About Corazon

Thursday, January 28, 2010

R.I.P. Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn, the passionate political historian who has been a regular topic of controversy over at my other blog (American Creation), died yesterday from a heart attack at the age of 87. For many, Zinn was the voice of the "little man" who often went ignored by traditional historians. For others, Zinn represented a radical interpretation of history that ignored both the "great man" and shunned the divine. But no matter your persuasion, there can be little doubt that Zinn did add something (good or bad) to American historiography. From the New York Times:

“A People’s History” told an openly left-wing story. Professor Zinn accused Christopher Columbus and other explorers of committing genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters.

Even liberal historians were uneasy with Professor Zinn, who taught for many years at Boston University. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once said: “I know he regards me as a dangerous reactionary. And I don’t take him very seriously. He’s a polemicist, not a historian.”

In a 1998 interview with The Associated Press, Professor Zinn acknowledged that he was not trying to write an objective history, or a complete one. He called his book a response to traditional works, the first chapter, not the last, of a new kind of history.

“There’s no such thing as a whole story; every story is incomplete,” Professor Zinn said. “My idea was the orthodox viewpoint has already been done a thousand times.”

“A People’s History” had some famous admirers, including the actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The two grew up near Professor Zinn, were family friends and gave the book a plug in their Academy Award-winning screenplay for “Good Will Hunting.”

Oliver Stone was a fan, as was Bruce Springsteen, whose bleak “Nebraska” album was inspired in part by “A People’s History.” The book was the basis of a 2007 documentary, “Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind,” and even showed up on “The Sopranos,” in the hand of Tony’s son, A.J.

Professor Zinn himself was an impressive-looking man, tall and rugged with wavy hair. An experienced public speaker, he was modest and engaging in person, more interested in persuasion than in confrontation.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Gordon Wood Talks Empire of Liberty

The following is a wonderful presentation by mega historian and early American juggernaut Gordon Wood. Wood (who is my favorite historian) discusses his newest book, Empire of Liberty which is a surefire classic and a likely candidate for the Pulitzer Prize. The video is a little over an hour but well worth your time! Enjoy:

Friday, January 22, 2010

America's First Memorial

The United States has no shortage of monuments and memorials. Whether in the form of elegant architecture, massive stone carvings or beautiful tapestries, Americans have never shied away from paying homage to their past (and thank goodness).

Of all the famous monuments that span across this massive nation, one goes relatively unrecognized, and it just so happens that this monument happens to be America's FIRST official monument. On January 25, 1776 (the anniversary is just a few days from today) the Continental Congress authorized the first American war memorial in its then short history. It was dedicated to Brigadier General Richard Montgomery who was killed during the failed attack on Quebec the previous year. It was also at this battle that Benedict Arnold was wounded.

Due to his exemplary leadership and bravery in battle, Montgomery was honored with the highest recognition the nation could afford him. The monument, which symbolizes Montgomery's bravery and intellect, was adorned with a plaque which reads:

This Monument is erected by the order of Congress 25th Janry 1776 to transmit to Posterity a grateful remembrance of the patriotism conduct enterprise & perserverance of Major General RICHARD MONTGOMERY Who after a series of successes amidst the most discouraging Difficulties FELL in the attack on QUEBEC 31st Decbr 1775. Aged 37 years.

Though obscured by years of progress, this monument, which still stands today at New York City's St. Paul's Chapel (directly across from where the World Trade Towers once stood), serves as a poignant memorial to all Americans (not only Montgomery) who fought and died in the American Revolution. Though virtually forgotten by the majority of the American populace, Montgomery retains a special spot in the pantheon of great American generals.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

Here are just a few interesting videos on the life and legacy of one of America's most important figures:

MLK's "Promised Land" speech given the day before he was killed. Almost prophetic:

Bobby Kennedy announcing the death of MLK. Two months later, Bobby himself would be gunned down:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ronald Reagan and the "Year of the Bible"

Christian conservatism has, in recent years, evolved to become an ardent supporter of the "Christian Nation" thesis. Ever since the emergence of leaders like Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, Pat Robertson and others, Christian conservatism has effectively fused the sacred and secular arenas together, all of which has, for the believer, added to the legitimacy of the "Christian Nation" argument.

And the MESSIAH of modern conservatism, Ronald Reagan, was apparently a devout believer in the Christian Nation as well. In 1983, President Reagan drafted an official proclamation (Proclamation 5018), which sought to officially make that year (1983) the "Year of the Bible." The presidential proclamation reads:
Of the many influences that have shaped the United States of America into a distinctive Nation and people, none may be said to be more fundamental and enduring than the Bible.

