28 July 2008

More Christian Nationitis

Some poor fellow, apparently suffering in the throes of Christian Nationitis, recently added his two cents to an old blog entry (Fighting History Hoaxes) at Millard Fillmore's Bathtub recommending Chris Rodda's work. He was ably answered by Ed Darrell, who began: "If you’re gonna swallow cyanide-tainted Kool-Aid, swallow it all and swallow it fast, no?" But one quotation Ed Darrell seems to have missed:

Had the people, during the Revolution, had a suspicion to attempt any war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in it cradle. At the time of the adoption of the constitution and the amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged — not any one sect [of Christianity]. Any attempt to level and discard all religion, would have been viewed with universal indignation.

The Christian Nation guy claimed this came from “Report of the Committees of the House of Representatives …” (1854), page 6. Ed Darrell suspects that this quotation is a hoax. In fact the quotation is almost genuine, being taken from HR 124, 33d Cong. 1st Sess., p. 6. It is part of a report from James Meacham, from the Committee on the Judiciary, on the subject of chaplains in Congress and in the army and navy. With some adjacent context it read (omitted material in bold, added material struck out):

The sentiment of the whole body of American Christians is against a union with the State. A great change has been wrought in this respect. At the adoption of the constitution, we believe every State—certainly ten of the thirteen—provided as regularly for the support of the church, as for the support of the government: one, Virginia, had the system of tithes. Down to the Revolution, every colony did sustain religion in some form. It was deemed peculiarly proper that the religion of liberty should be upheld by a free people. Had the people, during the Revolution, had a suspicion to of any attempt any to war against Christianity, that Revolution would have been strangled in its cradle. At the time of the adoption of the constitution and the amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged—not any one sect. Any attempt to level and discard all religion, would have been viewed with universal indignation. The object was not to substitute Judaism, or Mahomedanism, or infidelity, but to prevent rivalry among sects to the exclusion of others. The result of the change above named is, that now there is not a single State that, as a State, supports the gospel.

This is a point urged in favor of continuing the practice of having chaplains in Congress and the armed forces regardless of "the danger of a union of church and State. If the danger were real," Meacham wrote, "we should be disposed to take the most prompt and decided measures to forestall the evil, because one of the worst for the religious and political interests of this nation that could possibly overtake us. But we deem this apprehension entirely imaginary; and we think any one of the petitioners must be convinced of this on examination of the facts." Meacham pointed out that there was no single religion that commanded the majority, so that two or three would have to get together to form a national church. This wasn't likely to happen, as they had tenets that conflicted with one another, and the situation was even more extreme for smaller religious bodies. As a result, "there can be no union of church and State. Your committee know of no denomination of Christians who wish for such union. They have had their existence in the voluntary system, and wish it to continue. The sentiment of the whole body of American Christians is against a union with the State." This is where the quotation as I gave it above began. Meacham went on "From this it will be seen that the tendency of the times is not to a union of church and State, but is decidedly and strongly bearing in an opposite direction. Every tie is sundered; and there is no wish on either side to have the bond renewed. It seems to us that the men who would raise the cry of danger in this state of things, would cry fire on the thirty-ninth day of a general deluge."

The argument continues by noting that the financial burden on the taxpayer is minute, that chaplains are as necessary to the health of the soul as physicians to the health of the body, and so on. I've posted the relevant paragraph here. Meacham's overall point is that the appointment of chaplains is harmless, as there is no danger any longer that religion and government would not remain separate. There is nothing in the piece to support the peculiar doctrines of Christian Nationism. Meacham thinks (wrongly) that society is dependent on supernatural sanctions, and that Christianity provides such sanctions for the American republic, but he is quite firm on the wall of separation between civil and ecclesiastical authorities (something modern-day Christian Nationites abhor). I'll leave him to speak for himself with his final paragraph:

While your committee believe that neither Congress nor the army or navy should be deprived of the service of chaplains, they freely concede; that the ecclesiastical and civil powers have been, and should continue to be, entirely divorced from each other. But we beg leave to rescue ourselves from the imputation of asserting that religion is not needed to the safety of civil society. It must be considered as the foundation on which the whole structure rests. Laws will not have permanence or power without the sanction of religious sentiment—without a firm belief that there is a Power above us that will reward our virtues and punish our vices. In this age there can be no substitute for Christianity; that, in its general principles, is the great conservative element on which we must rely for the purity and permanence of free institutions. That was the religion of the founders of the republic, and they expected it to remain the religion of their descendants. There is a great and very prevalent error on this subject in the opinion that those who organized this government did not legislate on religion. They did legislate on it by making it free to all, "to the Jew and the Greek, to the learned and unlearned." The error has risen from the belief that there is no legislation unless in permissive or restricting enactments. But making a thing free is as truly a part of legislation as confining it by limitations; and what the government has made free, it is bound to keep free.

24 July 2008

Another Book Meme

This one I picked up Jessica Palmer's Bioephemera. These are a hundred books (the definition of "book" seems rather loose here) that somebody or other has selected using unknown criteria. Books read are in bold; books started in italics.

1 *Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 *The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 *To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 *The Bible -
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 *Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 *Complete Works of Shakespeare -

15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 †Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 *Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 *Emma - Jane Austen~
35 *Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 †Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 *Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 *Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov

63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 *Hamlet - William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

I placed a star in front of the books I particularly enjoyed, or at least have reread frequently; I placed a dagger by two that particularly annoyed me. Jessica Palmer placed a tilde (~) by those read for a class; in my case only one of these works (Lord of the Flies) was something I read for a class; I may have read others for some class or another (in fact I know I've read certain plays of Shakespeare and books of the Bible for specific classes), but none of the rest were something I specially read for a class, so I haven't bothered to make that distinction.

23 July 2008

Colossal Gall Department

You've got to admire the sheer chutzpah of it. Chris Mill, the attorney for two of the Camrose cat killers—those were the little psychopaths who tortured a cat to death in a microwave oven and left messages boasting about it for the owners to return to—actually asked for the court to expedite his clients' sentencing so they could achieve "closure" before returning to school this fall. Words absolutely fail me. This guy is complaining, on behalf of his clients, about the need for them to undergo a psychiatric examination—because they want to get this whole thing over with.

I'm sure they do. Most of us, when caught in a crime, just want the prosecution to go the fuck away. There's nothing new or amazing about that. Why that should be grounds a judge could act upon is totally beyond me. What the judge ought to be primarily concerned about is the issue of protecting the community from these creeps. The last thing on her mind should be whether the kids get to start school this year with a "clean slate".

At least Chris Mill's job is being the spokesmen for this pair of psychopaths. I don't know what Camrose resident Linda Hugo's excuse is. "It’s a terrible thing that they did," she admits, claiming "but it’s now water under the bridge." Nice of her to be so forgiving of a "terrible" crime committed against somebody else. She weeps for the poor persecuted torturers. "...the mental torment that they’ve gone through is enough" she feels. Wise up, lady. The next time these young Torquemadas decide to go on the prowl, you may well be their victim. When you embrace a scorpion, expect to get stung.

22 July 2008

Campaign Panel Art


(George Wallace, Alabama Governor's campaign, 1960)

and now:

(Brent Rinehart, Oklahoma County District 2 County Commissioner's campaign, 2008)

Sources: George Wallace page from Comics with Problems; Brent Rinehart page from Tulsa World (PDF).

