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Religion in the Affairs of Man: Mixing Theology and Politics

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Pat Robertson's bizarre conclusion that Haiti has suffered because the country made a pact with the devil is just the latest example of malicious religious excess and the dangers of mixing theology and politics. Remember that Robertson is also the guy who claimed Hurricane Katrina was god's punishment for legalized abortion; and that Florida's weather woes are due to the state's support for Gay Days at Disneyland. For good reason we are a secular nation, which protects our governance against such wanton craziness. Yet a large majority in the United States incorrectly but firmly believes this country to be a Christian nation. This shameful and woeful ignorance of our history endangers our future.

We are not now, nor have we ever been, anything of the sort. Our Founding Fathers explicitly and clearly excluded any reference to god or the almighty, or any euphemism for a higher power, in the Constitution. Not one time is the word god mentioned in our founding document. Not one time.

The facts of our history are easy enough to verify. Anybody who ignorantly insists that our nation is founded on Christian ideals need only look at the four most important documents from our early history to disprove that ridiculous religious bias: the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Federalist Papers and the Constitution all unambiguously prove our secular origins.

Declaration of Independence (1776)

The most important assertion in this document is that "... to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Note that the power of government is derived not from god but from the people. No appeal is made in this document to god for authority of any kind. In no case are any powers given to religion in the affairs of man.

Remember, too, that this document was not written to form or found a government, but was stating intent meant to appeal to an audience with European sensibilities. Only four times is there any reference at all to higher powers, specifically: laws of nature and of nature's god, supreme judge of the world, their creator, and divine providence. In all four cases the references to a higher power appeal to the idea of inherent human dignity, never implying a role for god in government.

Finally, should there by an doubt about the author's intentions, I offer you this quote from Thomas Jefferson in an April 11, 1823, letter to John Adams: "The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." He went on to say in his concluding paragraphs, "But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding..."

These are not the words from a man who would wish to insert god into the affairs of man.

Articles of Confederation (1777)

Throughout the entire document, in all 13 articles, the only reference to anything remotely relating to god is the phrase used one time, the "great governor of the world" and then only in the context of general introduction, like "ladies and gentlemen, members of the court..." Unlike the Declaration, this document did indeed seek to create a type of government in the form of a confederation of independent states. The authors gave no power or authority to religion. And this document is our first glimpse into the separation of church and state: because just as the Articles give no authority to religion in civil matters, so too does the document deny any authority of government in matters of faith.

U.S. Constitution (1787)

This one is easy, because the Constitution of the United States of America makes zero reference to god or Christianity.

The only reference to religion is a negative one in Article VI, which states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." And of course we have the First Amendment, which states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an established of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Federalist Papers (1787-88)

As Thomas Jefferson was the genius behind the Declaration, John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison (publishing under the pseudonym of Publius) were the brains providing the intellectual foundation of our Constitution. And what brilliance they brought to the task. I remember the first time I picked up the Federalist Papers I intended to scan the book briefly, and then move on to more interesting pursuits. But I could not put it down; the book reads like an intriguing mystery novel with an intricate plot and complex characters acting on every human emotion. There is no better way to get into the minds of our Founding Fathers and to understand their original intent than by reading this collection of amazing essays.

As with the Constitution, at no time is god ever mentioned in the Federalist Papers. At no time is Christianity every mentioned. Religion is only discussed in the context of keeping matters of faith separate from concerns of governance, and of keeping religion free from government interference.

The Founding Fathers could not be clearer on this point: god has no role in government; Christianity has no role in government. They make this point explicitly, repeatedly, in multiple founding documents.

In God We Trust

That we are a secular nation was obvious to past generations. So much so that several groups formed in the mid-1800s to rectify what they considered a mistake of our forefathers in founding our country on principles of reason rather than faith. Perhaps the most prominent was the National Reform Association, established in 1863 for the purpose of amending the preamble to the Constitution to acknowledge God and Jesus Christ as the sources of all government power. Because the original document does not.

The National Reform Association believed that the civil war was evidence that God was punishing the country for their failure to put God into the Constitution. Nothing to do with slavery of course. Also, note that this apparent knowledge of god's mind is reminiscent of Pat Robertson's claims about god's wrath in Haiti, Florida and anywhere else he believes the devil has taken hold. Anyway, in their 1864 convention the Association agreed on a preamble that would replace "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..."

They presented their suggestion to President Lincoln, who avoided it like a dirty diaper. The Congress also dodged the idea, but threw the group a bone by agreeing to put "In God We Trust" on our currency in an act of pure political pandering. So "In God We Trust" was first placed on United States coins in 1861 during the Civil War. Often forgotten is the fact that Teddy Roosevelt tried to remove the words from our money in 1907 but was shouted down. Only in 1956 was that phrase adopted as the national motto by the 84th Congress.

The clause "under god" in the Pledge of Allegiance was inserted only in 1954 when President Eisenhower signed legislation to recognize "the dedication of our Nation and our people to the Almighty."

For the first 180 years of existence, the United States never included god in its motto, on its currency, or in any document creating the republic. We were born a secular nation and remained one for nearly two centuries.

Any claim we are a Christian nation is blatantly and verifiably false, based on a terrible, inexcusable, embarrassing and willful redrafting of our proud history. The religious right that so proudly hoists the banner of patriotism undermines the very country they claim to love by subverting our past.

Only in a country delusional about the role of religion in public life could we have the Tea Party movement, Pat Robertson, Brit Hume, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh. They appeal to a history that does not exist, spewing lies based on more lies and hate. With sickening disregard for human suffering, Limbaugh urged his listeners to withhold any aid to Haiti because "we've already donated to Haiti. It's called the U.S. income tax." How miserable and full of self-loathing must this bloated man be to perpetrate such vile hatred. Limbaugh and his ilk can exist only in an atmosphere of religious intolerance and a false sense of the proper role that religion plays in American life.

Make no mistake: the cabal of religious extremists seeks to overthrow our current form of government through the spread of hatred, fear and ignorance. They ignore, twist and lie about our past to suit their theocratic agenda. This is the group that openly prays for the president's death and that of his family with cute bumper stickers. They mock human suffering. They are immune to the irony that they disrespect the land's highest office while appealing to patriotism. We are witnessing a coup attempt by the worst among us. Take a good look at the failed state of Haiti or the brutal theocracies in the Middle East, and look into our own future if the religious right is successful.

Our Founding Fathers understood well the extraordinary danger of mixing religion and politics; we forget that lesson at our great peril. I tremble in fear for my country when 70% of our people believe we are a Christian nation; that frightening majority has forgotten our history, ignored our founding principles and abandoned our most cherished ideal of separating church and state. In mixing religion and politics the religious right subverts both. And the world suffers.