Deep religious beliefs stemming from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible inspired many of the early settlers of our country, providing them with the strength, character, convictions, and faith necessary to withstand great hardship and danger in this new and rugged land. These shared beliefs helped forge a sense of common purpose among the widely dispersed colonies -- a sense of community which laid the foundation for the spirit of nationhood that was to develop in later decades.

The Bible and its teachings helped form the basis for the Founding Fathers' abiding belief in the inalienable rights of the individual, rights which they found implicit in the Bible's teachings of the inherent worth and dignity of each individual. This same sense of man patterned the convictions of those who framed the English system of law inherited by our own Nation, as well as the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

For centuries the Bible's emphasis on compassion and love for our neighbor has inspired institutional and governmental expressions of benevolent outreach such as private charity, the establishment of schools and hospitals, and the abolition of slavery.

Many of our greatest national leaders -- among them Presidents Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, and Wilson -- have recognized the influence of the Bible on our country's development. The plainspoken Andrew Jackson referred to the Bible as no less than "the rock on which our Republic rests.'' Today our beloved America and, indeed, the world, is facing a decade of enormous challenge. As a people we may well be tested as we have seldom, if ever, been tested before. We will need resources of spirit even more than resources of technology, education, and armaments. There could be no more fitting moment than now to reflect with gratitude, humility, and urgency upon the wisdom revealed to us in the writing that Abraham Lincoln called "the best gift God has ever given to man . . . But for it we could not know right from wrong.''

The Congress of the United States, in recognition of the unique contribution of the Bible in shaping the history and character of this Nation, and so many of its citizens, has by Senate Joint Resolution 165 authorized and requested the President to designate the year 1983 as the "Year of the Bible.''

Now, Therefore, I, Ronald Reagan, President of the United States of America, in recognition of the contributions and influence of the Bible on our Republic and our people, do hereby proclaim 1983 the Year of the Bible in the United States. I encourage all citizens, each in his or her own way, to reexamine and rediscover its priceless and timeless message.

In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand this third day of February, in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighty-three, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and seventh.

Ronald Reagan
In conjunction with Reagan's signing of this proclamation, Congress drafted the following resolution (which predated the one above) acknowledging the Bible as "the Word of God." It reads:
97th Congress Joint Resolution

[S.J.Res. 165] 96 Stat. 1211
Public Law 97-280 - October 4, 1982

Joint Resolution authorizing and requesting the President to proclaim 1983 as the “Year of the Bible.”

Whereas the Bible, the Word of God, has made a unique contribution in shaping the United States as a distinctive and blessed nation and people;

Whereas deeply held religious convictions springing from the Holy Scriptures led to the early settlement of our Nation;

Whereas Biblical teachings inspired concepts of civil government that are contained in our Declaration of Independence and the constitution of the United States;

Whereas many of our great national leaders—among them Presidents Washington, Jackson, Lincoln, and Wilson—paid tribute to the surpassing influence of the Bible in our country's development, as the words of President Jackson that the Bible is “the rock on which our Republic rests”;

Whereas the history of our Nation clearly illustrates the value of voluntarily applying the teachings of the Scriptures in the lives of individuals, families, and societies;

Whereas this Nation now faces great challenges that will test this Nation as it has never been tested before; and

Whereas that renewing our knowledge of and faith in God through Holy Scripture can strengthen us as a nation and a people: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President is authorized and requested to designate 1983 as a national “Year of the Bible” in recognition of both the formative influence the Bible has been for our Nation, and our national need to study and apply the teachings of the Holy Scriptures.

Approved October 4, 1982.
I'm no Reagan hater. In fact, I think he was a pretty decent president. Sorry, conservo friends, I don't think Reagan was the greatest thing since sliced bread, nor do I believe he truly represented my preferred brand of conservatism (for myself, I like Ike). With that said, I do have a bone to pick with this whole "Year of the Bible" nonsense that Reagan embraced.

First off, it is completely and totally inappropriate (in my opinion) for the President to advocate for such a proposal. Just imagine a president declaring a "day of the Qur'an" or a "Day of the Torah." Simply put, it seems like such a blatant violation of the church/state separation.

Second, Reagan's declaration is chalked full of historical inaccuracies. For example, the statement that the teachings of the Bible influenced the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence is silly. Where do we find Biblical principles in either document? Besides, Jefferson made it clear that he did not rely on the Bible when writing the DOI. Rather he used Locke, Cicero, Algernon Sidney and others. In addition, the Constitution does NOT mention God except for a very brief and formal notation at its conclusion.

