Barton’s Contempt for Religious Freedom

So did the nation’s Founders intend the Constitution to treat all Americans equally, regardless of their religion? A court brief recently filed by his Texas-based WallBuilders organization makes it pretty clear that David Barton doesn’t think so.

WallBuilders, which opposes separation of church and state, has filed the brief in a federal appeals court that is considering a religious discrimination case in California. The case involves a Wiccan clergyman the state of California would not hire as a prison chaplain because of his religious beliefs. California law limits the position only to Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims and Native Americans.

In a post appropriately headlined “Wallbuilders’ Narrow Notion: Religious Liberty For Me, But Not For Thee,” Americans United for Separation of Church and State explains that the WallBuilders brief criticizes a brief submitted earlier by AU in the same case. WallBuilders argues that the AU brief, which supports the Wiccan clergyman’s case, engages in “revisionist history.”

WallBuilder’s argument is nonsense, of course, but Barton should know something about “revisionist history” — it’s something he regularly promotes. The WallBuilders brief touts Barton as “a recognized authority” and “leading scholar” in American history and government because of his “vast collection of rare, primary documents.” But simply collecting artifacts doesn’t make someone a “historian” and certainly not a “leading scholar.” Barton, in fact, has no degree or formal training in either American history or government. His bachelor’s degree is in Christian education from Oral Roberts University. He doesn’t publish peer-reviewed research in social science journals, and his books are largely self-published political tracts. Rather than a “leading scholar,” Barton is a smooth-talking propagandist who distorts history in pursuit of a radical political agenda.

Even so, the WallBuilders brief uses Barton’s trumped-up credentials to justify wading into the case. After that, it’s all about promoting a particular ideological agenda, not real history. In short, the brief is a long-winded justification for allowing — in fact, encouraging — government to engage in religious discrimination.

“(T)he Founders did not intend the Religion Clauses [of the Constitution] to protect paganism and witchcraft,” the brief argues. In fact, the brief says the two can’t even be considered religions under the Constitution. Then WallBuilders goes even further, arguing that the Founders really intended only to protect freedom for monotheistic religions (such as, of course, Christianity). In Barton’s America, the Constitution affords no such protections to followers of polytheistic religions.

WallBuilders also argues that atheists shouldn’t be equal under the Constitution either:

“It is one thing to allow freedom of conscience to all. It is another to trust atheists to testify at trial or hold office. This is so because, if one does not believe in God and in an eternal state of punishment or reward, one has no reason to fear that punishment and thus, the theory goes, will be more likely to engage in immoral or unethical behavior, to the determent of one’s fellow citizens and of society.”

Got that? The guy the Texas State Board of Education put on a panel of “experts” helping revise social studies curriculum standards for public schools runs an organization that argues the Constitution essentially creates two kinds of American citizens: those who believe in approved religions and those who don’t. And government may then discriminate against the latter.

71 thoughts on “Barton’s Contempt for Religious Freedom

  1. Man, I really detest that guy.

    This is part of a grand scheme, where Barton and the other fascists are fishing for the perfect storm of ignorance of his real agenda, though this is fairly blatant, and the odds of running a suit in front of the next Judge Moore, and perhaps lucking out enough to get his day in front of his real objective, Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, an incredible pick by Alito, the assist by Kennedy, and Barton shoots and scores!

  2. Why are they called the WallBuilders, anyway? They’re determined to tear down the Jeffersonian wall between church and state.

    It is one thing to allow freedom of conscience to all. It is another to trust atheists to testify at trial or hold office.

    “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

    -U. S. Constitution, Article VI

  3. James F, you must not be aware of the fact that Mr. Barton has a personally autographed letter to him from one of the founding fathers, that specifically denounces Article VI. He prolly can’t find it right now, but take his word for it; None of the FFs would have cottoned allowing atheists to own property or to be taught to read, nevermind being seated in office or anywhere other than a prison cell.

    I guess now I’m gonna have to look up why they chose the name Wallbuilders. The double-think is mind-blowing.

  4. “It is one thing to allow freedom of conscience to all. It is another to trust atheists to testify at trial or hold office. This is so because, if one does not believe in God and in an eternal state of punishment or reward, one has no reason to fear that punishment and thus, the theory goes, will be more likely to engage in immoral or unethical behavior, to the determent of one’s fellow citizens and of society.”

    So Mr. Barton is saying ‘believers’ are less likely to commit crimes or engage in immoral or unethical behavior. In actual fact, we’ve seen a whole HECK of a lot of ‘believers’ committing crimes and engaged in immoral or unethical behavior. This dude, like Cathie Adams, has been smoking some world-class dope. He is such an idiot that he doesn’t even know he’s an idiot. He’s like the politicians in the movie, “Idiocracy.”

    In addition, apparently, Mr Barton is saying that atheists need not apply for public office or to hold positions of public trust. Ha! I’ve trapped him in his own game. The radcons (radical conservatives) are always moaning about how persecuted they are. Yet here he is saying that only believers are qualified for the public trust; thus, he is persecuting non-believers.

    And it’s true: I’d like to see one atheist attempt to run for office. A candidate’s faith always gets raised at some point during a campaign. Can you imagine an atheist admitting he/she is an atheist? As soon as the candidate’s atheism became publicly known, that would pretty much be the end of that candidate’s campaign.

  5. I’d like to clarify what I meant above: Believers are no more likely to commit crimes and engage in immoral or unethical behavior than non-believers. Neither are they less likely to do those things. Believers and non-believers alike are human and have human weaknesses and foibles. That’s all.

  6. I know plenty of nonbelievers and I’d stack their ethics up against Barton’s (or anybody else’s) anytime. All of them are moral and ethical in a way that Barton can’t even seem to comprehend.

  7. “This dude, like Cathie Adams, has been smoking some world-class dope.”

    Hey! As someone who enjoys a really good bu…uh, nevermind.

    Forgot what I was gonna say…

  8. Of course, the argument of David Barton and WallBuilders is “nonsense.” The Founding Fathers and the First Congress understood the English language and got the wording correct from the beginning: no “religious” test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States, Art. 6., and “religion” shall not be established by law or Congress or government at any level, First Amendment.

