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This blog has been lurking around in the corners of my mind for quite a while now, ever since July 1, 2016 when I passed a church bulletin calling for all to come to its celebration of God and America. This sign bothered me for several reasons.  Of course, me being an atheist will probably cause most to figure out some of the reasons it bothered me. But only some. As for the rest, well, the rest I thought would be surprising and I hope interesting.

It bothered me because not only is such a mingling of church and state bad for the state, but it is just as bad for the church.

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Let me first say that this church, and the many others that I saw with a similar message, have every right to do so.  However, not everything that is legal and that people have a right to do is also wise. And in this blog I plan to discuss why it is not wise for a religion, in this case Christianity, to mix religion and nationalism. To do so, I will speak as if I were a much younger me, young enough to still be a Christian.

Let’s start with a question – what is the purpose of the Church?

Answer, to spread the good news of the Gospels, the news about Jesus and his redemptive death and resurrection.  The church was also meant to provide support and teaching to fellow Christians, and to those who come to its doors seeking. And the church was also meant to serve as a moral guide and conscience of people, of societies, of nations, of the world.

While spreading the news of the Gospels might be easier done when part of a government, as part of the inside group, it does so at the expense of corrupting the church, and of causing great pain and suffering to others outside of that church.

A church is not the state.  Nor is it meant to be.  It is not meant to be a supporter of the state, an auxiliary of the state, a co-ruler with the state.

A church is meant to be an outsider in regards to government.

Christianity was born an outsider.

Jesus was born an outsider with Mary being pregnant before being married

Jesus was born into and preached to a people who were outsiders, the Jews.

Jesus served the outsiders among the Jews; tax collectors, the lepers, the unclean, the sinners.

An outsider preaching to a people of outsiders, that is part of what gave Jesus’ message its power.   His message was not to the rich and powerful, although it was theirs for the taking should they choose to listen.  His message was to the poor and powerless.

His message was not how to create a civil society, how to govern a country or state or city.  His message was about God’s love for humanity and how best to receive and spread that love.  It was a message of hope, not political positions.

Jesus, as the outsider, accepted all, but did not change his message, his standards, nor himself for any.

Jesus changed the world.

From its birth to its early years, Christianity was a religion off outsiders looking in.  Often ridiculed, sometimes persecuted, they nonetheless still for the most part, held firm to their standards and beliefs.  And they grew.

And then came the great split. No, not the Catholic and the Protestant split. Nor the disagreements among Christians, which had been present since the beginning as can be seen in the arguments about the nature of Jesus and his relation to God.

No, the great split I am referring to concerns the split from being outsiders to becoming insiders. The conversion of Emperor Constantine transformed Christianity from being a religion of outsiders to being a religion of the insiders, of those with power and money. Or rather, one particular set of Christians became insiders.  As part of the bargain, with Constantine, they had to have a uniform set of beliefs.  So, one set modified some of their beliefs and won, the others became persecuted and died, along with the pagans.

As Paul Johnson wrote in his A History of Christianity:

How could the Christian Church, apparently quite willingly, accommodate this weird megalomaniac in its theocratic system? Was there a conscious bargain? Which side benefited most from this unseemly marriage between Church and State? Or, to put it another way, did the empire surrender to Christianity, or did Christianity prostitute itself to the empire?”

Now, instead of criticizing the government and society, Christianity and the government tyndale-martyrdom-resized-600were one, and actions against the government were also actions against Christianity, and actions against Christianity were also actions against the government.  Given this, how could most Christians criticize any government action, no matter how bad or how flawed?  How could any government allow any deviation from the established religion, no matter how well argued and supported?

They couldn’t

An attack on the religion supported by the state was an attack on the state, and an attack vc006367on the state was an attack on the religion.  Such was the root cause of most of the religious violence and persecution throughout the years; the Inquisition, the forced conversion and persecution of the Jews, Catholics vs. Protestants, Protestants vs. Puritans, Puritans vs. Quakers, and on and on and on.

In addition to the violence against people, was the violence done to beliefs and morals as Churches assumed stately power. Compromises with principles and beliefs were common, as were the flat out ignoring of such principles and beliefs.

This violence against people and against the teachings of Jesus and of God is probably why the first person to propose an absolute and total separation of church and state was a Puritan theologian and the founder of the Baptist Church in America – Roger Williams. And he lived up to that ideal when he founded the state of Rhode Island.

The United States was the first secular government in the world. Something that the writers of the Constitution did intentionally, and with great forethought.

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Their foresight and awareness of history is something lacking today by too many Americans, and is evidenced by so much more than just the signs I saw that inspired this blog.  This lack of forethought and awareness is seen whenever anyone:

  • Claims that the United States is a Christian country. And then advocates for laws to make it so – prayer in the schools, recognition of the Bible as the state book, etc.
  • Work to limit or take away the rights of those who are not the right sort of Christian or believer.
  • Tells Muslims to go home, even those who were born in the United States. And then tries to make it so.
  • Whenever permits are denied to religious groups due to their beliefs.
  • When President H. Bush commented that atheist could not be patriots due to not believing in God.
  • When Trump sends out a White House bulletin in which he states “America is a Nation of believers. As long as we have faith in each other, and trust in God, we will succeed!”