And then of course there are these comments from the Founding Fathers themselves:
"The government of the United States is not IN ANY SENSE founded on the Christian Religion"
~John Adams, Treaty of Tripoli, 1797

"We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened Age & in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man's religious tenets, will not forfeit his protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining & holding the highest offices that are known in the United States"
~George Washington to the Swedenborgians, 1794

"Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity."
~Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, 1782

"The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without a legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported."
~James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance

"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."
~James Madison

"Christianity never was a part of common law."
~Thomas Jefferson
Now, I want to be clear that I am not a Bible hater. Quite the contrary. I agree with the founders when they said that the Bible was one of the best (if not the best) books on earth and that mankind would live a happy and prosperous life by learning from its teachings. This, however, is not the issue at hand. The problem I have with the "Year of the Bible" is that it used government to sanction one religion over another. As a result, it obscured and offended that delicate balance between church and government. Simply put, Reagan should have known better.

But alas, presidents always have, and always will, do things based on their political clout. Heck, Reagan wasn't even that much of a believer!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Mouth of Wood?

One of the most popular myths surrounding the life and legacy of George Washington has to do with his mouth. We've all heard the stories of Washington's infamous wooden teeth. The story is as mythical and popular as are the stories of the cherry tree and the silver dollar. Of course we can rest assured that George Washington never had wooden teeth. As one Washington biographer put it, "everyone knows what happens to a toothpick if left in your mouth."

In reality, Washington's teeth were a combination of gold, pieces of ivory, lead, human and animal teeth. Recent laser scans of George Washington's teeth have uncovered that most of the ivory used originated from a hippopotamus. Joseph Ellis states that they look less like teeth and more like a medieval torture device.

So where did the wooden teeth story come from?

The answer is actually quite simple. Upon completing their portraits, several Washington artists recalled the decrepit nature of Washington's oral hygiene. In an effort to obscure the unsavory truth, these same artists concocted the myth of George Washington's wooden teeth. After all, this sounds a lot cleaner and dignified than the truth.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Washington Delivers First State of the Union

Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution states that the President of the United States is required to:

"...from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient;..."

On January 8, 1790 (220 years ago) President George Washington delivered the first ever State of the Union address. His address was highly anticipated by virtually everyone in Congress, since nobody was quite sure how the Executive Branch was to work or what a State of the Union address would look like. In his speech, Washington outlined his administration's expected course of action, which was primarily dedicated to strengthening the new federal government. With a tremendous amount of help from Alexander Hamilton (who wrote the majority of the speech), Washington stated the following to Congress:

State of the Union
George Washington
January 8, 1790
Federal Hall, New York City

Fellow Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:

I embrace with great satisfaction the opportunity which now presents itself of congratulating you on the present favorable prospects of our public affairs. The recent accession of the important state of north Carolina to the Constitution of the United States (of which official information has been received), the rising credit and respectability of our country, the general and increasing good will toward the government of the Union, and the concord, peace, and plenty with which we are blessed are circumstances auspicious in an eminent degree to our national prosperity.

In resuming your consultations for the general good you can not but derive encouragement from the reflection that the measures of the last session have been as satisfactory to your constituents as the novelty and difficulty of the work allowed you to hope. Still further to realize their expectations and to secure the blessings which a gracious Providence has placed within our reach will in the course of the present important session call for the cool and deliberate exertion of your patriotism, firmness, and wisdom.

Among the many interesting objects which will engage your attention that of providing for the common defense will merit particular regard. To be prepared for war is on e of the most effectual means of preserving peace.

A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a uniform and well-digested plan is requisite; and their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories as tend to render them independent of others for essential, particularly military, supplies.

The proper establishment of the troops which may be deemed indispensable will be entitled to mature consideration. In the arrangements which may be made respecting it it will be of importance to conciliate the comfortable support of the officers and soldiers with a due regard to economy.

There was reason to hope that the pacific measures adopted with regard to certain hostile tribes of Indians would have relieved the inhabitants of our southern and western frontiers from their depredations, but you will perceive from the information contained in the papers which I shall direct to be laid before you (comprehending a communication from the Commonwealth of Virginia) that we ought to be prepared to afford protection to those parts of the Union, and, if necessary, to punish aggressors.

