I want to thank everyone who still reads my blog on a daily basis for bearing with me on another one of my week-long absences. My day job requires me to do some traveling, and since this doesn’t make me any money I have to organize my priorities appropriately. I also had a chance to do a little socializing while I was away, which was nice. Granted, it was only in the form of going out to lunch during work hours, but since the only living things I otherwise interact with are my wife and our cats, I will gladly take whatever I can get.
Early in the week, I had the opportunity to grab lunch with Jack, one of my co-workers. I’ll warn you that I’m paraphrasing based on memory, but the overall theme of the conversation remains intact:
Jack: So I saw a really interesting movie this past weekend. It was on a limited release, so it didn’t hit a lot of theaters, but I am so glad I was able to see it because I feel like it really opened my eyes.
Me: Cool … what’s the movie?
Jack: “Monumental”. It’s a film made by Kirk Cameron – the guy from Growing Pains. He’s apparently a born again Christian now.
Me: *creeping sense of dread* Umm, look … you might not want to take anything that guy says at face value. I know what he does with evolutionary theory and Big Bang Cosmology, and so say it’s intellectually disingenuous doesn’t even begin to do it justice.
Jack: Well he spoke with actual historians, so it’s factual. His film tells the story of the journey that the Puritans made to America. There were so many things I just didn’t know about the hardships they faced and the kind of sacrifices they made to come here in the face of religious persecution. [insert telling of the Mayflower voyage here.] I mean, can you think of any other people who had to go through what they did?
Me: *pauses* How about the Jews? They’ve been persecuted and kicked out of almost every country for the last 2000 years. Never mind the Holocaust.
Jack: Yeah, I suppose … but these people had nothing to go to. They had to start completely over again, and it forced you to consider what inspired them to keep going and press on in the face of such adversity.
Me: Again … the Jews come to mind. And they didn’t even have the luxury of going to a place that was essentially untouched by Western civilization. They were forced to go from country to country where people hated them and tried to kill them off.
Jack: But there was something unique about the Puritans. They had nothing to get them started … and I just keep thinking about what inspired them to make a life for themselves in the New World. I also have to think about how many of us would be able to do that today?
Me: I don’t think that kind of resolve is needed today, at least for most of us in developed nations. If you want to see the will to survive like that, you should probably look in places like Africa and Afghanistan. We essentially are the adversity over there, in many ways.
Jack: I also wonder how it is that we were so successful in creating the nation we have today. How is it we were so successful, unless our model of government based on the Puritan foundations worked?
Me: I think constant warfare against a hopelessly outmatched enemy combined with the nationalism of Manifest Destiny helped a lot in that regard. Plus smallpox.
Jack: The movie also says that our society is in a state of decay, and how the Puritans provided a societal model for us to live by … and getting back to that can help us fix a lot of the problems we’re facing today. I mean, there are people in this country who want to take “In God We Trust” off of our currency …
Me: It doesn’t really belong there, based on the historical interpretation of the First Amendment and all …
Jack: … and take public prayer out of our schools …
Me: … again, the First Amen-
Jack: … and there are even some people who go so far as to day that the Founding Fathers didn’t believe in God! They’re re-writing history!
Me: I’ve always been left with the impression that they were more Deist than anything else. They certainly weren’t atheist, but to say they were devout Christians is a bit of a stretch. But even if they were, they wrote our Constitution to prevent any one religion to exert undue influence or control over another. That part’s pretty clear.
Jack: But you do have to admit that our society is based on Judeo-Christian values, right?
Here is where I considered delving into the problem of how we cherry pick our way into convincing ourselves that the bible provides a basis for our morality, when essentially every society has (admittedly varying) punishments for murder, theft, adultery, and the like. It only makes sense, since those societies with some semblance of internal cohesion enforced by a code of laws are likely to survive against outside forces more frequently and successfully than those without.
Unfortunately, we had to head back to the office and I really didn’t feel like dragging this argument into the workplace any more than it had been already. So, I just spent the walk back briefly explaining why I didn’t feel as if I had any reason to believe in a God, he explained why he did, and that was that. I obviously didn’t think I was going to change any minds on the issue, so I just let it go once we got back to our desks.
But … the conversation did bring up a few things that I needed to look up … especially those “facts” from the “historians” in the movie about Puritan society, as well as the claims that the Founding Fathers were devout Christians. This is one of the problems I have engaging in any live discussion with someone over things like this. Even though I essentially knew they weren’t true, I had no way to show it. Sadly, the discussion is over and probably won’t be broached again. It’s a shame, since the last thing I would want is someone to just accept Kirk Cameron and his propaganda pieces without doing his or her own research to verify their claims. So with that, let’s begin:
“The Puritans created a model society that we need to emulate today!”