17 July 2008

Dubious Documents: The Case of the Fractured Founders pt 3

We pick up this commentary where part two left off. For some reason the compiler has chosen to leap to the undistinguished twentieth-century president Calvin Coolidge.

Calvin Coolidge, our 30th President of the United States reaffirmed this truth when he wrote, "The foundations of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country."

I see Ed Brayton's "I'm at a loss to understand how the words of Coolidge, well over a century after the founding of the country, mean much when it comes to the issue at hand", and raise him one Who gives a damn what glorious Cal had to say on this or any other subject? A quick check of Google Books shows that this quotation has been around for awhile, but gives no directions on where it may have come from originally, so I don't know whether it is authentic or not. Given the track record of this particular document, I wouldn't bet on it. But authentic or not it's worthless without supporting evidence, and none is supplied. If Cal had a point, the editor has made it impossible to recover by not giving a source. In other words, Cal, you lose.

This bit is followed by another lengthy interpolation in the Ciniraj text.

Now comes one of the most outrageous lies in the entire document:

In 1782, the United States Congress voted this resolution: "The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools."

Neither the United States Congress, which didn't yet exist in 1782, or its predecessor the Continental Congress, ever passed, or even considered, such a resolution. The author of "America's Christian Roots" simply manufactured it in his quotation-factory. He modeled it after two separate items connected with the Aitken Bible business (see my account here), the actual resolution of congress for the first part, and Robert Aitken's petition for the second. The resolution reads "Whereupon, Resolved, That the United States in Congress assembled, highly approve the pious and laudable undertaking of Mr. Aitken, as subservient to the interest of religion as well as an instance of the progress of arts in this country, and being satisfied of the care and accuracy in the execution of the work, they recommend this edition of the Bible to the inhabitants of the United States, and hereby authorise him to publish this recommendation in the manner he shall think proper." The words in bold have been lifted from the real resolution to form the fake. The second part of this forgery comes from Robert Aitken's petition to congress, in which he informed them that he had "begun and made considerable progress in a neat Edition of the Holy Scriptures for the use of schools." The words in bold are borrowed from Aitken's petition for use in the forgery.

This particular lie is outrageous beyond belief. I cannot imagine how anybody could possibly have accepted this as genuine, except an absolute moron or a complete ignoramus in regard to United States history. This is an out-and-out fake. It's not an example of shoddy scholarship, like mistaking a paraphrase for a quotation; it's not a bit of sleight of hand, like omitting a few sentences to obscure the meaning of a passage; it's not even relatively minor chicanery, like doctoring a quotation to make it seem to mean something it never did—this is forgery, pure and simple. And it's beneath contempt.

After this criminal effort, it's a positive relief to get on to the next point, which at least is mostly genuine.

William Holmes McGuffey is the author of the McGuffey Reader, which was used for over 100 years in our public schools, with over 125 million copies sold, until it was stopped in 1963. President Lincoln called him the "Schoolmaster of the Nation." Listen to these words of Mr. McGuffey: "The Christian religion is the religion of our country. From it are derived our notions on the character of God, on the great moral Governor of the universe. On its doctrines are founded the peculiarities of our free Institutions. From no source has the author drawn more conspicuously than from the sacred Scriptures. From all these extracts from the Bible, I make no apology."

The genuine portion of this quotation runs from "The christian religion" to "our free institutions". The last two sentences are bogus. The passage is taken from an interminable 1835 address called "Duties of Teachers and Parents"; the words can be read in context here.

McGuffey and I have had a long relationship, what with one thing and another. I used to own, when I was a kid, the fifth and sixth eclectic readers (or maybe it was the fourth and fifth), which I had picked up at a small used bookstore on the Oregon coast one summer. I thought they were amusing, especially his misguided instructions on reading poetry aloud, which he instructed his unlucky students to read singsong, to bring out the rhythm and rhyme. He belonged to the old school, one of my nephews said. A very old school indeed. Talk about Anglo-Saxon attitudes. But McGuffey, regardless of his shortcomings, was not exactly a Founder. Why on earth is he here?

Ed Brayton, in his commentary, made the same point: "Also quite irrelevant to the issue at hand. Whatever McGuffey believed on the subject of the existence of God, and whatever source he himself turned to, has no bearing on the intent of the founders or of the constitution." The author of this piece, however, has now turned to a subject clearly dear to whatever passes for his or her heart, namely, using the public schools to proselytize other people's children. Although he or she doesn't explain the connection, what I believe the author is trying (however feebly) to say is: William McGuffey was a noted educator of his time, and so whatever he might chance to say on the subject speaks from the heart of the then educational establishment. So when he writes that "The christian religion is the religion of our country," you may take it as gospel that that's what public-school educators of his time believed—and of course, they must have been on sound legal ground in so believing.

In reading McGuffey's piece I was continually reminded of Samuel Schoenbaum's line, "A penalty of the scholar’s vocation ... is the reading of rubbish". At the time, when the issues in question were live and a matter of some import to educators, it probably made interesting reading. No, I take that back. Even then it must have been mind-numbingly dull. The context for the given quotation is a section developing McGuffey's concern about "the great variety of intellectual and moral character, found among [a teacher's] numerous pupils." It's necessary for a teacher, he observes, to fit his approach to each individual student, and to modify it as necessary. Students should neither be pushed too fast, nor held back unnecessarily to make the teacher's life easier. And while teachers may have their own speculative opinions on morality, those opinions should not be brought into the schoolroom. Christianity is the basis of American culture; it is the only guarantee that people will tell the truth under oath, and the belief in an all-seeing entity is the only way to make them behave themselves. Without this supernatural guarantee, everything "that is beautiful, lovely, and valuable in the arts, in science, and in society" would be at risk. For this reason the "revolutionary principles of modern infidelity" should not be taught; neither, however, should "sectarian peculiarities in religion". McGuffey seems to have in mind a sort of bland, generic christian morality as the basis of character formation in schools.

Now to what extant this actually represented the state of educational opinion in 1835 I'm not prepared to say. It should be noted, however, that McGuffey's essential argument is not based on any question of the relationship between church (or temple or synagogue or mosque) and state, but on, shall we say, fear. That is, his point is that without religion nobody has any incentive to be an upright and responsible citizen, and that modern notions of personal responsibility without recourse to the supernatural to enforce it are a dangerous and untried experiment. He appeals to practical consequences exclusively, rather than to justice or the law. Since his premise is manifestly false, his conclusion is "nat worth a tord", as Chaucer put it. I'm just saying.

The final two sentences, "From no source has the author drawn more conspicuously than from the sacred Scriptures. From all these extracts from the Bible, I make no apology" are not part of this essay, and as far as I can determine are not McGuffey's. Burden of proof and all that, remember? Little as I like McGuffey's turgid prose style, I'm quite positive he would not have written of himself in the third person like this—"the author", phooey. And I'm sure he wouldn't have written "From all these extracts" instead of "For all these extracts". (Some versions of "America's Christian Roots", including Brayton's, have in fact made this correction.)