The interests of the United States require that our intercourse with other nations should be facilitated by such provisions as will enable me to fulfill my duty in that respect in the manner which circumstances may render most conducive to the public good, and to this end that the compensation to be made to the persons who may be employed should, according to the nature of their appointments, be defined by law, and a competent fund designated for defraying the expenses incident to the conduct of foreign affairs.

Various considerations also render it expedient that the terms on which foreigners may be admitted to the rights of citizens should be speedily ascertained by a uniform rule of naturalization.

Uniformity in the currency, weights, and measures of the United States is an object of great importance, and will, I am persuaded, be duly attended to.

The advancement of agriculture, commerce, and manufactures by all proper means will not, I trust, need recommendation; but I can not forbear intimating to you the expediency of giving effectual encouragement as well to the introduction of new and useful inventions from abroad as to the exertions of skill and genius in producing them at home, and of facilitating the intercourse between the distant parts of our country by a due attention to the post-office and post-roads.

Nor am I less persuaded that you will agree with me in opinion that there is nothing which can better deserve your patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness. In one in which the measures of government receive their impressions so immediately from the sense of the community as in ours it is proportionably essential.

To the security of a free constitution it contributes in various ways - by convincing those who are intrusted with the public administration that every valuable end of government is best answered by the enlightened confidence of the people, and by teaching the people themselves to know and to value their own rights; to discern and provide against invasions of them; to distinguish between oppression and the necessary exercise of lawful authority; between burthens proceeding from a disregard to their convenience and those resulting from the inevitable exigencies of society; to discriminate the spirit of liberty from that of licentiousness - cherishing the first, avoiding the last - and uniting a speedy but temperate vigilance against encroachments, with an inviolable respect to the laws.

Whether this desirable object will be best promoted by affording aids to seminaries of learning already established, by the institution of a national university, or by any other expedients will be well worthy of a place in the deliberations of the legislature.

Gentlemen of the House of Representatives:

I saw with peculiar pleasure at the close of the last session the resolution entered into by you expressive of your opinion that an adequate provision for the support of the public credit is a matter of high importance to the national honor and prosperity. In this sentiment I entirely concur; and to a perfect confidence in your best endeavors to devise such a provision as will be truly with the end I add an equal reliance on the cheerful cooperation of the other branch of the legislature.

It would be superfluous to specify inducements to a measure in which the character and interests of the United States are so obviously so deeply concerned, and which has received so explicit a sanction from your declaration.

Gentlemen of the Senate and House of Representatives:

I have directed the proper officers to lay before you, respectively, such papers and estimates as regard the affairs particularly recommended to your consideration, and necessary to convey to you that information of the state of the Union which it is my duty to afford.

The welfare of our country is the great object to which our cares and efforts ought to be directed, and I shall derive great satisfaction from a cooperation with you in the pleasing though arduous task of insuring to our fellow citizens the blessings which they have a right to expect from a free, efficient, and equal government.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Cooking With Corazon, Episode XVIII

Shrimp and Feta
Cheese Soup

It's been cold...REALLY cold here in Colorado Springs this past week. With temperatures reaching way below zero and rarely if ever climbing into the 30s, it felt like soup-eating weather. Sadly, I am a novice when it comes to soups (even more so than I am to cooking in general) I was a little worried that trying my hand at this dish could prove disastrous.

Happily, I was mistaken. This soup was pretty darn good:

This is my take on a recipe that I originally found on Closet Cooking, which is one of my favorite cooking blogs on the web. I call it a "Shrimp and Feta Cheese Soup." Here are the ingredients:

- 1 pound of shrimp (peeled and deveined)
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 large tomato (diced)
- 6 green onions (sliced)
- 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 1/2 white onion (chopped)
- 1 tbs. hot sauce
- 1 tsp. oregano
- 1/4 cup cilantro
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1 cup feta cheese (coarsely crumbled)
- Salt and pepper to taste

1. Heat a little bit of oil in a pan and saute shrimp for a couple minutes on each side. Once finished, remove shrimp and set aside.
2. Add garlic and saute in pan for about 1 minute.
3. Add the tomato, green onion and white onion and saute for 3-5 minutes.
4. Add the shrimp, chicken stock, herbs, cilantro, oregano and hot sauce to pan. Season with salt and pepper and simmer for 10-15 minutes minutes.
5. Remove from heat and gently mix in the feta cheese.
6. SCARF!!!

This is a good soup for those who like shrimp. The cheese adds a nice creamy texture and the herbs and spices give it just enough of zing to compliment the shrimp.

