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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!

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