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What Most Have Forgotten March 13, 2010

Posted by Bill in Christianity, Church and State, Politics, Religion, Religious Right.
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The sight of gallows loaded with the bodies of men and women hanged and sometimes mutilated just for their beliefs. Men such as the Jesuit John Ogilvie who was sentenced to death by a Glasgow court and hanged and disemboweled on March 10, 1615.

The thousands of men and women deprived of their property due to being of the wrong religion with the definition of the wrong religion changing when the English rulers changed. First Protestant, then Catholic, then Protestant again.

The thousands of Lutheran men, women, and children who starved and froze to death when, on October 31, 1731, 20,000 of them were expelled from their homes in Salzburger, Austria by the Archbishop Leopold von Firmian. They were given only eight days to leave their homes.

The drowning of Protestants by the Irish Catholics in 1641. After holding them as prisoners and torturing them, the Catholics then forced them to the bridge over the River Bann, forced them to strip, and then drove them into the water at sword point. Those that survived the plunge were then shot.

Our Founders remembered this and more. It is why there is no mention of Christianity, no mention of God, no mention of Jesus in the Constitution. Our Founders set up a secular state so that freedom of conscience would be guarded for all men.

The St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in Paris on August 24, 1572 when thousands of Huguenots (Protestants) were butchered by Catholic mobs. This was just the worst of the many killings and riots that occurred during the 30 years of war between the French Protestants and Catholics that started in 1562.

The Huguenots disemboweling and burying alive priests. The killing of Catholic children. The torture of priests and Catholics during the same 30-year war.

John Rogers being burned alive at Smithfield England, the “first Protestant martyr” executed by England’s Catholic Queen Mary.

The smell of burning flesh as John Lambert was chained to a stake in 1537 at Smithfield, England and then burned. He had defended his conscience and faith after being summoned to an inquisition.

For not enshrining God and Christianity into its text the Constitution was heavily criticized. This omission of God and Christianity was denounced by the Reverend John M. Mason who declared it “an omission which no pretext whatever can palliate.” He went on to warn “we will have every reason to tremble lest the Governor of the universe, who will not be treated with indignity by a people more than by individuals, overturn from its foundations the fabric we have been rearing and crush us to atoms in the wreck.”

Others warned of the dangers of not putting God and Christianity into the Constitution because it would be an “invitation for Jews and pagans of every kind to come among us.” and that “a Turk, a Jew, a Roman Catholic, and what is worse than all, a Universalist, may be President of the United States.”

Our Founders knew that, with most of the states having religious tests for citizenship and holding office, that pushing a thoroughly secular Constitution would be difficult. Yet they did push.

George Washington, John Adam, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and the others of our Founders considered the lack of religion in the Constitution important enough to weather the firestorm of criticism to get the Constitution ratified as it was – without God and without religion.

In fact, eventually all the states would follow the lead of the writers of the Constitution and erect their own wall of separation between church and state.

Anne Hutchison defending her beliefs and being banished by the Puritans from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1637. The same Puritans who were persecuted in England and sailed to the New World carried the Old World’s intolerance of dissent with them. Anne Hutchison, her servants, and 5 of her children were killed by Indians in New York in 1643.

Roger Williams’ defense of the separation of church and state in the mid 17th century. He believed that the state should not be involved in religion at all. He believed that all men — the Muslims, Jews, infidels, and atheists – should have freedom of conscience and for the state to be involved in any way with religion would infringe on this right. His books were banned and burned in England. In America he was banished by the Puritans.

The persecution of the Quakers by the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1656 the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed laws against anyone bringing Quakers into the Colony or anyone harboring them. They would be fined 100 pounds and then either imprisoned or banished. Other fines included 54 pounds for possessing Quaker books or writings, 40 pounds for defending the teachings of Quakers, 44 pounds for a second offence of defending the teachings, followed by imprisonment until the offender could be shipped out. The laws also allowed corporal punishment ie., whippings, cutting off of ears, boring holes in tongues, and hanging. Mary Dyer, William Robinson, Marmaduke Stephenson were some among many who braved these punishments in order to speak their conscience. All three had been banished, endured flogging, and were eventually hanged.

Today we take the benefits of keeping church and state separate too much for granted. It has allowed us to avoid most of the religious violence that has embroiled much of the world despite our being the most religiously diverse nation on earth.

Even though we are home for Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Protestants, and Catholics we have avoided the strife that plagues India from the Hindus and Muslims, the wars that consume the Middle East between the Sunnis, Shiites, Jews, and Christians, and the violence between the Protestants and Catholics in Ireland.

We take these so much for granted that many do not understand why the state cannot favor any religion; why the state shouldn’t fund or help religious groups and organizations.

In An Essay On Toleration Benjamin Franklin wrote, “If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Roman Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. These found it wrong in the bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here and in New England.”

In his statement about why he refused to proclaim a national day of fasting and prayer Andrew Jackson in 1832 said, “I could not do otherwise without transcending the limits prescribed by the Constitution for the President and without feeling that I might in some degree disturb the security which religion nowadays enjoys in this country in its complete separation from the political concerns of the General Government.”

James Madison, the chief author of our Constitution, wrote in a letter objecting to the use of government land for churches in 1803, “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”

The Treaty of Tripoli of 1797, carried unanimously by the Senate reads, “As the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen (Muslims) … it is declared.. that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever product an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Mohammedan nation.”

In a letter John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson, “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved– the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”

These and more statements from our founders, from George Washington to Thomas Paine, from Ethan Allen to Thomas Jefferson all attest to the fact that they set up a secular government in order to preserve the new country that they had created from being torn by religious wars. A country where all men, not just Christians, would be free to follow their conscience and express their beliefs.

During the beginning of the Civil War, the National Reform Association was founded in order to correct the mistake that was tearing our nation apart. No, it was not slavery that was the mistake in the eyes of these clergymen but instead it was the lack of an acknowledgement of God and Jesus in our Constitution.

In 1863 an attempt was made to amend the Constitution’s preamble and there acknowledge not only God but also Jesus Christ as the source our government. A foreshadowing of one of our recent President’s use of Jesus as his political mentor.

The clergy involved in the National Reform Association devised a statement that would not offend any of the mainstream Protestant denominations (they were not worried of course about Jews, Quakers, or Catholics who, being religious minorities, were aghast at the idea). It proposed replacing “We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” with “Recognizing almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, and acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ as the Governor among the nations, his revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government…” Shades of the Islamic constitution in Iraq.

