Imparting Appreciation For
I don't remember when it was that I first stumbled across PAM while surfing through the web. It was during the time in my life when I decided to lose the forced agnosticism and decide whether I believed in God, as I had been raised. Many web sites, as you realize, have excellent info, and they all helped me (rather quickly) to realize that the god idea makes no sense.
But PAM is different; PAM is special. It's not just relevant knowledge, although there's a ton of it (I spent countless hours reading the essays, etc., during my "deciding" phase). It's your attitude and the way you handle the letters from the laudatory to the abusive. It's activism without the Beltway lobbying of FFRF or American Atheists (although I support them, too); it's debate that shows your opponent the respect he deserves, including those times when he deserves none. It has taught me to stand up for my rights as an American, to defend church-state separation to the death, but to do it in a thoughtful and respectful manner.
I realized this when you called for a response to the National Day of Prayer, and I had just finished responding similarly to one of my mail lists. I don't know that I can write as well as you, but we were of the same mind. I'm positive (pun intended) that I wouldn't have handled this situation the same way before I met PAM, and I am grateful.
And for the first time I utilized BLOQ for more than entertainment. When retorting a standard "we are a Christian nation" post, I dipped time and again into BLOQ, particularly the Adams, Jefferson, and Madison pages (obviously! I've forwarded one of my messages below, if you're interested.) When someone responded with a typical list of "Christian nation" quotes, PAM was there to expose the David Barton frauds (and allow me to substitute some real Madison quotes in his place!). When someone trotted out the "In God We Trust" on money and "under God" in the pledge of allegience bits, PAM was there again with devastating retorts.
So thanks to you as much as to me, a few folks in my other online communities better realize the truth behind the "Christian nation" propaganda, and an increased appreciation for non-Christian viewpoints and separationism. And what better endorsement?
Maybe not, but this very country (USA) was founded with the bible as a source for it's foundation.
The Bible was neither the source nor the foundation of this country's government.
This country is a child of the Enlightenment, founded on principles of the exaltation of "natural rights" and the exercise of reason as opposed to the appeal to authority. The Declaration of Independence reads nothing like the Bible or any other holy text. The Bible says this is the only answer, do this, don't do that, or else; the Declaration proclaims reason and "natural rights," i.e., rights held by men even in their natural state, in the absence of society.
As Jefferson himself reflected (at the end of his life) on the Declaration:
Self-government, exercise of reason, freedom of opinion, natural rights of man. These are the founding principles of our government; they have nothing to do with the Bible or any religion. In some respects (freedom of opinion, for example), they are the antithesis of revealed religion.
John Adams said,
Unlike almost every previous government, ours did not claim divine authorship or the divine right of the rulers to rule. It is precisely because our government was not founded on religion that makes it noteworthy!!
The key Founding Fathers (Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Paine, even Adams) were most accurately termed deists, who believed in Spinoza's God (that Nature is God), or a vaguely benevolent Providence. They rejected as absurd the inspired authority of the Bible and the divinity of the man Jesus, called Christ.
Some, like Washington and maybe Adams, did believe that some form of religion was necessary to maintain the morality of the masses. (I don't think that's true, nor do I think that's an easy view to justify, but then I'm speaking 200 years later.)
More important than their personal religious beliefs, the Fathers believed almost exclusively in the separation of religion and government, or church and state, as the common phrase goes.
Of course Bush has the right to quote from the Bible in his speeches. But should he? I quote again T. Jefferson, who, when pressed by clergy to declare a national day of prayer, replied as follows. Sorry for the long quote, but who can say it better?
I would much prefer that Bush and other politicians would take this tone and avoid proclaiming national days of prayer and avoid quoting divisive holy texts in their speeches.
I further wish that we can end this myth about the Bible and Christianity being the source of our government. It's simply not true.
I close with a final quote, from the Treaty of Tripoli, signed between the United States and the Barbary Coast pirates -- er -- kingdoms in northern Africa. Apparently there was concern that because they were Muslim, there would be a religious conflict with the U.S. The response is noteworthy:
Can you imagine the uproar in Congress and in the nation today if someone introduced legislation or a treaty proclaiming "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion"? So what happened in 1797? The treaty containing this language was unanimously approved by the Senate and signed by President Adams. Contrary to popular belief, we are a more religious country in many ways now than then.
Note that Adams probably would have considered himself a Christian if asked, but he is clear in his beliefs that the Federal government has its standing solely in the rights of man, including the right to self government, and not in Christianity or any other religion.
In some sense, we do need to return to the principles of the Founders, and those principles have no Bible anywhere in sight.
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