There’s a funny argument going on about the right to teach ‘a biblical worldview’ in Texas schools in conjunction with American history: http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/6640410.html.
“You can’t properly tell American history unless you teach the biblical
motivations of the people who discovered the country, like Christopher
Columbus; the people that settled it, like the Pilgrims and Puritans;
the people who formed government, like the Founding Fathers,” said
Marshall, a Presbyterian minister and president of the
Massachusetts-based Peter Marshall Ministries. “My point in all of this
is that children of this nation need to be taught the truth about the
biblical world view. The influence of the Bible and the Christian faith
is absolutely gigantic in American history.”
The quote above is just grossly inaccurate. It makes my sensitive, highly educated ears bleed to hear great men like Franklin, Lincoln and Jefferson lumped together with the European filth that were the pilgrims and puritans.
The real founding fathers (at least the only ones worthy of offering a continuing role in American politics) were the brilliant Deists (yah, they believed in God. So what? So do I! Doesn’t mean I like him) fueled with Enlightenment ideals (Lucifer = light bringer… who do you think was behind the enLIGHTenment?) who inspired the American revolution and wrote the documents that guaranteed freedom and human rights. Isn’t that what America is all about? A place without censorship?
These were smart, educated businessmen who loved reason above all else and conscientiously avoided the constraints of organized religion. When developing his own strategy for moral excellence, Benjamin Franklin turned not to the Bible but to Pythagoras’ Golden Verses. He tried, but was again and again disgusted (he actually uses the word ‘disgusted’ in his autobiography) by the preaching of various Presbyterian and Christian preachers, and yet was devoted to ethical perfection. “My conduct might be blasphemable, but I leave it without attempting to farther excuse it” he says. Franklin was open to all religious persuasions but a believer of none, had nothing but respect for the native Americans, was the enlightened man to perfection.
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with inherent and inaliable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…
Does this sound to you like it came out of the Bible? Besides writing the above passage, Jefferson also wrote the following:
Millions of innocent men, owmen, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has bene the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites.
Jefferson was writing about the historical fact that various US states were founded as refuge for some particular religious sect; yes, it is true that America was firstly inhabited by Puritans and Quakers – newly founded Christian sects which were persecuted in Europe, escaped and brought with them the diseases that decimated the native population. These sects promptly claimed the land and immediately passed laws of religious discrimination! The state of Virginia made ‘heresy’ a capital offense, punishable by burning; and of all the states, only Pennsylvania and New York were not established in the name of some religion – and of the others, no two the same!
Rather than a sense of religious freedom and ‘one nation under god’, each individual state saw themselves as the chosen people, the new Israel, surrounded by heathens and heretics. They arrived in America poor and hungry, with only a dream of ‘manifest destiny’ (that God wanted them to claim this new world for Christianity).
William Bradford of the Plymouth Plantation (the founder of the modern holiday that is “Thanksgiving”) is the absolute antithesis of the philosophers who later wrote the constitution. He is anti-revolution, wants everybody to be content with their lot in life whether rich or poor, free or slave. He encourages charity so that the poor and despised would not “rise up against their superiors and shake off their yoke”.
He tells a story of one ‘Anne Hutchinson’, who’d gotten it into her head to preach a slight deviation from his ‘orthodox’ Puritanism, and was restrained and finally banished from the community.
Jonathon Edwards, writing later during America’s “Great Awakening” (a mess of exuberant preaching, singing and dancing, fake priests and charlatans) urged readers back to the puritanism ideals of the pilgrims. Among his theological ideas (presented in Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God) are that every properly unconverted man is already destined for Hell – mankind’s natural place is Hell, and God is ANGRY.
“The wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them; the flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet, and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them.”
“Your wickedness makes you as it were heavy as lead, and to tend downwards with great weight and pressure towards hell; and if God should let you go, you would immediately sink and swiftly descend into the bottomless gulf…”
“How awful are those words, Isaiah 63.3, which are the words of the great God: ‘I will tread them in mine anger, and will trample them in my fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment.’ It is perhaps impossible to conceive of words that carryin them greater manifestations of these three things, viz., contempt, and hatred, and fierceness of indignation.”
Edwards also talks about God’s “exquisite horrible misery” and “almighty merciless vengeance”.
America is the heir to these diametrically opposed worldviews: that men are good, and have certain rights; and that men are worms, destined for Hell. One paradigm led to the revolutionary war, independence and the signing of the declaration of independence and the American constitution. The other led to the Salem witch trials, religious persecution, and severe censorship of the smallest details of life.
And centuries later, Americans are debating about which tradition is better for their kids!
If America had been left in the fundamentalist hands of the Puritans and Quakers, absolutely no deviation would be permitted; it would be a nation of constant