We, as a nation, as a people, have never been very good at remembering. But, today, that

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lack of memory, of awareness, seems stronger than ever.  The evangelical support forTrump shows how far too many Christians and Christian organizations, are willing to go in dealing with the devil in order to gain political power.  And how many of their values and morals, and how much of the teachings of Jesus they are willing to ignore or give up in their quest for political power.

 

I think that they need to go back and read the history of religion, and of what happens when it becomes part of the state.  Some Madison, or Jefferson, or several others would be good.  But, perhaps, it would be best if they rediscovered the writings and thought of Roger Williams.  Before they manage to harm not just people, but the Constitution that will allow such harm to, eventually, be redressed.

 

 

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In my first blog on this series I went over why I did not believe a Trump presidency would degenerate into a dictatorship.  What I will be going over here are what I consider to be the more realistic fears of what a Trump Presidency will bring.

I do not know if any or all of these will happen as I am waiting for some actual policies and actions on Trump’s part.  And to see how Congress, the courts, and the public respond to them. However, based on his past comments, statements, and actions during the campaign and based upon his current tweets and actions, his calls to foreign leaders, his refusal to listen to experts and those with experience, and his appointments so far, I tend to be more pessimistic on how bad it is going to be rather than optimistic.   What actually happens though depends on a large number of things interacting in complex ways, and until we actually see how they work out when Trump actually assumes the office, it is hard to say how bad.

 

Race and Civil Rights

While there will be no government actions against minorities (except possibly Muslims), there will be an increase in private groups and organizations and in individual actions against blacks and Hispanics.  The federal government will no longer be willing to fully investigate these incidents and will definitely not investigate possible instances of bias and discrimination among law enforcement or government agencies and businesses.  This will result in a greater distrust of the police and of government overall by minorities than we have now, with increased tension and outbreaks of violence.   And this administration most definitely will not be interested in looking at such things as bias in hiring, in employment, and other such places.

As for Muslims, there may well be some sort of registry.  I do not think that it will advance to actual internment camps though, there is too much opposition to that, even among many Republicans.  But, registration, yes.  Also, quite possibly intensified surveillance of Muslim individuals and groups just because they are Muslim and not due to any real intelligence.

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Just as bad as the registration though is the ill thought out comments from President Trump on Muslims and terrorism, and from his administration and many Republicans.  Comments that will sow distrust and fear that will likely result in actions by individuals and groups against Muslims – protests against Muslims, Mosques, etc.  Add to this efforts by many state and local governments to limit their freedom of worship by refusing them permits to build Mosques and cemeteries and schools, or to limit the wearing of the burqa.  And guess what, a possible increase in recruitment for Islamic terrorist groups and an increase in lone wolf incidents from Muslims due to these playing right into their propaganda and recruitment pitch.

As for gay marriage, that is here to stay from what I can see.  However, crafting and enforcing laws limiting LGBT rights in the guise of protecting religious freedom – oh yeah, that will be going full speed ahead.  Especially when you consider that the Evangelical Christian Republicans supporting Trump are against LGBT rights and that Mike Pence has tried to limit such rights when he was governor of Indiana.  My expectation is that Pence is going to have more say and power than any vice-president in history during Trump’s term.  And guess what, that is not good for the LGBT community.

Women’s rights.  Also not good.  Expect that access to effective birth control will become harder to get, mainly because of cost with it being most likely cut out of Obamacare.  Further, expect more restrictions on the right of a woman to decide what to do with her body, in other words abortion.  Trump has said he is fine with letting it go to the states, which is not good.  Most states have laws just waiting for such an event that would outlaw most abortions.  Even without that expect more and more restrictions.  Also, expect less sympathy and support from the federal government on workplace inequalities.  This, of course, holds not just for women but also for minorities.

Overall, not a good time for civil rights that apply equally to all of our citizens.   As a result, I consider it very possible that there will be a large increase in demonstrations (and a real possibility that I may be joining in on a few).  Also, I consider it possible that strong arm responses on the part of law enforcement and government will become more likely.

Oh, and it was just announced that Ben Carson was put in charge of HUD.  So much for fair housing, for finding ways to help the poor and needy, and for having an effective and working HUD.  Again, minorities taking the brunt of it.

 

The Economy

Unless you are very rich, do not expect good things from a Trump presidency.   And even then, in the worse case scenarios even the wealthy are going to have difficulties.

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First, look at who Trump has appointed to his administration.  All very wealthy individuals for the most part.  Indeed, his administration will be the richest by far of any administration.  This does not mean that they will be bad in and of itself, but it does mean that they are more likely to look out for their own interests.  This is especially true for Trump.

And conflicts of interest are every where you look.  And that was an argument used against Hillary?  Oh, and there is a former Goldman Sachs person in his administration too.  And quite possibly an Exxon CEO for Secretary of State.

