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THE AMERICAN RELIGIOUS MYTH

 
 
farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2004 08:46 am
I read swallow in the monica Lewinsky context, BAD BOY, DOWN!

yeh, the original AMISH col;ony had only 35 families, and the entire 400000+ population of US Amish derive from those 35 families. Talk about homozygous strains, thats why the AMISH are looked at as a potential dNA lab.the Other sects , by not being as cosed had many more root families.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2004 10:42 am
Many of the Amish in our area drive automobiles (the big comfy gas-guzzlers, or the practical vans), and they use computers in their businesses--and yet maintain their habits of speech, dress and community. An acquaintance of mine objected that they weren't "real" Amish unless they eschewed the modern conveniences. This is the sort of short-sighted generalization which leads to such specious contentions as that of the holy virture of our founding ancestors. The Amish here are practical enough to recognize the value of these improvements (especially the chest freezer), and do so without sacrificing their core beliefs and the rhythm of the sun, the moon and the seasons.

It is always rather strange to see a woman in ankle-lenghth dress and mob cap going over to the printer to retreive the computer-generated invoice she just prepared for you, though . . .
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Sofia
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2004 12:35 pm
Many would agrue that the Founding Fathers formed the basis of the US on religious/spiritual/Christian (pick one) values. While I have seen reams of web sites attempting to debunk this-- I think the multitude of prayers by the Founders, and the high incidence of references to Providence/God and such God-like monikers in our founding documents really make the argument a difficult one.

I heard a speaker recently, poring over such evidence to the 'religious' founding--the fact that the US govt printed Bibles to be used in schools, and that the Founders' purpose WAS to have the country founded on those principles--additionally that the separation of church and state was instituted to prevent the govt from sponsering or forcing A PARTICULAR religion.

I have been on both sides of this issue, and am seeking to entertain varying positions here.

I guess this is all mythology for most people here--but reading excerpts from Washington, Lincoln, other Presidents' lives--we had a lot of serious pray-ers in the Oval Office. Would you dispute this? Would you dispute the Framers meant to base our creed/national conscience on Judeo-Christian ethics?
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2004 01:18 pm
Yes, I would dispute that. Washington was an official of Truro parish near his home, but he never appealed to a specific Judeo-Chrisitian deity, much less promoting his particular secular choice. Note the remarks of the founders were deistic, but not specific to a creed. Although they often invoked a deity, they more often invoked Providence, not necessarily suggesting that such providence was divine. Altogether, the care with which they handled the subject is noteworthy. It is rather reminiscent of early Chinese practices of religion. The Emperor (although an emperor in name only) was the link of the people with "Heaven," but no deity is ever specified. The people usually made shrines to their ancestors, as being the source of their prosperity.

The work of Schlesinger has shown that by no means all, and likely not even a majority, of the colonial population at the time of the revolution was devoutly religious. That those who were not are mute in our history is not to be wondered at--the established churches, especially in New England, which had existed in the colonial period usually made religious standing a criterion for the franchise and participation in government. Even in those colonies in which there was a property qualification, the "unchurched" rarely if ever took part in the governance. Because detailed records were kept which specified property qualifications and religious affiliation, Schlesinger was able to use that data, as well as the reasonable estimates of colonial population--both in general and with references to specific communities and counties--of the Lords of Trade to determine the numbers of people who were either unchurched, or participants in a marginalized congregation which the establishment would not recognize. The numbers of convicts and indentured servants for whom such data is unavailable further throw question on contentions of a nation of devout church-goers. These myths always ignore the Dutch Reformed Church, various German Reformed Churchs, the "primitive" Presbyterians among the Scots-Irish and Scots who lived on the frontier, the Lutherans--in short, any sect which hadn't any social ascendancy as did the Congregationalists and Anglicans, and lacked the power of the purse of the well-funded Presbyterian and Baptit churches in the more well-populated area. The overemphasis of the impact of the revivalist "Great Awakening" results from ignoring not simply the numbers of the unchurched, but those sects which were not in the English Calvinist tradition or products of Episcopalianism.

