Only a Godless person would suggest that the signers of the Constitution (which comes to us straight from the hands of Jesus, after all) meant that the public profession of religious beliefs should not be a qualification for any office in the land (including the Office of Resident Dog Catcher and the Office of Chief Rooftop Dog Transporter). Sure, that’s what the Constitution says, but that’s not what it means.
All right, maybe I’ve skated out on thin ice by offering a painting from 2009 as proof of what our Founding Father (see why it’s so important to get rid of that “s”?) intended.
But you can’t deny that the ice gets a lot thicker when I skate back over to the Declaration of Independence, where the word “God” not only appears, but actually grabs center stage in the very first paragraph in its first–and, admittedly, only–appearance in the founding document of the nation that we share:
Recall, that here the original Tea Partyers are claiming their status as “separate and equal” to the Brits, a status they assert they are entitled to by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”
Come to think of it, you don’t hear much today about being “required” by a “decent respect [for] the opinions of mankind” to make your intentions clear either, do you?
So, to review. My point is that it’s right there in black and white: the signers of the Declaration of Independence identify the Christian (i.e. Nature’s) God as leading them in their battle to the death (i.e, their effort to achieve “separate and equal” status) with Satanic Evil (i.e., the Brits and their King).
Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God
Religion? A no show in the Declaration of Independence.
The Creator makes a single showing: He is described as endowing “all men” with “certain unalienable Rights,” which include (and thus aren’t limited to) “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
All men? Really?
Do you think that included the enemy, as well?
To paraphrase one of the other presidents: I guess it all depends on what you mean by “all.”
Anyway, after the signers of the Declaration finish listing more than two dozen “reasons” for throwing off the tyranny of the King’s rule (why they didn’t just cut to the chase and say King George was an “evil doer” and Great Britain was part of “the axis of evil” is something I’ll never understand), they send their fellow Revolutionists off with a rousing reminder that they are really the Chosen People and that God’s plan for the newly formed nation is unmistakeable:
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.
That’s a mouthful, no doubt.
Makes me wish they had Twitter back then.
Notice, though, that while they declare that their power to act arises from the authority vested in them by the “good People of the Colonies,” they appeal “to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of [their] intentions.”
I don’t have a clue, but you can’t deny that they do mention “the Supreme Judge of the world,” i.e. Jesus.
And then, with a rousing assertion that they will rely on “the protection of Divine Providence” during the coming war, they close by pledging their lives to each other.
Translation: with the full knowledge of God’s intentions, they head into battle, certain they will all share in the United States’ inevitable rise to global domination.
Then, we’re back where we started, aren’t we: George Washington taking his Holy Army right up into King George’s grill and ripping the Holy Land of America from the clutches of the Godless Brits.
Twins separated at birth? You make the call!
And the next thing you know, there’s an actual country and Washington’s got the first presidency and then an unwanted second term and somewhere in there the passage of the Bill of Rights and, then, boom, GW declines a third term so he can spend time on the farm.
His Farewell Address is an amazing piece of prose. How do you sum up everything that went into waging a revolutionary war, inventing a government, leading the newly forming country through its first calamitous decade?
Turns out, Washington actually was a religious man, unlike some of the other signers of the Declaration and the Constitution. And so, on this occasion, when he wasn’t signing on to a collaboratively produced, mutually acceptable document, he didn’t hesitate to stress that, when he looked out on the nation’s citizens, he saw a largely homogenous mass:
With slight shades of difference, you have the same Religion, Manners, Habits, and Political Principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the Independence and Liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts—of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.
Having evoked homogeneity, Washington then goes on to acknowledge that it is not, in fact, the case that everyone in the nation shares the same religious beliefs. Indeed, he specifically states that there is another position–namely, that morality may arise through education rather than religious belief–and that he is willing “to indulge with caution” this supposition. Religion and Morality are essential, Washington insists, to “political prosperity”: they underwrite the pursuit of happiness, define the sense of duty, and provide the internal force that makes public oaths binding. They are not, however, synonyms.
One could dwell on the distinction he is drawing between the religious and moral motivation, but to do so would obscure the larger purpose in Washington’s farewell address, which is to advise the nation about what stance it should assume stance towards other nations in the future. The former general tells his fellow citizens that Religion and Morality define what this stance should be:
Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations. Cultivate peace and harmony with all.—Religion and Morality enjoin this conduct; and can it be, that good policy does not equally enjoin it?—It will be worthy of a free, enlightened, and, at no distant period, a great nation, to give to mankind the magnanimous and too novel example, of a People always guided by an exalted justice and benevolence.
The magnanimous example of an enlightened nation guided by an exalted justice and benevolence seeking to cultivate peace and harmony with all.
That is, truly, a beautiful vision for what our nation might yet become. And it provides us with a bundle of useful terms to listen for on in the months ahead, as the primaries plunge the political rhetoric deeper and deeper into the muck of self-righteousness and prompt ever more surprising displays of small-mindedness guided by the infant narcissist’s exalted sense of injustice.
Drill Here, Drill Now (Obama’s backside in the foreground)
Fellow citizens, don’t you think we deserve better from our elected officials and from those running for office? Does their shared determination to keep discussions of political policy at the level of school children taunting one another on a playground drive you to despair?
Listen to Washington, writing more than two hundred years ago, as he says farewell. He chooses to close with a warning about “a matter of serious concern”–something that poses a threat to the union itself.
What does he fear?
Parties that seek to use geography (red state, blue state) to turn citizen against citizen.
One of the expedients of Party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts.—You cannot shield yourselves too much against the jealousies and heart burnings, which spring from these misrepresentations;—they tend to render alien to each other those, who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection.
Speaking from beyond the grave, Washington describes a nation of citizens who feel “bound together by fraternal affection.” Today, such a vision is sure to seem the stuff of fairy tales. Doubtless, at some future debate moderated by the entire cast of The Jersey Shore we’re sure to hear one of the candidates say:
I got your fraternal affection right here.
is one of many sites that provides a searchable version of the U.S. Constitution.
is one of many sites that provides a searchable version of the Declaration of Independence.
McNaughton’s “One Nation Under God” may be found here
Rick Santorum’s remarks on Obama’s religious beliefs have been widely covered. One version of his quote may be found here
Washington’s Farewell Address may be read in its entirety here