Saturday, July 05, 2008


A regular Theoconia reader, Msgr. John Sweeley, started to comment recently on one of my John Freshwater pieces. The comment took on a life of its own. As a consequence, I have invited Msgr. as a guest blogger. His opinions are strictly his own.


Having grown up in Western Massachusetts and being a history buff since I was in high school, I thought I knew who the Minutemen were. In fact, I have visited all of the historical sites connected with the Revolutionary War in Massachusetts. I have seen the window in the Old North Church where the lantern was held for Paul Revere. I have traced the rout taken by Revere when he rode to warn the colonists and alert the militias along the way to Lexington and Concord that “The British are coming.” I have walked on Lexington Common where the first shot of the Revolutionary War, “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World” immortalized in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem, The Concord Hymn rang out yet neither the parties of the time nor historians since can determine which side or if one of the onlookers fired that shot. I have stood on the top of Bunker Hill and looked over Boston Harbor as I put myself in the place of William Prescott, Commander of the Colonial forces, who ordered his men, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”
Of course there are contemporary “Minutemen” who have brought dishonor to that noble honorific. These self-styled Minutemen are otherwise know as Survivalists and a more motley crew of misfits, outcasts, and right-wing extremists one would be hard pressed to find. However, they all share one or more of the following in common: they are reactionaries against contemporary America including government policies and threats of nuclear warfare. They fear the imminent social and economic collapse of America and believe that America is just a step away from a war of racial genocide. Many share extreme right-wing religious beliefs and believe that the apocalypse of God’s judgment is near and that God will severely chastise America for its promotion of the “homosexual agenda,” abortion, secularism, and denial of biblical inerrancy. Consequently, Survivalists often retreat from the modern world and create communes where they engage in para-military training; stockpile food, weapons and ammunition; and indoctrinate their children with the belief of Creationism. However, unlike Evangelical Christians waiting for the Rapture, Survivalists prepare to step into the breach of chaos when either God smites America or America falls from within to restore it to its rightful place as a God-fearing nation in their own image.

Yes, I thought I knew about Minutemen

I also thought I knew fresh water. Having grown up hunting and fishing, having walked the woods and crossed the rivers and streams of Western Massachusetts and Southern Vermont – and yes even drinking from them – I was sure I would know fresh water when I see it. I should know it because in addition to the rivers and streams of those areas I am also intimately acquainted with its many fine ponds and natural springs – and yes I have drunk from them too. And, I have had the good fortune to dip not only my cup and toe into them but have also dipped worms, nigh crawlers, and lures into them as well. Moreover, I have seen them in their entire splendor throughout the four seasons of the year from their tepid languidness in the dog days of Summer, to their frost covered edges with a cornucopia of rainbow colored leave bobbing of their surfaces in the Fall, to the opaqueness of blue veined, milk-colored ice emitting staccato rifle shots in the dead of Winter, to mad rushing rivers and streams gorged with the abundance of winter’s snow melt off in early Spring.

Yes, I thought I knew about fresh water.

Ignorance! I have lived long enough to be sure I know, or thought I knew, about every kind of ignorance a human being is capable of either falling into or manifesting as a consequence of their birth. I have seen the ignorance generated by those born with intellectual limitations that prohibit their ability to learn, to acquire knowledge, or even to develop the skills of self-care. I have seen the ignorance manifested by those who were gifted with intellectual and artistic abilities but chose to destroy their gift by use of alcohol and drugs as did my alcoholic uncle who was a concert violinist but ended his days at Northampton State Mental Hospital not knowing one day from another and in constant need of custodial care. I have seen the ignorance of ordinary people, America’s underclass, who rather than take advantage of the educational opportunities offered them chose instead to live the fast life of the street, hustle for the quick buck, get pregnant, drop out of school, and become the third or even fourth generation of a family dependent on welfare. Most disastrously, I have seen the ignorance of politicians who hold the highest offices of our nation, make decisions regarding America’s domestic well being and foreign policy bomb, invade, and occupy a sovereign nation predicated on religious beliefs, bankrupted economic theory, hubris, feelings of omnipotence, and the lies, lies, and more lies they told and continue to tell the American people to justify their actions.

Yes, I thought I knew about ignorance.

I also believed I knew about faith; at least faith as understood by mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics expressed by Frederick W. Faber in his immortal hymn, “Faith of Our Fathers.” I know the faith of Job, the fortress of an unbreakable faith, that in the end shatters and leaves us crying out, “Why me God?” I know that faith is belief in something not apparent to the senses. I know that faith cannot be created or destroyed by reason. I know that faith is something that cannot be proven by the scientific method. Yet I know that faith is something that is who we are at the core of our being to use Rudolph Otto’s description. I know that faith at its most ignoble and most noble is the faith John Milton describes in his epic poems, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. Faith is that wonderful elixir, that when all else fails, binds up our wounds and sooths our soul.

Yes, I thought I knew about faith.