Jefferson wrote the religious legislation for Virginia, holding that a man's conscience was his own business, and received some criticism for not making a distinction between the theist and the atheist or agnostic. But no much criticism. The legacy of the Wars of the Reformation, the Thirty Years War and the English Civil Wars was in the minds of all of the educated colonists, at the least. A great many leaders of religious communities were opposed to any relationship between church and state, as leading inevitably to the preferment of one sect over another.

Certainly members of state legislatures and of the Congress played to the sympathies of religious communities when they knew it either would play well with their constituencies, or when laying up political capital in the future in the knowledge that it would not offend their constituencies. Jackson pointedly refused to declare a day of national thanksgiving precisely because of what was by the 1830's already seen as a tradition of separation of church and state. He was more praised than vilified for taking the position as well.

Lincoln was a consumate politician. Having had no history of attendance upon divine service or of sectarian locyalty, he became very religious indeed after getting to the White House. It is possible that he had in fact had a religious experience which lead him to this, but it was definitely a break with presidential traditions to introduce theistic piety into the transactions of that office. During the civil war, a revivalist movement took hold in the armies on both sides, but most especially among those of the southern Confederacy. This grew until the outburst of "fundamentalism" in the late 19th century. This fundamentalism also expressed itself in a xenophobic anti-immigration, anti-Catholic, antisemitic and racist way, and the Lily Whites were nothing dismayed by the re-foundation of the Klu Klux Klan in Georgia before the First World War. Thomas Nast, made an icon of American history for his political cartoons attacking Tammany Hall, likely did so because of a distinct bias against the Irish and against Catholics, which is evident in so many of his cartoons which you will not find in the history books. The immigration from Europe which picked up a great deal in the later 19th century, from the time of the 1848 Socialist uprisings onward, was more an more made up of poor Catholics and Jews, the former from Ireland, Italy, south Germany and Poland, and the later from Germany, Poland and Russia. The history of religion and its effects on politics gets really ugly beginning about 150 years ago. And it has more to do with revivalist and fundamentalist traditions than it does with the large, well-founded Protestant sects. The author of the Pledge of Allegiance was a minister (Baptist, i believe), and he did not put the words "under God" in his pledge.

With a resurgence of revivalism and fundamentalism since the end of the Second World War, it is again fashionable to trot out these stories of the religious nature of our nation. But it is not founded on good historical scholarship, and it quite obviously serves a social and political agenda. Throughout the first 300 hundred years of our nation's history, counting from the establishment of the Virginia colony in 1607, a great deal of our population has operated on the fringe of civilization, or moved to those fringes to take up the newly opened lands. David Crockett was a type for these settlers. He would make a land claim, go to the spot, clear land, put in a crop, and sell it within a year or two to move on again. We only now within the last century live in a nation in which the population is fairly stable with regard to institutions. The historical myth to which i refer is typical of the contradictions of such propaganda. The myth has two parts: the first is the false contention that the religious came here to escape a persecution which cannot be historically demonstrated for the majority--most came to escape what they saw as the pollution of exposure to other sects; the second is of the embattled farmer-patriot with a hand on the plow and a musket in the other hand. Schlesinger's work demonstrates that most colonists were neither settled farmers nor lived in the settled countryside. In cities, towns and small towns, and on the frontier, about three quarters of the populations was to found, and they did not resemble the "minuteman" image of the rural patriot. They also were of many more diverse confessions than our history teachers commonly acknowledge, or had no known religious affiliation at all. It is inescapable that the historical record does not support a contention of a devotion to Judeo-Christian traditions guiding our nation, or of a wide-spread adherence to charismatic or fundamentalist sects. It is also inescapable that the historical record does demonstrate within the last century the advantages sought by everyone from the "re-founder" of the Klu Klux Klan through Father Coughlin to Graham père et fils of attempting to exploit such contentions and the communities of the charismatics and the fundamentalist for political purposes.

I reject utterly the contention that the framers of the constitution intended that our nation be established upon a basis of "Judeo-Christian" ethics (which reads as rather oxymoronic to me).
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2004 01:20 pm
Allow me once again to point out that simplistic statements about religion's importance in our history, like all simplistic statements, need to ignore the complexity of the human community and its story in order to make such claims with a straight face. It's never as simple as such contentions make it out to be.
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Sofia
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2004 01:35 pm
Setanta--

It is always a pleasure to share your deep knowledge of history. Thanks.