    Therefore and so help me, I fail to understand “God” unrelated to religion. What part of “God” does any court or judge or commentator in America not understand? But, would any judge dare add, “so help me Zeus” or “Allah” to anything? In other words, it is not only Barton who is routinely distorting what the supreme law of the land actually says and commands.

    As ethics professor Dr. Bill Pinson used to tell us at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, “God gave us brains to use, not to sit on.” So, in his “Ecclesiastical Endowments” essay, James Madison “Father of the Constitution,” wrote, “Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history,” W&MQ 3:555.

    Furthermore, it is not only Barton who needs to get the terminology of the Constitution accurate: TFN and Americans United, for whom I used serve on the staff, do their argument no favor when they both continue to distort the words of the Constitution and assert a conclusion not based upon the wording of the Constitution: the words “church and state” are not in the Constitution. As Glenn Beck says about those words, “Arguing with Idiots,” page 287, “They’re not there.” Exactly right! When will “Idiot” Beck stop distorting the Constitution and admit the word in the Constitution is “religion,” the entire subject, not “church”?

    It serves the cause and argument of “separation” to use constitutional wording, not words which are not in the Constitution. The “religion” commandments in the Constitution are the substance of about what America is in respect to religion: citizens of all religions and none are welcome to participate in all of America’s social and political functions. Nonetheless, the Free Exercise Clause is not a license for anarchy–actions are subject to law (see 1879 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Reynolds v. U.S.). It is opinion only which is unrestricted.

    That said, my recently published book, The Religion Commandments in the Constitution: A Primer, presents a better argument for dealing with Barton and the religion wrong crowd than does TFN or AU. Of course, I hope everyone will read it. For example: “It is the religion commandments in the Constitution which should be hung on every court room wall, posted and taught in every American public school, and monumentalized throughout America, not the Jewish commandments of Moses or of any religion, p. 19.

    Gene Garman
    Pittsburg, KS
    Baylor ’62, B.A.
    Midwestern Seminary ’67, M.Div.

  9. Those of you who know me know that I pine for the day when America becomes the Christian Theocracy so many Americans, their government representatives and some on the Supreme Court are waiting for.

    Congress replaced by Mega Churches deciding the fate of the Country. Preachers teaching the Bible as Social Studies. Only one definition of family.

    We can invade countries that do not hold Christianity up as it’s governing model (not sure which version of the new testement, but we’ll find one).

    Only allowing White, Striaght, Christians to hold office or serve communities.

    Ah! Won’t those be the days! Almost a 4th Reich if we get it right.

    Can we build “Green Gas Chambers”? Auh, who cares as long as we can rid the Country of those non belivevers.

    The sad truth is that their is always some accuracy in sarcasm.

    Ah won’t those be the days!

  10. While we are on this subject of “moral and ethical” with regard to David Barton, let us turn now briefly to one of his close associates (Brother Rick Scarborough) down in Texas. Here is the latest on radical right depredations and the church from the Correct Reverend (it wouldn’t be right to say “Right Reverend”) Dr. Bruce Prescott over at the Mainstream Baptists of Oklahoma blog. As you all know, Bruce is one of those brave Christians who tells it like it is. The first three blog articles are highly recommended:

  11. If the religious right were real “ol-timey” conservatives, they’d be going back to the day when the fore-runners to the Jude0-Christian whatever tradition offered up blood sacrifice. Even HUMAN sacrifice.
    Man, has religion EVOLVED since then.

    They really want to go back to how they imagine it as it was in the ’50’s (and for time immemorial before that, of course).
    You know, Father Knows Best, Ozzie and Harriet. Leave It to Beaver, etc.
    “Gee, Wally.”
    “That’s really swell, Beave.”

    Speaking of Robert Young, I saw a great movie the other day that I don’t remember seeing before. “Crossfire.”
    Robert Young plays a crafty, sardonic detective. Robert Ryan plays an anti-Semite who kills a Jewish war hero. Gives a different picture of the post-war era.

    Prof. Garman, I’ll get a copy of your book. This whole debate is a good opportunity for us to teach more REAL American history, the Constitution and the context of it’s creation, the rights and RESPONSIBILITIES of the citizen. etc.
    That’s what we ought to be pushing for the hardest.

  12. Good Blogsite
    I’m glad to see there’s some good Baptists out there.
    The Baptists started out as a racist organization. That’s why there’s still a “white baptist” and a “black baptist” church.
    Sort of like courthouse drinkin’ fountains in the 50’s.

  13. By golly, I think you guys have got it. Now if we could just convert TFN into a promoter and user of the Constitution’s wording, everyone would have a better understanding of what the Constitution actually says about “separation between Religion and Government,” William and Mary Quarterly, 3:555!

  14. First point: No disrespect meant, but whenever Mr. Garman posts a comment here, his screenname reminds me of Dan Akroyd’s very funny character “Fred Garvin-Male Prostitute”. Having appended “M.Div.”, I can only presume that there is a “F.Div.” in the next office/motel room from his.

    “In order for the Fourth and Tenth Circuit Courts to make a decision, they require case law for guidance, that is, in this case, they concur with Marsh. In effect, they assert the Constitution is not sufficient and “provides little guidance,” even though the Constitution plainly says “religion” is not to be established by government and even though recent case law has been very clear.”

    Why is it that Baptist minister Dr. Bruce Prescott and others like Mr. Garvin, can so easily grasp the obvious reasons why government has absolutely no business endorsing religion of any kind, while Supreme Court Justices and Assoc. and the fruitcake government leaders they protect, can’t resist throwing their brand of worship into everything? The Board of Supervisors meeting in _Simpson_ that Gene writes about for example; Why is it so imperative that they are willing to spend thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds to defend their ideological tantrums? Why is a religious “invocation” necessary in the first place? Do they reckon that Jesus can’t hear/anticipate the import of the meeting unless he’s reminded just before the session commences? Mebbe God has a short memory, so praying before you attend the meeting may not work as well, thus they must fight for this prayer, and only the proper type of prayer is acceptable, because he’s a jealous God, too.

