Saturday, December 08, 2007

A Response to "Anonymous"

There is a response to my previous posting about Mitt Romney's speech on religion in public life that requires a reply. It is too long to be read easily as a "comment," and since I have this space, I will reply here to "Anonymous," an acquaintance whose rhetorical style identifies himself to me: a sparring partner for a long time, and a once-and-perhaps-future friend.

As always, when you challenge a point and make it personal, I feel I ought to be scrupulously evidentiary in my reply in order that one of us, at least, learns something.

So I spent an hour or so researching the subject and found that there is no more debatable point in the history of the Founding than whether George Washington was a Christian, let alone religious. To ascribe to Heaven (and notice what you quote does not even mention “God” or “Christ”) the winning of the Revolution and his call to service is quite natural, just as is moaning “Oh, God” during certain moments of intimacy. That is, it is casual, figurative -- and expected.

His earliest prominent biographer established Washington’s deep faith by use of incidents that were later proved never to have happened. This would be Parson Weems, and to believe him about religion would suggest you also believe that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and threw a silver dollar across the Rappahannock.

There is much evidence, however, that Washington in his presidential years and beyond often skipped church, was never seen to take Communion when he did go, and attended many different denominations’ services probably because he was a politician at heart. He basically tagged along with his Communicant wife. He also is credited with being the first lay American leader to recognize religious freedom for Jews, and presumably other nonbelievers. Many of his advisers were Unitarians, Jews and Deists.

If you wish to begin a battle of quotes, lay on!
Every man "ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience." - George Washington

"I believe in one God, Creator of the universe.... That the most acceptable service we can render Him is doing good to His other children.... As to Jesus ... I have ... some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble." - Benjamin Franklin

"Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon, than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness, that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind." - Thomas Paine

"Question with boldness even the existence of a god." - Thomas Jefferson

"During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution." - James Madison

"Where do we find a precept in the Bible for Creeds, Confessions, Doctrines and Oaths, and whole carloads of other trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days?" - John Adams

"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 Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan 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." - Treaty of Tripoli, 1797 signed by President John Adams.)
Had you bothered to link to my original citation about the academic study of references to “God” in the public addresses of presidents, you would never have written the abject incorrect assertion that it is not modern. There is other research on the same point – the use of the modern presidency not as a bully pulpit but as a real pulpit.

Ronald Reagan was the first president to end every single public pronouncement with “God Bless America,” but could you ever find him in church? Do you even know which church he was affiliated with? Did he have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? If so was it before or after he impregnated his second wife before their marriage or before he finally began paying child support for the children living with his first wife?

Speaking of Reagan, I commend to you the column cited in the comment preceding yours written by Peggy Noonan, the Author of Reagan’s presidency.

Cloaking one’s self in religion is not only a modern thing but a Republican thing, because it invokes that party’s support of everything that no one can argue with – motherhood (but only within marriage), God (but only a Christian one) and the flag (while trampling on the very liberties George Washington said the Author had inscribed in America’s soul.)

I am not questioning religion here; I am making the point that history, law and my own experiences show that while religion may help people live better lives and may inform anyone – even a president – as to what is right, religion has no place in school, political campaigns or the functions of government. None – as the Constitution explicitly forbids in Article VI and Amendment I. And the reasons are self-evident. Religion divides and not unites.

Finally, Mitt Romney is a man whose father disqualified himself from the presidency by claiming he was “brainwashed” by generals into supporting the War in Vietnam. His son ought to be disqualified from the presidency for being brainwashed by generals of the Christian Right. He made that lovely sounding speech in order to say he stands for *something* -- his religion – because he has flip-flopped on all the major questions important to Republicans. He was taking a ”religious test as a qualification for … office,” and while the oral presentation was perfect, he failed on the substance.


  1. Anonymous5:28 PM

    See, this how you tend to drive the reader nuts. You try to refute me by reinforcing my point.

    First, I don't really know why you say former or future, when friend will suffice. But beyond that....

    You claim in your original diatribe that presidents cloaking themselves in religion is a recent development. I simply disagree. It's *not* recent. The world didn't begin the day you began to detest Reagan.

    You point out that Ronald Reagan invoked the almighty quite often, then further elaborate that he was a rare church attendee. I then point out that Washington *regularly* did the same. You then proceed to reinforce my point (that this didn't begin with Reagan) by pointing out that Washington similarly attended services on a spotty basis.

    If your sole argument is that the specific word "God" was not used, but instead, "the almighty," "the creator," "he who reigns supreme" or some such, then the argument is ridiculous and is based on semantical differences of the time period. They were still cloaking themselves in the same diety, whether their faith was strong or not, their oratory stylings not withstanding. No, this is not a recent development. It's been going on forever.

    Washington did the same as Reagan.

    Lastly, I encourage you to read carefully the final paragraph of John Adams inaugural address. Then, once you've read it, I suggest you then boil it down and try to say the same exact same thing only this time as succinctly and concisely as possible. Chop it down to its essence:

    "And may that Being who is supreme over all, the Patron of Order, the Fountain of Justice, and the Protector in all ages of the world of virtuous liberty, continue His blessing upon this nation and its Government and give it all possible success and duration consistent with the ends of His providence."

    I have high confidence that Adams was closing with: "God Bless America."

  2. You really have to read before you can rant. The point, both anecdotal and provable, is that in the MODERN presidency, dating from FDR and the advent of electronic spin, it was not until Reagan that God became the cloak to avoid substance.

    If you are a politician with a good set of ideas, why do they need to burnished with the approval of God. Last I checked, God doesn't give a damn about politicians. He only cares about football games (except in Miami).

    You also miss the large point that much scholarship exists to the effect that the Founding Fathers were Deists or otherwise rather unchurched. Praising the Almighty back then, and I might add in circumlocutions, may well have had no more meaning that signing a letter as "yr humble obdt svt."

    Finally, while you or anyone can point to something negating a proposition I have made, the preponderance of the evidence is on my side, at least in this case regarding the modern use of God in the presidency.

    So, are you really just quibbling or do you really believe that God (and Christianity) belong at the front and center of political and policy decision making?