I have decided to poke around and test some of my information, and open it specifically to comment.

I've found several documents I think we should look at when discussing the religious lives of our founding fathers, and many Presidents.

This was Washington's Inaugural Address. Call It God, the Invisible Hand, or what you will. His incredible focus on a Supreme Being is ALL OVER THIS TEXT of the first President of this country.
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Washington's First Inaugural Address
At his first inauguration, George Washington took the oath of office for the presidency on April 30, 1789. He was standing on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City with his hand on an open Bible. After he finished taking the oath, the audience in attendance gave a thunderous ovation and bells of the various churches began ringing in his honor. After his oath of office was completed, he went to deliver his inaugural address to Congress.


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"Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations and whose providential aide can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes; and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge.

In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the United States.

Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their United government, the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which them past seem to presage.

These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me I trust in thinking, that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free Government can more auspiciously commence.

We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained; and since the preservation of sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered as deeply, perhaps finally, staked of the experiment...

I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the Benign Parent of the Human Race, in humble supplication that, since He has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility, and dispositions for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of government for the security of their union and the advancement of their happiness, so His divine blessings may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend."
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Good grief. I began with citing the references to God, and THE WHOLE THING WAS A REFERENCE TO GOD.

There are many more. I'll do excerpts and links.
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Sofia
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2004 01:43 pm
From G Washington's Daily Prayer Journal--

George Washington's Prayer Journal - "Daily Sacrifice"
George Washington's Prayer Journal From William J. Johnson George Washington, the Christian(New York: The Abingdon Press, New York & Cincinnati, 1919), pp. 24-35.


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(1) Sunday Morning Almighty God, and most merciful father, who didst command the children of Israel to offer a daily sacrifice to thee, that thereby they might glorify and praise thee for thy protection both night and day, receive, O Lord, my morning sacrifice which I now offer up to thee; I yield thee humble and hearty thanks that thou has preserved me from the danger of the night past, and brought me to the light of the day, and the comforts thereof, a day which is consecrated ot thine own service and for thine own honor. Let my heart, therefore, Gracious God, be so affected with the glory and majesty of it, that I may not do mine own works, but wait on thee, and discharge those weighty duties thou requirest of me, and since thou art a God of pure eyes, and wilt be sanctified in all who draww near unto thee, who doest not regard the sacrifice of fools, nor hear sinners who tread in thy courts, pardon, I beseech thee, my sins, remove them from thy presence, as far as the east is from the west, and accept of me for the merits of thy son Jesus Christ, that when I come into thy temple, and compass thine altar, my prayers may come before thee as incense; and as thou wouldst hear me calling upon thee in my prayers, so give me grace to hear thee calling on me in thy word, that it may be wisdom, righteousness, reconciliation and peace to the saving of the soul in the day of the Lord Jesus. Grant that I may hear it with reverence, receive it with meekness, mingle it with faith, and that it may accomplish in me, Gracious God, the good work for which thou has sent it. Bless my family, kindred, friends and country, be our God & guide this day and for ever for his sake, who ay down in the Grave and arose again for us, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

(2) Sunday Evening

O most Glorious God, in Jesus Christ my merciful and loving father, I acknowledge and confess my guilt, in the weak and imperfect performance of the duties of this day. I have called on thee for pardon and forgiveness of sins, but so coldly and carelessly, that my prayers are become my sin and stand in need of pardon. I have heard thy holy word, but with such deadness of spirit that I have been an unprofitable and forgetful hearer, so that, O Lord, tho' I have done thy work, yet it hath been so negligently that I may rather expect a curse than a blessing from thee. But, O God, who art rich in mercy and plenteous in redemption, mark not, I beseech thee, what I have done amiss; remember that i am but dust, and remit my transgressions, negligences & ignorances, and cover them all with the absolute obedience of thy dear Son, that those sacrifices which I have offered may be accepted by thee, in and for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ offered upon the cross for me; for his sake, ease me of the burden of my sins, and give me grace that by the call of the Gospel I may rise from the slumber of sin into the newness of life. Let me live according to those holy rules which thou hast this day prescribed in thy holy word; make me to know what is acceptable in thy holy word; make me to know what is acceptable in thy sight, and therein to delight, open the eyes of my understanding, and help me thoroughly to examine myself concerning my knowledge, faith and repentance, increase my faith, and direct me to the true object Jesus Christ the way, the truth and the life, bless O Lord, all the people of this land, from the highest to the lowest, particularly those whom thou has appointed to rule over us in church & state. continue thy goodness to me this night. These weak petitions I humbly implore thee to hear accept and ans. for the sake of thy Dear Son Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.