Having dealt with primary education, "America's Christian Roots" moves on to higher ed:

Of the first 108 universities founded in America, 106 were distinctly Christian, including the first, Harvard University, chartered in 1636. In the original Harvard Student Handbook, rule number 1 was that students seeking entrance must know Latin and Greek so that they could study the Scriptures: "Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life, John 17:3; and therefore to lay Jesus Christ as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of him (Proverbs 2:3)." For over 100 years, more than 50% of all Harvard graduates were pastors!

First, a textual note: All four versions have the beginning of this item, but the shorter recension begins its second major lacuna here. Its text then resumes after the end of the Supreme Court decision referenced below, where a comment of the author's has been jammed together with the Harvard rule to read: "…and therefore to lay Jesus Christ as the only foundation for our children to follow the moral principles of the Ten Commandments." This is clearly secondary, and this commentary follows the longer text.

And now, the commentary on this item: The point of the compiler of "America's Christian Roots" is that the educational system of the United States, both higher and elementary, was originally firmly based in Christianity. He attempted to show this for elementary schools by quoting William McGuffey. Higher ed is represented by Tom Lehrer's beloved Harvard. Now I personally don't know whether the claim made that 106 out of 108 early universities were "distinctly Christian" is valid, but Derek H. Davis and Matthew McMearty, in their commentary (published in the 22 June 2005 Journal of Church and State), describe it as "patently false." Davis and McMearty say that five of the sixteen colleges founded before independence in 1776 were strictly non-sectarian and the equivalent of today's secular universities. (These were the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Delaware, The College of Charleston, Hamden Sydney College, and William and Lee University.) Harvard, of course, like Princeton and Yale, was originally a training institution for protestant ministers.

One of the irritating features of "America's Christian Roots" is its determination to be sloppy and inaccurate even when there is no necessity for it. As in this case. First, the rule cited from Harvard's Rules and Precepts is not rule number 1 but rule number 2. And second, for reasons best known to the author, the words "to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation" have been silently altered to "to lay Jesus Christ as the only foundation". These changes serve no earthly purpose except to make the author look foolish and incompetent, which I assume was not the intention.

Or maybe it was?

We now continue with the next point in the longer recension:

It is clear from history that the Bible and the Christian faith, were foundational in our educational and judicial system. However in 1947, there was a radical change of direction in the Supreme Court. It required ignoring every precedent of Supreme Court ruling for the past 160 years. The Supreme Court ruled in a limited way to affirm a wall of separation between church and State in the public classroom. In the coming years, this led to removing prayer from public schools in 1962. Here is the prayer that was banished: "Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence on Thee. We beg Thy blessings upon us and our parents and our teachers and our country. Amen."

The material in green is found only in the McDermott version (of the four examined here) and seems to be rare; something of the sort however is required to introduce the prayer that comes next. The text is nonsensical here, but the compiler is apparently referring first to the case of Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing TP., 330 U.S. 1 (1947), and second to Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962). Both of these reaffirmed the long-established principle of separation of church and state, though with different outcomes. The first decided that New Jersey's law allowing state money to be used to transport students to private religious schools did not violate the principle; the second that New York's requirement that schools begin the day with a state-written prayer did. The second, for some reason, created an uproar, as I well remember at the time. It's not religion, people used to say, it doesn't even mention Jesus Christ. I was in grade school at the time, and I thought then (and think now) that it was utterly absurd to say that a state-written prayer being said to a captive audience (school attendance is required), even if participation was "voluntary" (a student could be excused from the exercise by presenting a note from her parent), was somehow not state sponsorship of religion. As for the utterly moronic claim that no one could possibly be offended by such an innocuous prayer, I ask the idiots who make this preposterous assertion to take what I call the Lucifer Test: would they have any objection to sending their son or daughter to a school where Almighty Lucifer was acknowledged as Lord and invited to shower the students, teachers, parents, and administrators with His favors? I suspect not.

A further textual footnote: Although the prayer falls in the second omission of the shorter recension, the Ciniraj text (shorter recension) introduces the prayer independently in one of its numerous interpolations. Onward.

In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that Bible reading was outlawed as unconstitutional in the public school system. The court offered this justification: "If portions of the New Testament were read without explanation, they could and have been psychologically harmful to children." Bible reading was now unconstitutional, though the Bible was quoted 94% of the time by those who wrote our constitution and shaped our Nation and its system of education and justice and government.

Here the case is Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203 (1963). Even a brief reading of the case will show how dishonest the author here has been. The reference to the New Testament, by the way, is not from the court's decision, but from the summary of testimony given by an expert witness about the effects that certain New Testament passages (think of Acts or Matthew) could have on Jewish children if read without giving them some sort of context. "Dr. Grayzel gave as his expert opinion that such material from the New Testament could be explained to Jewish children in such a way as to do no harm to them. But if portions of the New Testament were read without explanation, they could be, and, in his specific experience with children, Dr. Grayzel observed, had been, psychologically harmful to the child, and had caused a divisive force within the social media of the school."

Nor is this the end of the document's dishonesty: Bible-reading has never been declared unconstitutional, nor was the Bible quoted 94% of the time by the Founding Fathers. The first is an extremely silly myth, and the second is nonsensical. It's outside the scope of this particular piece to deal with the origin of these fables. Next.

In 1965, the Courts denied as unconstitutional the rights of a student in the public school cafeteria to bow his head and pray audibly for his food. In 1980, Stone vs. Graham outlawed the Ten Commandments in our public schools. The Supreme Court said this: “If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments were to have any effect at all, it would be to induce school children to read them. And if they read them, meditated upon them, and perhaps venerated and observed them, this is not a permissible objective.” Is it not a permissible objective to allow our children to follow the moral principles of the Ten Commandments?

The first decision referenced here by the assembler of this document is Reed v. Van Hoven, a 1965 case that had nothing whatsoever to do with a student praying in the public school cafeteria. What it was about was a plan by a Michigan public school to have students meet for prayers on school grounds outside of school hours; the court approved a modified plan that included a moment of silence before lunch. This last may be the origin of the false claim by the compiler, or he may have made it up out of whole cloth. Actually it wouldn't be the document assembler who did it; the claim is traceable to a book by (surprise!) David Barton, The Myth of Separation. He probably got it without checking from somebody before him, and so it goes.

The myth that it had been declared unconstitutional to pray over lunch in school goes back at least to the late sixties, when I was in high school. I got into a discussion over this one lunch period with some kid who claimed that his rights were being encroached upon because he wasn't allowed to pray over his food. I told him it was perfectly legal and to illustrate the point, I prayed, perfectly audibly, before I ate my sack lunch. (I used the Lord's Prayer, Roman Catholic version, it being the only prayer I actually knew ex tempore.) For several days thereafter I made a point of praying before my lunch, using prayers from various traditions—Shintoist, Buddhist, or whatever. On one occasion somebody even called it to the attention of some authority figure, but of course nobody said anything. It's not illegal. I did notice, however, that none of the campus christians followed my example; at least nobody started praying because of my stunt. Some students had bowed their heads and said something over their lunches all along; I have always assumed they were praying, but I never thought it was any business of mine. At any rate, the guy who'd been bitching about his right to pray being taken away from him shut up, which was my objective.