The National Reform Association met with President Lincoln in February 1864 and presented him with their petition for a Christian government. His response was the observation that “…the work of amending the Constitution should never be done hastily.” and a promise to “take such action upon it as my responsibility to my Maker and our country demands.” He then took no action at all. Neither did Congress, instead tabling the resolution for years until it was forgotten.

Now these and other histories have been forgotten. We have taken for granted the benefits of a secular government. Now a new mythology is being created that our founders would be appalled by. The myth that the United States of America was created as a Christian Nation. We no longer remember why that road is such a dangerous one. We no longer seem to understand why a secular government is necessary for the continued freedom of belief and conscience that we now so blithely enjoy.

Even such seemingly laudable actions such as giving government money to religious charities creates problems and raises troubling questions.

When the government gives money, as in the faith based charity programs, it decides which religions get money and which do not. Is it really any surprise that during President Bush’s Presidency the vast majority of the money is given to evangelical organizations that supported him.  Is it any surprise that only they, out of all the organizations that our government supports with our money, are allowed to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion with that money.

And how will you react when Moslems charities start receiving money? How about Scientology? Wiccan charities? Secular Humanist charities? Or would you rather that our government start picking and choosing what religions are “worthy” of receiving money and government approval and which are “unworthy?”

Despite all the talk about original intent we are moving away from what our founders intended.

Although some of our founders were traditional Christians, most were not. Many believed that religion encouraged morality in the common people and so followed religious practices. All, though, recognized the danger that comes from religion and government becoming entangled. All recognized the necessity for a secular government. All remembered the reasons why a strict separation between church and state is necessary. I think it is time that many of us read more thoroughly our own and European history and take a good look at the world around us.

I think it is time that we start remembering again.

The United States – A Secular Government, a Christian Culture March 13, 2010

Posted by Bill in Christianity, Church and State, Current Events, Politics, Religion, Religious Right, Schools.
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In Texas we have had our Texas School Board discussing what our social studies and history curriculum should be.  Given that this standard will stay for 10 years and that as one of the largest consumers of textbooks this decision could have a national impact. 

 Needless to say, since this is Texas, the religious conservatives have a nice majority on the Education Board.  Which means that this is not going the way that I think it should. 

 For example, there was a proposal to teach students about why our Founding Fathers considered the separation of church and state of such importance.  It was promptly shot down since the majority of the School Board considers the separation of church and state a myth and the United States a Christian nation founded to be so by our Founding Fathers.

 As evidence they point to several utterances of various Founding Fathers supporting the virtues of Christianity or their actions in supporting religion.  However there are three historical facts that to me shout out very loudly that these people are wrong:  our Founders meant for the United States government to be secular and not a Christian one. 

 The first of these facts is that nowhere in the Constitution, other than a dating convention, is there a mention of God.  There is no mention of Christianity or Jesus.  Nowhere.  This is especially telling since there was a motion to mention Christianity or at least God somewhere in the Constitution.  This motion was not acted upon.  Rather a strange thing to do if they had intended for the United States government to be a Christian one.  Especially considering the fact that every state constitution at that time did mention either God, Jesus, or Christianity. 

 The second fact is that the Constitution barely, and I mean barely, passed.  It was voted on by conventions in every state and in each and every state it was a political battle; one that was lost in some and won in others.  One of the criticisms of the Constitution brought up by many who were against it was that it did not include a mention of God or Christianity.  Yet despite the closeness of the vote and the importance they placed on enacting the Constitution none of the Founding Fathers tried to modify it to gain a few votes.

 The third fact is the Treaty of Tripoli.  This treaty was signed on Nov 4, 1796.  After having been read in its entirety on the Senate floor it was unanimously (23 or the 32 Senators were in attendance) ratified by the United States Senate on June 7, 1797.  The treaty was signed by President John Adams, one of our Founding Fathers, on June 10, 1797. 

 Of interest here is article 11, which states:

 “Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

At a time when George Washington, Thomas Jeffereson,  James Madison, and many of the other founders were still alive this government document explicitely states that the “Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion”.   It passed without protest, without debate, and unanimously.  And was signed by another of our Founding Fathers, President John Adams. 

When you put these three facts together it is very hard to see how it could be claimed that we are founded as a Christian government.  Especially when you toss in a couple of other supporting facts:

–         There is no religious test for public office.  In fact it was explicitly prohibited.  And this at a time when the state constitutions often did require a religious test to hold public office.

–         The state governments over the years gradually dropped those religious requirements and also mention of God and Christianity; following the lead of the United States Constitution.

–         That there were several attempts to change the Constitution to include a mention of God or Christianity.  There was a large push during President Jackson’s Presidency as well as again after the Civil War.  All failed.  

 Then how can the quotes and actions those who oppose the seperation of church and state be reconciled with these facts.  There are several items to keep in mind here:

–         Not all of our Founding Fathers thought alike ( After all, one did present a motion to include God in our Constitution even though it was not acted upon).  In fact they often disagreed with each other with a ferocity that makes it even more amazing that they managed to find compromises that allowed them to create our Constitution. 

–         There is a difference between a nation’s culture and its government.  While it is undoubtedly true that our culture is Christian it is also undoubtedly true that our Founders set up a secular government as the best way to protect the religoius rights of all.

–         At the time of our Founding the states were not required to follow the Bill of Rights.  That was a limitation on the Federal government and not on the State governments.  What would be proper for a State official to do would not for a Federal one. 

o       This can be most clearly seen in regards to the abolition movement.  Many of the southern states outlawed any books or tracts promoting abolition and arrested those who spoke out against slavery.  Free Speech only applied at the Federal and not the state level. 

o       It was the passage of the 14th Amendment after the civil war which changed this and made the Bill of Rights apply to the State government as well as the Federal government. 

In summary then our Founding fathers did indeed set up a secular government amidst a Christian culture. 

The reason why? 

That is my next blog “What Most Have Forgotten”

Turning Science Into NonScience February 1, 2010

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Evolution, Religion, Religious Right, Science.
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Currently a hot tactic for creationists to use is to attack the assumption of naturalism that scientists have to make.  In fact that is the basis of the whole Intelligent Design movement, especially as popularized by the lawyer Phillip Johnson. 

Their argument goes that science assumes that there must be a natural explanation for how the world works.  Because of that science is blinding itself to the possibility that God is working directly in the world. 