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I'm pretty sure George was a Christian, and incredibly pious.
0 Replies
 
Sofia
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2004 01:54 pm
What led me to be interested in this subject, oddly, was a piece on American Exceptionalism. The scholars decided what set America apart were the foundations--the history we missed (serfdom, ancient class systems...);egalitarianism, populism, a couple of other things, and the fact that America was founded on a creed, rather than just a shared history with people living together. We were born of strangers, uniting under the Judeo-Christian ethic. (Though you disagree.)

I think when we give a real look at the words of the men who put the US together, we see it may not be as simple to disavow.
0 Replies
 
Walter Hinteler
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2004 01:57 pm
Sofia wrote:

I'm pretty sure George was a Christian, and incredibly pious.


I don't know much of that, I must confess, but obviously some have other impressions:

Quote:
Washington's church at Powhick was attended mostly by Martha. He invoked the Deity on occasion in speeches but he was not profoundly religious in the sense of prayer and church attendance.
Stanley Weintraub, author of "General Washington's Christmas Farewell: A Mount Vernon Homecoming, 1783", Free Press; 2003 .
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Sofia
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2004 02:01 pm
A man could sit on a pew seven days a week, and never speak to God.

Looking at the incredible information about Washington's prayers, his Daily Prayer journal (later found and published by his family), and his practices--plus the focus of his entire Inaugural Address, one can ably see where his heart and mind was.
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2004 03:54 pm
Please spare me that American Exceptionalism crap, Sofia, i really have always had a higher estimation of your intelligence.

I've not denied that Washington had religious conviction, nor that this was the case with any of the framers. I have pointed out that in public actions they did not impose their sectarianism on anyone, and that publicly their quasi-religious statments were deistic, and had no specific reference to any Judeo-Christian tradition. Read the Bible thoroughly, and then report to me what specific parts of the constitution are based thereon, if you would. Is the part in Leviticus that enjoins us to kill the unruly child? Or to kill the adulterers (in practice, of course, only the women)? Or the part which commands us to kill the homosexuals? The tradition to which you refer is racist, patriarchal, misogynistic, homophobic, parochial and filled with a conceit of "special election" bigotry as being god's chosen in an exclusive covenant.

I haven't the least doubt that such notions appeal to a great many of the religious bigots currently poisoning polity, but that does not warrant ascribing that to the framers. That murder, for example, is prohibted by the Chinese and Indidans of the Subcontinent is not evidence of a Judeo-Christian tradition.

American Exceptionalism is the same species of historical myth. The Dutch formed a secular republic of seven united provinces in 1564, and proceeded to fight an 84 year long war of independence. They established their republic on the bases of toleration and due process, and a broad (although exclusively male) franchise. That kind of throws those aspects of American history out as exceptional. The veterans of the Revolution who were dissatisfied with the settlements after the war, especially with Hamilton's monetary policies, formed the Society of the Cincinnati, referring the semi-legendary story of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnnatus, a hero the Roman Republic who left the plow to take up the sword agains the enemies of the state. They missed the point of the story, however, in that Cinannatus always promptly surrendered the absolute powers of the Dictatorship to return to the plow when the crisis had passed. This is not exceptionalism, in that this same sort of wistful, muddle-headed self-comparison to the Roman Republic had been much in vogue in England three generations earlier, culminating in Gibbon's The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, a bit of excellently researched history thoroughly ruined by Gibbon's equation of "moral decline" among the Romans with the "fall" of Rome. In that, Gibbon not only displayed his national and religious bigotry, but an ignorance of the post Constantinian Principiate and the period of the "Barbarian" migrations as great and thorough as had ben his research of the preceeding periods. So, no American Exceptionalism there. The expansion out to the American frontier is one of the most unexceptional periods in our history--only the 19th century technology distinguishes it from such expansion and migration over millenia of history. Bring up any aspect of our history, and there is a parallel elsewhere in history. We like to think we are exceptional. About the only contention of "exceptionalism" on the part of Americans i would entertain is being exceptionally naive about the implications of a society obsessed with its religious excellence, and exceptionally gullible about the motives of the religious leaders who manipulate them. The nearest comparison to that dates back to the dawn of temples socieites, before the human race had learned its lesson.
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Sofia
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2004 06:13 pm
How unfortunate.