In the sense that they were fairly generous with personal liberties and freedoms – provided they were still in agreement with the word of the Bible, this is basically true. The Massachusetts Body of Liberties from 1641 lists a comprehensive set of rights to which each person – free or not – was entitled. However there was still no separation between the Church and State; in fact, punishment was both brutal and rampant throughout the Puritan colonies for a wide range of offenses. Biblical sins like adultery, sodomy (homosexuality), and fornication were punishable by death, but there’s little evidence that executions were carried out in favor of whippings, fines, branding, banishment, or some combination of the aforementioned.
Let’s not forget the Salem Witch trials, focused almost predominately on women, based on nothing but hearsay, and motivated by greed, ignorance, fear, and religious fanaticism. Truly a model society.
I admit I have not seen this movie, but the message taken from the film by my co-worker (a devout Mormon) was that we would be best served by going back to their brand of society to halt our current “decline”. Seeing how many of the liberties granted by the Puritans back then are – more or less – similar to those enshrined in our Constitution and essentially remain so today, I can only conclude that the “model” to which we need to return has to do exclusively with their Christian moral code.
… one that, as I said, involves a great deal of corporal punishment for sexual and spiritual offenses.
Sounds a lot like Islamic Sharia law to me. Makes sense, since it’s all about control any way you look at it.
“The Founding Fathers were Christians!”
Again, not exactly. I’m not going to go through the entire list of founding fathers (at least not now), so I’ll just do two:
First, George Washington has always been a little difficult to pin down because he wasn’t exactly vocal about his personal take on religion. He made public references to “Providence” and the “Divine Hand” – strongly suggesting he was Deist – but usually in references to its interference and influence in human events, which suggests he might have been something else entirely. Probably the best and most honest answer one could give is that it’s not very clear what he was, and that he considered it a private issue. As a political figure, he attended numerous churches both before and during his presidency, but that might have only been to ensure his ability to walk in the right social and political circles of 18th century society. Going to church was simply what you did. However, two of his pastors – Bishop White and Reverend Abercrombie, didn’t have anything to offer up as proof of Washington’s devotion to the Christian faith, and they knew the guy:
The Rev. Parker, to whom Bishop White’s letter is addressed, was, it seems, anxious to obtain some evidence that Washington was a believer in Christianity, and, not satisfied with the bishop’s answer, begged him, it would appear, to tax his mind for some fact that would tend to show that Washington was a believer. In a letter dated Dec. 21, 1832, the bishop writes as follows:
“I do not believe that any degree of recollection will bring to my mind any fact which would prove General Washington to have been a believer in the Christian revelation further than as may be hoped from his constant attendance upon Christian worship, in connection with the general reserve of his character” (“Memoir of Bishop White,” p. 193).
But if Bishop White cherished a faint hope that Washington had some faith in the religion of Christ, Dr. Abercrombie did not. Long after Washington’s death, in reply to Dr. Wilson, who had interrogated him as to his illustrious auditor’s religious views, Dr. Abercrombie’s brief but emphatic answer was:
“Sir, Washington was a Deist.”
As for Jefferson, that one’s a little more clear cut. Like Washington, he professed a belief in a god, but did not buy into the claim that Jesus himself was anything more than a human being. Granted, a human being who could be considered a prime example of character and moral standing, but nothing divine or supernatural. From his 1787 letter to his nephew, he wrote the following:
Fix Reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason than of blindfolded fear. … Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it end in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others which it will procure for you. — (Jefferson’s Works, Vol. ii., p. 217)
In addition, his letter to the Danbury Baptists shows the intent – in part – behind the First Amendment in terms of the state’s relationship with religion:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.
His opposition to the institution of religion was so strong that he was even branded as an atheist by the Federalists during the 1800 presidential election. Later on in life he gathered up enough piss and vinegar to take a razor blade to his bible in order to publish his own abridged version, minus the woo.
Anyone ballsy enough to do something like that in clear defiance of the religious institutions of the day simply can’t be considered Christian.
That’s my $0.02, anyway. Hope it makes up for the week of cartoons. In conclusion, I can only say that this movie appears to be nothing more than revisionist history combined with a toxic dose of Christian nationalism. Hardly a surprise from Kirk and his buddies, but no less dangerous in its message.