This gloomy assessment of the future state of our economy is buttressed by the tax changes he proposed during his campaign.  The poor and middle class will see a 2% or less increase in bring home pay.  The very wealthy will receive at least a 16% increase.  Wowza.  Oh, and that’s not to mention the fact that our deficits and national debt will balloon.  But what the hell, let the plundering of our economy by the rich begin in earnest.

In some ways, this reminds me a bit of the hand off of the economy from Bill Clinton to W. Bush.  Bush inherited a strong economy with a surplus that was actually reducing the debt.  And due in part to his tax cuts, we wound up with deficits and increased debt.  Only, this hand off has the potential to be a lot worse under President Trump than it did under President W. Bush.

Add to the above President elect Trump’s threats to engage in trade wars, and the outlook for our economy looks worse and more worse.  Historically such actions have resulted in large recessions with the loss of millions of private sectors jobs, mostly among the lower paying workers and non-skilled jobs.

Worse case, it could even negatively affect the whole world economy, for the worse.  The US has actually recovered from the recession in much better shape than most other industrial nations.  Many of them are still on the edge right now, and us going under like this could also cause them to also go under, precipitating a world-wide economic crisis.

Of course, a lot of this is dependent upon whether he follows through on his campaign promises or not.  If not, then we will have to wait and see what replaces it.  It is possible that he will not be a total disaster here.  Instead, it would be just Bush bad.  But, I think it could well be worse than just bad.

Although his not following through on this would, again, be a broken campaign promise, one that also, again, was highly touted repeatedly by Trump.  Between this and backing off on the wall and immigration and on prosecuting Hillary I wonder how much of his base he can keep.

 

Education

Short answer – vouchers, voucher, vouchers.  Less money and support for public schools.   More sympathy for creationism and official school prayers.  Now, how far will it go is pure guesswork at this point.  The vast majority of voucher plans when put to the vote at the state level have failed.  And creationism has lost every court battle so far, and the courts are not going to be changed that quickly.

There will, of course, be none of this nonsense about protecting transgendered students now.  Nor support for gay students.  But, there may well be more attempts and support for getting Christianity officially back into the schools instead of being neutral.

 

Separation of Church and State

I expect it to be weakened, but not destroyed.  Not sure yet in what form, although many of the items I already discussed have elements of this in them.  But, given the fact that conservative evangelical Christians largely supported him, that his Vice President if a conservative Christian favorite, and that the Republicans as a party owe a great deal to the conservative evangelical Christians…then yeah, expect some cracks to show on the wall.

Keep in mind though that many Christians, including evangelicals, understand why the separation of church and state are so important for all people’s freedoms.  Keep in mind that there are a great many more people who are not conservative Christian evangelicals than are.  Keep in mind that we are a religious diverse nation, and getting more so.  And, that the courts today and for the next few years are the same ones who have done a basically good job of protecting that wall.

 

The Environment

To continue a running theme, short answer, not good.

I imagine the EPA will become more like the Environmental It’s OK Go Ahead and Do It.   I expect our environment to take a  major hit, with, of course, an increase in health problems and issues.  Not to mention a loss of biologic diversity.  And trying to limit the damage from Climate Change and preparing on how best to deal with it will now fall upon the individual states, cities, and businesses.  It will no longer be a national effort, with the result being a loss in impact and effectiveness.  A huge problem now becomes bigly huge.

Foreign Affairs

In short, as with the others, so very not good.

Trump is ignorant of diplomacy and of world affairs.  Ignorance is not something to be ashamed of though, as long as you are aware of it and work to change your ignorance to knowledge.  Trump though shows no sign of this.  Even worse, he thinks he knows it all already.

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He knows more than all of our intelligence organizations and agencies.   He knows more than our generals and military.  He does not bother with most of the daily intelligence briefs.  He calls and takes calls from world leaders without bothering with getting information from the State Department.

And he tweets.

He tweets and attacks other countries through his tweets.

Between his egotistical ignorance, his fragile ego that cannot ignore a slight no matter how slight such that he has to fire back at a TV show, his lack of discipline, his aggressiveness, his questioning of our allies and those organizations and treaties that help hold our alliances …. all of this and more make war more likely under President Trump than any recent president.  Accidentally or on purpose.

Due to his policies and penchant for isolationism, I see both Russia and China moving in and becoming more prominent in world affairs at the expense of the US.  And of democracies in general.

In other words, I think it a realistic to see a more unstable world during Trump’s presidency.

 

OK, that’s my down and dirty worse case realistic expectations of a Trump Presidency.  I realized I have not provided any supporting arguments for these, but that is not my purpose here (besides which it would increase an already long blog at least tenfold).  Here I am just outlining what I think are some real possibilities with Trump as president.  And I realize it is incomplete.

Now, a few things to note here.  The first is that all of this is something that the US can survive.  And still remain a great nation.  A cracked, bleeding, and damaged great nation, but still.  We are too big economically and militarily, have too many strong institutions internally for us to be totally gutted.  So, we will survive and can and will recover.  But, we will have to suffer through a lot of pain and tears and blood, and almost terminal national embarrassment before we do recover.

