Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Don’t Know Much About History…

Having engaged in numerous conversations with myriad Christians, I’ve come to the conclusion that the vast majority of them “don’t know much about history.” And so, with this post, I will set them straight on two major issues: the history of the United States, and the history of Christianity. Many Christians have the false impression that the United States somehow was founded upon Christianity, and is thus a Christian nation. That’s completely incorrect. Additionally, many Christians have the false impression that religion—specifically their own—has always been a force of good in the world. That, too, is entirely incorrect. Once again, in this post, I will frequently reference David MillsAtheist Universe. Whenever I quote Mills, it will be from that volume.

Let’s not waste any time. The definitive proof that the United States was never founded upon Christianity comes in the form of the Treaty of Tripoli (full text available Here). Here is a quote from the treaty: “…the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” Is that explicit enough? It was composed (by American diplomat Joel Barlow) under the presidency of George Washington. It was unanimously approved by the Senate, and signed by John Adams. Of course, it isn’t surprising that our Founding Fathers would approve such language. Most of them were deists, not practicing Christians.

But what about the Pledge of Allegiance, and its reference to God? What about our money, which reads, “In God We Trust”? Clearly, we must be a theistic nation, right? Perhaps we are now, but it was a recent change. Certainly, it doesn’t reflect the vision of the Founding Fathers.

The first version of the Pledge of Allegiance appeared in 1892 in Youth’s Companion, a children’s magazine. It read, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Now, personally, I always hated saying the Pledge of Allegiance, even before I was an atheist. But, that version doesn’t bother me nearly as much as the current incarnation. The words “under God” didn’t appear until 1954, after a campaign by the Roman Catholic Knights of Columbus. In an effort to draw a clear distinction between the atheist USSR and the God-fearing USA, Congress acted to add the words. Thus, they were added for expressly theistic purposes (and expressly anti-atheist purposes), following a campaign by Catholics.

What about the whole money thing? “In God We Trust” has no relationship whatsoever with the Founding Fathers or their intentions. According to the Wikipedia, “The motto In God We Trust was placed on United States coins largely because of the increased religious sentiment existing during the American Civil War. Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase received many appeals from devout persons throughout the country, urging that the United States recognize God on United States coins.” Its first actual appearance came in 1864 (on the two-cent coin). Continuing from Wikipedia, “The motto has been in continuous use on the one-cent coin since 1909 and on the ten-cent dime since 1916. It also has appeared on all gold coins and silver dollar coins, half-dollar coins, and quarter-dollar coins struck since July 1, 1908.”

This is really the same as the Pledge of Allegiance, only several decades earlier. It bears no relationship to the deistic character of our Founding Fathers. Rather, it only speaks to the religiosity of American citizens, both in the mid-1800s and mid-1900s. This country might have a religious history, but it certainly wasn’t founded upon Christianity. Indeed, the Founding Fathers went out of their way to say it wasn’t.

Now, let’s talk about the revisionist history that religion (specifically Christianity) has always been a force for good in the world. If you want a good overview of religion-inspired horrors, read this. That should convince any skeptics that religion is indeed a pernicious, frightening influence. But for those wanting more, I’ll be happy to oblige.

David Mills covers this topic extensively in his book. Here are a few salient passages:

“For 1500 years, the Christian Church systematically operated torture chambers throughout Europe. Torture was the rule; not the exception. Next to the Bible, the most influential and venerated book in Christian history was the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches), which was a step-by-step tutorial in how to torture ‘witches’ and ‘sorcerers.’ Each year, the Christian Church in Europe tortured to death tens of thousands of people, including children as young as two years of age. The only restriction was that the instruments of torment had to be blessed by a priest before their initial use.”

“The Church angrily denounced the introduction of medicines, antibiotics, anesthesia, surgery, blood transfusions, birth control, transplants, in vitro fertilization and most forms of pain killers. Supposedly, these scientific tools interfered with nature and were therefore against God’s will.”

But pre-renaissance man lived during a period when superstition overshadowed rational thought, and when those who proposed scientific explanations were often tortured to death by religious authorities. Galileo narrowly escaped a death sentence imposed by the Catholic Church for his telescopic observation that Jupiter's moons orbited Jupiter instead of Earth, birthplace of Jesus and presumed orbital hub of the universe.

As I said, I think many of our Christian friends have bought into revisionist history. I’ll bet some of these facts seem downright foreign to them. And that’s unfortunate, because democracy depends upon its citizens being educated and engaged. Recently, on The Atheist Jew’s blog, I saw a picture of a woman holding up a sign that said, “I don’t accept fundamental tenets of science, AND I VOTE.” Chances are, she also rejects the fundamental tenets of history, especially those that don’t suit her theological preferences. And she votes.

Any wonder we have George W. Bush as our leader? With the way history has a tendency to be rewritten by these folks, I’m sure Bush is confident he’ll go down as a tremendous leader, rather than what he is—the worst president in at least 100 years.

But, then again, that doesn’t matter to him. He don’t know much about history.

17 Comments:

Blogger franky said...

FrancestheMagnificent,
Excellent blog. I found you from Aaron at Kill the Afterlife. I will be adding you to my blogroll. Thanks for some insightful and well-written posts.

9:21 AM EST  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...

Thanks for the positive comments! They keep me inspired. I will be checking out your blog shortly!

6:36 PM EST  
Blogger Delta said...

Nice post! So often in the media we hear christians and pundits talk about how america is a christian nation, when all they need to do is go to wikipedia and look up a little history. It really seems like they either don't believe history or simply don't care that it's not true. Personally I don't put much stock into what the founding fathers thought. They were slave owners and set us up with a two-party system, so why should I trust their opinion on matters of democracy and freedom? But regardless, I'm glad that they were clear in the need for separation of church and state. Even with all the historical evidence on our side, we're still losing the fight, so I can't image the situation we'd be in if they had actually endorsed christianity.