American Exodus and Providentialism: A Different Perspective

Absalom Jones and the
Thanksgiving Sermon of 1808

Fellow contributor, Ray Soller of my other blog (American Creation) has effectively pointed out in one his older post, that a large number of American colonists, thanks in part to the sermons of their various preachers, began to think of their subjugation to British rule as being equal to that of the ancient children of Israel during their enslavement in Egypt. For the pious Puritans, the "American Exodus" to the "New World" essentially brought with it a "deliverance" that equaled that of Moses in biblical times. John Winthrop's proclamation of Massachusetts Bay as a "shining city on a hill" was certainly reminiscent of America as a second Jerusalem of sorts. With the arrival of the American Revolution, this doctrine was taken to the next level, as American providentialism began to emerge as God's one and only true beacon of hope in the eyes of many American colonists.

While there is no debating the profound impact that these statements made on the American populace, it is important for us to remember that American providentialism was seen in a very different light by the countless numbers of African Americans, who gained neither freedom nor deliverance as a result of the American Revolution. Instead, African slaves were forced to continue in their existence as chattel labor, with little more than a faint hope for a future "exodus" from bondage.

Such an exodus of sorts was met in 1808 when the Constitution, after its twenty-year sanctioning of the slave trade expired, making the importation of slaves to the United States illegal. In particular, one former slave-turned-preacher was able to capture the exhilaration of the occasion in his January 1808 sermon he entitled, A Thanksgiving Sermon. Absalom Jones, a former Philadelphia slave who was eventually able to purchase freedom for both himself and his wife, had emerged in the latter part of the eighteenth-century as one of Philadelphia's finest Black preachers. Following the segregation of Black churches in Philadelphia in 1786, Jones founded St. Thomas African Episcopal Church, which emerged as the most powerful Black congregation in the state.

In this particular sermon, Jones points to a particular brand of providentialism, which was completely unique from the rest of the American citizenry. In this brand of providentialism, Jones proclaims the exodus of his African brothers and sisters from the chains of slavery as equal to that of the children of Israel during the time of Moses:
The history of the world shows us, that the deliverance of the children of Israel from their bondage, is not the only instance, in which it has pleased God to appear in behalf of oppressed and distressed nations, as the deliverer of the innocent, and of those who call upon his name. He is as unchangeable in his nature and character, as he is in his wisdom and power...And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their task-masters; for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians.
As opposed to America's providential destiny, which placed Great Britain in the role of evil oppressor and the colonists as subjugated slaves, Jones' sermon appropriately casts the American and British citizenry in the role of the oppressive Egyptians of biblical times:
Our God has seen masters and mistresses, educated in fashionable life, sometimes take the instruments of torture into their own hands, and, deaf to the cries and shrieks of their agonizing slaves, exceed even their overseers in cruelty. Inhuman wretches! though You have been deaf to their cries and shrieks, they have been heard in Heaven. The ears of Jehovah have been constantly open to them: He has heard the prayers that have ascended from the hearts of his people; and he has, as in the case of his ancient and chosen people the Jews, come down to deliver our suffering country-men from the hands of their oppressors. He came down into the United States, when they declared, in the constitution which they framed in 1788, that the trade in our African fellow-men, should cease in the year 1808: He came down into the British Parliament, when they passed a law to put an end to the same iniquitous trade in May, 1807...

Dear land of our ancestors! thou shalt no more be stained with the blood of thy children, shed by British and American hands: the ocean shall no more afford a refuge to their bodies, from impending slavery: nor shall the shores of the British West India islands, and of the United States, any more witness the anguish of families, parted for ever by a publick sale
After successfully expounding upon the plight of his fellow brethren, Reverend Jones goes on to plead to God for further emancipation and to exhort his congregation to humbly submit to the laws of God, as was done in the days of the Jews:
The Jews, after they entered the promised land, were commanded, when they offered sacrifices to the Lord, never to forget their humble origin; and hence, part of the worship that accompanied their sacrifices consisted in acknowledging, that a Syrian, ready to perish, was their father: in like manner, it becomes us, publickly and privately, to acknowledge, that an African slave, ready to perish, was our father or our grandfather. Let our conduct be regulated by the precepts of the gospel; let us be sober minded, humble, peaceable, temperate in our meats and drinks, frugal in our apparel and in the furniture of our houses, industrious in our occupations, just in all our dealings, and ever ready to honour all men. Let us teach our children the rudiments of the English language, in order to enable them to ac-quire a knowledge of useful trades; and, above all things, let us instruct them in the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, whereby they may become wise unto salvation.
Interestingly enough, Jones then concludes his sermon by petitioning God in prayer for the further blessings of the very nation that has enslaved his African kindred. Certainly this serves as evidence of the fact that a number of Africans, despite their terribly oppressive circumstances, were beginning to embrace an American providential destiny, which was inclusive of much more that European Whites:
We pray, O God, for all our friends and benefactors, in Great Britain, as well as in the United States: reward them, we beseech thee, with blessings upon earth...We implore thy blessing, O God, upon the President, and all who are in authority in the United States. Direct them by thy wisdom, in all their deliberations.
With the fires of revolution still burring hot in the memories of most, former slaves like Absalom Jones and others seized the opportunity to ensure that their voices were heard as well. Though slavery would continue for several more decades, the African American view of American providentialism would continue to evolve and grow. And while many particular components of this providentialism differed from the mainstream beliefs regarding America's Godly destiny, the "American Exodus" of African slaves became an invaluable component that would continue to influence the abolitionist movements into the nineteenth-century.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Constitution Will Hang By a Thread? Not So Fast