 However is this assumption of naturalism really a self-perpetuated blindness on the part of scientists or is it a clear-sighted necessity for science to work? 

 Naturalism is basically the idea that there is a non-supernatural explanation for natural phenomena.  In other words any questions we ask about the world has to have a natural explanation.  Saying God did it is forbidden in scientific research.

 Before going further let me just say that just because a scientist assumes naturalism in his work (known as methodological naturalism) as a scientist does not mean that he or she assumes it in their total lives (naturalism).  They can be religious and still be a scientist. 

In fact a group of thousands of clergy from various religions such as Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics, Methodists, Baptists and many others got together and did up a statement in support of evolution.   There are also thousands of scientists doing good research in evolution – paleontologists, archeologists, geologists, biologists – who are also Christian.  Two good books written about evolution from a Christian perspective are Paradigms on Pilgrimage by Stephen J. Godrey and Christopher R. Smith and Finding Darwin’s God by Kenneth Miller.  Both are good books by Christian believers explaining why they support and do research into evolution and why they do not find it a conflict with their faith.

Going back to the main subject now, why is it that this naturalistic assumption is necessary for science to work?  The short answer as to why this is so is that “God did it” is a showstopper.  It stops us from looking further and deeper.

There is a Sydney Harris cartoon with two scientists watching a third writing a complicated mathematical formula on a blackboard. Between the two halves of the formula on the blackboard though are the words “And a Miracle Occurred”.    One on the watching scientist says to the other “I think he needs to be a little more explicit on that second step”

The Creationists(and this includes the Intelligent Design people since ID is nothing but a subset of creationism)  are like that scientist writing on the blackboard. 

When asked about how something occurs in the world there is a natural tendency to say that this is so complicated and we currently have no clue to how it occurred that therefore God must have done it.  However ignorance is proof of nothing but ignorance.  To be able to really make that argument work you would have to show how we can distinguish between these four possibilities when faced with a difficult question:

1)There is a natural explanation but we have not come up with the evidence needed to show us how to answer it or come up with the right way to look at the problem to solve it.  Some examples would be Plate Tectonics and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.

2) There is a natural explanation but we do not have the tools needed to solve it.  Examples are the Germ Theory of Disease (microscope) and most of Astronomy (telescope).

3)  There is a natural explanation but we will never be able to solve it because we just do not have the intelligence to do so.  For example imagine one of our early ancestors – possibly Homo Erectus – sitting on the shores of the ocean.  She notices the tides and wonders what causes them.  However her intelligence is too limited for her to ever understand how the gravitational effects of the moon and sun cause the tides.  Because of this she might conclude a god caused the tides when taking baths even though there is a natural explanation.

4)  God did it.

Until we come with a way to reliable way distinguish between these four possible hypotheses then assuming that God did it stops our questioning too soon.  If we had stopped with God causes disease to strike as punishment we would never have developed modern medicine.  If we had stopped with God causes the lightning we would never have learned about electricity and developed lightning rods among many other useful benefits.

 For people of faith, using an unknown as evidence that God did it not only stops us from looking for answers too soon but also puts the idea of God at risk.  What will the effect be on a person’s belief in God if part of that belief rested on ignorance and then we found a natural explanation?  Does it put his faith at risk then?  Ignorance is shaky ground to base a belief in God on.  Or any other belief for that matter. 

 I have gone on at probably too great a length because creationists love to use this naturalistic assumption as proof that scientists are atheists and that evolution is a theory driven by atheists.  Neither is correct. 

One of the interesting things about this is that the evidence for evolution and the stage was set for evolution by the creationist scientists of the late 18th and early 19th centuries.  Their discoveries in biology and geology led to questions and answers that eventually resulted in evolution.  For a detailed look at that history Peter J. Bower’s Evolution The History of an Idea.  For a quicker but still good look at this try Edward J. Larson’s Evolution The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory.

Since these arguments are being used most often in the context of evolution I have continued with that emphasis.  However make no mistake, were creationists to be successful in eliminating naturalism from science not only would evolution be destroyed but so too would all of science – from physics through chemistry, from Plate Tectonics to Relativity.   This can be very clearly seen in the other scientific theories and findings that creationist attack – age of the earth, radio-metric dating, Big Bang theory, etc. 

To sum up then, scientists have to assume that there are natural explanations for whatever questions about the natural world they are studying.  To do otherwise leaves them at great risk of missing out on a new discovery that will change the world – such as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity or Darwin’s Theory of Evolution.  To do otherwise would destroy science.

Are Muslims Violent Liars? November 12, 2009

Posted by Bill in atheism, Christianity, Church and State, Islam, Muslims, Politics, Religion.
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With the recent shootings of 13 people by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan  there has been a lot of blog activity against Muslims.  Most of them along the lines that Islam is an inherently violent religion and that Muslims are commanded by the Qur’an to lie to unbelievers

Warning, this is an exceeding long blog.  I make no apologies for this for even at its current length it still does not begin to do justice to the question of is Islam inherently dishonest with unbelievers and violent.  I hope that this just makes some of those who think they already know the answer based on readings from certain websites question their certainty and delve deeper into the question using many different resources. 

Lets start by looking at a representative site that promotes this view.  

From   http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Pages/Statement-on-Muslims.htm

 “Yes, there are Muslims who take issue with these aspects of Islamic theology, but it doesn’t change what Islam is.  Don’t confuse the ideology with the individual.  Don’t draw conclusions about Islam based on the Muslims that you know, be they terrorists or humanitarians.  Islam must be understood on the basis of what it is, as presented objectively in the Qur’an, Hadith and Sira (biography of Muhammad).”

And

 “Even if there is no such thing as moderate Islam, it does not mean that there are no moderate Muslims.”

 Thank goodness this site is not as radical as many.  In fact it is a rather moderate example of its type.

“The Muslims that you know are not terrorists.  More than likely, their interests in life are similar to yours and they have the same ambitions for their children.  They should neither be shunned, mistreated, nor disrespected merely because of their religion.  Their property should not be abused, and neither should copies of their sacred book be vandalized.

Prejudging an individual by their group identity (or presumed group identity) is not only unethical, it is blatantly irrational, since group identity reveals absolutely nothing about a person.  Every individual should be judged only on the basis of their own words and deeds. 

Don’t judge Islam by the Muslims that you know, and don’t judge the Muslims that you know by Islam.”