3:41 AM EST  
Blogger Aethlos said...

LOVE THE BLOG!.... So glad i found you ... through Aaron!

5:15 AM EST  
Blogger The Atheologist said...

Not only do they not know much about history, but when faced with the facts like; at least 4 of the Ten Commandments are unconstitutional under our secular US Constitution, their brains turn to jelly. Great post. Keep it up!

4:44 PM EST  
Blogger Aaron Kinney said...

OMG it fucking worked! I got some people to come check you out, and they even gave me shout outs!

I love it. Keep up the good work!

5:21 PM EST  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...

Personally I don't put much stock into what the founding fathers thought. They were slave owners and set us up with a two-party system, so why should I trust their opinion on matters of democracy and freedom?

You raise an excellent point, and I want to state my agreement, lest I be misunderstood. I put very little stock into the opinions of the Founding Fathers. After all, these were individuals who loved to pontificate about inherent rights and freedom, yet many of them owned black people and they treated women as inferiors. The hypocrisy is truly stunning. With this post, I mean only to show that Christians are misrepresenting the Founding Fathers. The USA was not founded upon Christianity. I am in no way endorsing the Founders themselves. Very good point to raise.

LOVE THE BLOG!.... So glad i found you ... through Aaron!

Thanks for the kind words! Glad to have you here. And thanks, Aaron, for helping to get my site seen!

Not only do they not know much about history, but when faced with the facts like; at least 4 of the Ten Commandments are unconstitutional under our secular US Constitution, their brains turn to jelly.

Very true. The notion that US laws are based upon the Ten Commandments is laughable. Totally laughable.

Adultery? Not a crime.
Disrespecting parents? Not a crime.
Working on Sunday? Not a crime.
Saying "Goddamn it"? Not a crime.
Graven images? Other Gods?

Why can't people just accept this stuff for what it truly is: Old Jewish folklore.

OMG it fucking worked! I got some people to come check you out, and they even gave me shout outs!

Just as I expected - that's why I really appreciated the post you made on Kill the Afterlife. All modesty aside, you have a pretty wide readership. I'm grateful you were generous enough to share it with a newcomer.

7:33 PM EST  
Blogger DoctorBoogaloo said...

The religious blowhards (especially the Presidential sphincter) have only a passing acquaintance with history... and that acquaintance is based primarily on myth and a thirst for rapture. Sadly, in the circles of power, cockeyed beliefs trump knowledge. Creationism and Intelligent Design is their preferred model of science. And that would be hilarious if it wasn't so gravely fucking dangerous.
With a slightly more informed grasp of history, the Republican brain trust might have forseen the consequences of invading Iraq. Maybe.

9:23 PM EST  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...

Doctor,

For the Republicans, there are 3 varieties of kryptonite:

1. Science

2. History

3. Reality

Bush doesn't understand science, thus he's immune to it. He knows little about history, thus he's immune to it. Unfortunately, the reality of Iraq can't help but be noticed. Not even never reading the newspaper can shield him from Reality now.

12:15 AM EST  
Blogger KA said...

FTM:
Good post, however, I'd like to make a minor correction, & point some items out.
Most of them were deists, not practicing Christians.
The only Deists I know among the Founders were Jefferson, Paine, & Franklin. Madison & Adams may have been 'closet' Deists, but the bulk of them were xtian in some manner. The RR has a habit of proclaiming them 'evangelical' xtians, which is a flat-out distortion of the facts (evangelical is pretty much a product of the 20th CE). Most of them varied from fanatical (Rush), to lukewarm (Washington), to barely rubbing shoulders (Madison).
They of course had to speak to their constituents (primarily white xtians), so some hypocrisy was involved.
& I found you via Aaron as well.

Delta:
They were slave owners and set us up with a two-party system, so why should I trust their opinion on matters of democracy and freedom?
Well, 1st off, Jefferson did try to introduce a gradual emancipation bill into congress, I don't think BF owned slaves, & Paine was an abolitionist.
Rush was a bit of a loon.
Also, the way I understand it, there were far MORE parties back then, than there are now. Whigs, Tories, Republican-democrat (yes, there was such a thing, once). The GOP as we know it was founded by Lincoln.
Just my nickel's worth.

4:22 PM EDT  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...

The only Deists I know among the Founders were Jefferson, Paine, & Franklin. Madison & Adams may have been 'closet' Deists, but the bulk of them were xtian in some manner. The RR has a habit of proclaiming them 'evangelical' xtians, which is a flat-out distortion of the facts (evangelical is pretty much a product of the 20th CE). Most of them varied from fanatical (Rush), to lukewarm (Washington), to barely rubbing shoulders (Madison).
They of course had to speak to their constituents (primarily white xtians), so some hypocrisy was involved.


Thanks for the input! Perhaps I could have chosen my words a bit better. I made the statement based upon the fact that the first six presidents of the United States harbored either deistic or allied (Unitarian) beliefs. But, even so, "most" was probably a poor word choice.

7:40 PM EDT  
Blogger KA said...

FTM:
I made the statement based upon the fact that the first six presidents of the United States harbored either deistic or allied (Unitarian) beliefs.
Well, the Unies have been around since prior to 1 CE.
If you want a good giggle, check out www.wallbuilders.com. Barton's 1 of the foremost proponent of the 'xtian nation' nonsense. His propaganda's all OVER the net.

11:54 AM EDT  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...

Thanks for the link! I'll check it out presently.

7:46 PM EDT  
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