The next thing to note is that I could be wrong.  It might not be any worse than any other conservative Republican administration.  I don’t think it likely, but it might happen that way when all is said and done.  In fact, I greatly hope that I am wrong.

Finally the above is my realistic worse case scenario.  Whether these actually play out, or how bad they are if they do play out, depends on a great many things – one of which is what we do.  Which is the subject of my third and last blog of this series.

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Let me end this one with what I think we will most likely wind up with under President Trump – a Kakistocracy.  That is a Greek word I just came across that means seems to sum up my thoughts about a Trump Presidency fairly well.  It means a government run by the worst elements of society – the unscrupulous and the unqualified.

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I imagine my views on politicians may be a minority one. I think that most of them are politicians because they feel that they can make a difference in people’s lives and in our community, state, and country. A difference for the better.

Yes, there are some who are in it as a power trip and/or for opportunities to make money. Others get seduced by the power and availability of money. However, these are the minority. Most are good people, many of whom I strongly disagree with.

The reason so many people disagree with me is due to the nature of politics in a democracy. Politics by its very nature is the art of not being crushed while continually working in the narrow, shifting space between rocks and hard places. Consider:

– Politicians are elected and are supposed to represent the views of their constituents. However, not all of their constituents think alike…not even close. So, who to listen to?
– In addition, while they are supposed to listen and heed the voice of the people they are roundly criticized if they follow the polls that tell them what most of their voters are thinking and believing. If they follow the polls they are seen as characterless and without principles, pandering to whichever way the popular wind is blowing. If they do not, then they are often perceived as arrogant and as not listening to the will of the people.
– They are supposed to stand for their values and not back down. However, politics is the art of compromise – you give up something in order to get something so that a bill is passed that doesn’t give anyone everything but gives most something – just enough something to pass. While this has always been risky in that it gives possible ammunition for opponents within their own party in the next election, it is much more so in today’s political environment – those who actually try to work out deals and compromise are being denounced loudly and roundly. Yet without compromise, nothing gets done – rather like our current Congress. Our founders were men of great principles, ones firmly believed in and fought for. Yet the Constitution is a document built on hard fought compromises, a document that pleased no one entirely during its time, but that most thought was an improvement over what they had. And the best that could be done in their own political climate.
– Politicians are roundly criticized for being beholden to those with money who contribute to their campaigns. Yet, if a candidate eschews such money, they will lose to the more well financed opponents. Very few or no politician accomplishes anything of worth in just one term.
– And while many voters are against money having such an outsized voice in our system, many voters shout in loud voices against any type of actual reform of the system. This adds the pressure of not only being accused of not “listening to the people” but also the twin risk of donor providing large amounts of money for your opponents election team and not yours. A double whammy.
– I would consider a person who changes their mind on issues due to thinking about the evidence a good thing. However, for politicians it is often considered a bad trait and they are accused then of being inconsistent, wishy washy , or spineless.

So, politicians are expected to be strongly principled representatives who do not back down, uphold their values and that of their varied constituents, who are leaders but who do what the people want and who listen to all of the people no matter how conflicted that people may be and who are not beholden to moneyed interests but are expected to run a winning campaign without money and are elected by voters of whom a large number are against significant financial reform. That is not to mention they are expected to get things done and address the problems of their communities, states, and nations without compromising any of their “values”.

Oh, they are also not supposed to be ambitious – although why not I am not sure. Ambition can be either good or bad depending on what the ambition is and what measures are considered acceptable for achieving it. But ever since George Washington (who was an ambitious man) this has been an expectation on the part of many.

For myself, I believe that most of our politicians do believe they are doing the right thing for the country and their constituents. Even those that disagree with, they believe the policies that they are fighting for will benefit the nation. Doesn’t mean that I don’t disagree, often quite strongly since I live in Texas.

This also does not mean we do not elect idiots and fools into office. Just that their intentions are good and mostly honorable. Of course, there is that proverbial road paved with good intentions and where it leads. Which is why though I cut them some slack on motivations I blast them on policies I disagree with. It is the democratic way.

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religion 3“….no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” Article VI, U.S. Constitution
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” First Amendment U.S. Constitution

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“You shall have no other gods before me.” Exodus 20: 3. New International Version (NIV).morality 10 commandments

“You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,” Exodus 20:5. NIV

“12 If you hear it said about one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you to live in 13 that troublemakers have arisen among you and have led the people of their town astray, saying, “Let us go and worship other gods” (gods you have not known), 14 then you must inquire, probe and investigate it thoroughly. And if it is true and it has been proved that this detestable thing has been done among you, 15 you must certainly put to the sword all who live in that town. You must destroy it completely, both its people and its livestock. 16 You are to gather all the plunder of the town into the middle of the public square and completely burn the town and all its plunder as a whole burnt offering to the LORD your God. That town is to remain a ruin forever, never to be rebuilt,” Deuteronomy 12: 13 – 16. NIV.