However although it is more moderate it still makes the same assumptions about Muslims that the more radical sites do, that is:

 1)      The Qur’an not only allows lying to unbelievers but encourages it in furtherance of Islam.

 2)      Islam is inherently violent.  Muslims that say it is not either do not know their religion or are not very religious.

 3)      Muslims who disagree with either or both of the above two points are either not good Muslims or are ignorant about their religion. 

 I disagree with all three statements.  And with good reason because none are true.  In the following I will deal with all three.

 Lets deal with the lying claim first.  These sites quote sections from the Qur’an as evidence that their statements are true.  However how accurate a representation are their quotes? 

 This is from http://www.thereligionofpeace.com/Quran/011-taqiyya.htm

 The Qur’an:

Qur’an (16:106) – Establishes that there are circumstances that can “compel” a Muslim to tell a lie.

Qur’an (3:28) – This verse tells Muslims not to take those outside the faith as friends, unless it is to “guard themselves.” 

Qur’an (9:3)“…Allah and His Messenger are free from liability to the idolaters…”  The dissolution of oaths with the pagans who remained at Mecca following its capture.  They did nothing wrong, but were evicted anyway.

Qur’an (40:28) – A man is introduced as a believer, but one who must “hide his faith” among those who are not believers.

Qur’an (2:225)“Allah will not call you to account for thoughtlessness in your oaths, but for the intention in your hearts”

Qur’an (66:2)“Allah has already ordained for you, (O men), the dissolution of your oaths”

Qur’an (3:54)“And they (the disbelievers) schemed, and Allah schemed (against them): and Allah is the best of schemers.”  The Arabic word used here for scheme (or plot) is makara, which literally means deceit.  If Allah is deceitful toward unbelievers, then there is little basis for denying that Muslims are allowed to do the same.

 Lets now take at  these verses one by one.  My source for both the Qur’an and commentary is

 http://www.muslim.org/english-quran/quran.htm

 Qur’an 16:106 – Whoso disbelieves in Allah after his belief – not he who is compelled  while his heart is content with the faith, but he who opens his breast for disbelief – on them is the wrath of Allah, and for them is a grievous chastisement. 

 Note that TheReligionOfPeace reference has it wrong.  The reference says this verse details circumstances which “compel” a Muslim to tell a lie.  However this verse says a Muslim may tell a lie if under compulsion.  Here is the commentary of this verse.

 Commentary – “Only very rare circumstances are met with early in the history of Islam in which the converts even under compulsion ever recanted.  For instance, Yasir and Sumayyah, husband and wife, suffered death at the hands of the disbelievers because they would not recant, the latter being put to death most cruelly, her legs being tied to two camels which were made to run in opposite directions.  Their son Ammar, however, was not so resolute.  The cruelest persecutions were inflicted on those slaves who had become converts to Islam.  Muir says: “These were seized and imprisoned, or they were exposed upon the scorching gravel of the valley to the intense glare of the midday sun.  The torment was enhanced by intolerable thirst, until the wretched sufferers scarcely knew what they said.”  Yet even under these trying circumstances, which would have maddened even the most resolute man, there were those among these slave-converts who were as firm as a mountain; as in the case of Bilal, of whom it is recorded that “in the depth of his anguish the persecutors could force out of him but one expression, Ahad! Ahad! (One, One God) (Muir)

 So this verse, far from detailing when a Muslim is compelled to lie, instead allows him to lie if under extreme duress. 

 Qur’an 3:28 – Let not the believers take the disbelievers for friends rather than believers.  And whoever does this has no connection with Allah – except that you guard yourselves against them, guarding carefully.  And Allah cautions you against his retribution.  And to Allah is the eventual coming. 

 Commentary – The Muslims, being in a state of war with the disbelievers, were forbidden to look to their enemies to guard their interests or for help of any kind.  The clear statement made in 60: 8, 9 settles the point beyond all doubt.  “Allah forbids you not respecting those who fight you not for religion, nor drive you forth from your homes, that you show them kindness and deal with them justly… Allah forbids you only respecting those who fight you for your religion and drive you forth from your homes, and help (others) in your expulsion, that you make friends with them. 

 In short Muslims can and have been friends with unbelievers.  It is not against the Qur’an.  Now the radical Muslims interpret the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as a holy war of Christianity against Islam and will therefore interpret this verse rather broadly.  However most Muslims do not.

 I will make one more point here.  Just as the Bible has to be looked at holistically to get a proper understanding of what each verse means so too does the Qur’an.  If you treat the Bible the same as this site is doing with the Qur’an then Christianity can be used to justify many atrocities.  It has in the past been used so.

 Qur’an 9:3  – And an announcement from Allah and his Messenger to the people on the day of the greater pilgrimage that Allah is free from liability to the idolaters, and so is his Messenger.  So if you repent, it will be better for you:  and if you turn away, then know that you will not escape Allah.  And announce painful chastisement to those who disbelief.

 It seems the TheReligionofPeace reference did not bother to read the very next verse, shown below.

 Qur’an 9: 4 –  Except those of the idolaters with whom you made an agreement, then they have not failed you in anything and have not backed up anyone against you; so fulfill their agreement to the end of their term.  Surely Allah loves those who keep their duty. 

 In other words if they break their word to you then you are not obliged to honor your word to them.  If they keep true to their word then you have to keep true to yours.  How is that different than what we do?  Did we keep to any treaties we made with Japan in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor during WW 2?

 Qur’an 40:28 – And a believing man of Pharaoh’s people, who hid his faith, said:  Will you slay a man because he says, My Lord is Allah, and indeed he has brought you clear arguments from your Lord?  And if he be a liar, on him will be his lie, and if he be truthful, there will befall you some of that which he threatens you with.  Surely Allah guides not one who is prodigal, a liar. 

 This is an instruction for the believer to hide his faith from the non-believers?  Especially with the admonition about Allah not backing a liar.  The Qur’an is telling a story not giving instructions here. 

 Should TheReligionOfPeace site take the time to read the surrounding context they would find that this story is the story of Moses.  This verse relates a conversation that a believer had with the Pharaoh about Moses.  He is arguing with the Pharaoh for Moses. 

 Qur’an 2:225 – Allah will not call you to account for what is vain in your oaths, but he will call you to account for what your hearts have earned.  And Allah is forgiving, forbearing.

 Commentary – By vain oaths are meant unintentional or thoughtless oaths in ordinary conversation, and by what the hearts have earned is meant an oath intentionally taken. 

