscientiously believe himself inspired from above, is very possible. The whole religion of the Jews, inculcated on him from his infancy, was founded in the belief of divine inspiration…. Elevated by the enthusiasm of a warm and pure heart, conscious of the high strains of an eloquence which had not been taught him, he might readily mistake the coruscations of his own fine genius for inspirations of a higher order. This belief carried therefore no more personal imputation, than the belief of Socrates, that himself was under the care and admonitions of a guardian daemon.”
Jefferson’s profound skepticism led to arguably the most singular event ever to occur in the White House. In February 1804, the President of the United States took his razor to the 4 Gospels, cut out all supernatural passages, & pasted up the rest, calling it The Philosophy of Jesus of Nazareth.
It was lost after his death. However, he did it again, in retirement, in 1819-20, calling it The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. He felt that the 1804 work was hastily done while he was busy running the country. His 2nd opus is a major scholarly effort. He selected verses & parts of verses, from 4 Bibles, Greek, Latin, French & the King James version, again removing all miracles & supernatural intervention in human affairs. “The Jefferson Bible,” as it is now called, is reprinted in its entirety, 53 pages, in the present volume.
It begins with LUKE 2:1 “AND it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.” It runs straight thru to 2:7 “And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.”
Then it hops to 2:21 “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS.” Jefferson cut the angel telling shepherds how “is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
A biography of a philosopher is constructed, so well edited that it is best to read the King James version along side it, to fully grasp how much biblical Christianity he rejected. JOHN 19:41-42 closes The Jefferson Bible: “Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus.” Then he leaps to MATTHEW 27:60: “And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.”
When he died, they carved his epitaph as per his instructions.
“Here was buried Thomas Jefferson Author of the Declaration of American Independance of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom & Father of the University of Virginia.”
Indeed much of his best writing was devoted to religious freedom, culminating with his last letter, written 10 days before his death, re the 50th anniversary of his Declaration of Independence.
“May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all), the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man.
The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God. These are grounds of hope for others. For ourselves, let the annual return of this day forever refresh our recollections of these rights, and an undiminished devotion to them.”
Jefferson observed that “generally, that while in Protestant countries the defections from the Platonic Christianity of the priests is to Deism, in Catholic they are to atheism.” But, devoted to freedom of religion, he sees himself as standing in the same line as France’s great atheists.
“Some have made the love of God the foundation of morality.” But no. “If we did a good act merely from the love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? It is idle to say, as some do, that no such being exists. We have the same evidence of the fact as of most of those we act on, to-wit: their own affirmations, and their reasonings in support of them…. Diderot, D’Alembert, D’Holbach, Condorcet, are known to have been among the most virtuous of men. Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.”
He initiated his nephew into philosophy:
“Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of it’s consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no god, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort & pleasantness you feel in it’s exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you. If you find reason to believe there is a god, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, & that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a god, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love. In fine, I repeat that you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, & neither believe nor reject anything because any other persons, or description of persons have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable not for the rightness but uprightness of the decision.”
Indeed, while his writings are full of denunciations of Christian sects surrounding him, I haven’t found even 1 attack on atheism. What he loathed was “priest-craft.” He explained himself in 1815:
“Of publishing a book on religion, my dear Sir, I never had an idea. I should as soon think of writing for the reformation of Bedlam, as of the world of religious sects. Of these there must be at least ten thousand, every individual of every one of which believes all are wrong but his own. To undertake to bring them all right, would be like undertaking, single handed, to fell the forests of America…. I abuse the priests indeed, who have so much abused the pure and holy doctrines of their master, and who have laid me under no obligations of reticence as to the tricks of their trade. The genuine system of Jesus, and the artificial structures they have erected, to make them the instruments of wealth, power, and preeminence to themselves, are as distinct things in my view as light and darkness: and while I have classed them with soothsayers and necromancers, I place him among the greatest of the reformers of morals, and scourges of priest-craft that have ever existed. They felt him as such, and never rested until they had silenced him by death. But his heresies against Judaism prevailing in the long run, the priests have tacked about, and rebuilt upon them the temple which he destroyed, as splendid, as profitable, and as imposing as that.”
This last simply never happened. The priests of the last Jewish temple didn’t suddenly put on turned-around collars & reemerge as Catholic priests. He let himself get carried away with rage against priestcraft. However, he was friendly to many clergy.
He detested Popery, declaring, in 1823, that “were the Pope, or his holy allies, to send in mission to us some thousands of Jesuit priests to convert us to their orthodoxy, I suspect that we should deem and treat it as a national aggression on our peace and faith.” Yet, as ambassador to France, he relaxed in a monastery whose monks took vows of silence. He couldn’t stop praising the monk who helped rescue American sailors from enslavement by Muslim pirates in Tripoli. And he was relieved to hear that the Papal Nuncio he met in Paris, the symbol of everything he detested in Europe’s old order, had personally survived the Napoleonic era.