    Common sense has no business in government/ideology, I see.

  15. Mr Garman:

    Jefferson, from whom the “wall of separation” expression originates, chose his words carefully. They may not be the words of the Constitution, but they neatly summarise their effect.

    My Baptist ancestors were not amongst the Baptists at Danbury to whom Jefferson wrote, but they nonethless were urgently involved in the overthrow of the previous system of local theocracies that characterised most of the original colonies — many of them had served prison time for their religious opinions. (My Great …[6]… Grandfather was a delegate to the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention.)

    I understand your zeal for Constitutional terminology, but don’t share your opinion that we must restrict our discourse to those words alone.

  16. Here’s a quote from James Madison that may explain where “separation of church and state” comes from. It’s not in the Constitution, but hey, it’s from the “Father of the Constitution.”

    “The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries.”
    -1803 letter objecting use of gov. land for churches

    I agree with Prof. Garman though, the best thing is to start teaching the Constitution early, and cover all of the history surrounding it’s birth as well as its evolution and perseverance throughout history.

    I went to a funeral with my Dad the other day, one of his classmates. One of the featured songs was “The Old Rugged Cross”.
    That’s the first time in a long time I felt good about being in a church.
    Another great song Johnny Cash did beautifully. “I walked through the Garden Alone”
    We enjoyed Mahalia Jackson back in the day.
    Preachers used to preach sermons.

    Now the televangelists are competing for the biggest “studio audience”, there in their “big box” churches on the interstate next to the Home Depot or Hooters.
    It reminds me of all those Nazi propaganda films of the “30’s.
    That’s what I’m worried about.

  17. Someone should inform Barton that the most religious people in history have also been the worst and most notorious to mankind. Don’t take my word for it.

  18. Some of the colonies, not all of them, did have state churches and the wording “church and state” has been used many times in history. No one suggests otherwise. However, it is the words of the Constitution which are the supreme law of the land. Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Bapitsts, for example, has no legal standing in any court of law withing the United States. The point is simple, the Constitution says it is a “religious” test which shall not be required, not just a “church” test, and it is “religion” which shall not be established, not just a “church,” but the whole subject of “religion.” The wording “church and state” is a distortion of what the Constitution commands, and until that is understood and adopted as basic argument, the separationist argument is weakened, as opponents of complete separation assert the Constitution is talking only about a “state” church or “national religion,” as Rehnquist did in Wallace v. Jaffree.

    Which is why James Madison, about 1817, as he was leaving the Presidency, wrote “Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history,” William and Mary Quarterly 3:555.

    Which is also why I recommend The Religion Commandments in the Constitution. It is a primer for understanding the Constitution as written in history and by the Supreme Court. A part of what the Kirkus Discoveries review says is “effectively argued … required reading … persuasive.”

  19. David, no honest person can deny the beautiful ways that humans have developed to worship or express their spiritual longing for God. I wish that more Christians would stop believing divisive liars who twist the words and actions of those who want no part of government colored by religion. As Austin Cline has so clearly articulated, lack of religion != atheism. Just because a school is directed not to endorse a religion does not mean that atheism will now be the standard through which all instruction must be filtered.

    New voting law: All voters must prove eligibility by correctly describing the difference between “secular” and “atheism”.

  20. This is a semantic distinction that is of little effect when conducting discussion with ordinary church-going voters.

    I would interpret “Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies..” as referring to churches (in general) and the State (in particular), with the explicit use of the word “separation” as apposite.

    You hit the lawyers, I’ll hit the voters. Everybody happy.

  21. Josh Ramsey, VD Caseworker? Oh, dear. Someone please tell me what piece of human culture I must have missed with this one. I stand totally ignorant and awaiting enlightement.

  22. Gene,

    For those people reading these comments who aren’t familiar with the publishing industry, perhaps you should mention that Kirkus Discoveries charges $350 to review a book.

    When Kirkus first started offering this paid-review service to self-published authors five or six years ago, many people in the publishing industry questioned the practice, for obvious reasons. They still do.

    Please know that I’m not judging the quality of your book, because I haven’t read it. But I’m not a fan of paid reviews, because I think they take advantage of self-published authors who otherwise have very little chance for publicity. (Some disclosure of my own: I am not a self-published author.)

  23. Charles, Josh Ramsey was another Saturday Night Live character. I can’t remember whether he came before or after Fred Garvin. You’d think the male prostitute would come first, followed by the VD caseworker.

  24. Thomas Jefferson,
    This quote’s on my list for “most witty”:

    “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

    I would argue that atheism is a religion. It”s a belief.

    It’s funny how these guys deal with the Trinity, It’s three, three, three gods in one.
    Is that 3 gods or are they 1/3 god apiece.


  25. Enough already. We ALL know the troublesome words in the Constitution and the difference thereof. But, really, let’s be frank. Is this not a case of splitting hairs? So the key word is ‘religion.’ AGREED.

    ‘Religion’ originates from the Latin ‘religio,’ or “to bind back together.” It’s the root for the words ‘ligature,’ and ‘ligament.’ Thus, religion is a tool humans use to bind themselves back together to their core beliefs and observances and with the community with whom they connect. ‘Church’ refers either to the meeting place of one particular religion, Christianity, or to the entire body of Christians. So, ‘religion’ has a broad and undefined meaning; ‘church’ a narrower one. Fine. Peachy. By using ‘religion,’ the Constitution is broadening its scope to the maximum, recognizing that there are other religions besides Christianity, religions that don’t meet in ‘churches’ and whose adherents are and can be U.S. residents and citizens.

    Religion and state vs church and state. So it says ‘religion and state.’ Why is that a big deal? I should think that what matters is the end result: whose Constitutional rights are being upheld and whose are being infringed?

  26. David asks: “Is that 3 gods or are they 1/3 god apiece?”

    Beats me. I could never understand it. It doesn’t even work mathematically: divide One by Three. It doesn’t work; you don’t get a whole number. So that would point to your second hypothesis: 1/3 god apiece.

