Saturday, February 26, 2005

The Founding Secularists

Some months ago, I found myself in a debate with a couple Mormons who insisted that the Bill of Rights was a thinly disguised re-write of the Ten Commandments. (The whole of the conversation started somehow with gay rights in Canada and found its way to a now-well-known American courthouse controversy over housing the Ten Commandments.)

What was startling about the conversation is that these two guys really believed that the founding fathers were deeply Christian. The Net has a lot of debate on this, but ultimately it seems to me that we need to ask: How much God did the framers of our nation's founding documents put into those documents.

It turns out that the answer is: suspiciously little. I ran across an article from The Nation called "Our Godless Constitution" that calls out certain Orwellian techniques used by the Bush administration, and shows that the current administration has ascribed their own religious views to these men who were atheists, Deists and, yes, in some cases Christians.

But, really, there isn't much point in debating who or what the founding fathers were, is there? They provided us with a framework that, if taken seriously, alows us to adaptively self-govern. In one of his serious moments during an interview, Jon Stewart pointed out that the framers of the constitution put down what they thought was best for their time, with provisions for changing what they may not have gotten right. Yet, still we somehow raise these men to a legendary status, as though their intents were possibly even infallible.

In the conversation with the two Mormons, I got suckered into a false debate: were the founding fathers Christian. I think there is plenty of evidence that they were not. But, really, what does that matter? Unless we accept them as infallible--Gods themselves--shouldn't we look at their work as a monumental work-in-progress. Doesn't the other view--that their words and work is the final say in governance--elevate these mere men dangerously close to a violation of the First Commandment?


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