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?

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