I'd been happy to see you back. Please avoid personal rudeness to me. I'll do the same.
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To make sure I'm not misunderstood--

I don't think we were speaking of the same American Exceptionalism. It seems the phrase is co-opted by more than one group. When I first heard it, it sounded as though it meant Why America is So Fabulously Better Than Everyone Else, so I naturally bristled at its' mention. (I fussed with Blatham throwing it out, as I thought it was meant as an insult.) You seem to think it alludes to Why America was The First Country To Do Certain Great Things (from the post above), which is not correct, either.

When I read a piece on it by Seymour Lipsett, I saw that it was like a post-mortem on the birth of the nation in reference to how things here came to be as they did. It is sort of a comparative history, and I found it very interesting.

Blatham suggests I read more, as others did elaborate on American Exceptionalism in different directions. I do plan to read further, but haven't yet. Anyway, I think the term can have more than one meaning.

Like 'exceptional'. It is mostly used as 'better than'--which I first thought it meant within the term, AE. It can also mean 'taken out', 'different'. In my reading, the latter applies. The BIRTH was what was different, based on much more than the Founding Fathers or the Constitution. The most powerful exceptions to America's birth was the timing.

This, and other stuff, did make the US quite unique. This is not to say other countries don't have their own, peculiar uniqueness.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2004 07:05 pm
There was no rudeness in what i wrote--and yes, i consider the "theory" of American Exceptionalism to be ill-disguised patriotric bigory.
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Letty
 
  1  
Reply Sat 3 Jul, 2004 07:24 pm
Wow! Everyone is fighting tonight.

Just getting a ringside seat.
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BoGoWo
 
  1  
Reply Sun 4 Jul, 2004 07:30 am
Unfortunately, on the day celebrating the 'birth' of America, i see two exceptionalities; the depth of idealism of thought, that went into the framing of your constitution (which, while as Set points out was not unparalleled, was equal to any!), and the depth of depravity of administration, which has subsequently sought to trivialize what was built so well, so long ago.

You have much to celebrate, and much to repair!
0 Replies
 
Letty
 
  1  
Reply Sun 4 Jul, 2004 12:01 pm
Bo, wonder if I could just get by with weakly waving a sparkler and repairing my faucet.

There was the second war for independence. Nobody celebrates that except Johnny Horton.

Now if we can just keep King George W.Bush from adding a 28th amendment to our constitution, that will be celebration enough. Rolling Eyes
0 Replies
 
shewolfnm
 
  1  
Reply Sun 4 Jul, 2004 07:44 pm
Set... I like your posts! :wink:

Everything you said has proven a point that I make every day.
history as we know it is one sided. Why? Because history is written by victors. They are the only ones to survive.. so they write .
" History" as we know it has 2 cents thrown in from all people who were there to compose the story. The people who dont survive have a diffrent story to tell of course and since they are not alive, the victors can make them sound like anything they want to prove thier point.
> ex : American indians being savage. they were not , but they cant talk now can they?<

Im sure that there may have been a few people who wanted to start a country on a religion, but not all. And the sad thing is that those few people who wanted that were PROBALLY the ones who were able to speak the loudest and write the most. Hence the 'idea' of america starting on chrisitanity.

My opinion. Im just rambling. Very Happy
0 Replies
 
Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Mon 5 Jul, 2004 02:21 am
I fully endorse rambling . . . as well as silliness . . .

Lay on, McDuff . . .
0 Replies
 
 

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