  27. The roofers of the constitution (I get so tired of framers) rightly recognized that the United States might one day contain people of various religions, which indeed turned out to be the case. How very intuitive of those late 18th century gents. However, as a day-to-day matter in those times, the society consisted primarily of various stripes of Christians and people of no religion at all. There is a good historical argument that the latter encompossed nearly the entire population of North Carolina, which was viewed in that time and place as a magnet for the internal wretched refuse of the 13 colonies/states. Anyone remember The Standells and their song “Dirty Water”? According to some history books, that was North Carolina.

    Anyhoo, the founding father quotes of that time emphasized separation of CHURCH and state because fighting and persecutions amongst Christian denominations were the primary concern of that time. Here is where Mr. Fruitcake would enter and say this proves that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and that the roofers original intent was that their should be no national denomination lording it over the other denominations. However, as Mr. Garmin notes, the constitution that was ratified in 1788 formally clarified the actual intent of the founding fathers UNMISTAKABLY by using the word “religion” instead of “church” in the First Amendment. Those of us who actually know something about American history are well aware of the excruciating editorialism that went into the Declaration of Independence after Jefferson’s initial working draft. Words and phrases were considered and weighed carefully. It would be logical to assume that the same care went into drafting the constitution. Therefore, the selection of the word “religion” was no doubt a careful and intentional choice of words rather than a Watergate-style “misspoke.” Clearly, the roofers were not establishing a Christian theocracy with that selection of wording. It would have been a shame to have had our “rising sun” republic torn to shreds by warfare between the various Christian denominations. I think the separation of churches and religions from state is an especially good thing today because many Christian denominations, such as the Southern Baptist Convention, have become militant in nature and are fomenting verbal warfare that, in my opinion, could easily become shooting warfare one of these days.

  28. Cytocop:

    Actually, if God exists in another parallel dimension that we call heaven, the trinity might not be such a mystery. It could be some weird thing that can exist, as such, only in a bizarro dimension that our three (our four) dimensional world has no means of conceptually capturing in any meaningful way. As an example, I offer up the strange message from the alien world that they were trying to decipher in the Jodie Foster movie “Contact.” Just a thought.

  29. “I would argue that atheism is a religion. It’’s a belief.”

    Well, by all means, let’s hear you make that argument. So far as I can tell, lack of belief in the Christian God !=belief.

  30. Atheism is a religion? I’ve always found that to be a puzzling comment. Disbelief is a belief?

    I suppose you could twist it around, so that “I don’t believe in gods” becomes “I believe that gods don’t exist.” (Notice I said “gods,” not “god,” because there are so many to choose from.)

    If you’re working from that angle, every theist is a member of at least two religions. A Christian, for instance, is 1) a Christian, and 2) a member of the religion that believes all other gods don’t exist. After all, not believing in Vishnu, Zeus, Osiris, et al is a belief, right? Instead of saying “I don’t believe in Zeus” it becomes “I believe that Zeus doesn’t exist.”

  31. Charles, as a former framing contractor, I must protest… We have to fix the design of the architect who draws something that can’t exist in 3-dimensional space, cope with out of square concrete slabs, make the plumber’s mistakes work,…

    Thomas Jefferson, to support your point:
    Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a common censor over each other. Is uniformity attainable? Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced an inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.”

  32. Meanwhile, to address the question of the meaning of “Wallbuilders”…

    Those under discussion who wish to demolish the Wall of Separation refer to themselves as Wallbuilders. This has reference to the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, as reported in Nehemiah 3 et seq.

    By analogy (or metaphor) The Holy City (id est the originally Christian Nation of the United States) has been cruelly demolished by evil occupying powers (i.e. folks such as myself who don’t cleave to late 19th-Century jingoistic revivalism) and must now be rebuilt by dedicated and Holy Men (i.e. Barton & Cie).


  33. Atheism is, as I’ve always understood it, “There is no god.”
    How do you know there is no God?
    Ask the atheist that, they say, if they’re honest, “I don’t know that. I just can’t find any evidence to support “God” as I define him/her/it.”
    In other words, they believe there is no god.
    Personally I believe in uncertainty. I’m sure that exists.

  34. atheism: the theory or belief that God does not exist.

    There’s a difference between “I don’t believe in gods” and “There is no god.”

    As far as certainty, I hear you. I can’t be certain that Yahweh doesn’t exist, or Zeus, or Osiris, etc.

    How do you know Zeus doesn’t exist?

  35. There’s a profound difference between the statement “I do not have reason to believe in the existence of a god”
    and the statement “No god[s] exist[s] at all”.

    That is the difference between “I do not believe that there is a rhinoceros in my parlour (indicated by absence of odd smells, piles of dung, furniture breakage, strange bellowing noises, huge belligerent animal, muddy animal footprints)” and “No rhinoceros exists at all anywhere”.


  36. David, that is a “strong atheist” position, so I grant that one, but I can tell you that very, very few atheists would presume to know that there are no God/gods/supernatural beings. My position, and that of almost every atheist I’ve encountered, is this: I do not believe in the idea of God as defined by Christians, Muslims, or in fact any that have been offered up as praise/worship worthy. Until I have been shown evidence for any of these beings, I do not believe that they exist.

    That is not to say that they are definitely proven not to exist. So, no “belief” in the non-existence, just lack of belief in the God that is asserted.

    This is an important distinction; If someone tells me that they own a unicorn, saddle and all, my lack of belief in this assertion does not indicate that I have any “beliefs”. I only dis-believe, again, sans evidence.

  37. This is becoming the thread of semantics. : )

    Frankly, I have no problem with either “I don’t believe in gods” or “I believe that gods don’t exist” (although that second one is awkward and I just wouldn’t phrase it that way), but as trog says, I wouldn’t presume to KNOW that gods don’t exist. When David said, “How do you know there is no god,” my immediate thought was, “I don’t know that.” I also don’t KNOW that there are no unicorns, but I don’t believe in them.

    Also, as I originally mentioned, if not believing in something constitutes a “belief,” and that belief constitutes a religion, then we’re all members of countless religions. For instance, not believing in ghosts would constitute a religion. I’m a proud member of that congregation.