 In other words if a Muslim swears an oath then he is held accountable for it by Allah. 

 Qur’an 66:2  – So when they have reached their prescribed time, retain them with kindness or dismiss them with kindness, and call to witness two just one from among you, and give upright testimony for Allah.  With that is admonished he who believes in Allah and the latter day.  And whoever keeps his duty to Allah, he ordains a way out for him. 

 This time it seems instead of not reading the next verse TheReligionOfPeace site did not read the verse ahead of it. 

 Qur’an 66:1 – O Prophet, when you divorce women, divorce them for their prescribed period, and calculate the period; and keep your duty to Allah, your Lord.  Turn them not out of their houses – nor should they themselves go forth –  unless they commit an open indecency.  And these are the limits of Allah.  And whoever goes beyond the limits of Allah, he indeed wrongs his own soul.  Thou knowest not that Allah may after that bring about an event. 

 Read in context – something this site is very much not interested in doing – this is talking about marriage and divorce.  I do not fully understand the Qur’an ideas about marriage but apparently there are limits on when divorce is allowed and it is this to which 66:2 is referring to.  From quickly looking at it there are times when you are allowed to divorce and other times you are not allowed to divorce.  Here is the commentary on 66:1 to help give a little more information about marriage.

 Commentary – The prescribed time is ordinarily, according to 2:228, three courses.  But in the case of woman with child, and in certain other cases, the prescribed time is laid down in v. 4 of this chapter.  It should be noted how every direction in connection with the subject of divorce is followed by the injunction “keep your duty to Allah”, throughout this chapter.  The utmost carefulness must be exercised in the matter of divorce.  Divorce is allowed but the right must be used sparingly and under exceptional circumstances. 

 Qur’an 3:54 – And (the Jews) planned and Allah (also) planned.  And Allah is the best of planners. 

 It  think it might be interesting to go on to the next verse so that you can see what this verse is talking about. 

 Qur’an 3:55 – When Allah said:  Oh Jesus, I will cause thee to die and exalt thee in My presence and clear thee of those who disbelieve and make those who follow thee above those who disbelieve to the day of the Resurrection.  Then to Me is your return, so I shall  decide between you concerning that wherein you differ. 

 Commentary – Makr  is explained by R as the turning of another with ingenuity  or skill from that which he aims at, and he considers makr as two sorts, a good one and an evil one.  Therefore the best interpretation of makara (including both sorts) is that adopted by T, viz. he exercised craft, cunning, art or skill in the management or ordering of affairs with excellent consideration or deliberation, and ability to manage according to his own free will (LL)……Allah is here called Khair al-makirin or the Best of Planners, the qualifying word khair being inapplicable to an evil object.   

 Nothing here about deceit.  Instead, as in the Bible, this is stating that God took the evil idea of killing Jesus and turned it into something good and great instead.  

 Taken collectively this shows that you’re TheReligionOfPeace site is quote mining – lifting bits and pieces out of context and using them to paint a false picture. 

 I was going to quote the Qur’an on honesty but this is getting too long and there are some more things I wish to say.  So instead of quoting I will just state that there are many, many verses on the importance of honesty.  I would suggest you spend some time looking them up if interested.   I will however just quote this from Saheeh Al-Bukhari, a hadith of the Sunni Muslims, as representative of those verse.  This hadith is considered one of the six canonical hadiths of the Sunni’s.

 “Truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise.  In addition, a man keeps on telling the truth until he becomes a truthful person.  Falsehood leads to wickedness and evil-doing, and wickedness leads to the (Hell) Fire, and a man may keep on telling lies till he is written before God, as a liar”. (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)

 The insidious thing about the claim that the Qur’an promotes lying to the unbelievers is that those sites such as TheReligionOfPeace then blow off anything the more moderate Muslims say in response to terrorism and acts of violence.  When the many moderates in the United States and in the world state that they they abhor what Major Hasan did at Fort Hood and wholeheartedly condemn it these sites then question their sincerity.  Further they then start lashing at out Muslims for not condemning the violence.  Talk about moderate Muslims having the deck stacked against them. 

 Now on to the violence claim.  What I would like to do first is show how Christianity, in the past, has been a violent religion.  And further how verses taken from the Bible can lend support for the claim that Christianity is a violent religion.  

 Now this will sound as if I am trying to paint Christianity as an inherently violent religion.  I am not.  Instead I am trying to show how Christianity, as is Islam today, can be portrayed as such with the use of history and verses from the Bible. 

 Deuteronomy 17:12 (New International Version)

12 The man who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the LORD your God must be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel.

Leviticus 20:27 (New International Version)

27 ” ‘A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads.’ ”

Deuteronomy 13:6-17 (New International Version)

6 If your very own brother, or your son or daughter, or the wife you love, or your closest friend secretly entices you, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods that neither you nor your fathers have known, 7 gods of the peoples around you, whether near or far, from one end of the land to the other), 8 do not yield to him or listen to him. Show him no pity. Do not spare him or shield him. 9 You must certainly put him to death. Your hand must be the first in putting him to death, and then the hands of all the people. 10 Stone him to death, because he tried to turn you away from the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 11 Then all Israel will hear and be afraid, and no one among you will do such an evil thing again. 12 If you hear it said about one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you to live in 13 that wicked men have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), 14 then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. Destroy it completely, [a] both its people and its livestock. 16 Gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God. It is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt.

Matthew 5:17 (New International Version)

17″Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Hebrews 10:28-29 (New International Version)

28Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?

Mark 7:9-10 (New International Version)

9And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe[a] your own traditions! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’[b] and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’[c]

Luke 19:26-27 (New International Version)

26″He replied, ‘I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but as for the one who has nothing, even what he has will be taken away. 27But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and kill them in front of me.”

Matthew 27:25 (New International Version)

            25All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!”

These are some of the verses that can be used to paint Christianity a violent religion.  This is even leaving out the whole book of Joshua, the stoning of rebellious children, and witchcraft.  Now lets look at some of Christian history in regards to violent conversions and enforcement of orthodoxy. 

1) Pogroms against Jews.  From the 11th up to the 15th century there were numerous pogroms against the Jews.  If they did not convert they were burned or otherwise killed. 

 During  just one series of pogroms from 1348 to 1351 over 60 major and 150 minor Jewish communities were wiped out.  A favorite method was to build a house and force all the Jews in the community to enter it and then burn it down. 