In any case, the point is, the claim isn't true. It's just another one of these idiotic notions people get. And as for Stone v. Graham, the "quotation" is the usual hack job. I repeat it below, this time with the stuff the compiler omitted bolded and the stuff added in struck out.

This is not a case in which the Ten Commandments are integrated into the school curriculum, where the Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like. Abington School District v. Schempp, supra, at 225. Posting of religious texts on the wall serves no such educational function. If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments were are to have any effect at all, it would will be to induce the schoolchildren to read them. And if they read them, meditated upon them, and perhaps to venerated and observed them, obey, the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it this is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause.

This makes the question asked by the compiler, "Is it not a permissible objective to allow our children to follow the moral principles of the Ten Commandments?" seem pretty dumb, doesn't it? Irrelevant, at the very least.

The lacuna in the shorter recension ends with the words "our children to follow the moral principles of the Ten Commandments", incorporated into the Harvard rule given above. The shorter recension then continues, as does the longer recension, with the James Madison material. Ciniraj, however, gives another interpolation here that I want to take a moment to examine.

One of the first appropriations by the first Congress of the United States was for the purchase of 20,000 Bibles for use in evangelizing the Indians in the Northwest Territory. And, in 1782, the Congress voted this resolution: "The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools."

Ciniraj had previously included both these items, but now they appear again in this interpolation, one of them word for word, and the other in a weirdly transformed version. The bibles in question were not to be used for evangelizing the Indians, but to alleviate a shortage brought on by the British blockade. And, as I previously noted, no Bibles were paid for, bought, or ordered by the Continental Congress pursuant to this resolution. And of course the Congress never did anything so fatuous as recommending and approving the Holy Bible for use in all schools—what would the point have been?

Now, that digression out of the way, let's return to the document proper (and folks, hang on; we are getting very near the end):

James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution of the United States, said this: “We have staked the whole future of our new nation, not upon the power of government; far from it. We have staked the future of all our political constitutions upon the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments.”

All four versions have this, but the portion in italics was dropped in the shorter recension through a familiar error where the eye skips from one phrase ("the whole future of") to a similar phrase ("the future of") later in the document. Even with this restored it's gibberish, and not by any means the best gibberish. Phrases like "of all our political constitutions" or "the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves" are not only unparalleled, but opaque. Do they have a meaning? Your guess is as good as mine.

Fortunately this "Madison quotation" can be traced back a few stages, even though not back to Madison, unsurprisingly. (It's an obvious fake; nothing remotely like it appears in any of Madison's extensive writings.) That shakes some of the gibberish out, at least. We find, for instance, that "political constitutions" was earlier "political institutions". And "the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves" was previously "the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves"—a considerable improvement, or rather, looking at it the right way around, a disconcerting step down, like tripping on a last step you had somehow overlooked. Jarring. The earlier version, no more authentic than this one, ran:

We have staked the whole future of our new nation American civilization not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political constitutions institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each of ourselves and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments.

There are a lot of clues that this is not Madison's. (The most glaring clue, of course, is that it contradicts virtually everything he wrote on the subject of church-state separation.) Language, for example. Would Madison have written of "American civilization"? Maybe, but more typically he used the word "civilization" in the sense of the process of becoming civilized, as in "Iron is the metal, and even the article, which has been justly considered as causing, more than any other, the civilization and increase of the human race." (letter to H. G. Spafford, 5 Dc 1822) Or again, would he have written of "staking the future"? Not that Madison had any problems with staking things, but more typically he used future as an adjective in phrases like "future welfare" or "future happiness". But even if the words passed every conceivable test, even if the language was perfect for Madison and his times, the attribution would still be absolutely worthless unless there was some positive evidence that he wrote or said it.

Can we find such evidence? The road leads back to David Barton, which is not promising. Where do you suppose he found it? Scrawled on the wall of a bus-stop men's room? Printed on the back of a match-book? No, nowhere so respectable. He says he got it from a January 1958 newsletter put out by Frederick Nymeyer, where it appears as a column-filler on page 31.

A brief digression about this newsletter and its creator: Frederick Nymeyer (1897-1971) was an interesting character, a libertarian, free-market fundamentalist, and a hard-core Calvinist, whose best-known saying (true or not, I don't know) was "If the members of the Race Declarations Committee wish to be negrophiles, that is their business. But it is not their business to insist that we be negrophiles too." His newsletter, first titled Progressive Calvinism and later First Principles in Morality and Economics, appeared from 1955 to 1960; each year also had a subtitle. In 1958 the title and subtitle of the newsletter was Progressive Calvinism: Neighborly Love and Ricardo's Law of Association.

Where did Frederick Nymeyer get this alleged Madison quotation? Presumably, given that it is both novel and unlikely, his source would have to be of the highest authority. And he does not disappoint. His source: something called the 1958 calendar of Spiritual Motivation.

Okay, but Barton did give a second source for his alleged quotation, something called Freedom, Cry Freedom, by Harold K. Lane, written in 1939. Is it any better? I don't know, since I couldn't get a copy of the text, but nowhere is Lane listed among Madison scholars. John Stagg and David Mattern, on the other hand, are well-known Madison authorities, and when asked about this quotation referred investigators to a letter Mattern wrote in 1993 on the subject: "We did not find anything in our files remotely like the sentiment expressed in the extract you sent us. In addition, the idea is inconsistent with everything we know about Madison's views on religion and government, views which he expressed time and time again in public and in private."

And that should be an end to it. Not if you're a hardcore Christian Nationite, apparently. At least one defender of the faith was so enamored of it that he called Mattern's results "revisionism at its worst" [source]. Which sets us up quite nicely for the final text from this extremely dubious document.

Most of what you read in this article has been erased from our textbooks. Revisionists have rewritten history to remove the truth about our country's Christian roots. You are encouraged to share this with others, so that the truth of our nation's history will be told.

This comes from the Brayton version, and seems to reflect the original ending. It is partially paralleled in the Vitello text and somewhat expanded in the McDermott text; the Ciniraj text goes its own way.

There is humor in this, of a sort. How do we explain the fact that so much of this stuff is new? Simple. It has been erased from our textbooks by evil historical revisionists. What more proof could you want? It couldn't be, of course, that it doesn't appear in textbooks because it is utter crap, could it? No, of course not, it has to be a conspiracy of secular historians and activist judges, no doubt directed by the Illuminati and the Elders of Zion. Sanity doesn't enter into this.

But from my more limited viewpoint, what is interesting about this document is how well it illustrates the sorts of things that can happen when texts get transmitted without any sort of editorial oversight. The compiler had all the critical acumen of a magpie; if the item was shiny enough he dragged it back to his nest and put it on display. Of the fifteen quotations given, four are out-and-out fakes (the second Patrick Henry, the second George Washington, the 1782 Congressional resolution, and the James Madison), five have been heavily doctored (Thomas Jefferson, William McGuffey, the first George Washington and the two Supreme Court decisions), one is a paraphrase mistakenly cited as a quotation, and only five may be considered reasonably legitimate (John Adams, John Jay, Coolidge, the Harvard student rules, and the first Patrick Henry). Even they have often been violently stripped of their context and made to serve the assembler's ideology. Reality clearly doesn't exist for this assembler; or maybe reality is whatever he or she says it is. And the possibility that somebody will actually check up on all the lies and misrepresentations in this document obviously was of no concern.