“10 They assembled at Jerusalem in the third month of the fifteenth year of Asa’s reign. ….12 They entered into a covenant to seek the LORD, the God of their ancestors, with all their heart and soul. 13 All who would not seek the LORD, the God of Israel, were to be put to death, whether small or great, man or woman: 2 Chronicles 15: 10, 12 – 13. NIV
Emperor Constantine I: In 317 he issued an edict to confiscate Donatist church property and sent the Donatist clergy into exile. In 325 he summoned the Council of Nicaea to determine what should be church doctrine.

The Northern Crusades: Crusades carried out by the Christian Kings of Sweden, Denmark, and Poland against their pagan neighbors in the 12th and 13th centuries. an-allegory-of-the-wars-of-religion

The Inquisitions: A group of institutions within the Catholic Church set up to combat heresy and blasphemy starting in 12th century France and lasting into the 19th century. Usually used in conjunction and with the support of the state. For example: King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile established the Spanish Inquisition in 1478.

In England the Act of Supremacy of 1534 made the King or Queen of England “the only supreme head on earth of Church in England”. Due to this, being Catholic made one a traitor and was an act of treason against the state. The Scottish Reformation in 1560 also made it illegal to be a Catholic in Scotland.

The persecution of the Quakers by the Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. In 1656 the Massachusetts Bay Colony passed laws against anyone bringing Quakers into the Colony or anyone harboring them. They would be fined 100 pounds and then either imprisoned or banished. Other fines included 54 pounds for possessing Quaker books or writings, 40 pounds for defending the teachings of Quakers, 44 pounds for a second offence of defending the teachings, followed by imprisonment until the offender could be shipped out. The laws also allowed corporal punishment ie., whippings, cutting off of ears, boring holes in tongues, and hanging.

by Jan LuykenIn the recent past all countries had laws against blasphemy. Usually it was OK to speak out against other religions but not the religion of that country. Many countries, including those in Europe, still have laws against blasphemy on the books, although the last prosecutions using these were usually in the early 20th century. Despite this, some countries have resisted the elimination of laws against blasphemy. As recently as 1998 an attempt was made to rescind Finland’s laws against blasphemy, and failed.

In the United States the authors of the Constitution were heavily criticized for not enshrining God and Christianity into its text. This omission of God and Christianity was denounced by the Reverend John M. Mason who declared it “an omission which no pretext whatever can palliate.” He went on to warn “we will have every reason to tremble lest the Governor of the universe, who will not be treated with indignity by a people more than by individuals, overturn from its foundations the fabric we have been rearing and crush us to atoms in the wreck.” Others warned of the dangers of not putting God and Christianity into the Constitution because it would be an “invitation for Jews and pagans of every kind to come among us.” and that “a Turk, a Jew, a Roman Catholic, and what is worse than all, a Universalist, may be President of the United States.” This was one of the arguments made against ratifying the newly proposed Constitution.

Attempts were periodically made to correct this “mistake”. For example, during the beginning of the Civil War, the National Reform Association was founded in order to correct the mistake that was tearing our nation apart. No, it was not slavery that was the mistake in the eyes of these clergymen but, instead, it was the lack of an acknowledgement of God and Jesus in our Constitution.

In 1863 an attempt was made to amend the Constitution’s preamble and there acknowledge not only God but also Jesus Christ as the source our government. The clergy involved in the National Reform Association devised a statement that would not offend any of the mainstream Protestant denominations (they were not worried of course about Jews, Quakers, or Catholics who, being religious minorities, were aghast at the idea). It proposed replacing “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…”

The National Reform Association met with President Lincoln in February 1864 and presented him with their petition for a Christian government. His response was the observation that “…the work of amending the Constitution should never be done hastily.” and a promise to “take such action upon it as my responsibility to my Maker and our country demands.” He then took no action at all. Neither did Congress, instead tabling the resolution for years until it was forgotten.
The last attempt to insert a Christian amendment into the Constitution was in the early 1960’s. It never made it to Congress for a vote.

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The contrast between the words of the Constitution and the words of the Bible and the example of history are stark and apparent. The Constitution is a secular document creating a secular government, not a Christian one.
“16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28: 16 – 20 NIV”

Given the above task given to Christians by Jesus – the Great Commission – governments have argued that to not promote Jesus and God leads to the eternal damnation of those not aware of Jesus and God’s mercy. To save people from this fate by bringing them to Christ is a basic Christian responsibility and a basic responsibility of a Christian nation. This is one of the major reasons governments promoted one religion and persecuted and condemned others. This is something Christian governments have done from the very beginning. Their not doing this is a thoroughly modern event.

In fact, it is our government, the government of the United States, that started this split between government and religion. It declared that no longer would government be concerned with the state and fate of an individual’s soul. Instead, that would be the province of each individual to deal with as they best saw fit. Instead the government would deal with purely secular matters.

The reason why our founders went against the clear teachings of the Bible and the example of almost 1800 years of Christian governments is due to their clear view of history. During the almost 1800 years of good Christian governments trying to follow the precepts of the 10 Commandments and the Bible religious conflict was pandemic. People within a country were often persecuted, tortured, and killed for being of the wrong faith. Religious differences made warfare between countries even more horrific.

