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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Debunking An Email

There's an email circulating -- maybe you've seen it -- that is so replete with factual inaccuracies that it cannot withstand even the slightest scrutiny.  Here it is, with my debunking:

This is worth remembering, because it is true. It’s familiar territory, but those of you that graduated from school after the early 60’s were probably never taught this. Our courts have seen to that!

Fact: There is not a single court case which has mandated the teaching of historical inaccuracies.

Did you know that 52 of the 55 signers of “The Declaration of Independence” were orthodox, deeply committed, Christians? That they all believed in the Bible as the divine truth, the God of scripture, and His personal intervention.

Well, there were 56 signers, but we'll let that slide.  Maybe the writer of this email didn't count the Catholic (Charles Caroll, of Maryland).  In any event, not enough is known about each of the signers to conclude -- without reservation -- that they ALL "believed in the Bible as the divine truth, the God of scripture, and His personal intervention". 

So let's just focus on a couple of signers, one of whose name may be familiar to you -- Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson was a self-proclaimed "deist", hardly what you would call an "orthodox, deeply committed" Christian.  In fact, according to one Jefferson biographer:

Jefferson had real trouble with the Divinity of Christ and he had real trouble with the description of various events mentioned in both the New and the Old Testament so that he was an enlightened skeptic who was profoundly interested in the figure of Christ as a human being and as an ethical teacher. But he was not religious in any modern meaning of that word or any eighteenth century meaning of that word. He wasn't a regular church goer and he never affiliated himself with a religious denomination--unlike Washington who actually did.

Moreover, Jefferson created his own version of the gospels; he was uncomfortable with any reference to miracles, so with two copies of the New Testament, he cut and pasted them together, excising all references to miracles, from turning water to wine, to the resurrection.

Jefferson lack of religious scruples is, of course, significant because not only was he one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence -- he actaully WROTE the damn thing.

Ben Franklin, another signer, was also a Deist and held similar views as Jefferson.  John Adams rejected many fundamental doctrines of conventional Christianity, such as the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, becoming a Unitarian.

But let's turn to a contemporary historian to see what they were saying THEN about the makeup of the signers of the Declaration:

"Although it had its share of strenuous Christians... the gathering at Philadelphia was largely made up of men in whom the old fires were under control or had even flickered out. Most were nominally members of one of the traditional churches in their part of the country.. and most were men who could take their religion or leave it alone. Although no one in this sober gathering would have dreamed of invoking the Goddess of Reason, neither would anyone have dared to proclaim his opinions had the support of the God of Abraham and Paul. The Convention of 1787 was highly rationalist and even secular in spirit." (Clinton Rossiter, 1787; The Grand Convention, pp. 147-148.)

Back to the email....

It is the same Congress that formed the American Bible Society, immediately after creating the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress voted to purchase and import 20,000 copies of Scripture for the people of this nation.

Fact:  Odd, because the Declaration was adopted in 1776, and the American Bible Society -- according to its own website -- was formed in 1816.  As for importing the Bible, this happened in September 1777 (hardly "immediately" after the Declaration was "created").  The newly-minted United States was at war with Britain, and experiencing a shortage of many goods, due to blockades. There were few printing presses in America, and so all Bibles had to be imported (even before the war), and we certainly couldn't import them from England. 

Despite what the email says, Congress did not vote on it; rather it was referred to a committee.  The motion to import Bibles, by the way, won by the narrowest of margins -- 7 to 6.  Immediately thereafter, a subsequent motion was passed ordering "that the consideration thereof be postponed to Saturday next."  Nothing happened the following Saturday, and as far as historians know, no Bibles were imported.

Patrick Henry, who is called the firebrand of the American Revolution, is still remembered for his words, “Give me liberty or give me death”; but in current textbooks, the context of these words is omitted. Here is what he actually said: “An appeal to arms and the God of hosts is all that is left us. But we shall not fight our battle alone. There is a just God that presides over the destinies of nations. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone. Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it Almighty God. I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death.”

Fact:  The author here is playing fast and loose with "context".  He has cherry picked part so of Henry's actual speech, and mashed them all together.  There are sentences, even paragraphs, between each of the sentences in the quote above.  You want the real context?  Here it is.

These sentences have been erased from our textbooks.

Fact:  No, they haven't.  I just linked to them.  And how do you erase sentences from textbooks anyway?  I mean, it's a nice metaphor, but what is the reality?

Was Patrick Henry a Christian? The following year, 1776, he wrote this: “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great Nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here.”

Fact:  While Henry was a Christian (and, so what?) he never uttered those words.  It's an urban legend.

Consider these words that Thomas Jefferson wrote in the front of his well-worn Bible: “I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus. I have little doubt that our whole country will soon be rallied to the unity of our creator.”