  38. I think the term agnostic was used, back in the day, to describe people who questioned the existence of God, and atheist for those who asserted the non-existence, or who evangelized in favor of the non-existence of God.
    While Buddhist is technically “atheistic,” it assesrts the Dharma, or “the Law” as being fundamental to Creation.
    What most “theistic” belief seems to hold is the idea of a super-duper “guy” (or gal) responsible for creation. Why there has to be a “personification” of the ultimate creative force of the universe, I’m not certain.
    It’s not like God needs to be an old ambulatory biped with opposable thumbs and a beard, if he’s not walking around on a terrestrial platform herding sheep, etc.
    This recent wave of evangelism stresses “patriarchial” features of the Bible, at a time when women are becoming more financially and politically powerful. It seems to be concurrent with a backlash against feminism; increased domestic violence, misogyny, gun-fetishism,etc. A resurgence of slavery and sex trafficking.
    To their credit, some of these groups feature an emphasis on male responsibility to justify male power. However, the teen pregnancy rates, especially among self-identified evangelicals seem to belie that effort.
    There’s also an overt as well as an inherent emphasis on “tribalism”. On division, exclusion, etc. This is coming at a time of rapid population growth, all the various peoples of the world are rubbing elbows, tripping over one another, competing for limited resources.
    If you ride a bus for long, you learn it’s rude to stick your feet out into the aisle. There’s always someone who needs to talk louder than everyone else, and he’s right in front of your ears.

    Then you get into the acceptance of malthusian economic theory as inevitable and acceptable, supported by the book of Revelations.
    You have people who are willing to compel the rest of us to accept a “literal” definition of the Bible, and then you start asking questions like “Is the “church” literally the body of Christ? Am I “literally” supposed to forgive my enemy seventy times seven, or whatever the number is, and no more?
    So how you define “God” is important and not as simple as it sounds. Which is why we’re in this discussion in the first place.

  39. Which is also why it helps to understand that words do mean things. Otherwise, for example, the Constitution is meaningless? Does the word “religion” include application to the words “church” and “God”? Of course, but it also includes more, as some of you have been discussing. For example, “Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution? … The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship … paid out of the national taxes. … The establishment of the chaplainship … is a palpable violation of … Constitutional principles” (James Madison, c.1817, Detached Memoranda, William and Mary Quarterly, 3:557.

    Lest some forget, James Madison was a member of the six member joint Senate-House committee which drafted the final wording of the First Amendment prior to its approval by the House of Representatives and the United States Senate, and he was a Founding Father, which, by the way, with capital Fs (see Websters) correctly refers only to those men who were actually at the 1787 Constitutional Convention. Jefferson was in France from 1784 to 1789. The point simply is that the Founding Fathers and the First Congress debated and carefully chose the words which constitute the “supreme law of the land” and those actual words deserve respect to a serious degree.

  40. Definitions for atheism vs agnosticism can get kinda technical and less than clear cut. While I could possibly parse for you what is meant when debating these issues, I’ll defer to actual agnostics to argue their positions themselves.

    I got enough problems keeping my own head on straight. 🙂

  41. Oh, you guys. Sheesh!!!!!!!!!!! Just a few thoughts:

    1) Ben. It’s not “Zoose.” It’s “Zee us” in my neck of the woods. We have a lot of ‘necks in my neck of the woods.

    2) Ben. On your other point about Yahweh, Zeus, Osiris, etc. Many of the fundamentalists believe in the full course serving of all the gods that have ever existed in human culture. Yahweh is the one true God. Zeus, Osiris, etc. are all actual spiritual beings who really do exist. They are either Satan himself or members in good-standing of his demon hordes who have appeared to people in the guise of being these gods throughout human history. Therefore, when Ramses II was praying to Osiris, he was praying to a real supernatural, god-like entity with real supernatural powers. He just didn’t know that this entity was not the one true God. This is why Christian fundamentalists despise Halloween so much. They think the spooks, ghosts, and goblins are all real and treacherously dangerous beings that come out to be worshipped on that night. I guess Michael Myers is really B.L.Z. Bub. I just needed to clarify that for you.

    3) Mr Garmin is correct. Thomas Jefferson was overseas as U.S. Minister to France in those years. He was aware of the constitutional proceedings to some extent by infrequent mail. At one point, he learned that they had written a basic constitution that failed to specify the “basic rights” of the average American citizen. At this point, Jefferson sent back messages urging the inclusion of a Bill of Rights in the new constitution. He was taken seriously, and they did it.

    James Madison was one of only three or so delegates to the constitutional convention who actual had a Christian theological education at the college level. David Barton claims 50 percent of the delegates attended “seminary.” He fails to tell you that the word “seminary” was not used in that time as it is today. Today it refers exclusively to a religious college. In that time, it was a more general word that referred to any institution of higher learning (i.e., synonymous with our words “college” and “university”). Being a theologian and the real overall mastermind of the constitutional convention, you can bet your bottom dollar on one thing. If the First Amendment were meant to say “Christian denominations” rather than “religion,” Madison wold have made sure it got inserted into the amendment with just those two words. That was not the case. They said “religion” instead, and that is precisely what the roofers meant to say.

  42. Charles, point taken about Zeus. That’s one of the funny things about supernatural claims–anyone can claim just about anything, without any evidence to support it, and at least some people will take it seriously. Other times, enormous numbers of people will believe it.

  43. What we’re dealing with, though, is a double track of mass psychology. One is the matter of belief and faith and having the membership in a group fortify that faith, and the other is the hijacking of that process for “nationalist” political ends.
    This of course isn’t new to America.
    Peeling the community of faith away from this insidious political movement is not going to be easy. The political movement has attached itself to the faith community like a highly metastatic tumor.

  44. I agree with that, David, but I think that unpeeling will require some changes on the part of reasonable theists such as you and Charles. Well, maybe not you two specifically, but people very much like you.

    Here’s what I mean…

    It’s obvious that most political candidates feel the need to mention their faith during the campaign. Even Obama (the socialist Muslim, I tell you!) mentions God occasionally. During the campaign, everyone just had to know what church he attends.