This history made men of conscience such as Roger Williams and, later, our founders, realize that man cannot dictate the conscious of others through the use of government. Roger argued that Man and thus his creation governments, are fallible and can favor the wrong belief, thus causing many more to go to hell than would have otherwise.

Our founders dispensed with this part of the argument and kept to the fact that too much conflict, spilled blood, and evil is done when governments attempt to dictate the conscience of its citizens. Therefore it is best to be left to the individual if the goal is to create a just, long lasting and fair government.

I posted this in light of the recent Public Policy Poll showing that 57% of Republicans favor establishing Christianity as the national religion and only 30% opposed this idea (the relevant question is on page 3). This, as the above shows, displays an astonishing lack of knowledge of both Christian history and of our own Constitution. Or rather, it would be astonishing if I had seen so many displays of such ignorance before.

And that is not even mentioning the fact that so often these same people criticize Islam for wanting to establish Islam as the state religion (although this is not universal in Islam– either today or in history). It seems that whether mixing state and religion is a good idea or not depends on whose religion is about to be bonded to the state.

However, the establishment of state religions – whether they be Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist or whatever – is always a bad idea. It is not religion alone that leads to the greatest conflicts and abuses but rather the mixing of the two that does so.

This is something I expounded on in an earlier blog “What Most Have Forgotten”.

“Although some of our founders were traditional Christians, most, while devout, were not traditionally so. Many believed that religion encouraged morality in the common people and so followed religious practices. All, though, recognized the danger that comes from religion and government becoming entangled. All recognized the necessity for a secular government. All remembered the reasons why a strict separation between church and state is necessary. I think it is time that many of us read more thoroughly our own and European history and take a good look at the world around us.

I think it is time that we start remembering again.”

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I have finished reading Constitutional Myths by Ray Raphael. And just as reading the beginning sparked thoughts about our Constitution, it origins, and how it is regarded today that was the basis for my blog “Our Flawed Understanding of Our Founders and Our Constitution”, the reading of the rest of this book has continued to strike sparks. Enough so that it has resulted in more fires in the form of more blogs.

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As I said in my previous blog, while in broad terms I was familiar with much of the information given in this book, the details were often new and illuminating. As was the way it was organized, an organization that helped to highlight and clarify some of my own thoughts from earlier readings about this subject and time.

Let’s start this fire by looking at what most of the framers at the Constitutional Convention were working towards. In other words, what sort of national government did most of the framers of the compromise document now known as our Constitution seek? This is of special relevance today with our debates over how powerful the national government should be and over what powers it should have. Many of those on the side of a very limited national government cite our founders and their words as support for their views and arguments.

Before moving on to the question of what our framers were trying to accomplish in terms of government, I should mention something about the use of quotes by all sides. Context.

In regards to properly understanding a quote and what its speaker actually thought, context is everything. And I mean context in the broadest possible sense of the word – who is speaking (someone speaking against the Constitution such as Patrick Henry), where the words were spoken – in private, as part of a campaign speech, etc. – and how old was the speaker at the time – the framers views and opinions often changed over time. This context is something that I will discuss later one. For now though, just be aware of how important context is in understanding the framers and founders words.

A Weak or Powerful National Government?

What most miss in America is that in creating the first large Republican government in the world (something widely thought to be impossible by most of the world at the time) our founders were concerned not only with limiting government but also, seemingly paradoxically, in creating a strong national government. From Constitutional Myths by Ray Raphael:

“Whereas the framers believed that government without restraint would inevitably lead to tyranny, they also thought that government without strength would lead to chaos and anarchy…To turn the nation around, they needed to fashion a strong central government, and to justify that brazen move they would have to base their new government on sound civic principles.” page 58

“The framers did not totally abandon Whig principles, which had been formulated to check magisterial rule, but they adjusted them to suit a republic. Government was still suspect but, following Montesquieu, they created mechanisms within government that would keep liberty secure. They did not think at the outset, ‘Let’s see how we can restrain government’ but rather, ‘Let’s see how we can create a strong government with some set of internal checks, so it won’t tyrannize.” Page 61

“The restraint principles embedded within the text also need rebranding. “Separation of powers’ and ‘checks and balances’ are not distinct principles, and if treated that way, they contradict each other. To check on another’s powers, the allegedly separate branches actually intermingle… In fact, separation of powers and checks and balances aren’t exactly principles but strategies in service of a more general goal: diffusion of authority to prevent concentrations of power….By distributing authority within the federal government, the framers were able to give that government greater powers than it dared grant to a single body. As protections grew, more powers could be added – that was the framers’ basic strategy and crowning achievement”. page 62.

In other words, our founders were seeking the safest way to create a powerful national government, not a weak one. They had already experienced the self-destructive problems inherent in a weak national government under the Articles of Confederation; and rejected it. Indeed, many of them believed that a weak national government would lead to tyranny more surely and more often than would a strong one.