It's worth keeping in mind, however, that much of what we know, or think we know, of antiquity is painstakingly pieced together from documents just like this one. Imagine for a moment that we did not have the words of Washington, Jefferson, or Madison, but only the quotations given in documents like these. This is precisely our situation with ancient philosophers like Pythagoras or Empedocles, and with giants of the early christian church, such as Papias and Valentinus. What percentage, I wonder, of the quotations attributed to these men are reasonably authentic? And what percentage are doctored, faked, paraphrased, or ripped out of context?

14 July 2008

IDiocy? or Egnorance?

I haven't forgotten that third part of my dissection of "Our Christian Roots"; it's just a matter of keeping my nausea under control. Seriously. I had to reread a veritable shitload of William McGuffey's work, in order to see whether I could run down some alleged quotations, and in the process turned up some of his letters online. It's amazing what lurks in the various corners of the internet. (And let me note that I post these links as much for my own benefit as for that of anybody else.) It was interesting, in a dull sort of way, and help round out my picture of a guy I never liked that much. I never did find the alleged quotations, by the way, and I doubt very much that they are authentic, but, being me, I'd really like to know where they did come from, and not merely where they didn't.

And somebody at WikiSource screwed up the Gospel of the Hebrews page, and I spent a bit of time trying to clean it up, before I gave up and reverted it to the last reasonable version. No source given, no indication of translator (the all-important question being, are the translations in public domain?), extraneous material added, valid material deleted. A real mess.

Still, my day was somewhat brightened by this ERV post: What Makes an IDiot? It's tempting to blame people for their ignorance, especially when they sound off on a subject on which you, the listener, know a little something. ERV, however, distinguishes between IDiocy and mere ignorance:

But heres the deal. Not knowing what 'eponymous' means doesnt make you an idiot. Not knowing some really, really, really basic facts of evolution and anatomy doesnt make you an idiot.
It just means you dont know something.
I dont know lots of stuff. *shrug* Weve all had different educations and different upbringings. I wont call someone an idiot just for not knowing something, because Id be an 'idiot' on lots of topics too.
What makes one an IDiot is not knowing something, plus being arrogant-- so goddamn arrogant-- you turn up your nose at people who *do* know something, and refuse to learn.

That about sums it up. Read the entry.

12 July 2008

Irony Man

Arch-bigot William Donohue, who likes to refer to himself as the Catholic League, yesterday denounced people who make death threats against others for exercising their first amendment rights. I would like to congratulate C. League on taking a small step in the right direction—but I can't. League is not speaking of the death threats from his followers against Dr. P. Z. Myers; no, he is speaking of imaginary death threats he hopes to receive himself from "the King Kong Theory of Creation gang". Now there's a guy with an over-inflated sense of his own importance.

This whole business started when C. League attacked P.Z. Myers for daring to defend a kid who carried off a communion wafer, believed by Roman Catholics to be the actual body of Jesus Christ. Because Myers pointed out the insanity of this whole business, League wrote to the university where he works and demanded that he be fired. League's followers soon were sending death threats to the doctor. Was League concerned about this? No. He was concerned, however, about the possibility that he might end up reaping what he had sowed, so he issued a statement that he would hold Dr. Myers responsible for any death threats that might happen to come his way. (He should be so lucky.)

I would like to suggest to William Donohue, or Catholic League, or whatever he wants to call himself today, that he get over it. Nobody cares what he thinks. If he wants to be taken seriously, maybe he should actually do something with his life, instead of trying for an ersatz fame by linking himself with people who have a track record of accomplishments. His fag buddy the "reverend" Phelps ought to get the same thing through his thick head. You guys keep wondering why you don't get any respect; well, maybe it's because you haven't earned it.

The best post I've seen on this subject, by the by, is Crackers, Cartoons, and Teddy Bears--OH MY! at Living the Scientific Life. She writes:

Not so very long ago, Americans mocked muslim nations for rioting and issuing death threats over the publication of a few cartoons in Danish newspapers. A little over one month ago, Americans once again sat back in a cloud of smug judgmentalism as they laughed at the uproar caused by a teddy bear that was named "Mohammad" by a classroom full of kids. American christians aren't so backward and superstitious as all those muslims, the religious amongst us congratulated themselves arrogantly.

After pointing out the parallel insanity of the present uproar she observes:

Some people accuse atheists of possessing the same militantism as the religious wingnuts, while noting that there is a disproportionate number of atheists in science. But they are conveniently overlooking the fact that atheists/scientists have endured the burning of their books (and their bodies) at the hands of institutionalized religious insanity throughout the ages without rioting and killing people, or even threatening to do so. Don't believe me? As a modern day test, why don't you steal a science book from your local library -- Darwin's "Origin of Species" if you must -- photograph it and include it in a letter to the local newspaper telling the public that you kidnapped this book from the library and plan to burn it on the front steps of your local catholic church. What would happen to you?

And later on:

The real enemy here is the irrational attachment of exceptional emotional value to silly objects like hosts. This irrational belief that some objects are "holy" and therefore deserve more respect and consideration than do mere people should stop -- how many millions of "mere people" have been murdered in senseless wars that began in the name of Christ or Mohammed for the purpose of protecting holy objects and rituals? Who are the real lunatics here?

Read the whole post. It's good, and it's to the point. As for C. League and his imaginary death threats—ignore them. The guy doesn't deserve the media attention he so obviously craves. Let him get his fix somewhere else.

09 July 2008

Dubious Documents: The Case of the Fractured Founders pt 2

This second part of my commentary on the collection of Christian Nation proof-texts (or open-source propaganda, in Daveawayfromhome's happy expression) I've referred to as "America's Christian Roots" picks up where the first part leaves off. I did think I would take a moment, however, to comment on exactly what the Christian Nation hypothesis entails.

First, the idea is that despite the establishment clause of the first amendment, and despite the no-religious-test limitation of the constitution, and despite numerous writings by the founders explaining matters, and despite many court decisions, the Founding Fathers did in fact intend the Federal government to be able to establish one religion—Christianity—at the expense of others.

Second, that this view was generally accepted until some time after World War Two, when revisionist historians and activist judges got together and concocted a new concept of American government as secular, treating all religions alike, rather than explicitly Christian.

For this reason it does no good to show that certain Founders were Christian, or that they thought Christianity (or religion or morality) were good things. It is entirely possible for an individual to be a Christian (or a Buddhist or an atheist) without in turn believing that it is the job of the government to promote Christianity (or Buddhism or atheism). By the same token a person may well consider that religion or full employment or medical care are good things without necessarily feeling that the government is the entity that should be providing them.

In my experience the religious right is particularly prone to the error of arguing point X by providing evidence that supports point Y, and then proudly proclaiming that point X is now established. J. A. T. Robinson's Redating the New Testament is filled with such examples of muddy thinking—and so is the document now before us.

And one other point before getting back to that document; except for the beginning and ending items, this installment comments entirely on text found in the first lacuna of the shorter recension. In other words, most of what follows is found only in the longer recension. We left off with a bogus quotation attributed to Patrick Henry; we pick up with a problematic quotation from Thomas Jefferson:

Consider these words that Thomas Jefferson wrote in the front of his well-worn Bible: "I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our creator and, I hope, to the pure doctrine of Jesus also."