In an article from a couple days ago, fellow blogger Jon Rowe (of my other blog) posted a video from one Rex Rammell, a self-proclaimed "Christian Nation" advocate whose Mormon faith has convinced him that the "Constitution will be hanging by a thread" and that the Mormon faithful will one day restore it to its true glory:

As a devout Mormon myself I have heard this "Constitution hanging by a thread" story since I was a little boy. For obvious reasons it is quite popular amongst those who support the uber-"Christian Nation" stance that some Mormons (and other Christians) embrace.

Known unofficially as the "White Horse Prophesy," generations of Mormons have quoted this alleged revelation from Joseph Smith in which he supposedly prophecies that America will be teetering on the brink of destruction and that the "Constitution will hang by a thread." Supposedly, it is at that time (obviously a time when the world is almost at its end) that the Mormon elders will triumphantly restore the Constitution to its former and intended glory.

Well, in light of Mr. Rammell's recent comments (Rammell is also running for Gov. of Idaho in case you didn't know) the LDS Church released the following:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is politically neutral and does not endorse or promote any candidate, party or platform. Accordingly, we hope that the campaign practices of political candidates would not suggest that their candidacy is supported by or connected to the church.

The so-called 'White Horse Prophecy' is based on accounts that have not been substantiated by historical research and is not embraced as Church doctrine.
That's right! The Mormon Church does NOT support this alleged (and historically unsubstantiated) story. And as a Mormon myself I am glad to hear it!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"Prefer Christians for their Rulers"

John Jay: The Quintessential Christian
Nation Advocate of the 18th Century
by Brad Hart

Not all of our founding fathers were "theistic rationalists." In fact, some were quite orthodox in their views. Though I still maintain my belief that the majority of the founders held to a more unitarian faith in divinity, I cannot deny that some believed quite passionately in their orthodox faith.

Take for instance John Jay, co-author of the Federalist Papers, President of the American Bible Society, and our nation's first Supreme Court Chief Justice. Jay, who was very much a devout Episcopalian, kept most of his religious beliefs private during the course of his life. However, when Jay did speak out about religion it was very easy to know where he stood. For example, Jay was so insistent on keeping with the traditional orthodoxy of the Anglican/Episcopal faith that he was among the minority who sought for the approval of the Archbishop of Canterbury when it came to the ordination of new Episcopal bishops.

I am surprised that more Christian nation apologists do not invoke the legacy of John Jay. In my brief readings of Jay's letters, etc. I have found him to be a powerful supporter of Christian orthodoxy and of the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation. And though I disagree with Jay's conclusions, the fact remains that he was a powerfully influential Founding Father who stuck to his guns on this issue.

I guess it comes as no surprise to me that Wallbuilders has jumped all over the records of John Jay, and who can blame them. Jay is arguably one of the more appealing founders for the Christian nation crowd. Just take for example the infamous quote Jay made on the subject of voting:
"Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty as well as the privledge and interest of our Christian Nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."
In addition, Jay's words on America's providential destiny to precede the second coming of Jesus Christ is sure to excite Christian Nation advocates everywhere:
There is certainly reason to suspect, that as great providential events have usually been proceded and introduced by the intervention of providential means to prepare the way for them, so the great event in question will be preceded and introduced in like manner. It is, I think, more than probable, that the unexpected and singular co-operation, and the extraordinary zeal and efforts of almost all Christian nations to extend the light and knowledge of the gospel, and to inculcate its doctrines, are among those preparatory means. It is the duty of Christians to promote the prevalence and success of such means, and look forward with faith and hope to the result of them.
And while speaking of the differences between Europe and America, Jay wrote:
I sometimes flatter myself that Providence, in compassion to the afflicted of these countries, will continue to leave America in a proper state to be an asylum to them.
And finally:
To what events this country may in future be instrumental, is indeed uncertain, but I cannot persuade myself that Providence has created such a nation, in such a country, to remain like dust in the balance of others.
So while I agree that the majority of our founders were more unitarian and less orthodox in their faith than Jay, it would be a mistake to categorize ALL the founders as such. Yes, the majority of founders did not agree with Jay's "Christian nation" argument (nor do I) but that doesn't make him irrelevant. For in Jay, the "Christian Nation" crowd has a powerful advocate.

