Monday, June 17, 2024

Lies Sprint, Truth Plods

      A few comments have come in, pushing back against my blog post about U. S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito.

     I've got no problem with the man having strong religious beliefs, or looking to them as the foundation for his personal morality.  My issue is that his recent remarks imply that he thinks the government ought to be imposing such beliefs on citizens and residents of the United States.

     Commenters have taken me to task because after all, weren't most of the Founding Fathers inclined to religiosity, Christianity in particular?  Yeah, well, about that -- scratch the surface and you'll discover they followed a polyglot assortment of beliefs, roughly centered around the Christian faith.  This is not how that faith was practiced in, say, England, with an official Protestant state church, the Church of England; a lot of Europe at the time was under governments officially Catholic (and a few Protestant); further East, the Orthodox church filled a similar role, intertwined with the State.  This system was weaker in the American colonies but not non-existent; Congregationalists in Massachusetts are the most outstanding example, supported by state taxes and being an assumed-default faith well into the 19th Century.

     "Religious tolerance" at the time meant the government wasn't going to go after you for being, say, a Baptist -- or a Unitarian.  John Adams and John Quincy Adams were Unitarians, at a time when that meant a very Christian-looking church and service, with one crucial difference: they didn't believe in the Trinity.  It's a difference men have been burnt at the stake over; it is, in fact, heretical according to every mainstream Christian church.

     There's a lovely story about George Washington, a little better attested than most stories about the man, in which he adds a new chaplain to the Continental army and the other chaplains complain to him, because the new guy's a Universalist, a faith that had decided a truly loving God must surely give fallible humans one more chance to repent -- after death.  Heresy again, and Washington's chaplains wanted none of it; how could the Army support such an outrage?  Washington, who would later write of religion as "a public utility," offered no philosophy or politics in response; he pointed out that Universalism was a very common faith among his troops, and did they not deserve to have their own chaplain?

     Deism was common among the Founding Fathers, who appear to have considered it as compatible with conventional religion as Freemasonry -- and there was no shortage of Freemasons among their numbers.

     Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists isn't law or a legal opinion, but it's insight into how a Founder viewed the issue.  You can read it in its entirety (along with the letter that prompted it), but here's a highlight: "religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship...."

     In addressing this issue, I'm up against some very slick and persistent liars.  Foremost among them is David Barton, preacher and amateur historian, a man known to edit quotes heavily and even make up his own "facts" when the reality is inconvenient to his ends.  He peddles Christian nationalism and he's a persuasive writer -- until you check his source material.  Most people don't. The lies get told and retold, and grow in the telling, and next thing I know, they show up in my unpublished comments or Facebook timeline.  There are entire podcasts, by actual historians, devoted to debunking his fables, but it's difficult to push back a well-greased lie told to the willingly credulous.

     The Federal government of the United States was not formed on the basis of religion, or to promulgate religious ideas.  It exists, in part, so you can practice your own religion free of interference; and if that prompts you towards moral behavior, then it, as George Washington wrote, is indeed of public utility: it serves society as a whole.  But the is not there to chivvy you into church, and there is no "return to a place of Godliness" (as Justice Alito would have it) for a secular government that was, by design, never Godly to begin with.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Pardon the expression, but . . . AMEN! ;-)