Monday, June 25, 2007

Was President Madison a Christian? Not likely.

In a comment in a previous posting the claim was made that President James Madison was a "Biblical" Christian. It is my belief that the evidence shows Mr. Madison was not a Christian of any kind. I briefly responded in the comments there but decided to expan my remarks here for a more public presentation.

James Madison, the fourth President, after Washington, Adams and Jefferson, opposed linking Christianity with government as much as his predecessors. He was one of Jefferson’s strongest and most vocal allies. He believed that the First Amendment and disestablishment of religion meant that America had “extinguished forever the ambitious hope of making laws for the human mind.” Madison felt so strongly on the issue that he insisted that a Congressional chaplain would be a violation of the Constitutional separation of church and state. For the same reason he opposed paid chaplains in the military.

In 1774 Madison wrote William Bradford, Jr.: “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect.” In his A Memorial and Remonstrance to the Virginia General Assembly Madison opposed any establishment or support for religion by the state. He wrote: “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been the fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both superstition, bigotry, and persecution.” He also said: “What influence in fact has ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of civil authority; in many instance they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instances have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people.” The Virginia General Assembly heeded Madison and rejected the call for supporting religion. Instead it passed Jefferson’s Religious Freedom Act. Madison advocated the “total separation of the church from the state.”

Madison’s personal religious views, however, are a bit harder to discern. He was rather quiet on the matter but this would be in keeping with his view that public officials should keep their religious values out of politics. Unlike some of the Founders who quiet explicitly stated their viewpoints with Madison we have to try and tease his views out of context. And, it should also be remembered that Madison succeeded his good friend, Thomas Jefferson, as president. So Madison was well aware of the vicious smear campaign engineered against Jefferson by the Religious Right of the day. Having seen a concerted effort to destroy Jefferson’s reputation and career by orthodox Christians Madison had every reason to be circumspect.

Certainly Madison began adulthood as an orthodox Christian. Shortly after his graduation from, what would become Princeton, he wrote a friend suggesting that their generation become “fervent advocates in the cause of Christ.” But as historian James Hutson, for the Library of Congress, noted: “Two months later Madison renounced his spiritual prospects and began the study of law... For the rest of his life there is no mention in his writings of Jesus Christ nor of any of the issues that might concern practicing Christians. Late in retirement there are a few enigmatic references to religion, but nothing else.”

Biographer Irving Brant quoted Rev. Alexander Balmaine regarding Madison. Balmaine was married to one of Madison’s cousins and was the minister who performed his marriage ceremony. And Balmaine said that Madison’s “religious feeling, however seems to have been short lived. His political associates were those of infidel principles, of whom there were many in his day, if they did not actually change his creed, yet subjected him to a general suspicion of it.” In addition Brant quotes the local Episcopal Bishop, William Meade, who recounted that a conversation with Madison took an unexpected turn, at Madison’s instigation. The comments made by Madison, wrote the Bishop, “left the impression on my mind that his creed was not strictly regulated by the Bible.” And Brant quoted a gentleman who had dinner with Madison. Madison queried the man about “how the cause of liberal Christianity stood with us, and if the Athanasian creed was well received by our Episcopalians. He pretty distinctly intimated to me his own regard for the Unitarian doctrines.”

Bishop Meade said that whatever “may have been the private sentiments of Mr Madison on the subject of religion, he was never known to declare any hostility to it.” He, like the deist Washington, attended a local church and invited ministers to his home but “did not kneel himself at prayers.” And Hutson notes that Madison went for long stretches of time without bothering himself with any church service. And at one point he told the governor of Vermont, with Jefferson standing there, that he had not attended church for “several years”.