"America is a Christian Nation, But So is Hell": Gary Willis on Religion in America

Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian Garry Wills discusses separation of church and state. Excellent video.

Monday, January 4, 2010

America was PLANTED as a Christian Nation but not FOUNDED as One

Historian Frank Lambert
on the Christian Nation

In his book The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America, historian Frank Lambert of of Purdue University discusses the different religious sentiments surrounding America's planting -- i.e. the Puritans, early colonists -- and America's founding -- i.e the Founding Fathers. In the introduction to his book Lambert writes:
In 1639 a group of New England Puritans drafted a constitution affirming their faith in God and their intention to organize a Christian Nation...The opening lines express the framers' trust in God and their dependence on his guidance: "Forasmuch as it hath pleased the All-Mighty God by the wise disposition of his dyvine providence so to order and dispose of things...[and] well knowing where the people are gathered togather the word of God requires that to mayntayne the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affayres of the people." Moreover, the aim of the government so instituted was religious: "to maytntayne and presearure the liberty and purity of the gospell of our Lord Jesus which we now professe, as also to disiplyne of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said gospell is now practiced amongst us."


Those Puritan fathers exemplify two of the most enduring views of colonial America: America as a haven of religious freedom, and America as a Christian Nation. First, the Puritan settlers had fled England, where Archbishop William Laud had persecuted them because they refused to subscribe to religious beliefs and practices they deemed to be unscriptural. Now in the American wilderness, they were free to worship according to the dictates of their consciences, governed only by the rule of God's word. And, second, those Puritan Fathers organized a Christian State. They established their Congregational churches as the official religion of Connecticut, supported by tax revenues and defended by the coercive arm of government. The churches defined "heretics" and the state punished them, even to the point of executing those found guilty of "direct, express, presumptuous, or high-minded blasphemy." Moreover, citizenship in the state was directly tied to one's religious faith. The authors of the Fundamental Orders meant for only godly Christians to rule, and intention embodied in the oath of the governor, which committed the chief magistrate to govern "according to the rule and word of God."

One hundred fifty years later, George Washington took another oath, swearing to "faithfully execute the office of President of the United States" and pledging to the best of his ability to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." The constitution that he swore to uphold was the work of another group of America's progenitors, commonly known as the "Founding Fathers," who in 1787 drafted a constitution for a new nation. But unlike the work of the Puritan Fathers, the federal constitution made no reference whatever to God or divine providence, citing as its sole authority "the people of the United States." Further, its stated purposes were secular, political ends: "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty." Instead of building a "Christian Commonwealth," the supreme law of the land established a secular state. The opening clause of its first amendment introduced the radical notion that the state had no voice concerning matters of conscience: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." In debating the language of the amendment, the first House of Representatives rejected a Senate proposal that would have made possible the establishment of a Christian religion of of some aspect of Christian orthodoxy. There would be no Church of the United States. Nor would America represent itself to the world as a Christian Republic.

Just as 1639 represents a defining moment in Americans' religious heritage, so does 1787. While the Puritan Fathers gave us the symbols of America as a haven of religious freedom and America as a Christian Nation, the Founding Fathers provided enduring legacies that define the place and role of religion in American society. Their bequests were the ideas of separation of church and state and the free exercise of religion extended to people of all faiths or no faith. Their achievement can be understood only against the backdrop of the American Revolution. Clearly, they were the architects of a political revolution, throwing off constitutional monarchy for a democratic republic. But they were also framers of a religious revolution, rejecting the idea of an established or official religion, which was the organizing principle informing church-state relations in the vast majority of countries, as indeed it had been in most of the American colonies. Never before had there been a total separation of religious and political institutions. But the ban on establishment was not the Founders' only legacy in church-state matters. Regarding religion as a natural right that the governed never surrendered to government, they prohibited any interference in citizens' right to the free exercise of religion.