I will also mention that a yellow marker on clothing to identify Jews was not a Hitler invention.  From the 13th century until the 18th century Jews were required to wear a yellow badge on their outer clothing. 

 This does not include the more recent pogroms against Jews in Tsarist Russia from the 17th to the 20th centuries. 

 The Biblical justification for this, from  http://www.levitt.com/essays/bloodlibel.html

 When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this Just person. You see to it.” And all the people answered and said, “His blood be upon us and on our children.” (Matthew 27:24–25)

 Matthew 27:25 arguably stands out as one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted passages in all of Holy Scripture. Of the proposed interpretations for Matthew 27:25, the anti-Jewish interpretation is the oldest and most frequently cited in the history of the Church. This view says the Jewish people are permanently guilty and condemned in the eyes of God for their murder of Jesus Christ. As such, the cry of “His blood be upon us” means that the Jewish crowd in Jerusalem admitted full guilt for killing the Lord Jesus Christ and thereby invoked God’s curse upon themselves and their descendants until the end of time. This interpretation first surfaced in the writings of the early church fathers in the second century AD. It became universally accepted by the Middle Ages.

2.)    The suppression of Heresies:  During its first 300 years Christians were not in charge of the government.  Pagan Rome was.  Consequently the worse that they could do with heretics – the “false teachers” warned about in the Bible was to expel them from their midst and attach labels to them such as “fools”, “wild dogs”, and “Servants of Satan”.   That changed though as Christians took over the government.

 The first person to be executed for heresy was Priscillian of Avila in 385, 60 years after the First Council of Nicaea.  I will say that this was at the orders of Emperor Magnus Maximus and over the objections of some Bishops.  However Bishops objections did not last. 

 St. Augustine of Hippo (354–430) was the first major proponent of persecution for heresy.  At first he was for peaceful methods of persuasion but by 400 he began to endorse coercion.  He used Matthew 13:24–30 and Luke 14:21–23 as Biblical justification.  Later Protestants would use the same Biblical verses to justify their persecutions. 

 Everyone has heard of the Spanish Inquisitions, but that was actually only one of many.  Linked to the beginnings of the Medieval Inquisition  was the Albigensian Crusade of 1220 to 1229 which was a military campaign initiated by the Catholic Church to stamp out the Cathar Heresy in Languedoc.

 Reportedly the last person to be burned for heresy by the Catholic church was Giordano Bruno, executed in 1600. 

 3)  Do I really need to mention the wars between Catholics and Protestants?   The executions of Catholics by Protestants and of Protestants by Catholics?   Ireland?

 4)  The killing of witches.  Biblical justifications used were Exodus 22:17 and  Deut. 18:10-12,

 5)  The persecution and executions of Baptists, Quakers and other minority groups in the 17th and 18th centuries.  This occurred both in Europe and America.  This persecution is one of the reasons why the Pilgrims left Europe for America.  And then they started the same with other religious groups once they had established themselves here. 

 Should more modern examples be needed – abortion clinic bombers, those protesting at soldiers funerals, those that promote the killing of witches and gays

 Here is a link to an article about Christians in Africa who mutilate and kill their own children because they believe they are witches and “thou shall not suffer a witch to live”.

 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/dec/09/tracymcveigh.theobserver

 Now I know that most modern Christians would denounce all of the above as not Christian.  However it was at one time.  And many still believe it even today. 

 A religion is what its followers make of it.

 Now there are many followers of Islam who interpret the Qur’an in a violent manner.  However this is not the only way to interpret it and there are many groups and sects that do not.  These more moderate Muslim voices state that what is needed is a holistic understanding of the Qur’an and the times and circumstances it was written in. 

 The circumstances at the time Mohammed was writing the Qur’an were dire.  He and the other Muslims of the time were being persecuted, killed, driven from their homes.  Because of this a great deal of the focus of the Qur’an was on self defense.  It is this that has been hijacked by the radical Muslims to justify their terrorist tactics and this that those on such sites that I have quoted from use to justify their claim that Islam is inherently violent. 

 From  http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2001/09/0925_TVkoran.html

 “Islamic scholars interviewed by the TV news show National Geographic Today agreed that terrorists such as Usama bin Laden and his supporters are fanatics using Islam to further their own worldly causes.

“In order for them to generate support beyond their small group, they have to latch onto universal symbols, and this is where Islam becomes a target of convenience for them,” says Nyang

People combine pieces of verse from the Koran and use it to justify their actions, says Khouj. “But to understand the full meaning of the verse,” he says, “you have to read the one before it, the one after it, maybe five to six verses to get the full picture.”

The “full picture” of Islam and the Koran, say Khouj and Nyang, is captured by Chapter 5, Verse 32: “[I]f anyone slew a person—unless it be for murder or spreading mischief in the land—it would be as if he slew the whole people. And if anyone saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.”

For most Muslims, the callous and indiscriminate taking of human life violates Allah’s wishes. It defies the Koran’s central message and undermines the peace that Islam promises to deliver to all people.

“Human life in Islam is extremely sacred,” says Khouj. “We’re not talking about just Muslim [life], but human life in general.”

 Which brings us now to the third issue – that of the claims that Muslims who do not interpret the Qur’an in the same manner as the radical Muslims are not good Muslims.  That they are either weak in faith or unknowledgeable about their faith  

Does this mean that those Christians today who do not believe as those who burned the witches and Jews are not good Christians?  Does this mean that they do not understand their beliefs or are weak in faith? 

No.

Again, religion is what its people make of it.  There have been more peaceful strains in Islam all throughout its history.  And even now the more radical, violent version is not the majority view.

At this point I would like to point out that Christianity did not really begin to give up its violent ways until the start of the Enlightenment with its emphasis on reason and more skeptical approach to religion; and its finest accomplishment – the creation of a secular state with the United States. 

While this is somewhat over-simplistic, it has a very large kernel of truth in it too.  And that is what I believe Islam needs now, its version of an enlightenment.  I believe it has the foundations of one. 

I am puzzled by those who claim that Islam only has one interpretation.  There are at least three main sects – Sunni, Shi’a, and Sufi – and many smaller ones.  Even within the main sects there are many different thoughts about what the Qur’an means and how it should be applied to the world.  These different thoughts run the gamut from very conservative to very liberal.  To claim that only one is the definitive one is to claim far too much. 

There is no central authority in Islam.  With no central authority there can be no uniformity of belief and doctrine (rather like Protestant Christianity).  Indeed should you look at their Qur’an’s and the other central writings and compare those of the Sunni, Shi’a, Sufi, and Ahmadiyya you will find differences in meaning and emphasis. 

