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The blog of Frederick Clarkson

The Weakest Link

with 5 comments

How one looks at the strengths and weaknesses of any worthy opponent has everything to do with the strategy one adopts in any struggle. The principle is the same whether the matter at hand is a military battle, a business plan in a competitive marketplace, or even sizing up an opposing little league team. (Strong pitching? Weak defense? Power hitters? Good running game?) Like any movement, the Christian Right has its strengths and weaknesses. Any competent counter-strategy, locally or nationally, has got to have at least a back-of-the-envelope analysis, grounded in facts, and presented in calm, rational language.

One of the key ingredients in the ideology of the Christian Right is the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation. And somehow this intention of the Founding Fathers has been thwarted by (pick one) — liberals, judicial tyrants, the ACLU, secular humanists, all of the above.

This idea is tremendously powerful. It asserts that “the Christians,” (however one may define Christians), are the intended rulers of the nation, because that’s what The Founding Fathers, and by extension, by implication, the Constitution sought to accomplish. In some versions, God intended that America be a Christian nation. Its a powerful piece of political and religious mythology that feeds into another powerful myth — that Christians are persecuted in the U.S. The effect is to make people feel that something has been unustly, unrighteously taken from them and that that something must be “restored” or “reclaimed.” Its a powerful narrative and it flows quite naturally from the mouths of D. James Kennedy, David Barton, Roy Moore, Pat Robertson, and many more. There is a large industry of text books, seminars, speech and power point presenters that inform and popularize the movement. Christian nationalism is integral to the political events sponsored by the Christian Coalition and it is a recurrent theme on Christian television and radio.

But for all of the work that has gone into crafting this narrative, and as popular a notion as it is, there is a problem: the facts of history do not support the myth of Christian nationalism. This is one of many aspects of the Christian Right that has been largely ignored and has gone largely unanswered by the rest of society during its march to power.

I have written about this over the years, but since this turned out to be one of the main topics when Dr. D. James Kennedy and I appeared on the NPR interview show Fresh Air recently, arguably the issue is now on the national agenda, or at least pretty close.

To some, the question of whether America was founded as a Christian nation, may seem academic, and perhaps even unimportant in the face of the urgent affairs of state in Washington, DC and elsewhere.

But I think that it is very important and deserves our urgent attention. The reason is that Christian nationalism is a powerful ingredient of the political and religious identity of the theocratic Christian Right. It is a powerful, quasi-religious myth that helps to animate their politics. It helps to prop up their attack on the separation of church and state and the idea that Christians, (only of the correct sort of course), should be our elected and appointed government officials — among other things. What if many members of the voters who support the Christian Right realize that they have been had? That history does not support Christian nationalism? What if the rest of us, who support religious equality and separation of church and state are able to gain the upper hand in the telling of our story as a nation? It is a story that can be told by all of us, in our lives, in our writings, in our communities, in our medida.

There are many flaws in the argument for Christian nationalism, mostly because of lack of evidence. Advocates for Christian nationalism resort to two main tactics. One is to cherry pick quotes from various of the founding fathers (often out of context, sometimes fabricated), that tend to support their view. The other is to cite the Declaration of Independence, which invokes the “Creator.” Much is made of the Declaration for this reason. Given the importance of the Declaration in our history, and the way we revere the document, it is a shrewd choice. But the Declaration does not prove what D. James Kennedy sought to use it to prove — that America was founded as a Christian nation.

The Declaration, written in 1776 was a revolutionary manifesto, a political document used to rally people to rise up in revolt against the king of England. But the Constitution makes no mention of God or of Christianity. In fact, the only mention of religion in the Constitution is to state in article 6 that there will be no religious tests for public office. What this meant was that one’s religious orientation would not be a factor in determining criteria for public officials. By logical extension, it also meant that religion would be irrelevant to one’s status as a citizen. It meant that for the first time in the history of the world, we would have a nation based on religious equality.

The Constitution was written and signed by many of the same men who wrote and signed the Declaration. If they had wanted to include God and Christianity in the nation’s charter, they certainly could have done so. But they didn’t, and for very good reasons. And this is the problem faced by the Christian nationalists. The Constitution and everything about its history and development belies the assertions of the Christian nationalists. They did not invoke God or declare a Christian nation, it starts out simply, “We the People of the United States” — no deities, no higher law. There would only be what “we the people” decided would be our laws and our governing principles, and how they would evolve over time. And thats why the Christian Right invokes the Declaration to anchor their argument. They have nio choice — the Constitution does not suppor thier argument. Their argument is that weak, and they are that desperate. So far, they have pretty much gotten away with it.

The Christian Right of the 18th century opposed ratification of the Constitution when it was sent to the legislature for ratification. Part of the opposition centered on the lack of acknowledgement of God and Christianity in the Constitution. The Christian Right of the 18th century didn’t like the Constitution when it was written — and they don’t like it now. So they pretend.

It is long past time for a more concerted effort to challenge the Christian Right on its misrepresentations of our history. I talked alot about Christian nationalism and what’s wrong with it in my book Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. (I also highly recommend The Godless Constitution, by Isaac Kramnick.) We have to challenge a form of historical revisionism that the late theocratic theologian R.J. Rushdoony called “Christian revisionism.”