During the last two decades of the twentieth century and continuing into the twenty-first, Americans have engaged in a culture war that informs the country's discourse in the new millennium. On one side of the debate are those who insist that has been since its conception a "Christian Nation," and that somewhere along the way, as such it has lost its bearings. They blame "liberals' for not only turning their backs on the country's religious heritage but openly attacking those who embrace "traditional" Christian values. To support their claims, these conservatives often conflate planters -- such as the New England Puritans and the Chesapeake Anglicans -- and the Founders into one set of forefathers who came to America to plant "true" Christianity and to practice it in freedom. Further, they insist that the Founders never intended a separation of church and state.


Each side of the cultural debate finds ample scholarly support for its position. Much of the work produced by legal scholars and constitutional historians focuses on the first amendment and the Founders' "original intent," concerning the dividing line between church and state...Accomodationists oppose such a restrictive reading of Church-state relations and charge separationists with assigning the federal government an anti religious position. They believe the founders recognized the importance of religion in society and intended for the government to support religious instruction and practice as long as it favored no particular sect.
Personally, I couldn't agree more with Dr. Lambert's assessment of the "Christian Nation" debate. As he states in the final paragraph above, both sides in this "tug-o-war" are armed to the teeth with quotations, historical examples and other scholarly material to keep this fight raging on for another 300 years (which I guess is good news for this blog!). Having debated this issue ad nauseum with a various assortment of people, I have witnessed first hand just how emotional and passionate this debate can become. The influx of partisan politics and passionate religion have, in many cases, distorted the basic historical truths that surround this issue.

So where does all of this leave us?

Having read Lambert's introduction several times (I believe it to be quite insightful) in conjunction with Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities, I am convinced that the "Christian Nation" thesis has generated a palpable and legitimate movement that can and should be considered an imagined community. If we stop and set aside the arguments for and against the legitimacy/absurdity of the Christian Nation thesis and simply see it as a perceived political/religious movement to define a nation's character, then the idea of America as an imagined "Christian Nation" community comes to life.

Once we consider this movement in this light, the arguments for or against its legitimacy become irrelevant. After all, many if not most nations -- i.e. imagined communities -- are and were constructed under false beliefs. Germany's construct for their imagined community consisted in their shared belief that to be German was, among other things, to be pure, Arian, superior in battle, etc. A number of Islamic nations construct their sense of "nation-ness" by relying on the teachings of Islam to exalt their imagined community over the rest. Heck, we could even go back to the Romans and see that their empire was, at least in a small sense, an imagined community. Their shared belief in Romulus and Remus as the God-like founders of their society gave Rome a sense of superiority over their non-Roman neighbors. Simply put, the basic "building blocks" of a nation, in this case the "Christian Nation" do not have to be true in order to legitimize and advance the cause of an imagined community.

Friday, January 1, 2010

John and Abigail Adams' New Year Salute

Hello 2010!!!

New Year's Day is finally upon us, and there's no better way for this blog to recognize this holiday's "out with the old, in with the new" sentiment of rejuvenation and rebirth than to recall the words of John & Abigail Adams!

Take for example John's sentiments of optimism and determination from January 1, 1779. At the height of the Revolution, John Adams wrote the following to his wife Abigail:

I wish you an happy new Year, and many happy Years -- and all the Blessings of Life. Who knows but this Year may be more prosperous for our Country than any We have seen. For my own Part I have hopes that it will. Great Blessings are in store for it, and they may come this Year as well as another. You and I however must prepare our Minds to enjoy the Prosperity of others not our own. In Poverty and Symplicity, We shall be happy, whenever our Country is so.
Abigail demonstrated the same optimism and determination in 1797, as her husband prepared to take office as the second President of the infant United States (filling the shoes of the legendary George Washington), when she wrote:
"O Blindness to the future kindly given
That each may fill the circle marked by Heaven."

The new Year opens upon us with new Scenes of Life before us. What are to be the trials the troubles and vexations of it, are wisely withheld from our view.

The universal cause
Acts not by partial, but by General laws
Who sees and follows that great Scheme the best
Best knows the blessing, and will most be blest.

To him who sits Supreem let us commit the hour, the day the Year, and fearless view the whole. These need but thinking right, and meaning well, and may this ensure to you, the Souls calm Sun Shine, and the Heart felt say.
A beautiful poem to say the least!

May you all have a happy and prosperous 2010!!!