Certainly the Rev. James Wilson, a Reformed Presbyterian minister, felt that Madison was an infidel. In his attack on the US Constitution, Prince Messiah’s Claim to Dominion Over all Governments: and the Disregard of His Authority by the United States, in the Federal Constitution (1832) Rev. Wilson laments the lack of a Christian founding. Wilson claimed:
It is believed, that there never existed, previous to this constitution, any national deed like this, since the creation of the world. A nation having no God! In vain shall we search the annals of pagan Greece and Rome, of modern Asia, Africa, pagan America, and the isles of the sea—they have all worshipped some God. The United States have none. But here let us pause over this astounding fact. Was it a mere omission? Did the convention that framed the constitution forget to name the living God? Was this an omission in some moment of national frenzy, when the nation forgot God? That, indeed, were a great sin. God says, "the nations that forget God, shall be turned into hell." [Ps. 9:17.] It was not, however, a thoughtless act, an undesigned omission. It was a deliberate deed, whereby God was rejected; and in the true atheistical spirit of the whole instrument, and of course, done with intent to declare national independence of the Lord of hosts.
As far as Wilson could see not one of the seven residents of the White House, to that date, had been a Christian. For Washington he says: “There is no satisfactory evidence that Washington was a professor of the Christian religion , or even a speculative believer in its divinity...” and he “was President of the convention, that voted the name of the living God out of the Constitution.” Wilson notes that Adams, who was a Unitarian, took office next followed by Jefferson, “an avowed infidel, and notoriously addicted to immorality.” And then we come to James Madison:
Mr. Jefferson’s successor, Mr. Madison, was educated by godly parents, with a view to the Ministry of reconciliation. He commenced the study of Theology, under the care of Dr. Witherspoon, President of Princeton College, where he attended a prayer meeting of the pious youth of that Seminary, who were preparing for the Holy Ministry.
When he returned from Princeton to his fathers house in Virginia, Mr. Jefferson was a young village lawyer, who had attracted the notice of the neighborhood, by his regular business habits, in collecting debts, drawing indentures, &c.
Madison, to the grief of his parents, abandoned the study of Theology, and entered the office of the infidel and libertine Jefferson, as a student of law. Though Mr. Madison has pledged himself neither in public nor private, to the belief of Christianity, yet he is not known to have employed his influence, like Jefferson, in attempts to abolish the Christian Faith.

Rev. Wilson called President Monroe “a second rate Athenian Philosopher” and declined to say much about Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson since they “are yet in public life” but the said that no “Federal Cabinet since the first formed, has given any more evidence for the fear of the Lord, than did that of Washington.”

It would be fair to say that the “preponderance of the evidence” is that Mr. Madison was a deist but it is not “beyond a shadow of a doubt.” But then it doesn’t have to be. The evidence that does exist certainly indicates that Madison was not a Christian. His close friendship with Jefferson must have had some impact on his ideas especially since Jefferson was so strongly an opponent of Christian theology in his personal life, something no close friend would fail to notice. To have worked this intimately with a man for decades would, no doubt, have required some meeting of the minds on this matter. That Madison, even more so than Jefferson, was the architect of the doctrine of separation of church and state, gives more credence to the theory that he was deist. At the same time, what is missing, is one shred of evidence James Madison ever expressed an orthodox view of Christianity after he began his lifelong friendship with Jefferson. With some evidence that Madison was a deist, and none indicating he remained an orthodox Christian, the most honest conclusion is that he probably became an infidel, as his friend, Rev. Balmaine stated.


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ron Paul on Separation of Church and State

I'm not a supporter of Ron Paul. I find him far too much of a social conservative to be worthy of support. And he's a bit crazed with loony conspiracy theories. He likes to pride himself on being a Constitutionalist and praises the Founders for their policies.

But how well does he know the Constitution? He wrote:
The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers. On the contrary, our Founders’ political views were strongly informed by their religious beliefs. Certainly the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both replete with references to God, would be aghast at the federal government’s hostility to religion.
Let us put aside for a second his opposition to "rigid separation between church and state" and concentrate, not on Constitutional theory, but on Constitutional facts. Mr. Paul claims that the Constitution is "replete with references to God". Now replete means abundantly supplied or filled. So if the Constitution is abundantly filled with references to God how many are there? Let's get precise. How many times is God mentioned in the Constitution?

Zero! And if you don't believe me you can go check Ron Paul's own congressional website where he has a copy of the text. Go to the page and read it yourself. It is worth reading now and then. But if you don't have time do a page search for "God" and see all the abundant references on your own. All zero of them.

And what about the drafters of the Declaration of Independence? That would be Thomas Jefferson. Paul says he would be "aghast at the federal government's hostility to religion." Hostility? Didn't Jefferson actually say something about that? He said that the clergy, who opposed Jefferson strongly, "believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Eternal hostility to the schemes to promote state religion.

Jefferson had a lot to say about religion. Little of it would be liked by Ron Paul. And most of it sounds pretty hostile.
Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law. In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own. Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him [Jesus] by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter.

