OF COURSE AMERICA WAS NEVER A CHRISTIAN NATION

humor.pngOf course America was never a Christian nation.  Here is the real story.

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America owes its prosperity and plenty to all the diverse atheistic cultural groups that came together as a providential example of human reasoning and skill. These atheistic collectives combined to produce our uniquely secular Constitution and governing institutions.

Consider where it all began. The first arrivals crossed the Bering Strait, then a cold, dry land bridge because of the Ice Age.  They brought with them their belief in the Great Spirit of Logic which they celebrated at their campfires by devising efficient ways to hunt and farm.  Thus, these Indians became the first environmentalists. To protect the environment, they consciously chose to remain in the Stone Age for thousands of years, forgoing the use of electricity, plastics, and labor saving machines to protect their beautiful land and wildlife.

When barbaric Vikings from Northern Europe arrived in America, the Indians met them and showed them their ways.  Some of the amazed Vikings stayed and joined the Indians. Others returned to Europe and introduced their Scandinavian brothers and sisters to the Great Spirit of Logic. Hence, early in its history Scandinavian became renowned for its peaceful ways and near absence of warriors.

Now we go to the Middle East. Here, a thousand years earlier, long before Lief Erickson trod the shores of North America, a great philosopher named Jesus began popularizing the works of little known Jewish philosophers. These philosophers had done ground breaking work on the rules for rational human behavior, but few knew of or understood their great accomplishments. Unfortunately, generations of ignorant Jewish scribes had obscured their insights with strange notions about an angry God and multitudes of needless rules and laws.  Fortunately, a gentile named Jesus, a star student educated by the best Greek and Roman teachers, discovered well preserved copies of the works of those little known Jewish philosophers. Curious, he delved into them and was amazed by what he had found.  Subsequently, he assembled a team of fellow philosophers, and he taught them what he had learned.

Jesus died shortly thereafter, but the work he had started continued. His disciples taught others and made disciples of those they taught.  Thus, through his first disciples Jesus slowly became famous for teaching what ancient Indians had learned long ago on the other side of the word.  Humans can solve any problem by reasoning together and working together. In time, man can make his collective will the supreme force in the universe. In time, man can be his own god.

Seeing that Jesus had discovered a path for the works of man to make salvation possible, his disciples soon began to call him the Christ (meaning the savior) and themselves Christians. Therefore, Jesus ironically attained to the status of deity from his more gullible disciples.

Fortunately, Jesus’ first disciples preserved his teachings in their class notes, but most of the world was illiterate.  So Christianity spread slowly, and its adherents mixed up Jesus’ teachings with strange beliefs. Then in 15th century, someone invented the printing press.  So most of the educated people of Europe were able to read both the works of the those little known Jewish philosophers and the class notes of Jesus’ disciples.

Unfortunately, the arrival of the printing press resulted in competing interpretations of Christianity and chaos. As various groups strove to practice their own versions of rational and well-reasoned living, the old pagan institutions strained and finally began to slowly crumble. Still, many Christians sought escape from their persecutors in the New World.  Here are some of the better known groups.

  • Disciples of the Church of England, devoted to prosperous living, sought escape in Virginia.
  • Pilgrims for Stoicism and later the Followers of Puritanical Reason settled in New England.
  • The Rational Friends settled in Pennsylvania.
  • The Proponents of the Catholic Mind settled in Maryland.

The Atlantic Ocean was not wide enough.  The adherents to the old pagan gods were still strong enough in England to torment the Christians in the New World.  So the thirteen colonies, all practicing various versions Jesus’ teachings (now intermixed and strengthen by the Indian’s belief in the Great Spirit of Logic) decided to declare their independence. So they wrote up a declaration. They declared that the rights of men depend upon the rational collective will of mankind, not the rantings of those who believe in nonexistent gods.  Then, they listed their grievances and crudely told King George III where to stick it.

The rest is history.

WITHOUT HONOR THERE CAN BE NO PEACE

preamble to the constitutionThere are two ways of looking at honor with respect to peace.  Pride drives us to say no peace without honor.  In other words, unless our opponent offers conditions that guarantee our self-respect, we won’t quite fighting.  That’s a frivolous way of looking at honor.

The second way of looking at honor with respect to peace has to do with honor as a virtue. How is honor a virtue? Well, there is some ambiguity in that matter.

