21 May 2008

This Great Nation Was Founded Not By Religionists

There are few people that I personally despise more than canonical critics, but Christian Nationites are almost certainly among them. David Barton and his gang of loony liars have done more than a small part in undermining American values and destroying the fabric of this once great nation--and continue to today, thanks to the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools, the late D. James Kennedy, and other unscrupulous types more concerned about making a buck off the gullible than about the survival of the nation that brought them up. One of the tricks of their nefarious trade is the invention of fake quotations from the Founding Fathers designed to make them look like modern Christian Nationites. Many of them have been discredited; others lurk in the limbo of the unknown.

It is not always appreciated that the Founding Fathers were a diverse lot with differing opinions on exactly how the new nation ought to be put together. Some of them favored having a state religion, as all respectable nations had in their time. Others--Jefferson, Washington, Madison, for example--favored keeping religion out of government altogether. This was the winning faction.

Among the famous Founding Fathers on the wrong side of that particular issue was Patrick Henry, slave-owner and the reputed author of the words "Give me liberty, or give me death." He undoubtedly did write some pretty crazy stuff about church-state relations, but--did he say, as the Christian Nationites claim:

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!

Okay, it's tripe, but that's not really the point. Some people are obviously impressed with it. A quick check of Google Books reveals its popularity. One book is listed as having this quotation in 1994, another in 1996, and still one more in 2000. Starting with 2002, however, it begins to take off. Three books quote it in 2002, four in 2003, six in 2004, and seventeen in 2005. While that was a high point, ten books quote it in 2006, eleven in 2007, and two this year.

Well, you can't argue with success, right? If so many authors use it, well, then Patrick Henry must have said it. The market has spoken, as Stephen Colbert would say.

Still, there is one oddity at least. Nobody seems to have heard of this saying before 1994. Now Google books is a neat little tool, but it is far from infallible. However, if Patrick Henry had really said, or written, or muttered this little piece of garbage, you'd think it would show up somewhere. And in fact Patrick Henry scholars have searched his recorded words, and found--nothing.

Even though it doesn't show up in the Google books search, the saying apparently first appeared (at least as Patrick Henry's) in The Myth of Separation by David Barton in 1988. Barton himself has since repudiated it, describing it as "unconfirmed" in his WallBuilder's website. He does hold out hope that it will turn out to be genuine, however, citing some absolutely irrelevant quotations by and about Patrick Henry, a cheesy trick that used to be exploited by the brave Cold War liars who promulgated fake quotations attributed to Lenin, Stalin, and other Communist leaders. (Anybody else remember Stormer's None Dare Call It Treason?) Humorously Barton goes on to make the suggestion (without giving the slightest evidence to support it) that "there is a possibility that the unconfirmed quote came from Henry's uncle, the Reverend Patrick Henry. We find no record of the Reverend's letters or writings. Therefore," he suggests, "until more definitive documentation can be presented, please avoid the words in question."

Need I remind the Myth of Separation author that the burden of proof is always on the person who puts forth a quotation as genuine? Cite your source, damn it--cite it. That's all you have to do. The works of the Founding Fathers are not even that hard come by, for the most part. You usually can find them in multi-volume sets of speeches and letters and publications and all like that there. If you got took by a bum secondary source--well, them are the breaks. At least if you've cited it, people will know who to blame.

In this case, however, it should have been clear that something was off in the brew. The word "religionists"--it ain't right. The word's been around since the seventeenth century, and our patriot could have used it--but not in the sense it's used here. That's pure twentieth-century, not Patrick Henry's era in the least. In his time a religionist was a fanatic, somebody obsessed with religion. The author of this quotation, however, is using it in a strange generic sense, meaning apparently people of different religions joined together, or something of that sort.

Of course the answer to this riddle is simple--these words were not written or spoken by Patrick Henry. Nor did they come from Patrick Henry's uncle (a ridiculous idea, by the way). Here is the quotation in context:

"I have now disposed of all my property to my family. There is one thing more I wish I could give them, and that is the Christian Religion. If they had that and I had not given them one shilling they would have been rich; and if they had not that and I had given them all the world, they would be poor."