Jefferson must be seen in his times, primitive in many ways. Washington lost his teeth in his youth, cracking walnuts. Alexander Hamilton was killed in a duel with the Vice-president of the US. Jefferson had to argue against French naturalist Count de Buffon’s notion that American animals were weaker than their European counterparts.
In his 1781 Notes on the State of Virginia, he declared that “To our reproach it must be said, that though for a century and a half we have had under our eyes the races of black and of red men, they have never yet been viewed by us as subjects of natural history. I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.”
It was only 10 years later that he changed his mind, when he read Benjamin Banniker’s Almanac. He was overjoyed to write the freeborn mathematician that “No body wishes more than I do to see such proofs as you exhibit, that nature has given to our black brethren, talents equal to those of the other colors of men, and that the appearance of a want of them is owing merely to the degraded condition of their existence, both in Africa & America…. I have taken the liberty of sending your Almanac to Monsieur de Condorcet, Secretary of the Academy of Sciences at Paris.”
Jefferson was a legal reformer who sometimes is grotesque to moderns. He went thru British Virginia’s penal code & proposed that homosexuality “should be punished, if a man, by castration, if a woman, by cutting through the cartilage of her nose a hole of one-half inch in diameter as least.” Of course he never encountered an open gay. He was reducing death penalty crimes.
Muslims were to be welcomed here, but he had no direct contact with any, & repeated nonsense. “Among the Mahometans we are told that thousands fell victims to the dispute whether the first or second toe of Mahomet was longest.”
Jefferson insisted that “To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of n othings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say, they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise… matter alone can operate on matter.”
God was material like you, me & a garbage truck. But he also believed in an afterlife, closing a letter to John Adams, “May we meet there again, in Congress, with our antient Colleagues, and receive with them the seal of approbation ‘Well done, good and faithful servants.'” Certainly he had no evidence backing up his notion of heaven. But we know that he was traumatized by the post-childbirth death of his wife at 33. Then 4 of their 6 children died before him. The successful ideological creator of a new nation he surely was. But there is a melancholy quality to his last writings, as he awaited death. Hoping to meet his family & friends again kept him going, never mind whether he would meet them in their bloom or as they were in their death agonies.
He thought that Unitarianism would become the dominant American religion.
So it goes. He was wrong about many things. But it was he who took Virginia out of the middle ages of kings & established churches. He helped to create the 1st state in history to “comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo and infidel of every denomination.”
His presence inspired the French revolution. But most Americans know nothing of the anticlerical side of 4th of July Jefferson. Yet the author of the Declaration of Independence putting his razor to the Bible remains 1 of the most important acts in humanity’s history. When educated young religious Americans come to know that he did that, many will likewise apply their critical reason, not merely to the Bible, but to every authority. That will be the beginning of the end of bipartisan “faith-based” demagoguery.
JEFFERSON’S SUCCESSOR AS PRESIDENT & HEIR TO HIS POLITICS
It was inevitable that Madison would succeed Jefferson when he retired as President in 1809. The Virginians had worked together for 35 years. But they were distinct personalities re religion. Madison was primarily concerned with keeping it & government apart. He believed in a god, but he never discussed theology as Jefferson did.
He had 2 occasions to veto laws because they violated the 1st Amendment. One law reserved land for a Baptist church in Mississippi when it was still a federal territory. The other incorporated an Episcopal church in the District of Columbia. Madison presented arguments specific to their dated situations, demonstrating that both laws violated separatism. However, his February 21, 1811 Message to the House enunciated 1 principle clearly applying to Bush’s faith-based hustle, with church-run drug clinics, job training programs, etc.
“Because the bill vests in the said incorporated church an authority to provide for the support of the poor and the education of poor children of the same, an authority which, being altogether superfluous if the provision is to be the result of pious charity, would be a precedent for giving to religious societies as such a legal agency in carrying into effect a public and civil duty.”
Madison made one retreat from Jefferson’s policies. During the War of 1812 with Britain, he issued Thanksgiving proclamations.
