Read part 1 of this series on an American Atheist monument installed on public property in Florida as a protest against a Ten Commandments monument.
The back of the monument contains quotes by some founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin.
Benjamin Wiker (the Christian whose article I’ve been critiquing) responds:
The problem with the American Atheists using these quotes is that, while Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin were certainly Americans, they were certainly not atheists.
That’s debatable, but let’s let that go. Wiker continues:
They warmly approved of the moral doctrines that arose from Christianity. These moral doctrines were understood, by all three, to be essential to forming the character of the citizens for free government.
What moral doctrines are exclusively from Christianity? Good principles like “don’t murder” or “don’t steal” are hardly unique to Christianity or even to religion. (Admittedly, neither are stupid principles like Christianity’s support for slavery or genocide.) And basic principles that today we think are obvious like no slavery, no torture, non-coercive marriage, freedom from religion, democracy, and others that are listed in documents like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are not from the Bible (more here).
Moral principles come from people and society. We don’t need to imagine the supernatural to explain them.
Here’s the first quote:
“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.”
— Thomas Jefferson
Wiker tries to handwave a response:
The first quote shows a confidence by Jefferson that the foundation of belief in God is rational, not that reason leads to atheism.
Wrong again. Why would Jefferson demand that we question the existence of God if he meant that belief in God is rational? How stupid does Wiker hope we are?
He has no rebuttal to the Adams quote:
“It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service [writing the Constitution] had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of Heaven.”
— John Adams
Here’s the final atheist quote:
“When religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, ’tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”
— Benjamin Franklin
[This] is spoken against having an established church (as England had its own established church).
I’d say, “Nice try” except that this is quite a pathetic try. No, that’s not what Franklin is saying. He’s saying that any god so ephemeral that he won’t support his own religion isn’t much of a god.
But that does not prove that secular atheism invented the separation of church and state. . . . The separation of church and state is (like hospitals and universities) the invention of Christianity.
The Church must’ve forgotten its embrace of church/state separation during the period when the Pope had his own country, ordered Crusades, crowned emperors, and in general meddled in the political affairs of Europe. Or when kings imagined a divine right to rule. Or when Henry VIII took the role of head of the Church of England. The church was up to its well-appointed elbows in politics. (And Wiker claims too much when he declares that Christianity invented universities and hospitals.)
True, “atheism” didn’t invent separation of church and state, but let’s not pretend that Christianity did, either. Martin Luther’s doctrine of two kingdoms, for example, is hardly the First Amendment.
But focus on the positive. Wiker is so adamant that church/state separation a good thing that he wants to take credit for it. His claim of invention is wrong, but let’s instead focus on his celebration of church/state separation.
Not only are we on the same page, we’ve come full circle. The initial news story was of a county in Florida giving exclusive use of their property for a Christian message. Wiker’s support for church/state separation makes clear he would stand alongside American Atheists in demanding either no religious messages or free access for all.
We do not err because truth is difficult to see.
It is visible at a glance.
We err because this is more comfortable.
— Alexander Solzhenitsyn
(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 9/16/13.)
Image credit: Dave Muscato, CC