Dr. Samuel Johnson, in his A Dictionary of the English Language (1755), defined honour as having several senses, the first of which was “nobility of soul, magnanimity, and a scorn of meanness.” This sort of honour derives from the perceived virtuous conduct and personal integrity of the person endowed with it. On the other hand, Johnson also defined honour in relationship to “reputation” and “fame”; to “privileges of rank or birth”, and as “respect” of the kind which “places an individual socially and determines his right to precedence.” This sort of honour is not so much a function of moral or ethical excellence, as it is a consequence of power. Finally, with respect to sexuality, honour has traditionally been associated with (or identical to) “chastity” or “virginity”, or in case of married men and women, “fidelity”. Some have argued that honour should be seen more as a rhetoric, or set of possible actions, than as a code. (from here)

In our society rank still exists. So people with power, because of their pride, still demand honor. For the most part, however, we expect people to earn honor by gaining a reputation for virtuous conduct and personal integrity. At least, that’s the theory. Nevertheless, we still honor the powerful. Why? Some among us do fear the powerful, but the more serious issue is that we no longer share a common code of honor. Instead of honoring virtuous conduct and integrity, many of us will just as happily honor power, wealth, and fame.

Western Civilization once shared a common ethical system based upon the Bible. Most people of European descent understood the Bible to be literally true, and they believed all of the Bible was the word of God. During the Protestant Reformation, if anything, such sentiments about the Bible grew even stronger.  However, the Protestant Reformation also set in motion an opposite trend. Instead of the Roman Catholic clergy being the sole interpreters of the faith, Protestantism made it possible for anyone to decide for themselves the meaning of Bible. In fact, these days we can decide what the Bible means without having ever read it. Hence, Western Civilization’s shared code of honor (or ethics) is slowly dissolving into gibberish.

Consider an obvious controversy.  The Bible clearly condemns homosexuality as a sin. Nevertheless, many mainstream Christian churches don’t have a problem with same-sex marriage. Is there any practical way to condone homosexuality based upon what the Bible actually says? No, but once we decide feelings matter more than the truth what the Bible actually says does not matter. We can be a Christian and even say the Bible says homosexuality is okay.

How does this sort of integrity relate to peace? Virtuous conduct, especially as it relates to integrity, requires an unwavering respect for the truth. Otherwise, peace is logically impossible because we cannot work out and maintain the compromises that make peace possible.

Consider what a compromise involves. People meet. They discuss their objectives and their differences. Then they reach an agreement that sorts out their objectives and their differences so that each party to the agreement gets most of what wants at the cost of some objectives it cedes to the other parties.

What is the key to a successful compromise? Well, good negotiators help, but the main ingredient is usually honor (that is, a high degree of integrity). Each of the parties to a compromise has to be willing to honor the agreement as written.

The Constitution, for example, is a compromise. Because of the compromises it contains, the Constitution allowed the 13 original colonies, each a small country with its own interests, to come together as a federation.  The Constitution worked because most of the citizens of each of the colonies fully expected their leaders to abide by the document as written.

Unfortunately, the integrity of our people is not exactly what it use to be. Now many of our leaders regard the Constitution as a Living Constitution.

In United States constitutional interpretation, the Living Constitution (or loose constructionism) is the claim that the Constitution has a dynamic meaning or that it has the properties of an animate being in the sense that it changes. The idea is associated with views that contemporaneous society should be taken into account when interpreting key constitutional phrases. (from here)

What is the problem with a Living Constitution? If the compromises in the Constitution are “living compromises”, then what are the compromises? Why would anyone want to be party to a compromise that can be arbitrarily changed by the “other side”? What good does it even do to put agreement on paper if after a period of time the agreement can be arbitrarily changed by unelected judges?

We can discuss how we think the Constitution has changed, but all we can know is what something in the Constitution meant the last time the Supreme Court issued a ruling. Tomorrow? Who knows? Yesterday? Well, it seems history is just so beyond us. Only highfalutin experts can rightfully have an opinion, but consider these examples. Before the Supreme Court’s decisions related Social Security, Obamacare, or to same sex “marriage”, would any of those things have been legal? Were they legal in the several decades before each suddenly became legal? Was the Constitution actually changed to make them legal?

Let me close this post with one last observation. In a very real sense, our Constitution is a peace treaty. Search The Federalist Papers for the word “peace” and you will get 175 hits. Sometimes the writers spoke of the need for a Constitution to maintain peace with other nations. Each colony on its own was too weak to easily defend itself. Often, however, the writers also worried the colonies would fight among themselves, and they were right. Because they could not agree about the issue of slavery, in spite of the Constitution there was war between the states.

What we honor matters.

WHO IS THIS MAN? by JOHN ORTBERG — PART 3

Here we continue with the third installment with a review of John Ortberg’s book, Who Is This Man? The previous two installments can be found by clicking on the links below.