“Whereas the Congress of the United States… have signified a request that a day may be recommended, to be observed by the people of the United States with religious solemnity, as a day of Public Humiliation and Prayer and whereas in times of public calamity, such as that of the war, brought on the U. States by the injustice of a foreign government, it is especially becoming, that the hearts of all should be touched with the same, and the eyes of all be turned to that Almighty Power, in whose hand are the welfare and the destiny of nations: I do, therefore, issue this my Proclamation, recommending to all who shall be piously disposed to unite their teams and voices in addressing, at one and the same time their vows and adorations to the great Parent and Sovereign of the Universe, that they assemble on the second Thursday of September next, in their respective religious congregations, to render him thanks for the many blessings he has bestowed on the people of the United States…. that he has blessed the United States with a political constitution founded on the will and authority of the whole people, and guaranteeing to each individual security, not only of his person and his property, but of those sacred rights of conscience, so essential to his present happiness, and so dear to his future hopes…. and that, as he was graciously pleased, heretofore, to smile on our struggles against the attempts of the government of the empire of which these states then made a part… so he would now be pleased, in like manner, to bestow his blessing on our arms in resisting the hostile and persevering efforts of the same power to degrade us on the ocean, the common inheritance of all….
“If the public homage of a people can ever be worthy the favorable regard of the Holy and Omniscient Being to whom it is addressed, it must be that, in which those who join in it are guided only by their free choice, by the impulse of their hearts and the dictates of their consciences; and such a spectacle must be interesting to all Christian nations; as proving that religion, that gift of Heaven for the good of man, freed from all coercive edicts, from that unhallowed connexion with the powers of this world, which corrupts religion into an instrument or an usurper policy of the state, and making no appeal but to reason, to the heart and to the conscience, can spread its benign influence every where, and can attract to the Divine Altar those free will offerings of humble supplication, thanksgiving and praise, which alone can be acceptable to Him whom no hypocrisy can deceive, and no forced sacrifices propitiate.
“Upon these principles, and with these views, the people of the United States are invited, in conformity with the resolution aforesaid, to dedicate the day above named to the religious solemnities therein recommended.”
When Andrew Jackson became President in 1829 he discontinued proclamations. But Lincoln issued them during the Civil War. Thanksgiving started on the road to what it is today, a 4-day holiday, complete with Bush’s proclamation.
“We are grateful to the homeland security and intelligence personnel…. And we give thanks for the Americans in our Armed Forces who are serving around the world to secure our country and advance the cause of freedom.”
But in the real world, today’s Thanksgiving has no more relationship to religion than the NYC Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, with its cartoon character balloons for kids.
However, in 1946 a “Detatched (sic) Memoranda” by Madison was discovered. He wrote it after he left the White House in 1817. In 1856, Congress authorized historian William Rives to prepare his papers for publication. Rives worked at home. It ended up in Rives’ personal papers. It was recovered by a historian working on a biography of Rives. There is no doubt of its authenticity. The Supremes cite it.
Madison dealt with congressional decisions he disagreed with, & he reconsidered his wartime action.
“Religious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings & fasts are shoots from the same root with the legislative acts reviewed.
“Altho’ recommendations only, they imply a religious agency, making no part of the trust delegated to political rulers.
“The objections to them are 1. that Govts ought not to interpose in relation to those subject to their authority but in cases where they can do it with effect. An advisory Govt is a contradiction in terms. 2. The members of a Govt as such can in no sense, be regarded as possessing an advisory trust from their Constituents in their religious capacities…. They seem to imply and certainly nourish the erronious idea of a national religion…. But reason and the principles of the Xn religion require that all the individuals composing a nation even of the same precise creed & wished to unite in a universal act of religion at the same time, the union ought to be effected thro’ the intervention of their religious not of their political representatives…. The last & not the least objection is the liability of the practice to a subserviency to political views; to the scandal of religion, as well as the increase of party animosities. Candid or incautious politicians will not always disown such views. In truth it is difficult to frame such a religious Proclamation generally suggested by a political State of things, without referring to them in terms having some bearing on party questions….
“During the administration of Mr Jefferson no religious proclamation was issued. It being understood that his successor was disinclined to such interpositions of the Executive and by some supposed moreover that they might originate with more propriety with the Legislative Body, a resolution was passed requesting him to issue a proclamation….
“It was thought not proper to refuse a compliance altogether; but a form & language were employed, which were meant to deaden as much as possible any claim of political right to enjoin religious observances by resting these expressly on the voluntary compliance of individuals, and even by limiting the recommendation to such as wished simultaneous as well as voluntary performance of a religious act on the occasion.”
Clearly, Madison reconsidered proclamations & found that they put separation at risk. The author of the 1st Amendment is the 1st authority on it. Would Lincoln have issued proclamations if he knew of the Memoranda? We can only speculate. But, given that he never joined a church, it is difficult to envision him reading it, ignoring its strictures & issuing such documents.