    Why is that? We already know the answer. Most believers are more likely to vote for a candidate who expresses faith. I think the extremists benefit from that. They don’t look as nutty as long as mainstream theists still place any emphasis at all on faith as it pertains to politics.

    So the mainstreamers will need to change that by shunning the discussion of faith within the political arena, and by insisting on separation of religion (not church!) and state, rather than avoiding those discussions. Mainstream theists–not atheists–have the power to bring about the change that could crush the extremists.

    Do you agree?

  45. Agreed.
    My respect for McCain went way up when he was in an early debate with about 10 of the GOP candidates.
    They all embarassed themselves by embracing creationism, he was the only one who expressed a belief in evolution.
    He blew it later on, of course. Now he’s totally cynical in his pandering.
    I agree it’s up to the men and women of conscience in the faith community to start standing up to the extremists.

    I don’t know if I’d call myself a “theist”. I still pray to the same God I did when I was 7 years old, but I don’t know if “He” hears me in the way that other “theists” say he does.
    I’m not a card carrying buddhist, but I lean in that direction.
    I think eventually the elements which these religions share will win out over those things which separate them.
    Have compassion for all living things, witness the miracle that is everyday existence in the present moment,
    what goes around comes around.

    One of the strongest “weapons” we have in this is to remind the bigots that Muslims, Catholics, Jews, atheists, Buddhists, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, women, gays, just to name a few…Phillipinos, Tongans,…Hindus,…etc, have all fought and died for this country. It’s ours too.

  46. David and Ben.

    I was sorting through some papers last night and ran into an old newsletter from a place called the Oregon Extension. It is hard to explain what the Oregon Extension is. Suffice it to say that it is a college semester in the woods run by dedicated nonfundie Christians you guys would love to hang out with for a few days. Don McLeroy and Terri Leo would be absolutely miserable at this place—totally miserable—because they do actual reading of scholarly works, thinking, and creative writing. The attitude is one of allowing the spiritual searcher to search without dogma, a direction, or a preset goal. Wherever you end up is where you end up at the end of the semester. They do things like read and discuss the writings of people like Simone Weil.

    The newsletter had an interesting quote from some of Simone Weil’s writings, apparently composed when she was just 16 years of age. I was so struck by this quote that I felt compelled to cut it out of the newsletter and save it. I think the last four lines are particularly compelling. Here it is:

    In my arguments about the insolubility of the problem of God, I had never foreseen the possibility of…a real contact, person to person, here below, between a human being and God. I had vaguely heard tell of things of this kind, but I had never believed in them…. In this sudden possession of me by Christ, neither my sense nor my imagination had any part. I only felt in the midst of my suffering the presence of a love, like that which one can read in the smile on a beloved face. I had never read any mystical works… God in his mercy had prevented me from reading them so that it should be evident to me that I had not invented this absolutely unexpected contact… Yet I still half refused, not my love but my intelligence. For it seemed to me certain, and I still think so today, that one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.”

    Simone Weil, Spiritual Autobiography, 16

  47. Charles wrote:

    “Actually, if God exists in another parallel dimension that we call heaven, the trinity might not be such a mystery. It could be some weird thing that can exist, as such, only in a bizarro dimension that our three (our four) dimensional world has no means of conceptually capturing in any meaningful way. As an example, I offer up the strange message from the alien world that they were trying to decipher in the Jodie Foster movie “Contact.” Just a thought.”

    Perhaps. But what makes the Christian trinity the only acceptable one, given the possibility you write above? Why not the Egyptian trinity (Osiris, Horus, Isis), or the Norse (Odin, Frey, Thor), or the Hindu (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva) to name just three examples? What makes these trinities unacceptable and only the Christian one acceptable?

    In addition, there are no less than 31 verses in Tanakh that clearly state that God is One. He/she/it repeates it “I am one….” “There is none besides me,” etc etc etc. In fact, there is no verse that so much as hints that God is not One. The ‘Shema’ (Deut. 6:4) says: Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. (“Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”) It’s as if the writers of Deuteronomy anticipated that later traditions would come along and try to make God into two or more “persons,” as if One was insufficient.

    If none of the above was clear enough, all doubt should be removed with: “God is not a man…” (Number 23:19) and again: “…he is not a man…” (1 Samuel 15:29). Whether one believes what the Bible says or not, I don’t see how it could get any clearer than that. In fact, in either the Numbers or Samuel, either would have been a perfect place for it to be written that “God is not NOW a man, but in the future he’s going to incarnate himself into a man and die, and you must believe in him.” I mean, wouldn’t a loving God want to make that crystal clear somewhere in the Bible? After all, if it’s our very salvation at stake here, wouldn’t a loving God want that known to his creatures?

    And why would God all of a sudden come along in the New Testament and say: Hey guys, I was just joking. I really didn’t mean anything what I said before. I really AM a man. Ha ha. Fooled ya! Suckers!!

    What kind of huckster God is THAT? What would possibly be “his” purpose in performing such charades? His own entertainment??

    So are you saying perhaps God has instructed his creatures in other dimensions or universes his true triune nature but for some reason has hidden the truth from us? Or perhaps “he” has hinted at such by the very existence of those other trinities I mentioned above?

    As for the Simon Weil quote, he could have been speaking as a Jew. Indeed, ‘Israel’ means to strive (or struggle) with God. Best exemplified in the Genesis story where Jacob wrestles an angel (a messenger of God) and is renamed Israel. Abraham argued with God over the matter of Sodom & Gomorrah yet God later refers to Abraham as “my friend.”

    I can’t believe we’re still on the “church” vs “religion” thing. SHEESH! You say To-MAH-to, I say To-MAY-to. Let’s call the whole thing off….and get rational.

    Yes, of course, words have meaning. Take for instance the 6th commandment: “You shall not murder.” (Ex. 20:13). Most Christian Bibles translate ‘l’ritzoach’ as “kill.” This is incorrect. ‘Murder’ is the more accurate translation. We all know murder and kill mean different things. “Church” and “religion” mean different things. The difference between murder and kill is obvious – even on a legal basis. But I fail to see the significance of the difference between “church” and “religion.” They are different but the point is: SO WHAT?