 In many ways this reminds me of some of the creation/evolution disputes (something I am very involved in). 

 There are creationists who say that no Christian can believe in evolution and that any who do are not Christian.  They are false Christians.  And then there are atheists who also say that evolution and science disproves Christianity.  And they both reinforce their opponents point of view.  They both ignore and do not deal with the fact that there is a way to be both Christian and support evolution and that millions of people and thousands of scientists do so. 

So too with the claim by both radical Islam and many conservative voices when they each state there is only one version of Islam that is true and that all others are false.  They feed each others prejudices and biases and fuel each others hatred and fears.  And they both ignore the fact that they are wrong, there are other options.  And those that follow them are good, faithful, and knowledgeable Muslims. 

To continue to view Islam as inherently and inescapably violent and a religion of liars leaves only one option – and that is a religious war.   Which is what the radical Muslims have said all along that we are engaged in – with some support form conservative Christian comments and sites like the one listed here.   

 I do not believe that this is the true case.  I know that other varieties of Islam are real and not a deception.  I know that Islam is not inherently violent and does not promote lying.  I have provided the start of such evidence that it is here.  However it is only a start. 

 I would recommend to all that they should spend some time and effort seeking out the all the sides of Islam- both in its practice and in its theology, and from both primary as well as secondary sources. 

 

 

 

OMG! They Were Right September 9, 2009

Posted by Bill in Obama, Politics.
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It is now the day after President Obama’s education speech. Enough time has passed to evaluate the true effects of his speech. And much to my surprise the Christian and Conservative Hard Right were right. An initial report by a panel of eminent sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, historians, and political scientists shows that the predicted deleterious effects of his speech have rapidly manifested themselves in our children. According to this report, out of all the students who listened to President Obama’s education speech:

– 63% are now reading the works of Marx and Lenin and are calling each other comrade. When you look at the age groupings you find that the younger the child, the more pronounced this effect. Among 1st graders 79% of those who listened were affected this way.

– 64% are now atheist. This group largely overlaps the above group. There is however a gap of 1% between those students who are now atheist and those who are communists. This 1% consists of atheist capitalists. The experts surmise that this group, although obviously affected by President Obama’s speech, were not as strongly affected by it due to their having read Adam Smith’s On The Wealth of Nations at home.

– 12 % are now Satanists. According to reports from school officials and local police they are now actively searching for virgins to sacrifice to Lucifer. Fortunately they seem to be having difficulties with this due to their tendency to rape all the virgins they find.

– Another problem for the Satanists is that there seems to be a significant decrease in the number of virgins after the speech. School officials reported widespread orgies immediately after President Obama’s speech. Also according to reports just now coming in, those students who listened to President Obama’s speech got together this morning before school and engaged in massive orgies. It promises to be the new way to start the day for our students and lends a whole new meaning to “See You at the Pole”.

– 82% of the students turned gay. This effect, though, may not be permanent as it was noted that during the orgies very few students had sex with one sex exclusively.

– 99% of the students visited the local Planned Parenthood centers for abortions. Many appeared disappointed when told that they were either prepubescent, not pregnant, or male. I understand that there is now a petition making the rounds demanding the right to an abortion without regards to pregnancy status or gender. – On the downside for Planned Parenthood and the plus side for the Religious Hard Right the experts are predicting a significant and substantial drop in the use of birth control. It remains to be seen if the significant and substantial increase in abortions will make up for Planned Parenthood’s losses in contraceptive income.

– 83% of the students have turned black. Those that were already black turned even blacker. This has obviously caused great consternation in their families with many of them having to discontinue going to their church and becoming home churched instead.

– A rather surprising finding is that the whole population of Kenya is now claiming to have been born in Hawaii. It is not sure if this is related to President Obama’s education speech or not. Research is ongoing.

The United States – A Secular Government September 5, 2009

Posted by Bill in Politics.
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In Texas it is time to decide upon school curriculum again. Last time it was science standards. This time it is social and history standards. And, as is unfortunately usual, the committee assigned to review the textbooks and advise on the curriculum has a significant number of “experts” from the religious right.

One of the “experts” is David Barton, the founder of Wallbuilders. Wallbuilders purpose is to:

“WallBuilders’ goal is to exert a direct and positive influence in government, education, and the family by (1) educating the nation concerning the Godly foundation of our country; (2) providing information to federal, state, and local officials as they develop public policies which reflect Biblical values; and (3) encouraging Christians to be involved in the civic arena. ”

Further, in regards to education:

“In the first part of this goal, we develop materials to educate the public concerning the periods in our country’s history when its laws and policies were firmly rooted in Biblical principles.”

Both quotes are taken from the Wallbuilders website:   http://www.wallbuilders.com/ABTOverview.asp

Barton’s qualifications – other than having some very factually challenged opinions? He graduated from Aledo High School and received a BA degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University. His lack of knowledge about our history and founding is evident.

What I would like to address here is not a point by point refutation of his misuse of the ideas and words of our founders, or even what he and compatriots on the board are recommending, but instead deal in general with the whole concept that we are a Christian nation. Something that many on the religious right claim and whose support Barton is both riding and leading.

The idea that we were founded as a specifically Christian government is not just oversimplistic but wrong. And dangerous. What this claim does is pervert and distort much of our founding history by only providing a very small part of a much greater and much more complex history.

First I would like to make a distinction between government and culture. We are a Christian nation in the sense that the vast majority of our population is and always has been Christian. Our holidays reflect this. Our landscape dotted with Christian churches reflect this. Our many cultural references to Christianity reflect this.

However it is important to note that even though our culture is Christian, our government is not. It was purposely set up by our founders to be a secular government providing no preference for any religion over another. Our founders, quite rightly, saw this as the best way to protect the religious liberties of all its citizens. Given the carefully selected little quotes and facts given by Barton and others you would never know this. Let’s look at some of the facts that belie the idea of our founders having created a Christian government.

First the Constitution itself. Aside from a dating convention (in the year of our Lord) at the end, it does not mention God, Jesus, or Christianity. This is an astounding fact. All governments at the time made mention or reference to some sort of religious ideals. Even most of the state constitutions of the time mentioned Christianity, God, or Jesus. Many even had very specific religious tests for office. For the United States Constitution to not make mention of religion, except to prohibit religious tests for office and prohibitions on the government from making laws regarding the establishment of religion or the free exercise of religion by its citizens was something new. Something very different from any other government, even that of the individual states.