Patrick Henry, Virginia,
His Will

"There is an insidious campaign of false propaganda being waged today, to the effect that our country is not a Christian country but a religious one--that it was not founded on Christianity but on freedom of religion.

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by 'religionists' but by Christians--not on religion but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here.

"In the spoken and written words of our noble founders and forefathers, we find symbolic expressions of their Christian faith. The above quotation from the will of Patrick Henry is a notable example."

I got this from the September 1956 issue of The American Mercury (p. 134) where it appears as a page filler. Their source: the April 1956 issue of The Virginian, a short-lived segregationist rag.

So dig this, all you dupes and pawns who mindlessly copied the crap that David Barton fed you. These jejune and insipid words you have enshrined in your books and on your websites are not pearls of great price delivered by one of America's patriots. They were written by some anonymous racist hack, the dregs of the era of McCarthy and George Wallace and the Ku Klux Klan. Enjoy the feast--and I hope you choke on it.


Jeff said...

I appreciate the education into the apparent misquote applied to Patrick Henry. However, the authors attitude and anger make it hard to take him seriously. The quote, whether spoken by Patrick Henry or not resonates deeply and speaks directly to the authors ability to speak as he did in his blog. Speak out thusly in countries not founded on Judeo Christian principles and likely one would have to be in hiding not to be executed.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty conservative politically...Bush and McCain are not conservative enough for me, I'd rather have a Reagan clone...but I have no problem with the author's "attitude." I agree with him completely, and I agree with him BECAUSE I AM A CONSERVATIVE. An American Conservative. That means I believe the principles this country was founded on should not be compromised. And this is precisely what Christian Nationists wish to do. The author is not attacking Christians, he is attacking a specific group of Christians who clearly do not understand, or do not respect, the founding principles of our Republic.

Anonymous said...

On further reflection, I don't agree with EVERYTHING the author said. I don't agree with him lumping McCarthy with George Wallace and the KKK. Studies of the archives of the old Soviet Union have shown that there were, in fact, an uncomfortable number of Communists and spies in positions of power in the U.S. during the 50's. In other words, McCarthy was right.

David said...

I am a Christian. Maybe some would call me a conservative, but I don't like to divide the world up that way. I appreciate this post, not necessarily the "attitude" of its author, though it is understandable to a degree, but because I, with the author, realize the perilous position America teeters on today. If we lose the separation between church and state, we will lose all our freedoms. Once the first amendment goes, they all topple, one at a time. Rome will make sure of this. Power-hungry religion is behind this huge move to destroy our nation and then to rebuild upon its successes and prosperity.

But though the author sounded unprofessional, I like the approach Paul used in some who weren't preaching the gospel as gently as it needed to be given. "Some indeed preach Christ even of ...strife; and some also of good will:
The one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds:
But the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defence of the gospel.
What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretence, or in truth, Christ is preached; and I therein do rejoice, yea, and will rejoice." (Phil. 1:(15,18).

Thank you, anonymous author for your contribution to this great debate. We need to have more and more thinkers protecting our Constitution from those unholy religionists who would pull it off its sacred platform.

allison said...

i believe in a relationship, not religion. that's why i posted his quote.

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Anonymous said...

This post is the lie. David Barton has corrected his website and the Patrick Henry quote is CONFIRMED.

The truth of the matter is that Patrick Henry, as well as all our other Founders, were correct. They did not subscribe to the modern interpretation of "Christianity", and when Jefferson stated that Christ was nothing more than a hokus-pokus phantasm, he was describing the "christ" of the Trinity. The Founders were beyond their years in spiritual and Christian understanding and they knew the true and only real gospel of Jesus Christ was not yet restored on earth, or at leas they had not found it or heard of it. The Trinitarian doctrine they almost all agreed was hogwash. True Christianity, Jefferson felt, would one day be restored to earth, just as the Bible stated and ancient prophets prophesied. He was almost right. Six years before he died, the gospel was restored to earth.

you can go to WallBuilders and type in the quote and see where and how it was CONFIRMED.

