Thursday, June 16, 2011

Liars for Jesus - Chapter Two - The Northwest Ordinance

(Sorry about the delay on this, job hunting comes first!)
“Religion, Morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, Schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”
Lies of omission are, perhaps, the most pernicious. The above lines are part of a bill passed by the continental congress, which is important to note. That means that they pre-date the constitution. Despite what Barton might like to believe and claim, this law was formed before the separation of church and state was formalized and decided upon. It's not surprising, really, that some mention of religion might crop up in bills before we decided to separate religion and politics.

However, let's do a tiny bit of syntactic marking on the above sentence, hmm? I'm just going to mark a gerund phrase and the main clause.
(Religion, Morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind), (Schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged).
 So, what we have here is the command “Schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” coupled with a statement that “Religion, Morality and knowledge are necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind.”
Looking at this, it is clear the law doesn't empower or enable religion in any way, it simply makes a statement about it. If you've ever seen a modern bill or treaty, with all those WHEREAS statements at the top, you can recognize what this is. It's simply the reason that the congress had in mind when passing the next requirement in the bill.

Let's just run a comparison. Here's the Act of Supremacy (1534),
“Albeit the king's Majesty justly and rightfully is and ought to be the supreme head of the Church of England, and so is recognized by the clergy of this realm in their convocations, yet nevertheless, for corroboration and confirmation thereof, and for increase of virtue in Christ's religion within this realm of England, and to repress and extirpate all errors, heresies, and other enormities and abuses heretofore used in the same, be it enacted, by authority of this present Parliament, that the king, our sovereign lord, his heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall be taken, accepted, and reputed the only supreme head in earth of the Church of England, called Anglicans Ecclesia; and shall have and enjoy, annexed and united to the imperial crown of this realm, as well the title and style thereof, as all honors, dignities, preeminences, jurisdictions, privileges, authorities, immunities, profits, and commodities to the said dignity of the supreme head of the same Church belonging and appertaining; and that our said sovereign lord, his heirs and successors, kings of this realm, shall have full power and authority from time to time to visit, repress, redress, record, order, correct, restrain, and amend all such errors, heresies, abuses, offenses, contempts and enormities, whatsoever they be, which by any manner of spiritual authority or jurisdiction ought or may lawfully be reformed, repressed, ordered, redressed, corrected, restrained, or amended, most to the pleasure of Almighty God, the increase of virtue in Christ's religion, and for the conservation of the peace, unity, and tranquility of this realm; any usage, foreign land, foreign authority, prescription, or any other thing or things to the contrary hereof notwithstanding.”
Here's the religion in the Ohio State Constitution (1802 - Article 8, Section 3)
“That all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience; that no human authority can in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience; that no man shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support, any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry, against his consent; and that no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious society or mode of worship; and no religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office of trust or profit. But religion, morality, and knowledge, being essentially necessary to the good government, and the happiness of mankind, schools, and the means of instruction shall forever be encouraged by legislative provision, not inconsistent with the rights of conscience.”

So, compare the above, the very clear establishment of the Anglican religion to the very clear announcement that religion was a matter of personal conscience. The people who wrote these laws were not stupid, foolish, or unaware of history. So why, in a country that descended from the English tradition not pass a clear law, like the Act of Supremacy, but instead circumlocute and pass stealthy and sneaky laws to get the religious power the wanted?

The reason, of course, is that the founders of the United States did not, in any way, want an established, state-supported religion. They wanted, rather, to ensure that the United States stuck to the new ideals of secular humanism that were fundamental to philosophical thought at the time. In fact, if you'll read on in Liars For Jesus, you will see that the above 1802 Ohio constitution was not considered good enough, and was replaced with an even more religion-free version in 1851, to say nothing of the requirements of the Indiana and Michigan constitutions, or the further lies about Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Mississippi, Alabama, Kansas, Nebraska, Tennessee, Nebraska, etc.

Lies of omission, quite effective too. After all, when one simply claims something which is untrue, then it is easy for someone who believes in the truth to expose the lie. However, when one simply omits something from the past, the truth-seeker has no choice but to grab the audiences attention and hold it while he tells the rest of the story. Men like Barton know that the audience in this case is already both sympathetic to their claims (Americans love religion) and simultaneously too busy to go on an adventure through the remainder of the historic record.

Here, I get an interesting notion. Not an accusation, mind you, but a notion. The business right says “work hard to get ahead, don't bother with unimportant things”, and then religious right says “here's history, we promise we didn’t lie.” It makes a sick sort of sense, one side keeps the masses happy and dumb, the other side keeps them too overworked and underpaid to notice? Now, last I checked, this was one of the accusations levelled against the left; however, we all know that it can't possibly be a bit of projection. Right?

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