In any case, there is no doubt that Madison’s anticlericalism increased with experience. He asked
“Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom?
“In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U. S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them; and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does not this involve the principle of a national establishment, applicable to a provision for a religious worship for the Constituent as well as of the representative Body, approved by the majority, and conducted by Ministers of religion paid by the entire nation.
“The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles: The tenets of the chaplains elected [by the majority] shut the door of worship agst the members whose creeds & consciences forbid a participation in that of the majority. To say nothing of other sects, this is the case with that of Roman Catholics & Quakers who have always had members in one or both of the Legislative branches. Could a Catholic clergyman ever hope to be appointed a Chaplain? To say that his religious principles are obnoxious or that his sect is small, is to lift the evil at once and exhibit in its naked deformity the doctrine that religious truth is to be tested by numbers or that the major sects have a right to govern the minor….
“Better also to disarm in the same way, the precedent of Chaplainships for the army and navy, than erect them into a political authority in matters of religion. The object of this establishment is seducing; the motive to it is laudable. But is it not safer to adhere to a right principle, and trust to its consequences, than confide in the reasoning however specious in favor of a wrong one. Look thro’ the armies & navies of the world, and say whether in the appointment of their ministers of religion, the spiritual interest of the flocks or the temporal interest of the Shepherds, be most in view…. we are always to keep in mind that it is safer to trust the consequences of a right principle, than reasonings in support of a bad one.”
There is an obvious conclusion to be drawn from reading Jefferson & Madison: There is nothing of them in today’s Democratic & Republican parties. They claim to uphold Madison’s Bill of Rights. But does anyone think they will live to see Bush, or future Republican or Democratic Presidents, saying what he said of government chaplains, much less proposing to abolish them?
Let’s look at it the other way. Does anyone think that if either devotee of church/state separation were President, he would arm Israel, an Orthodox state that refuses to recognize marriages performed by Israeli Conservative or Reformed rabbis, & completely discriminates against gentiles in housing & employment? Would he, simultaneously, train the Saudi National Guard, goon squads of a regime that discriminates against Shia Muslims, & denies religious freedom to all non-Muslims?
In July, Kerry spoke to the African Methodist Episcopal convention. “I know there are some who say that the First Amendment means faith-based organizations can’t help government,” he said. “I think they are wrong. I want to offer support for your efforts, including financial support, in a way that supports our Constitution and civil-rights laws and values the role of faith in inspiring countless acts of justice and mercy across our land.”
A fact sheet distributed afterward called for a “Presidential Advisory Group on Expanding Faith-Based Initiatives,” including lawyers, social-service providers & religious leaders.
Which leaders? Farrakhan? L. Ron Hubbard? There’s the rub. We have endless sects here. If a Kerry-style panel included leaders of any such, that would establish them & exclude the rest, as well as the unchurched & atheists.
No mincing words, no evasions, no hypocrisy: Bush & the “Judeo-Christian” right are trying to destroy Jefferson’s domestic “wall of separation between Church and State,” wholesale, while the Democrats will destroy it retail, but just as assuredly destroy it.
There is a moral to this story: You can fight fire with fire. But you can’t fight religious demagoguery with pious pandering. The way to beat the religious right, once & for all & forever, is by demonstrating to the public, including many youth who support Bush, that the authors of the Declaration of Independence & the Bill of Rights would oppose him.
That can only be done by presenting their writings to that public. Feed “The establishment of the chaplainship to Congs is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles” to them & they will devour Bush alive, down to his bones.
So, not only does their editor want you to buy Jefferson & Madison On Separation of Church and State, for $16.95 plus $1.84 postage to any place in the US, I want you to – God forbid!! – read it.
Trust me. Better, trust them. They are excellent reading. Then you will to buy more copies for friend & foe alike. Indeed, in your freshly awakened zeal, you will rush out & form a united front of “infidels” & progressive religious, to set up literature tables, not only on campuses, but at our major crossroads, Times Square in New York, Powell & Market in SF, etc.
Think big. If the Bible is everywhere, ‘Jefferson’s Bible’ should be everywhere. And, while you demand that “under God” be taken out of our schools’ Pledge of Allegiance, because it violates the 1st Amendment, you should insist that Madison’s Memoranda should be required reading in every high school & college, precisely because it is by the author of that Amendment, & is the best authority on the full implications of his masterwork for the ages.
LENNI BRENNER is the editor of 51 Documents: Zionist Collaboration with the Nazis and a contributor to The Politics of Anti-Semitism. He is presently editing Jefferson & Madison on Separation of Church and State: Writings on Religion and Secularism. It will be published by Barricade Books in late October. He can be reached at BrennerL21@aol.com.