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. 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. 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.
Jefferson said he was a Christian only in one sense, that he thought the moral teaching of Jesus made sense and in no other way. He did not think Jesus was a god, the son of god, or born of a virgin. He did not believe in prayer, divine revelation, the trinity or the resurrection. Jefferson took a razor to his own Bible and cut out of the New Testament every reference to the supernatural and divine. What was left has been called The Jefferson Bible.

But the fundamentalist Right is busy pushing a revisionist view of American history in order to fit with their theocratic agenda. And apparently Ron Paul is willing to help. But assuming he isn't then why the lie? Ron Paul has read the Constitution, he brags about his in depth study of the Constitution. He has the Constitution on his website. So why claim that it is filled with references to God when there is not a single mention of God anywhere in the document? He knows better.

PS: I know that the Ron Paul cult troll the internet looking for ways to boost him and cut down anyone who disagrees with St. Paul. For the record, I am a libertarian but one who does believe in separation of church and state. And I'd take Jefferson any day as president.


Monday, June 11, 2007

Two arguments on the existence of non-existent.

I have been a privy to numerous debates online regarding the existence of a magic man in the sky. And it is interesting to watch the tactics and arguments used by the credulous believers of one faith or another.

One argument I recently saw was rather amusing. A man who likes to think of himself as a deep thinker, in reality he is rather superficial, demanded that his opponent, for arguments sake, accept that their is a deity. From that premises he then set out to prove that a deity, in fact, exists.

It didn’t seem odd to him that he wanted his opponent to accept the conclusion in dispute as the very premise for the arguments used.

I thought of a court room situation where a prosecutor comes in and addresses the jury informing them: “That for the sake of argument you are to accept that the defendant is in fact guilty. I will then show you that from the premise you have no other choice but to conclude he is guilty even if no other evidence is offered here.”

Prosecutors would have a field day with that sort of argumentation. Of course such tactics are forbidden in a court of law. One would have to be a blithering idiot to lose a debate that starts with your conclusion as the premise for the arguments.

There was a second argument I found rather bizarre. And to explain why I need to lay some groundwork. This individual has frequently made statements about the nature of of his deity. You might hear him speak of the “love of God,” “the law of God”, the “judgement of God,” etc. He will make claims that without this God there is no such thing as morality for instance. All these things imply vast knowledge about this deity.

Yet the typical theist, when in a debate, will resort, as did this individual, to the incomprehensibility of God. God, we are told, is beyond our puny human comprehension. His ways can’t be understood with reasoning and rationality. It requires faith because he is so far beyond our ability to understand that the brain fails us.

I could almost accept this if the individual making the argument would remain consistent. If the deity is beyond human comprehension then any assertion about his is contradictory. It is basically a claim to know that which you state can not be known.

You can’t tell me he is comprehensible and claim that the Bible is his book, that his name is Jesus, that he is a trinity of three persons in one, or any thing similar. You can not claim to comprehend that which cannot be comprehended. You can not assert you know his will and claim to me that he unknowable to puny humans.

Also consider what a consistent application of the concept of an incomprehensible god would mean for the theist. If you can not comprehend the deity then you know nothing more about his alleged existence than does the atheist.

An atheist is merely someone who has no reason to accept the conclusion that their is a deity. The believer who argues an incomprehensible god is actually saying that there is no reason to accept that their is a deity as well. If he is truly incomprehensible then we can say nothing about him. If utterly incomprehensible we couldn’t even assert he exists. We can only assert that we have a theory he exists and no evidence to substantiate it.

The moment evidence is assert the concept of the incomprehensible deity flies out the window. And that is why the “incomprehensible” argument is rarely offered at the beginning of the debate. It normally is used toward the end of the debate when the theist is backed in a corner. Because once he plays that game he has conceded the debate except he is never honest enough to admit that is what has happened. The atheist can make no statement about the nature of a deity. He can assert nothing positive about him. The man who claims god is beyond human understanding is making the same claim. The only real difference between them is a relatively minor one.

I, as an atheist, never assert anything is beyond understanding or unknowable. I don’t do so because to claim something is unknowable is to claim to know something about it. There is a subtle, but important, difference between that which is unknown and that which is unknowable. Whether there is other intelligent life in the universe is unknown but unknowable. The first is describes something that is unknown but knowable. The second describes something which can never be known.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Pope Jumped

A man jumped over barricades at the Vatican to leap on the back of the Popemobile. Vatican officials say the man was "clearly deranged."

Why did he do it? You know what they say: Birds of a feather flock together.


Web Counters Religion Blog Top Sites