The trick, as they saw it, was how to create as powerful a national government as possible, but one that would not pose a danger to liberties and rights. The accomplishment of that trick was the diffusion of this power over several branches, each having established ways to impact the other.

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Moving on now to the next issue:1222111235.91

Interpreting the Constitution – Narrowly or Broadly

In regards as to whether the Constitution is meant to be interpreted narrowly or broadly – the correct answer seems to be yes.

Reading the details of the debate on what would eventually become the 10th amendment, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.” finds this debate centered around whether to include the word “expressly” or not – as in “The powers not expressly delegated…..” . This word would have emphasized a strongly narrow view of how to apply the Constitution.

Many were for adding this word. Many were against adding it. Madison for example, argued that “It was impossible to confine a Government to the exercise of express powers; there must necessarily be admitted powers by implication, unless the constitution descended to recount every minutia.”

In the end more were against it and so “the First Federal Congress expressly decided” not to include expressly in this amendment. As Raphael says,

“the Tenth Amendment was in fact a compromise. Federalists, although accepting the principle of enumerated powers, would have preferred to keep that principle implicit, while critics of the Constitution had wanted a stronger statement. Both sides bent, but both also won….The government should not be too closely confined, Madison argued, and his view prevailed. ‘Powers by implication, ‘ as he called them, should be allowed.” Pg. 67

It is this compromise that has led to the ever on-going debate on whether the Constitution should be interpreted narrowly or broadly, whether anything not in the Constitution is also not allowed or if there are implied powers. The Constitution is sending “mixed messages” about this, purposely so.

“The framers refused to declare unfalteringly for ‘strict’ or for ‘broad’ because either choice, unmodified, would have been untenable. Without enumerating powers, the Constitution would permit the indefinite expansion of federal authority, yet without the flexibility inherent in implied powers, Congress could allocate no funds to help build dikes, dams, or airports; monitor weather to warn people of tornadoes; finance research for the eradication of smallpox….; operate the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian Institutions; or stage celebrations on the centennial and bicentennial anniversaries of the framing and ratification of the constitution.” pg. 68

Just as our Constitution was created out of strife, debate (often heated), and disagreement it was written in such a way that this volatile process would be on-going as it was applied to new and different situations.

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I am currently reading, and greatly enjoying, a book by Ray Raphael titled “Constitutional Myths”. It looks at various beliefs many if not most Americans hold about the Constitution, its creation, and the founders and evaluates how much truth there are to these beliefs –Taxes, Politics, Principles, etc. It generally finds a kernel of truth, or has so far, but finds that for the most part these myths do not hold up well to the reality.

Now, having read quite a bit about the origin of our Constitution, I knew, in broad outlines at least, a great deal of this information. But this book is providing a great deal more details and also puts it together in ways that made me more aware of things that in my previous readings I had just passed on by.

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Given our current political climate, I thought a few comments on these might be of interest.

First and foremost – the Constitution was a compromise from beginning to end. I doubt that there were any of its writers who were satisfied and happy with it. Madison, Washington, Hamilton, and others have written letters stating this. Gouverneur Morris said that although he continued to have serious objections to this plan he would “take it with all its faults”. This was a common refrain.

Next, was the sheer amount of politics involved in this – politics at its worse. We often portray the founders are dealing solely with great principles of government and being guided by reason and a concern for what is best for all. However, the reality is that while that was partly the basis of their deliberations there was an equal, if not more, amount of self-interest, regional politics, and political wheeling and dealing and bluster. Issues such as how to best ensure representation for both small and large states, slavery, and other issues almost scuttled the whole process many times. In fact, the vitriol and rancor involved in these deliberations was probably almost as great as what we see today in Congress. Their saving grace though was a willingness to make a deal and compromise.

In fact, the electoral college was one of those comprises between intransigent groups. It was mainly between those small states who wanted one state one vote and the larger states who wanted votes based upon a state’s population, What I found interesting in this is that they also tossed in the House being the only one who could initiate money bills – something that had been defeated in an earlier vote establishing the Great Compromise on the Senate and House representation. This was tossed in to sweeten the deal for the larger states so that they would buy off on a Presidential election system that somewhat favored the smaller states. Today too many are willing to stand totally on principle and then condemn those who would work to find compromises.

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Also, in light of how many are touting state’s rights and pointing back to the founders, I found it interesting how many of them not only were not strong supporters of state’s rights but also saw them as a danger to the nation. Madison and Washington (along with one other delegate whose name escapes me right now) before the convention had corresponded about some ideas of what should go into a new Constitution. One such idea was that the national government should have the power to review laws passed by the states and veto them if they found them inappropriate. At the end of the convention both Madison and Washington still considered the lack of such a mechanism a great flaw in the Constitution.

In fact, Madison was against the Great Compromise that had the House being set by a state’s population whereas the Senate had each state equally represented regardless of population, and argued strongly against it. “Whatever reason might have existed for the quality of suffrage when the Union was a federal one among sovereign States, it must cease when a national Government should be put into the place.”