Fact:  Um, context problem again?  First of all, those words were not in the front of his well-worn Bible.  They were from a letter he wrote in 1816.  As you can see, Jefferson, as I noted above, was hardly an orthodox Christian.  Let's put the "real Christian" quote in its original context:

"I, too, have made a wee-little book from the same materials, which I call the Philosophy of Jesus; it is a paradigma of his doctrines, made by cutting the texts out of the book, and arranging them on the pages of a blank book, in a certain order of time or subject. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen; it is a document in proof that I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus, very different from the Platonists, who call me infidel and themselves Christians and preachers of the gospel, while they draw all their characteristic dogmas from what its author never said nor saw. They have compounded from the heathen mysteries a system beyond the comprehension of man, of which the great reformer of the vicious ethics and deism of the Jews, were he to return on earth, would not recognize one feature. If I had time I would add to my little book the Greek, Latin and French texts, in columns side by side."

So, Jefferson believed he was a "real Christian" by rejecting the Bible as it was written, and writing his own version.

He was also the chairman of the American Bible Society, which he considered his highest and most important role.

Fact:  Funny the ABS doesn't acknowledge this.  Could it be, oh, made up?

On July 4, 1821, President Adams said, “The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: “It connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”

Fact:  Adams never said this.  It comes from the preface of a book written in the 1860's, in which the author, John Wingate Thornton, wrote:

The highest glory of the American Revolution, said John Quincy Adams, was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principle of Christianity

The italics are in the original.  There are no quotation marks around the "quote" from Adams -- it is the author's words.  He gives no source.  Over time however, Thorton's conclusions about Adams have been distorted into actually being a Madison quote.

Back to the email...

Calvin Coolidge, our 30th President of the United States reaffirmed this truth when he wrote, "The foundations of our society and our government rest so much on the teachings of the Bible that it would be difficult to support them if faith in these teachings would cease to be practically universal in our country."

Coolidge?  You're giving me Coolidge?

In 1782, the United States Congress voted this resolution: “The Congress of the United States recommends and approves the Holy Bible for use in all schools.”

Fact:  In 1782, the Congress merely recommended that a certain edition of the Bible, printed in America (known as the Aitken Bible), be made available to Americans who wished to read a Bible and authorized only that Aitken freely print the recommendation. Aitken was not officially solicited to print his work, the Congress paid him nothing for his efforts, and no legal statement was made by the government regarding the use of the Bible in public schools.  You can read the actual resolution here.

In any event, the United States in 1782 was operating under the now-defunct Articles of Confederation at the time.  The Constitution, and the separation-of-church-and-state doctrines it ebodies, had not yet been written and adopted.

William Holmes McGuffey is the author of the McGuffey Reader, which was used for over 100 years in our public schools with over 125 million copies sold until it was stopped in 1963. President Lincoln called him the “Schoolmaster of the Nation.” Listen to these words of Mr. McGuffey: “The Christian religion is the religion of our country. From it are derived our nation, on the character of God, on the great moral Governor of the universe. On its doctrines are founded the peculiarities of our free Institutions. From no source has the author drawn more conspicuously than from the sacred Scriptures. From all these extracts from the Bible, I make no apology.”

I don't dispute this -- it's just not relevant, seeing as how Mr. McGuffey isn't a founding father (nor, for that matter, is Mr. Lincoln).

Of the first 108 universities founded in America, 106 were distinctly Christian, including the first, Harvard University, chartered in 1636. In the original Harvard Student Handbook, rule number 1 was that students seeking entrance must know Latin and Greek so that they could study the Scriptures: “Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies, is, to know God and Jesus Christ, which is eternal life, John 17:3; and therefore to lay Jesus Christ as the only foundation for our children to follow the moral principles of the Ten Commandments.”

I don't dispute this either.  I just don't see the point.  You know what?  Of the first 108 federal judges appointed to the bench, all of them were white men who wore powdered wigs.  Does that mean we should only appoint white men to be judges, and they have to wear powdered wigs?

James Madison, the primary author of the Constitution of the United States, said this: “We have staked the whole future of all our political constitutions upon the capacity of each of ourselves to govern ourselves according to the moral principles of the Ten Commandments.”

Fact:  The only problem with the above is, no such quote has ever been found among any of James Madison's writings. None of the biographers of Madison, past or present have ever run across such a quote, and most if not all would love to know where this false quote originated.  Robert Alley, an distinguished historian at the University of Richmond, has made an attempt to track down the origin of this quote. You can read about his effort in "Public Education and the Public Good," William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal,, Summer 1995, pp. 316-318.

Madison, however, did write the famous "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments", which was a precursor to the notion of separation of church and state:

Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, "that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence," The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right....

Because Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited: it is limited with regard to the co-ordinate departments, more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free Government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people....

The free men of America did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entagled the question in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance was written in opposition to a bill, introduced into the General Assembly of Virginia, to levy a general assessment for the support of teachers of religions. It was, and remains, a powerful argument against state supported religion.

Back to the email...

Today, we are asking God to bless America. But, how can He bless a Nation that has departed so far from Him? Prior to September 11, He was not welcome in America. Most of what you read in this article has been erased from our textbooks. Revisionists have rewritten history to remove the truth about our country’s Christian roots.

"Revisionsist".  Pot. Kettle.

You are encouraged to share with others, so that the truth of our nation’s history will be told. John 3:16. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life!

This information shared is only a drop of cement to help secure a foundation that is crumbling daily in a losing war that most of the country doesn’t even know is raging on, in, and around them…

I don't know.  It seems like this person is conducting a War against Truth.

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