The words in italics are missing in the shorter recension; this is the beginning of the first large lacuna that distinguishes the shorter recension from the longer. This is also a significant piece of evidence that the shorter recension is derived from the longer; the "hole" in the document takes out some words that were a genuine part of the (alleged) Jefferson quotation.

I say alleged because this quotation is something of a fake. It is in fact made up of pieces of two different letters Jefferson wrote at different times to two different people—oh, and by the way, none of it was written in the front of his well-worn Bible. To grasp the meaning of these items requires a digression into the religious ideas of Thomas Jefferson.

Jefferson was a rationalist, a child of the Enlightenment. The crude supernatural elements of the Bible disgusted rather than inspired him, and the paradoxes of Christian theology merely offended his sense of reason. One result of this was that he believed neither in miracles nor the trinity. He detested Paul and the "religion-builders [who] have so distorted and deformed the doctrines of Jesus, so muffled them in mysticisms, fancies and falsehoods, [who] have caricatured them into forms so monstrous and inconceivable, as to shock reasonable thinkers". Like Marcion before him he attempted to get behind the gospels to the true doctrines of Jesus by slicing out the things that offended him; where Marcion had conformed Jesus to Paul, Jefferson threw out anything tainted with Pauline theology, supernaturalism, or a claim to divine status. The result was the so-called "Jefferson Bible".

It was in connection with this that Jefferson wrote to Charles Thomson, one-time secretary to the Continental Congress and translator of the Septuagint, on 9 January 1816: "it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its Author never said nor saw." And it was about the "the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three" that he wrote to Timothy Pickering on 27 February 1821, "I have little doubt that the whole of our country will soon be rallied to the unity of the Creator," that is, as opposed to the doctrine of the trinity, "and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also", that is, without the Pauline theology and the miracles and the claims to godhead.

There is a certain humor in this claim by the Christian Nationites; if they weren't so gung ho on claiming Jefferson as one of their own they would undoubtedly denounce him as an infidel. When Jefferson claimed to be a Christian, he was denying the right of trinitarians—which most modern-day fundamentalists are—to use the name. And they of course in turn deny that unitarians, like Jefferson, are really Christians either. Go figure.

As a final note McDermott's text says about Jefferson: "He supposedly was a Deist—but not in the strictest mold." This seems to be unique to his version. Our text now (longer recension only) moves on to George Washington.

Consider these words from George Washington, the Father of our Nation, in his farewell speech on September 19, 1796: "It is impossible to govern the world without God and the Bible. Of all the dispositions and habits that lead to political prosperity, our religion and morality are the indispensable supports. Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that our national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

The first sentence is a notorious "unconfirmed" quotation that has never been found in Washington's genuine writings. One form of it ("It is impossible to govern the world without God") can be traced back to 1867, where it surfaced in a religious tract. No source is given, and the entire quotation seems to be made up of fragments taken from various papers of George Washington. It is possible that this is a distorted reflection of an 1835 account, likewise unattributed, that reads in part: "It is impossible to account for the creation of the universe without the agency of a Supreme Being. It is impossible to govern the universe without the aid of a Supreme Being. It is impossible to reason without arriving at a Supreme Being."

It should be noted that—regardless of its authenticity—the sense of the original, if it is the original, is very different from the sense we are supposed to get from the derivative version. The author is claiming that only positing a Supreme being can explain the mystery of the existence and continued functioning of the universe, not that "God and the Bible" are necessary in ruling a nation's affairs. This is a very different matter.

The rest of this quotation is actually, for once, from the source it claims to be, namely Washington's Farewell Address, though mutilated and misquoted. (For a complete text of the address, see here.) Just for the fun of it, let's take a look at the quoted material as it was before the editor of this document got his hands on it. Omitted material is bold; added material crossed out.

It is impossible to govern the world without God and the Bible. Of all the dispositions and habits that which lead to political prosperity, our Religion and morality are the indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politican, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the Oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure—reason and experience both forbid us to expect that our National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

William Benson refers to this in his commentary as one of the most disturbing claims made by the anonymous authors because of their insertion of the God and Bible passage into the text. Personally, I call it criminally dishonest—but maybe integrity in reproducing sources is an old-fashioned virtue no longer valued in these anything-goes days. The addition of the dubious God and Bible quote, the words "our" before "Religion" and "the" before "indispensable supports" completely alters the sense of the opening passage. Without the opening there is nothing here to support the notion that George Washington is advocating government promotion of religion. However much he may feel that religion is a good thing for a nation—especially for keeping the uneducated in line as far as oaths are concerned—there is nothing here to suggest that he felt the government should promote religion. And there is nothing whatsoever to suggest that he meant that it should promote Christianity in preference to other religions.

With the next section we descend into a wilderness of lies intertwined around lies.

Was George Washington a Christian? Consider these words from his personal prayer book: "Oh, eternal and everlasting God, direct my thoughts, words and work. Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the lamb and purge my heart by thy Holy Spirit. Daily, frame me more and more in the likeness of thy son, Jesus Christ, that living in thy fear, and dying in thy favor, I may in thy appointed time obtain the resurrection of the justified unto eternal life. Bless, O Lord, the whole race of mankind and let the world be filled with the knowledge of thee and thy son, Jesus Christ."

This is unintentionally hilarious. At least I suppose it's unintentional. First, George Washington's formal connection with the Church of England (which after the Revolution became the Episcopal Church in America) is well-known. Second, this piece is the usual mishmash of disconnected fragments jammed together. But the cream of this particular jest is that the document this is taken from—the infamous George Washington Prayer Book—is a well-known literary hoax. As I intend to cover this in a later Dubious Documents entry, I won't go into that here. These particular phrases are drawn, seemingly at random, from the prayers for Monday morning, Monday evening, and Tuesday morning.

The next bit, concerning John Adams, is—for this document anyway—relatively honest:

Consider these words by John Adams, our second president, who also served as chairman of the American Bible Society. In an address to military leaders he said: “We have no government armed with the power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and true religion. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Okay, John Adams wasn't chairman of the American Bible Society, though this may be confusion with his son, who was at least vice-president of that body. And there's only one sentence silently hacked out between the first two quoted sentences: "Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness would break the strongest cords of our Constitution, as a whale goes through a net." And only one extra word inserted—the word "true" before religion. (The full text of the letter is given here.) For "America's Christian Roots" this isn't bad. The quotation is still irrelevant, however. John Adams is contrasting people who are sincere and straightforward (whom he characterizes as moral and religious) with those who are dishonest and hypocritical. The Constitution, he says, has no defense against people who pretend to uphold it while ignoring its regulations. He speaks of morality and religion in general as restraints on human passions (such as avarice and ambition), but says nothing about Christianity or the Ten Commandments in particular. He also has nothing to say on the topic of the federal government promoting Christianity, the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, or for that matter the Noble Eightfold Path. Frankly it's kind of a relief to turn to the next item.

How about our first Supreme Court Justice, John Jay? He stated that when we select our national leaders, if we are to preserve our Nation, we must select Christians: "Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian Nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."