In fact during the Constitutional Convention delegate Luther Martin stated that since some delegates believed that “in a Christian country, it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism.” This view was rejected. Instead there was no endorsement of one religion over another and an explicit rejection of any sort of religious test for office.

How does this great difference fit in with the idea of us being a Christian government? It doesn’t.

Especially since the Constitution was criticized by many at the time for its lack of references to Christianity and God. This was used as an argument for those who argued against its ratification. But the founders, despite the closeness of the vote, never tried to insert God or Christianity into the Constitution during the ratification process.

It also should be noted that nowhere in all the notes taken by the founders during the Constitutional Convention were there any mention of Christianity or of Christian values. There were no discussions of how to apply the words of the Bible to the workings of the government. The works of Locke, British laws, Greek and Roman governments and much more were mentioned and discussed but not the Bible or Christianity.

Many mention Benjamin Franklin’s resolution to start the day with a prayer. What is not mentioned is that when he urged prayer the convention had already been meeting a month without prayers. The records of the Constitutional Convention also show that after Franklin made his resolution the delegates voted to adjourn rather than debate the resolution. The matter was never brought up again and the Constitutional Convention continued on without opening prayers. This too does not fit in with the idea that our government was set up to be a Christian government and not a secular government.

Another item that does not fit this idea is the Treaty of Tripoli. This treaty between the United States and Tripoli was ratified by a unanimous vote of the U.S. Senate on June 7, 1797 and signed by John Adams on June 10, 1797. There was no controversy or dissent in the whole process. Article 11 of this treaty states:

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

This is about as blatant a statement about the intent of the founders to create a secular government and not a Christian one as can be possible. How then to reconcile the seeming meaning of the quotes used so often by those claiming that our founders set up a Christian government?

First we need to recognize that these statements were made by individuals. They did not all think alike, reason alike, believe alike. It is a mistake to talk about the intent of the founding fathers as if they all spoke and believed alike.

Second, many, if not most of our founders, made a distinction between what they believed would be good for society and what they believed the government should do. While many believed that religion and Christianity might be good for individuals and society, they did not believe that the government should be in the business of favoring one religion over another. In fact they believed that such actions by the government would actually result in the destruction of religious liberty.

Third, many of the quotes selected do not tell the whole story. For example, most people who read some of the quotes from Thomas Jefferson that are used to support the idea that we are a Christian nation would assume that he believed in the Christian God. He did not. He was a deist who believed that God created the universe and then let it run its course without any more actions on his part. Jefferson did not believe in a God who intervened in human affairs, he did not believe in miracles. Reading his revision of Gospels in which he eliminates all miracles – the virgin birth, healings, the loaves and fishes, and even the resurrection – make this abundantly clear.

Another popular piece of evidence is a quote from the 1892 Supreme Court ruling in Church of the Holy Trinity v U.S. which states that the Supreme Court ruled that the United States was a Christian Nation. However this comes from the writings of Justice David Brewer and his statement occurred in dicta. This is a legal term meaning that what he writes reflects his own opinion and not that of the court and that such writing is not an official court ruling that sets precedent.

What is also interesting here is the question of what did Justice Brewer mean when he stated that the United States was a Christian Nation? Did he mean Christian government or that our society and culture are Christian? In light of an 1897 ruling of his in L’Hote vs New Orleans, I rather think the latter and not the former as the insert is trying to claim.

In the L’Hote vs New Orleans case, a Methodist church in New Orleans sought an injunction to keep the city from allowing prostitution in one area of the city. The Methodists argued that the measure would “destroy the morals, peace, and good order of the neighborhood.” They cited the Holy Trinity decision as support and argued that the ordinance allowing prostitution in one area of the city was inconsistent with Christianity “which the Supreme Court of the United States says is the foundation for our government and the civilization which it has produced.” Justice Brewer wrote an opinion for an unanimous court that completely ignored the church’s arguments and upheld the New Orleans law.

This is one of many examples showing that, whatever their personal beliefs about the value of religion and Christianity, the majority of our founders purposely and expressly set about to create a secular government as the best guarantee of religious freedom for all.

There have been movements in the past where a group has tried to change our secular government into a Christian one. In the early 1800’s, during Andrew Jackson’s presidency, Pastor Ezra Stiles Ely tried to change our government to be more Christian through such things as making elected office subject to religious tests and eliminating Sunday mail. Andrew Jackson was a devout Christian. However he also recognized the value of the separation of Church and State. “Amongst the greatest blessing secured to us under our Constitution is the liberty of worshiping God as our conscience dictates – or not.” Because of Andrew Jackson and others of the time, Pastor Ely’s efforts were defeated.

Another time was during and after the Civil War. A group of eleven denominations from across the United States got together in 1863 and deciding that the Civil War was God’s punishment for leaving out mention of God in the Constitution, started to work to rectify that. They wanted to alter the Preamble to:

“We, the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, His revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government, and in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the inalienable rights and the blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to ourselves our posterity, and all the people, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

This movement became known as National Reform Association. It too failed. Similar proposals were considered by Congress in 1874, 1896 and 1910. They all failed.

These movements at least recognized the secular nature of the United States Constitution. Now the descendants of these groups are trying something different. Instead of trying to change the Constitution so it promotes a Christian government, they are claiming that we are a Christian government already and have always been so. Their methods are the quoting of misleading sound bites and ignoring the full scope of our history. Their hope is that our collective ignorance will be their salvation.

Finally, as some food for thought for those who say that our nation was founded on Christian values, here are a few questions.

Where does the Bible promote freedom of religion? You can find numerous instances of religious repression of those who did not believe in the same God of the Jews but there are no instances of religious tolerance.

For that matter, where is there an example of a democratic government in the Bible? Or Freedom of Speech? Or Freedom of Assembly and the Press? None of these are in the Bible. It was not until the Enlightenment with its emphasis on reason and skepticism and its transformation of a hands on God of miracles to one of a hands off creator that these concepts start to become important in political thought.

To let those such as David Barton and Peter Marshall change our history to support their religious bigotry would be the start of the end of our founders grand experiment in setting up a secular democratic government. Let us not give up our secular government that has so ably protected the rights of each individual to decide what they do and do not believe. Let us not fall victim to the sound bites of those who promote a Christian government and give up the true liberty enshrined in our secular Constitution.