This alarmist outlook on the secularization of America is nothing new. Beginning in the early Reagan years (some actually argue as far back as the Johnson administration) there has been an active pursuit by those on the right to distort our nations history; all in an attempt to prove that America was in fact founded as a “Christian Nation”. This, despite a preponderance of evidence pointing to the contrary.
Take for example one of our nations founding documents, the Declaration of Independence. Those on the right have attempted to use phrases found in the document such as “natures god” and “endowed by their creator” as proof of their hypothesis. The problem with this is that it completely overlooks, not only the context of those phrases, but more importantly the deeply held philosophy of its author, Thomas Jefferson.
By all accounts, Thomas Jefferson was a Deist. To him, “natures god” was another way of describing the empirical universe that surrounded him. Not to say that he didn’t believe in a god of some sort, but he in no way believed in a personal god or a god of the Abrahamic tradition. That is, he refused to believe that there was a heavenly father figure that spent time answering prayers or supernaturally intervening in the lives of humans in any way.
Not only did he ascribe to a natural “god” akin to that of Einstein’s, but he also despised religion and the corruption found within religious institutions. In a letter from 1816 he writes “My opinion is that there would never have been an infidel, if there had never been a priest. The artificial structures they have built on the purest of all moral systems, for the purpose of deriving from it pence and power, revolts those who think for themselves, and who read in that system only what is really there”. This quote lends a lot to his views on the the authority of the church, but what about the authority of the bible?
Well, if you ever get a chance to make it to the Jefferson wing of the Library of Congress be sure to take a look at his personal bible. In it you will find no miracles. No virgin birth, no water to wine, no resurrection. This is because he cut them out. He literally took a razor blade to his copy of the New Testament and removed the “ignorance, absurdity and untruths” held within. He simply cut out the myths.
The other document constantly quoted by the right on this matter is of course the Constitution. This 222 year old document is the oldest of its kind, written by some of the brightest Enlightenment figures in our nations history. Immense thought and effort was put into every word during its drafting. So much so that only 27 amendments have been made to date. Of those, surely some of them mention Jesus or at least Christianity?
Actually, no. Not at all. The only real mention of religion in the entire document is made to ensure that you have the freedom to practice (or not practice) any faith you choose, and that no single religion or religious affiliation could be a prerequisite for holding public office. This is because its drafters, men like John Adams and James Madison, knew all too well of the horrors found within European governments and the power struggles they continuously had with the church and it’s leaders.
There is another important document from the early days of the republic that those on the right conveniently leave out of this debate. In 1797 congress unanimously ratified and then President John Adams signed into effect the Treaty of Tripoli. In this two page document you will find the phrase “As the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion…”. Historians say the phrase was intended to ensure the Muslims of the Barbary Coast that they shouldn’t fear a holy war from the United States. Although this document is not as important as say The Constitution, it does lend credence to the fact that our founders saw a definite separation between church and state.
So, putting the Republicans alternate history lesson on the founding of the country behind us, what merit (if any) do the current Republican candidates hold on the assertion that the Obama administration is waging a “war on Christianity”? Basically, they only have a couple of policies.
Obamas healthcare plan is in the forefront of this debate because it denies federal funding for religious health institutions that refuse to provide contraception to women. In their view, this denies their first amendment right to free speech, in that It keeps them from openly practicing aspects of their faith.
The problem with this outlook is that from the Obama Administrations stance, it has nothing to do with a war on religion. On the contrary, it has everything to do with the Federal government funding potentially harmful religious practices that could deny things like birth control pills and basic healthcare to a section of the female population that may have no other alternatives.
No one is saying the Catholic Church needs to be handing out Plan B from the confession booth. What they are saying is that if you are going to be a hospital or a pharmacy that receives federal funding, you can’t deny a basic health-care product or procedure from a patient for purely religious reasons.
To me this seems to be more of a slight stint of rationality than a “war on religion”, but I wouldn’t expect those on the right to recognize this. After all, this is the same supposed “small government” party that gave Catholic missions groups over 200 million dollars in 2004 to fight the AIDS epidemic in Africa. That’s close to a quarter of a billion dollars of federal tax dollars to a group who refuses to recognize the importance of condom use and instead focuses on an abstinence only approach to combat AIDS.
I’m assuming the American public basically funded a soul saving missions trip for the Catholic Church since they obviously weren’t focusing on curbing the AIDS epidemic. A mandate that I can guarantee would not have been backed by any of the founding fathers.
The point here is that President Obama is not anti-religion or even anti-Christian. He’s simply just not an Evangelical zealot and this scares the shit out of the conservative right. They can continue to paint his administration in this light if they choose, but i like to think that eventually genuine, rational thinking will win out in the eyes of the American public.
The reign of the Evangelical is on the decline politically and socially. Today more college aged Americans identify as Atheist or Agnostic than any other generation in the last 100 years. More people are getting fed up with the ties between political leaders and their corporate interests (which includes religious lobby’s) every day and many believe we are finally on the verge of a social/political upheaval.
This “War on Religion” is an imaginary war. It’s propagated by neo-cons and religious zealots in an attempt to rewrite the history books of this nation and marginalize the effectiveness of the current President, nothing more.
As the far right continues to push irrational and highly polarizing ideas into the public spectrum, they too will continue to ignore the issues that are truly pressing for most Americans. Things like education and the economy will take a back seat to their imaginary wars and eventually we will reach a breaking point. The longer these true issues are ignored the greater the backlash will eventually be and I for one will be cheering on that backlash every step of the way.