Yes, I thought I knew about Minutemen, fresh water, ignorance, and faith; that is, until Marley posted about the Ohio Minutemen and their defense of John Freshwater who was a middle school teacher recently fired for teaching Creationism and refusing to remove a Bible from the top of his desk. So, I checked out the website for the Minutemen of Ohio and found them to be an extremely misguided cultus of born again, biblically inerrant believing Christians. These Minutemen are no more Minutemen than am I. In their ignorance they flail against the hallmarks of American progressiveness as did Don Quixote against his windmill. Their manifestations of faith are as blind as are their faith beliefs bankrupt in defense of John Freshwater’s Creationism and denial of the legitimacy of homosexuality that is as much a gift form God as is heterosexuality.

However, the Ohio Minutemen are not unlike countless other Evangelicals, believers in biblical inerrancy, and retrogrades who wrap themselves in the flag and thump their Bibles in the inerrant belief that the Founding Fathers created America according to Christian faith beliefs and intended America to be a “Christian” nation. Consequently, I have spent many years and much energy to refuting this error and the faith beliefs that create it. Yet, the neoconservative movement of which the Ohio Minutemen are an extreme fringe group is responsible for the mess, both domestically and internationally, that is America today.

As we all know, debate with Evangelicals, believers in biblical inerrancy, and Neoconservatives is all but impossible because they do not accept or recognize that an illogical argument is illogical on its face and that the Bible does not change the speciousness of their argument. Moreover, they do not accept the historical record when that record does not agree with their theology or world-view.

In the Bible the Pharisees are quoted as asking, “Can anything good come from Galilee?” because Galilee was the hotbed of the hotheads of the Apocalyptic Movement. Fast forward 2,000 years and the question is just as valid regarding America’s right-wing Christians. It is valid because in both cases, the Galileans and right-wing American Christians, each are antithical to and dismissive of the historical theology and beliefs of the faith. Rather, they created a religion in their own image to justify their heretical beliefs.

However, for those with an open mind, and you gentle readers, the words of the Founding Fathers are as a trumpet blast as clear and pure as the shofar that initiates Rosh Hashannah in their condemnation of those who claim their intent was to create America pursuant to Christian faith beliefs and that America is to be a “Christian” nation. Why is this so important? It is extremely important because it is this belief that America was intended by the Founding Fathers to be a “Christian” nation that legitimizes in their mind all the damage they do in trying to impose their truncated faith beliefs that deny the exercise of ones conscience as the final arbiter of moral decision making and action especially regarding life and life style issues.

Let us go back to the time of the Founding Fathers and listen to what they said that completely and totally debunks the claims of the religious right and Ohio Minutemen that the Founding Fathers created America predicated on Christian faith beliefs and that they intended America to be a “Christian” nation. I have retained the spelling of the Founding Fathers where it is different from how the word is spelled today.

The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with gods, or wee in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledge that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

...John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the Unites States of America, 1787-1788

Thomas Jefferson believed in materialism, reason, and science. He never admitted to any religion but his own. He wrote, “You say I am a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.”
...Thomas Jefferson, letter to Ezra Stiles Ely, June 25, 1819

The Rev. Mason Weems portrays Washington as a devout Christian yet Washington’s own diaries show that he rarely attended church. He never mentioned Christianity in his thousands of letters and rarely spoke about his religious beliefs. Contrarily, his Freemasonry experience points to a belief in Deism. Washington wrote to the United Baptist Churches in Virginia in May 1789, “Every man ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.” After Washington’s death, Dr. Abercrombie, a friend replied to Dr. Wilson who had interrogated him about Washington’s religion, “Sir, Washington was a Deist.”

...Rev. Mason Weems, Life of Washington

As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion…

...Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11, ratified by the Senate June 10,1797

Here we have a clear admission by the United States that our government did not found itself upon Christianity.
....Joel Barlow, Counsel to Algers responsible for the treaty negotiations, Treaty of Tripoli

John Adams was a Unitarian who flatly denied the doctrine of eternal damnation. He wrote, “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”
...John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read, “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant of comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.

...Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom

I contemplate with sovereign reverence that the act of the whole American people witch declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” builds a wall of separation between church and state.

...Thomas Jefferson, letter interpreting the First Amendment to the Danbury Baptist Association, January 1, 1802

And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.

...James Madison, letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its 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.

...James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, 1785

In many of his letters, Thomas Jefferson denounced the superstitions of Christianity. He did not believe in spiritual souls, angels or godly miracles. Although Jefferson did admire the morality of Jesus, he did not think him divine, nor did he believe in the Trinity or the miracles of Jesus. He wrote, “Question with boldness even the existence of a god.”

...Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787

It is much to be lamented that a man of Franklin’s general good character and great influence should have been an unbeliever in Christianity, and also have done as much as he did to make others unbelievers.

...Dr. Priestly, an intimate friend of Franklin, Priestley’s Autobiography

Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, more contradictory to itself than his thing called Christianity.
...Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason

What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instance they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.

...James Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, 1785

They all attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country mainly to the separation of church and state. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America I did not meet a single individual, of the clergy or the laity, who was not of the same opinion on this point.
...Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835

I will close with this quotation from the historian Robert Middlekauff. In the words of the late Howard Cossell, “It tells it like it is.”

The idea that the Constitution expressed a moral view seems absurd. There were no genuine Evangelicals in the Convention, and there was no heated declaration of Christian piety.

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