Another point that was made was that taxes were the reason for the Constitutional convention and was one of the main motives for the creation of the Constitution. To be clearer, it was the necessity for the national government to have the strong ability to tax and raise revenue. After seeing the results of trying to create a functional government under the Articles of Confederation and knowing how vital a sure revenue stream was for good government, the lack of such was a major failure of that government and a major reason for the convening of the Constitutional Convention.

Finally, although I have not gotten to the chapter about Originalism, what I have read so far just henrycc2reinforces my own thoughts from prior readings – the idea that we can interpret the Constitution based on what the founders originally thought is balderdash.

First, the word “founders” presupposes that all or most of the founders thought the same way and agreed. They most assuredly did not. As I mentioned, the Constitution was a compromise document in which most had serious reservations on at least part of its provisions (which part varied by person). Further, as soon as the Constitution was ratified and started to be applied to specific issues of the day you would find the writers of that Constitution lined up on opposite sides of almost each and every issue. If those at the convention who wrote and signed the Constitution together could not agree on how to understand and apply it, what chance does discerning original intent today have?

To make this even more complicated, thoughts about the Constitution and how to interpret and apply it changed over time. For example, Madison’s thoughts from just after the ratification of the Constitution and his thoughts at the end of his life about the interpretation of the constitution changed. So too, did many others.

Given that our founders did not speak with a unified voice and their thoughts and ideas on the Constitution also changed over time, the idea of discerning original intent seems more of a chimera than a rational and realistic approach. It will be interesting to see what Raphael has to say at the end of the book.

For those Americans who are interested in the origins of or constitution “Constitutional Myths” is not a bad place to start. I know I am greatly looking forwards to finishing this book.

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Part of the problem in looking at any Supreme Court ruling, or, indeed, any government action is the tendency for people to look at each one as an end point instead of part of an on-going dialogue or journey.  There always has been, is, and always will be a back and forth between different views and arguments as culture and society changes, as legal thought changes, and as new arguments and ideas are brought forth.

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It is also not given to any one side to win every time.  Not in war, not in government, not in judicial rulings, not in life. The Town of Greece v. Galloway decision, that Greece’s town council opening their sessions with sectarian prayer is constitutional is one of those ebb times when what I consider the wrong arguments and side won. It happens. The question now becomes is how bad a defeat is this decision?

My view is that it will have an impact, as all Supreme Court decisions do.  However, it will not be a major one; no old rulings were overturned and the basic idea that it is possible for town councils to go too far in their opening prayers still exists, even if the majority did not feel, for whatever reason, that Greece’s did not cross the line.

The majority based their ruling two arguments. The first is that if only nonsectarian prayers were allowed, then the government would wind up in the business of deciding which prayers were nonsectarian and which were too sectarian. Something that arguably should not be within the power of the government to decide.

Coupled with this argument is the decision in a 1983 Supreme Court case, March v. Chambers.  6_Supreme_Court_2010In this case the court ruled that Nebraska could begin its legislative sessions with a prayer from a state chaplain, citing historical precedent going back to the First Continental Congress. An important caveat in Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion though is that such sectarian prayers “over time is not ‘exploited to proselytize or advance any one or disparage any other, faith or belief.’”

The majority in this case decided Greece council prayers did not go over this line.  I would strongly disagree with them on this given that, except for a short period in 2008 when this case first started and they invited a few non-Christians to lead the prayers, the prayers had always been heavily Christian.

However, no matter how wrong they may have been about this specific situation, the general principle still holds and has not been repudiated.

Let me also state that I found the dissenters opinions much more forceful than that of the majority.  Justice Kagan in her dissent agreed with the1983 Marsh decision but instead argued that this case was more one of religious plurality than of prayer: “Greece’s Board did nothing to recognize religious diversity:  In arranging for clergy members to open each meeting, the Town never sought (except briefly when this suit was filed) to involve, accommodate, or in any way reach out to adherents of non-Christian religions, A public meeting that begins with explicitly religious prayer aimed at ordinary citizens does not square with the First Amendment’s promise that every citizen, irrespective of her religion, owns an equal share in her government.”

I also found it interesting that the majority did not consider the differences between how prayers are delivered within the Nebraska legislature and how they are done in small towns such as Greece, New York.  When the clergy deliver prayers within the Nebraska legislature it is to the whole assembly of elected representatives.  In the Greece town council the clergy delivers the prayer to the town residents with the board members sitting on high and watching.  That is not to even mention that the sectarian nature of the prayers is much greater in Greece than in the Nebraska legislature, nor the fact that those who do not pray  are visible and their business could well be on the agenda for the council to consider.

As I said, a defeat. But not a disaster. It will cause problems, but not catastrophes.

 

Let me close this by noting one thing I found of interest. All three non-Christian justices ReligiousLibertydissented from this ruling. Only one of the Christian judges did. To me this is just another indicator that the concerns of many of our founders on the rights of the majority being used to suppress the equally protected rights of the minority were valid.  Those that have the power of the majority on their side are often as unaware of this as a fish is of the ocean it swims in. However, those who are not fish and are trying to survive in its waters are very much aware.

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