Anyone who believes and agrees with the ideas in the article written above, is believing revisionist History which is false History. I would invite all to revise their own understanding of History and recognize that for that past 120+ years there have been forces at work trying to dismantle real and true American History, in order to dismantle America herself. Please be careful.

sbh said...

Actually David Barton has admitted that the information in this post is correct and lists the quotation as unconfirmed on the current version of his unconfirmed quotations page. Check it out for yourself.

It's not surprising, of course; I sent him the information on each of these quotations I've run down. The chain of transmission in this case is well-documented; the passage was first written by an author in The Virginian, April 1956; it was reprinted in September that same year in American Mercury; it was misattributed to Patrick Henry in 1988 by Steve C. Dawson in God’s Providence in American History, and that misattribution repeated in David Barton's Myth of Separation that same year.

For a somewhat fuller account see "The Impotent Rage of the Clueless" here.

Unknown said...

Its interesting that although Christ's ministry did not stress worldliness or politically narrow viewpoints, none-the-less, so many self described religious people are currently up in arms when even the slightest doubts about the "true," meaning of Christianity are expressed. The danger of defending such a concept is that one can then pick and choose which of us are not expressing the "true," meaning which is so apparent to us. And, although numerous religions consider their own teachings and prophets as being the only reliable sources of spiritual reasoning, exactly who is absolutely right is not the real problem. The problem is in becoming ignorant and biased about the valid beliefs of others, and then relying on that bias to create all kinds of personal, intellectual, theological, and political absolutes, that ultimately cause more and more alienation in response to the differing beliefs of others.

Parroting Jesus as saying that the way is narrow, does not give anyone poetic license to insist that it must also be narrow minded. Do we also believe that only Christians are capable of love or would Christ urge us instead, not to be so self righteous or high and mighty that we feel we are the only valid source of spiritual wisdom the world has ever known.

Surely the founders understood that in order to ensure freedom of religion, we must also be allowed to seek freedom FROM religion. Didn't Christ tell us to "give unto Cesar what is Caesar's and to god what is God's?" And most importantly, didn't he say that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath? For God's sake lets not play king of the spiritual hill anymore!

Peter Johnson said...

Its amazing how up in arms many religious people, (especially Christians) get, whenever there is the slightest danger that their understanding or the founder's intentions, might be contradicted with differing opinions. After all, Jesus was not selling a specific theocratic vision, and in fact, was not worldly at all. He said that his "Kingdom,' was not of this world, and had no aspirations to be some sort of political leader.

The danger of any particular faith or sect being able to completely run the show is that, that particular sect or faith, will then alienate millions of believer who happen to call God by different names. And isn't if funny that virtually all major religions proudly exclaim that only they know the real road to salvation, or to heaven? Do we really think that clinging dogmatically to the teachings of one particular brand of faith is all we need to do in order to win some sort of eternal jackpot?

The fact is that anyone in America can still pray to his or her God anywhere, and anytime, they so desire---we just cannot insist that the government or any government affiliated public institution, be forced to conform to only our kinds of beliefs---because that would obviously jeopardize the wall between Church and State. So if we cherish freedom of religion under the first Amendment we must also recognize the right of any other citizen to be "free FROM faith." You can't have one without the other---the moment we are denied our freedom to accept or reject any specific religious or spiritual teachings, we become dangerously susceptible to being forced to conform to only one narrow set of views. After experiencing life under governments which relied heavily on forcing one particular set of religious beliefs down everyone throats, surely the founders knew that the new constitutions would need to completely prevent such a thing from happening in the new world.

Jesus told us that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So apparently, according to him, how, where, and when we choose to worship, (or not worship), is left totally up to us. How could anything else be interpreted from these words? yes, there are probably many kinds of spins upon spins that the founders were aware of, but the words of Christ are crystal clear to me. So personally, I can't help but believe their meanings were also clear to the founders, who already had direct knowledge of what can happen when free people are forced to accept specific kinds of beliefs!

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