We do not need to start from scratch. The battle has been underway for some time. Just today, blogger Bruce Prescott links to a story in the Houston Chronicle that details how mainstream Baptists are taking on Christian theocrat Rick Scarborough. “I think he’s a very dangerous man,” said [David] Currie, also a former pastor and a devout Baptist, in a recent interview. “That whole ‘Christian nation’ movement is attempting to undermine the absolute strength and genius of this country, and that’s the First Amendment…. To make judges a religious issue is ludicrous.”

Let’s step into the fray. Let’s start to see ourselves as part of the story of our nation — and not allow the Christian Right to twist our history in support of their contemporary theocratic agenda.

[Crossposted at Talk to Action]

Written by fred

May 20th, 2005 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized


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5 Responses to 'The Weakest Link'

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  1. Read the federalist papers. Read the letters written by the founding fathers. They were all religious men and wanted to instill the moral values in our society.

    What many of y’all believe the seperation of church and state was actually meant to keep the government from interfering with worship and the church. However, the government IS interfering when they (and their proxy – the schools) are promoting other religious faiths (i.e., muslim, buddhism) and denigrating christianity and judaism.

    If the schools and government would stop this shameful promotion, many of us on the right would stop injecting ourselves in politics. However, we must act to preserve our faith and the moral sense of the country.

    Anonymous

    21 May 05 at 7:38 am

  2. The founders were indeed religious men, each in their ways. That is why they established religious equality through article 6, and set in motion the disestablishment of the various established churches. The idea of separation of church and state was certainly to keep the government out of the chuches. But it was also an unambiguous effort to keep churches from trying to control the government, and for that matter the religious lives of individuals. If I remember the quote from Jefferson correctly regarding churches, people should be ‘as free to go out as they are to go in.’

    I am unaware of public schools “promoting” Islam or Buddhism, and would certainly oppose schools promoting any particular religion, and am unaware of schools denigrating Christianity or Judaism.

    I do think it is good for children to be aware of the existence of other faiths, and learn to have respect for religious difference. We have alot of faiths in our country, and it is important that we know how to get along with each other.

    Frederick Clarkson

    21 May 05 at 9:05 am

  3. Mr. Clarkson is indeed correct about his assessment. I strongly urge reading of this article in The Nation that clearly demonstrates the intent of our Founding Fathers. The anonymous poster here simply is making unfounded and inflamatory remarks about what is or is not being taught about religion in school.

    Steve

    22 May 05 at 4:49 am

  4. Emergency action to stop Bill Frist from removing the filibuster.

    Call Senator Bill Frist’s office at (202) 224-3344 and tell him that unless the Senator stops his effort to remove the filibuster you will boycott ExxonMobil gasoline stations.

    Also call ExxonMobil Corporation at (972) 444-1000 and tell them unless Bill Frist stops his effort to remove the filibuster you will not patronize ExxonMobil gasoline stations.

    Exxon Mobil Corporation
    5959 Las Colinas Boulevard
    Irving, Texas 75039-2298
    (972) 444-1000

    Exxon Mobil Corporation Pacs give alot of money to the Republican Party. They also gave money for the chimp’s second inauguration.

    email me at dbaer@hoflink.com if you have called Frist’s office and Exxon Mobil and will boycott Exxon Mobil.

    Spread the word.

    If you don’t support what the Republicans did since they took over the House of Representatives in 1995 and don’t support the Republican party’s plans for this year then Join the revolution for progressive legislation.

    http://www.boycott-republicans.com

    Write this url on your one, five and ten dollar bills in the white areas in Pencil.

    Tennessee residents please make an effort to boycott the following companies I list in my boycott petition: Walmart and Eckerd,CVS, and Walgreens in your state and call Senator Frist and tell him unless he gets our agenda passed those Tennessee outlets of these chains will not get your business. You live at one of the biggest seats of power in the United States. Organize and use your purchasing power to leverage it into passing progressive legislation.

    Also join my activist group

    http://groups.myspace.com/revolutionforprogressivelegislation

    To punish the Republicans for stealing the 2000 and 2004 elections BOYCOTT Wendy’s (of Ohio) restaurant chain and Outback Steakhouse (Florida) chain until the people elect Democrats as governor and secretary of State and in the majority in the legislatures. Call and email Wendy’s and Outback Steakhouses, 2 big Republican Party contributors.

    Spread the messages at your grocery store too by printing out the graphics and leave it in your shopping cart when you finish.

    Look at this web page for other efforts.

    http://www.justicefornone.com/handbills/index.htm

    Thank you.

    Dennis

    22 May 05 at 12:05 pm

  5. Everyone has such a rose colored glasses of the founding fathers and the Constitution. It wasn’t perfect when it was ratified. The electoral college was a bone throne at those that were afraid of the common man. The Senate was to advance the cause of the economic aristocracy. It took nearly 90 years to end slavery, another fifty years to get women the right to vote. The Christian right resisted the 13th, 14h and 15th amendments. Almost all advances of inclusion have been resisted by the Christian Right. When the moral mafia took over the SBC they started their fascistic purges. They practise a faith of conformity or exclusion.They hate it when those they want to look down on get an equal footing. It is pretty pathetic when the only way you can feel good about yourself is to coerce everyone around you into being just like you, or to be inferior to you.

    Greek Shadow

    22 May 05 at 12:21 pm

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