We have been going through Ortberg’s book two chapters at a time. Since Election Day is just before us, I had hoped the next two chapters would be relevant, and they are.  Chapter 5 concerns how we should regard knowledge of the truth. Chapter 6 is about Jesus’ example of grace and humility.

Everyone Needs To Know The TRUTH

Chapter 5 begins with these words.

Jesus spent most of his life as a blue-collar worker, crafting benches and tables. Then one day he decided to change jobs.

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890
The Sermon on the Mount
Carl Bloch, 1890 (from here)

Imagine. You are a carpenter, an ordinary carpenter in a poor village. Then you decide to become a rabbi, but not just any rabbi. Imagine as Ortberg describes the results of your first sermon.

Sitting down is the traditional teaching posture of the rabbi — the scholar-teachers of Israel. When Jesus sat down, he was proclaiming his new occupation. He claimed in his first message that God is a Gentile-lover ready to embrace anybody. Jesus claimed to know this. By the end of his sermon the congregation was so furious that they drove him out of town and attempted to throw him off a cliff. They resisted his knowledge.

Ortberg goes on to explain the importance of rabbis in Israel. The Jews had become the People of the Book. That book held the Jews together as a people, and the rabbis taught the Book.

As if He had written it, Jesus taught from the Book, and his disciples — His apostles — made His teachings famous. They added new chapters. They explained the Book was about Him.

Jesus taught to change lives — to change hearts — and He taught everyone. Unlike what our education system does in our secularized age, Jesus sought to instill values and morals, not just knowledge.

Ortberg cites Jesus’ final command to his disciples.

Matthew 28:18-20 New King James Version (NKJV)

18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

So Jesus’ followers did something unheard of. They taught everyone, both men and women, slave and free.

Moreover, Jesus’s followers expanded their search for Truth beyond the confines of one small Book, believing as Augustine did, “All truth is God’s truth.”

In their search for knowledge of God’s truth, Christians made their monasteries into universities. Even in America, our first universities were Christian seminaries.

America’s education system originated in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Yet oddly enough, these very same universities now have almost nothing to say about Jesus. Why? Where did we go wrong?

What Makes Someone Great?

Chapter 6 describes the difference between aspiring to greatness (in human eyes) and attempting to serve God.

There are two ways to think about a meaningful life, says Georgetown University professor Francis Ambrosio.  One is the way of the hero; the other is the way of the saint. In the Greco-Roman world, what was admired was the hero. A hero is somebody who overcame obstacles to achieve his full potential or excellence and therefore to receive status, honor, and recognition. Life is a striving for this recognition.

Ortberg, using comparisons we are with familiar with today, describes the Greco-Roman world as thoroughly hierarchical and status conscious.  Christians were an affront to such people. Their hero — their Redeemer — died ignominiously crucified on a cross, and Christians proudly served this Redeemer, slaves to a slave? Thus, the way of the saint competed with the way of a hero. In fact, even today that competition continues.

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio.
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio. (from here)

Can you imagine how Jesus’ disciples reacted to these words?

Matthew 20:26-28 New King James Version (NKJV)

26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

The way of the hero is our natural inclination. That God would die a humiliating death upon a cross for our sake defies explanation. That’s what it means to be The Savior? Even Jesus’ apostles balked at the idea. Only after the resurrection did they believe.

Who wants to be a great slave? Yet Jesus taught that we should gather titles only as opportunities to serve, that true heroism involves sacrificing our self for others, not for our own self-aggrandizement.

A Thought For Election Day

What passes for conventional wisdom from the broadcast news is that we vote based upon pocketbook issues. Perhaps that is true, but such narrow-minded foolishness is destroying our constitutional republic. When Christians vote, we have an obligation to vote for the good of our family, friends, neighbors, and countrymen. If our leaders have to twist our Constitution into a pretzel to get what we want for our self, then what we want is wrong. If we have to rob our neighbors or even our own children to get what we want for our self, then what we want is wrong.

When we require our leaders to lie and steal for us, our government will not protect the rights of our family, friends, neighbors and countrymen. That kind of government will only make beaten slaves of us all.

Jesus gave us an example of what a leader should be, full of truth and grace. He taught and served both the great and the humble with equal grace and humility. He gave of Himself. He did not steal and give what belongs to others. He gave His own life, not the life of another. When we vote, we must remember we have a duty to imitate our Savior. We can be charitable following the example of Jesus only if we give from our own heart.