For once the assembler has actually quoted a genuine document without adding anything to it or omitting anything from it. Okay, the quotation is taken out of context to support a different point from the one the author was making, but still—for Mr. or Ms. America's Christian Roots this is outstanding.

What was John Jay's point? Well, let's take a look at what leads up to the quotation in question. The subject is war—specifically, are all wars unjust? John Jay argues from the Bible that, as Yahweh commanded wars, some wars must be just. He goes on to observe, "It certainly is very desirable that a pacific disposition should prevail among all nations. The most effectual way of producing it, is by extending the prevalence and influence of the gospel. Real Christians will abstain from violating the rights of others, and therefore will not provoke war." (I like his confidence, but after nearly two hundred years of self-described real Christians starting wars with abandon since then, I find it hard to share it.) "Almost all nations" he goes on, "have peace or war at the will and pleasure of rulers whom they do not elect, and who are not always wise or virtuous. Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest, of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers." That is, as opposed to unelected leaders who are neither wise nor virtuous. You can read the letter here. Next.

John Quincy Adams, son of John Adams, was the sixth U.S. President. He was also the chairman of the American Bible Society, which he considered his highest and most important role.

This is the end of the lacuna in the shorter recension; the first sentence, about John Quincy Adams, is missing, but the second is present. The result is that it seems to apply to Thomas Jefferson, rather than to Adams. The Ciniraj version has another lengthy interpolation at this point.

On July 4, 1821, President Adams said, "The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: "It connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity."

All four texts examined here contain this item. These words, however, are not Adams'. They were written by John Wingate Thornton in his introduction to The Pulpit of the American Revolution, p. xxix. They are his summary of something supposedly said by John Quincy Adams, though Thornton doesn't say what. He does not say, state, or imply that the words are from Adams himself, only that the idea goes back to him.

Interestingly, for once David Barton seems to be on the right track. "His above statement in connection with Adams is Thornton's summation of part of a lengthy speech delivered by John Quincy Adams during an 1837 Fourth of July celebration at Newburyport, Massachusetts" (link added). The parallels he gives seem convincing, and it is reasonable to suppose that he has found the very document Thornton had in mind. Whether Thornton's paraphrase is in fact accurate I will leave as an exercise for the reader. If this be vindication, make the most of it.

[There will be a third part to this series, if I can stomach it.]

08 July 2008

Dubious Documents: The Case of the Fractured Founders pt 1

There is a document circulating about the intertubes that purports to recover the suppressed truth of America's history. What is this suppressed truth? It is nothing less than a claim that the Founders intended the United States to be a Christian nation. Googling various phrases from the piece shows that there may well be some ten thousand copies circulating, and casual comparison suggests that no two of them are alike. (Some of them must be, just like snowflakes, but there is a great deal of variation among them.) The text, to use the jargon of textual criticism, is wild. Individual editors seem to feel free to modify it at their pleasure—to add material, alter it, or take it away at whim. There are at least two major branches, easily distinguishable by the presence or absence of the George Washington material (among other variations). It goes by many titles, but for my purposes I'll call it "America's Christian Roots". The author is unknown—though as much of it is made up of purported quotations of American founders, it might be more accurate to describe the originator as an editor or assembler.

The shorter recension is characterized by two large lacunae in the material. There is evidence that both of them are omissions from the longer text, rather than additions made to the shorter text. (For the convenience of the reader I have provided a copy of "America's Christian Roots" here; the lacunae in the shorter recension are given there in blue.) The first lacuna begins at the end of a Thomas Jefferson quotation, and includes material attributed to George Washington, John Adams, and John Jay. The text resumes with a note to the effect that "He" was also chairman of the American Bible Society. In the shorter recension "He" is Thomas Jefferson; in the longer "He" is John Quincy Adams. Hypothetically this should provide strong evidence on the subject. If Thomas Jefferson had in fact been chairman of the American Bible Society and John Quincy Adams not been, that would argue in favor of the shorter recension, in that the notice would have been accidentally displaced by the insertion of new material. Conversely, if John Quincy Adams had been chairman and not Thomas Jefferson, the longer recension would be more likely the original, the notice having been displaced by the omission of material.

Unfortunately, it's not that simple. Neither man was ever chairman of the American Bible Society. Which leaves us back where we started.

Or does it? One of the men mentioned in the longer recension, John Jay, actually was elected president of the American Bible Society in 1821. One possibility is that the notice originally applied to him, became detached with the insertion of the John Quincy Adams item, and then became detached yet again with the omission of the larger block of material. It's a bit convoluted, but it does make sense of the situation, and is a slight argument in favor of the longer recension.

[correction: Although John Quincy Adams was neither chairman nor president of the American Bible Society, he was vice-president of the society from 1818 to 1848 (source). It therefore seems likely that this notice did originally apply to him—a point decisively in favor of the originality of the longer recension. ]

Also in favor of the longer recension is the fact that the end of the Jefferson quotation is authentic (though the quotation itself is a bit of a fake); the simplest explanation is that it was originally included in the document and then accidentally omitted (favoring the longer recension), rather than that the quotation was originally shortened and then the ending restored (in the case that the shorter recension was original).

As far as the second lacuna is concerned, the evidence is decisively in favor of the longer recension. Where the longer recension correctly quotes the Harvard handbook as saying "and therefore to lay Jesus Christ as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning", the shorter recension has "and therefore to lay Jesus Christ as the only foundation for our children to follow the moral principles of the Ten Commandments." Where did this gibberish come from? Comparison of the two recension shows that the words "our children to follow the moral principles of the Ten Commandments" is the conclusion of a comment by the assembler of the document on a Supreme Court decision: "Is it not a permissible objective to allow our children to follow the moral principles of the Ten Commandments?" The two have become joined by the omission of the intervening material, which means that the longer recension in this case is certainly more original.

Why was the shorter recension created? What purpose do these omissions serve? The short answer seems to be—none. The omissions significantly damage the sense of the document, and seem utterly purposeless. They look, well, accidental. If this were a document from the paper age I would suggest that maybe a couple of leaves were accidentally lost or somehow not copied. This being the computer age, it is also possible that an ancestral file became somehow corrupted. A casual examination of internet examples suggests that the shorter recension is the more common of the two; it was the first that came to my attention at the very least.

For this discussion I examined four of the many versions available—two from the shorter recension, and two from the longer. These are (1) J. Vitello, "America's Christian Roots," in The Christian Journal (February 2005) (PDF); (2) Ed Brayton, "Answering a 'Christian Nation' E-mail," Dispatches from the Culture Wars, 7 December 2003 (this one is derived from a version published in World Net Daily that I couldn't find and may no longer be available); (3) Paul Ciniraj, "Bible and Prayer in the History of America," Free Republic, 13 January 2005; and (4) Kenn McDermott, "Forsaken Roots," Kenn McDermott's Home Page, 28 June 2008. Kenn McDermott and Ed Brayton both present the piece as anonymous, and both make critiques available to the reader; J. Vitello and Paul Ciniraj are both listed as authors of their respective versions. The Vitello and McDermott versions belong to the longer rescension; the Brayton and Ciniraj versions to the shorter—though Ciniraj extends his version with numerous interpolations, either his own or derived from some other source, making it longer than the longer recension.