  48. So what?

    It is only the words in the Constitution which have supreme legal significance in our legal system, and the word “religion” has a different definition and understanding than does “church.” In his Wallace v. Jaffree dissent, revisionist Justice Rehnquist asserted the First Amendment restricted establishment of “a national religion.” Obviously, the word “national” is not in the First Amendment. Of course, understanding of the First Amendment would be altered if “national” were in the First Amendment. Shall we just allow Supreme Court Justices and everyone else to add words and change the Constitution? For a more thorough dissertation, see Liberty magazine:

    Because the assertion of “so what” implies something which distorts what the wording of the First Amendment actually says, allow me to again illustrate my point, as I learned in freshman English at Baylor University, by pointing out, the word “thereof” in the exercise clause gets its entire meaning from whatever it is to which “thereof” refers: “thereof” gets its entire meaning from the word “religion,” not to the exercise of a “church.” It is the whole subject of “religion” which shall not be established by law or Congress. The six men on the 1789 joint senate-house conference committee which drafted the First Amendment understood words and the use of proper English. So, when the Rehnquist’s and Barton’s of the world attempt to distort what the First Amendment says, it is correct to remind them of what the First Amendment actually states, if you want the strongest argument in Court. When we allow the “church and state” wording to continue, we continue use of a wording and understanding which has obviously not completely succeeded in court or in the public square, which is why we are still arguing the issue at the state school board level, as well as on a TFN blog.

  49. Thanks for the links and the thoughts, Charles.

    The little I know about monotheism indicates it began in Persia with Zoroastrianism, which could have influenced developments in Mesopotamia, where the Old Testament begins.

    There are many eerily similar elements to Christian doctrine and the Greek Orphic msyteries, including the Eleusinian mysteries.
    The image of the Mother suckling the child, the father/son/holy ghost , etc, the alpha/omega interface between the earth/tomb and sky, etc.
    My uncle “received” the Holy Ghost in the late ’40’s and has been with the Church of God since. They “speak in tongues”. That tradition of being “possessed” by the Holy Ghost is very similar to the “intoxication” or “madness” of the Maenads or other inititated followers of Dionysus.
    The tradition of “Satan” etc. is very similar of the early “chthonic” gods of the underworld. These were more “primitive” rites which involved sacrifice and ritual observances meant to avert their unlucky or malevolent influence.
    Buddhism came to Japan from China in the 8th Cent. and eventually became accepted comfortably alongside the native Shinto.
    The culture and religion of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan spread through the Mayan world, and probably had a great influence on the development of Pueblo culture along the northern Rio Grande. The Navaho are of a distinct northern Athabascan origin and their language and culture is distinct from the Pueblo.
    Pre-Inca cultures of the Andes, ditto.
    The discussion we’re having is important, and it’s very important to our main focus: Freedom of Religion.
    Our “enemy” are not the “soldiers of Christ” they purport to be. They can’t be, because their side of the argument depends on not just ignoring, but twisting the facts of history and science. As Charles’ Weill quote testifies, truth leads to Christ.
    Otherwise it’s hooey.

    Speaking of Hooey, Countdown with Keith Olberman had Barton featured last night. Apparently Beck is propping him.
    Who is “Satan” on that front? Rupert Murdoch. Opposition to the crimes against humanity by Fox should all be focused on Rupert Murdoch and News Corp.

  50. Cytocop:
    What kind of a huckster?
    Maybe a “Hucksterbee”.
    Hyuk, hyuk…

    Prof. Garman, I agree. We need to keep “religion” from contaminating government.
    However, the fight is really about more than just that issue.
    It’s also about compulsory ignorance.

  51. Ditto, as well, on Professor George Lakoff–“Don’t think of an elephant,” if you are serious about winning the debate regarding the correct wording as to what the Constitution actually says and means.

  52. Prof. Garman, I have already posted the definitions of “religion” and “church” above, a posting which, of course, was not read. We ALL know the words mean different things. That has been established; thus, you’re being insulting to keep reminding us they are different. I ask SO WHAT because what practical difference have the words meant? As a Jew, am I to be more fearful of discrimination because I’m not a part of the majority ‘religion’ or because I don’t attend ‘church’? You can speak in lofty professorial terms all you want but what really counts is how those lofty words are interpreted and put to use (or non-use).

    So I agree with David: whatever the words of the Constitution are, the spirit of the Constitution remains: keep ‘religion’ and ‘church’ out of government. They have already crept into government far too much, and both the Republicans and Democrats have opened the door that let them in. Why? Because voters have demanded it. And the majority of voters are radcons (radical conservatives). That’s what scares me.

    As for the trinity discussion, I was thinking about Charles’ posting. Judaism and its daughter faith, Islam, have always been unique in their strict monotheism in a world of trinities and polytheism. But just because we are unique doesn’t necessarily make us correct. To take Charles’ idea further, why stop with a trinitarian deity? If One isn’t enough, why assume Three is better? Why not a multiple-bodied deity? If more is better, why not make it more??

    As for David’s posting, yes, there are so many parallels between the faiths. Images of Mary, the “Queen of Heaven,” are exact copies of Ishtar, the “Queen of Heaven.” Even including the circle of stars around their heads.

  53. Cytocop,
    I think Prof Garman is stressing a particular, very focused strategy. If we don’t use the exact wording of the Constitution, the opposition will throw up the fact that “church” isn’t mentioned in the legally binding document.

    However, in the broader understanding of Am. history, I agree that honest study will educate citizens to the broader context of the meaning of the language of the founders.

    Finally, one of the most important concepts is that the Constitution was deliberately designed as a living institution, that change was understood to be inevitable, and that it was designed to accomodate changes in society.

    We are where we are. Religious freedom is essential to the survival of the nation. We’re all engaged on this side of the struggle.
    We don’t need to have a bunch of nitwit backwoods fundamentalists imposing their religion on the rest of us.
    PS I was highly entertained watching McLeroy on Youtube. If you haven’t seen it, check it out.
    Speaks volumes.