PRESIDENTIAL PROS AND CONS: THE PURPOSE OF GOVERNMENT

Caption: The committee chosen to draft a declaration of independence for the 13 North American British colonies is shown at work in this 19th century engraving. The five members are, from left, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Philip Livingston and Roger Sherman. On July 1, 1776, the committee submitted their draft to the Continental Congress, which voted on July 2 for final separation, and approved and formally adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4. (© AP Images)
Caption: The committee chosen to draft a declaration of independence for the 13 North American British colonies is shown at work in this 19th century engraving. The five members are, from left, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Philip Livingston and Roger Sherman. On July 1, 1776, the committee submitted their draft to the Continental Congress, which voted on July 2 for final separation, and approved and formally adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4. (© AP Images)

We actually have as part of our heritage a document that clearly states the purpose of government, the Declaration of Independence.  Here are the key words.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. –That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…

Unfortunately, when we take the passage above out of context, we forget why men came from all over the 13 original colonies to draft and sign the Declaration of Independence. We forget that at the risk of their lives and their fortunes they were preparing to battle to strongest military power of their age. We forget they were about to embark upon a long and miserable war, and we forget why. Instead of protecting his subjects, the government of King George III just saw the wealth of the colonies and wanted to exploit it. Hence the colonists responded forcefully: “no taxation without representation”.

Do most of us (Americans) still believe that God gives us our rights, or do we believe that government gives us our rights? Given how our government spends our money, it does not seem likely. Most of the Federal budget goes to cover “pension” expenses like Social Security and “health” expenses like Medicare (see here). Since everyone likes being taken care of for “free”, there is a huge constituency such “entitlements”.

Because nothing is free, our national debt is out of control (see here).  Yet, ironically, many of the same people who want the free “entitlements” blame the deficit on defense spending, something the Constitution actually authorizes Congress to do. Those foolish people are wrong. Defense is only 21 percent of the Federal budget (see here again).

So what is the problem? Few of us spend much time studying what the Framers of our Constitution studied.  Few of us bother to read what they wrote.

Consider this webpage, The Purposes of Government. That webpage never mentions the Declaration of Independence. Instead, the author focuses upon the evolution of government. Then he describes our present state.

In more recent years, government responsibilities have extended to the economy and public service. An early principle of capitalism dictates that markets should be free from government control. But when economies spun out of control during the 1930s, and countries sank into great depressions, governments acted. The United States Congress created the Federal Reserve System in the early twentieth century to ward off inflation and monitor the value of the dollar. Franklin Roosevelt and his “Brain Trust” devised New Deal programs to shock the country into prosperity. (from here)

The economies just spun out of control?  Don’t economies spin out of control when people are encouraged to borrow recklessly, nations put up trade barriers, and government taxing and spending saps the strength of the economy? That is the fault of capitalism spun out of control?

Similarly, http://www.cliffsnotes.com provide a lame answer, What is the purpose of government, and how does a bill become law?

When you try to figure out the purpose of government, you can easily get bogged down in all of the many things a government does or should do — from defending the people to managing the federal budget. And if you ask a dozen people what the purpose of government is, you’d probably get a dozen different answers, depending on individual point of view.

That’s because everyone — and I mean everyone — has a different view of what a government should and shouldn’t do. Some think the government should control everything, while others think government should have a limited role in people’s lives. Some think that the government should be run by one person, as in a dictatorship, while others think the people should have the right to elect their representatives and leaders, as in a democracy. In fact, the purpose of government has been at the root of philosophical and political debates for many hundreds of years. Just think of any presidential debate you’ve seen: If you boil down what the candidates say, you basically end up with their views on the purpose of government. And, of course, their views usually differ quite a bit! (continued here)

What about the perspective of a journalist of renown?

Call me old-fashioned, but I still hold with the ancient Greeks who said government has only one purpose, to improve the lives of citizens. If it doesn’t, there is no reason for it, no reason at all, which is why I was a little surprised that with the nation at war, our intelligence services in a complete mess, as we just heard, the deficit soaring and jobs going overseas, the Senate decided the most important thing it needed to do was debate a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage. The House will soon follow.  (from here)

Bob Schieffer provided that back in 2004. That was back when the mass media had just begun to work up to a full-throated roar for “same-sex marriage”.

Still, we began as a nation with an answer. We knew the purpose of government. At least, we once did. So with some effort we can still find websites that speak to that purpose.

So what about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump?  What I suggest is clicking on the links in their names and visiting their websites. Then read the quote below.

But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. — James Madison from The Federalist No. 51

Which candidate do you think would most concern James Madison? Which candidate is more concerned with the acquisition of power? Which candidate is most interested in protecting our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Which candidate causes you to fear more for the sake of your children?

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