"America's Christian Roots" contains many mini-documents, excerpts from letters and speeches that are supposed to support its thesis. Each of these has its own history before it came to lodge in this conglomerate. That history is often obscure and convoluted, so bear with me as we cut through the underbrush. To begin:

The U.S. Constitution was founded on Biblical principles, and it was the intention of the authors for this to be a Christian nation.

This is the Ciniraj version; the Brayton version puts it baldly "We are a Christian nation" and the two longer recension versions omit this preamble altogether. Stated or not, this is the thesis of the document in all its forms. In many cases the document simply begins

Did you know that 52 of the 55 signers of the Declaration of Independence were orthodox, deeply committed Christians? The other three all believed in the bible as the divine truth, the God of Scripture, and His personal intervention.

Only Brayton's version omits this item, though there are minor variations in the others. The Ciniraj version for example adds (anachronistically) the word "evangelical" to the "deeply committed" of the other two. A major oddity is the statement that there were fifty-five signers of the Declaration of Independence; in fact there were fifty-six. (Some recent versions have changed this item accordingly, though none of the three I examined had yet done so.) How many of them were "deeply committed Christians" is unknown; some of them were members of mainline churches, and others weren't. Personally, having myself tried to run down the data on some figures of the time, I'm skeptical of any claim that purports to give hard statistics. Here is a chart by somebody who has actually attempted to determine the formal religious affiliations of the signers of the Declaration, and here is a blog entry covering the religion of the founders in a more general way.

In any case it is irrelevant to the thesis of the document, which is that the founders intended the United States to be a Christian nation. As Ben Abbot aptly observed in a comment on the blog entry I just mentioned, "Even if *all* the framers/founders were Trinitarian Christians, it would *not* mean that our Nation was intended by them to be a sectarian one. Further, even if all were Deists, it would not mean that they intended to banish the inspiration of organized religions from its borders." It's easy to see why Brayton's source omitted this item.

At this point comes one of the Ciniraj interpolations; I'll give it for flavor:

The founding fathers understood that for a country to stand it must have a solid foundation; the Bible was the source of this foundation. They believed that God's ways were much higher than Man's ways and held firmly that the Bible was the absolute standard of truth and used the Bible as a source to form the government.

Of course no source is given for these unlikely statements. They appear to function as a kind of commentary on the text, rather than being a part of the text themselves. Moving right along

It is the same Congress that formed the American Bible Society.

This is found only in two of the four versions: the Ciniraj (shorter recension) and the McDermott (longer recension), but it almost certainly appeared in the ancestor of the other two versions. (The Brayton version [short recension] simply omits the item, but the Vitello version [long recension] retains the phrase "the same Congress" while omitting its essence.) Why did these two versions, presumably independently, omit it? Probably because it isn't true. Sure, that doesn't stop them from retaining other items, but in this case it is extremely easy to check; the American Bible Society was founded in 1816, years after the Continental Congress ceased to exist. And oh yeah, Congress had no part in its founding.

How did this come to be here? My guess is that this item is a distorted reflection of an account such as that in W. P. Strickland's 1849 History of the American Bible Society from its Organization to the Present Time (see my piece on the Bible of the Revolution). Strickland wrote "the first Congress of the States assumed all the rights and performed all the duties of a Bible Society"; it would be easy to turn this into the misstatement that the Continental Congress actually did found a Bible Society. Onward.

Immediately after creating the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress voted to purchase and import 20,000 copies of Scripture for the people of this nation.

Three of the versions have this word for word, and the Vitello version has it with minor variations caused by its awkward elimination of the American Bible Society item. This item by contrast is true, or at any rate mostly true. It was actually a year later, rather than "immediately", and the Continental Congress never finalized the resolution, so that no Bibles were ever imported, but other than that, it is fairly accurate. It doesn't really support the Christian Nation thesis: the point of Congress being involved was to prevent price gouging, and the money loaned against the purchase would have been paid back by the sale of the books. It certainly provides no precedent for any present-day action by the government; this took place during the pre-Constitutional period, when the First Amendment had yet to be written, and it was not yet clear what sort of entity the new nation was to be.

The Ciniraj version has another lengthy interpolation here, which I will skip, and move on to the next item that is an integral part of the document:

Patrick Henry, who is called the firebrand of the American Revolution, is still remembered for his words, "Give me liberty or give me death"; but in current textbooks, the context of these words is omitted. Here is what he actually said: "An appeal to arms and the God of hosts is all that is left us. But we shall not fight our battle alone. There is a just God that presides over the destinies of nations. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone. Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death."

This appears virtually word-for-word in all four versions (the two longer-recension versions omit "actually" before "said"). Now this speech has its own problems, not the least of which is that there is no actual evidence that Patrick Henry ever said it or anything approximating it, but that aside, I'm curious—is it true that this speech has been "erased" from modern textbooks? William Benson, in his critique, suggests otherwise. "Here again is an error in fact and an error in implication," he wrote. "The error in fact is that this famous Patrick Henry speech has not been erased from public school text books; at least it hasn't been erased from the history textbook used by the Los Gatos Union School District schools in California. Their history textbook is entitled The Americans a History and is published by McDougal Little/Houghton Mifflin. The full and unedited text of Henry's speech appears on page 125 of this textbook" Benson went on to note, "The error in implication is that Henry's speech was stricken from public school textbooks because it makes references to God. But our courts have never ruled that public schools cannot recognize the impact that religion and the belief in a God or gods has had in the history of the world. Teaching about the role religion has played in history is not a violation of the Establishment Clause whereas teaching denominational religious dogma is."

These sentences have been erased from our textbooks. Was Patrick Henry a Christian? The following year, 1776, he wrote this: "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great Nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here."

The is part of all four texts examined here, except that the first two sentences were omitted in the Ciniraj text. The quotation, as I showed in an earlier entry, is a fake, having actually been written in 1956. One peculiarity of this piece is that while the quotation really has no bearing on the question asked—was Patrick Henry a Christian?—since a non-Christian might well reach the (erroneous) conclusion that the United States was "founded…on the Gospel of Jesus Christ", it is at least germane to the central thesis of the article. The author clearly believed in the Christian Nation hypothesis. But even if the author had been Patrick Henry, would it have really helped?

Both Benson and Brayton in their critiques of the document answer no. Benson somehow gets himself lost in a jungle of confusion over whether "establishment" is a noun (of course it is, no matter in which sense it is used), so Brayton is more on point here. He wrote "…remember that when the time came to frame the Constitution, Patrick Henry was opposed to the passage of the first amendment establishment clause. … When the constitution was passed, Patrick Henry opposed it specifically because it was a 'godless document' and he preached long and hard that because the constitution did not establish the US as an officially Christian nation, it would bring down the wrath of God upon us all. In other words, he was on the losing end of history on this issue and … in point of fact, citing his views on church and state proves the opposite of what the author intends—it shows that those who pushed for theocracy were in the minority."

[This commentary will continue in one or more future installments, Allah willing.]

04 July 2008

Another Old Racist Dies

Arch-racist Jesse Helms, also noted for his anti-gay and other anti-American policies, died today at the age of 81. He will not be missed.

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