  54. David, bingo, my friend. Even if the Constitution had a more Christian flavor to it, that would not excuse the religious right/ideologues to extend it to mean that the US should be governed according to their reading of the bible.

    OT: I’m very happy to note that my niece, who we adopted as a toddler, has a HS science teacher who, along with the principal are fervent believers…in evolution. Whew! Now I can go back to concentrating on helping others elsewhere.

  55. Perhaps, I jumped to a conclusion when I asserted about this blog, “By golly, you guys have got it.” Perhaps, some of you do not, and some may not have read Professor Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant”? That is, words do mean things. Therefore, do not use words which destroy the essence of your argument, a point any good debater understands. For example, as Glenn Beck so effectively illustrates, the words “church and state” are not in the Constitution, p. 287, Arguing with Idiots. He is exactly right, no one can find those words in the Constitution, so millions read Beck’s books and listen to him every Monday through Friday.

    As I learned during one year at law school, it is the words of the Constitution itself which have legal standing in a court of law. It is the words in the Constitution itself which have constitutional meaning, and there is no way in Hades or in Court you have a winning constitutional argument by changing the word “religion,” in the no establishment of “religion” commandment, to “church” or by distorting the word “thereof,” in the “Free Exercise” commandment, into “the free exercise” of a “church.” Baylor freshman English grammar: the word “thereof” gets it entire meaning from that to which it refers and has exactly the same meaning as the word to which it refers. The “free exercise” of a church? Incorrect.

    By allowing distortion of the words which are actually in the Constitution, you promote the argument of the religious wrong, Justice Rehnquist, and David Barton who all assert the Constitution really does not mean what it says. For example, the Wallbuilders website:

    “The heart of our educational work, and that which makes WallBuilders so unique, is … to document the rich religious and moral history of America as well as to establish the original intent undergirding the various clauses of our Constitution.”

    “WallBuilders is an organization dedicated to … the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built … .”

    “WallBuilders is an organization dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history … .”

    The “original intent” of the Constitution is specifically expressed in its words and those specific words are the supreme law of the land, not the words of “forgotten history.” The word “church” is not in the Constitution.

    What is simple to understand is that TFN too is allowing Barton to control the debate by using inaccurate wording and “forgotten history.”

    By the way, the “free exercise” commandment uses “free” in terms of voluntary exercise, as contrasted to involuntary, by law, exercise. The Free Exercise clause is not a license for anarchy. In the USA “religion” shall not be established by law or Congress or any state (Fourteenth Amendment).

    Barton’s contempt is for the actual words of the Constitution.

  56. This is getting tiresome. Prof Garman is stressing the importance of the word “religion” over “church.” Therefore, apparently, the take-home message here is that since “religion” is the word used, then, as a Jew, I’m safe, since it is “religion” that is not to be infringed upon.

    Therefore, since the word is “church” (and Jews, Muslims, and others don’t go to “church”), then it is you Christians to which the constitution is being addressed. In other words, it is you Christians whose rights may be infringed upon.

    So, I’m safe but you Christians are not. Is that the spirit of the Constitution? Apparently, it is. Therefore, I fear for my Christian friends and family whose interpretation of Christianity may not coincide with that of those in power. Your freedom is not constitutionally protected. If you are of the wrong expression of Christianity, you are not under Constitutional protection. Think about it.

  57. Relax, Cytocop,
    I’ve got Pro. Lakoff’s book. I understand Prof. Garman’s perspective.
    He’s just saying that “religion” is the legally binding word used in the Constitution.
    He’s trying to stay focused on the right-wing’s capability to “frame the debate” by manipulation of meanings. Or mis-manipulation.
    On a different level, “church” could stand in for “religion”. This is an interpretation that issues from a “Christian-centric” viewpoint.
    Or it could be used to infer “church”, temple, mosque, or any other “religious institution”.
    Everybody’s freedom is threatened by the imposition of a “state religion”, even the adherents of the privileged sect. There’s nothing to keep someone from assuming power, maintaining lip service to the sect’s power, and instituting policies directly contradictory to the sect’s doctrine. Putting forth a simulacrum.
    In fact, that’s exactly what’s being done with “Christian” doctrines of greed, gun-worship and violence, fear and loathing of the “other”, interpreting current events to prophesy “end times” etc. which directly contradict the teachings of Christ.
    Government is about power.
    Power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
    We share the power through the Constitution. It has to be protected.

  58. The problem is understanding the definition of “religion”? Or of “religious”? These are the two words which the Founding Fathers and the First Congress used in Article 6 and the First Amendment. Apparently, they and I assumed almost everyone in the United States of America would understand the meaning of those words.

    Well then, Webster’s definition: “religion,” “the service and worship of God or the supernatural,” “a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices,” and a “religious” ” cause, principle, or system of beliefs.”

    Webster’s definition: “church,” “a body or organization of religious believers.”

    How much more clearly can Webster define what is not to be established by “Congress” or by “law”?

    Does “religion,” by Webster definitions obviously include “church,” “institutionalized systems,” and “beliefs,” such as in Judaism, Christianity, or any other supernatural conclusion? Obviously!

    The entire subject of “religion” is not to be established by law in the USA, wherein “religion” is a voluntary and personal belief, never the business of governmental doctrine, and wherein every citizen has a right to participate fully and freely in all of America’s social and political functions, within the laws of the land. Actions are not above the law, only beliefs.

    It is these definitions of “religion” which the “religious wrong,” the constitutional revisionists, and the David Barton’s of the world reject. They want you to believe the First Amendment says “church.” No, it says “religion,” which includes the whole subject “thereof.” They insist on asserting “God” in the national pledge of allegiance, on keeping a governmental “Office of Faith-based Initiatives,” on establishing “religion” in our public school systems, and of maintaining chaplains in our national Congress and state legislatures.

    That is the social and constitutional battle we are fighting and when we fail to constitutionally frame the debate, we distort the Constitution and weaken the argument. The Founding Fathers and the First Congress got the words correct from the beginning. It is way past time for TFN to understand.

  59. ;^) In my mind I can hear Louis Armstrong, …” and I think to myself, what a wonderful world….”
    “OH, YEAH..!”