This is a guest post by Lisa. [Personal information has been removed.]
According to Rick Perry, our religious heritage is under attack. But what heritage is he really talking about?
Perry’s by now infamous new ad makes some very broad and sweeping claims about the religious history of this nation. It is a far too common argument in many Christian circles that the United States was founded as a decidedly Christian nation. Perry proclaims, “Faith made America strong. It can make her strong again.”
He is first of all relying on a logical fallacy known as an “appeal to tradition.” An appeal to tradition argues that something is better or right because it is historical. It is the “we’ve always done it this way” argument. Religion and faith have always been central to our nation, so they should continue to be so. It’s a basic fallacy — there are plenty of things we have “always done” that actually turned out to be quite wrong.
The irony is that Perry is not only relying on weak logic, he is also relying on weak (read: nonexistent) facts. He says, “Faith made America strong.”
Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore published a book in 2005 called The Godless Constitution: A Moral Defense of the Secular State. It was published during George W. Bush’s presidency, what Perry might call a lull in this so-called “war on religion.” The book traces the history of our nation’s establishment and makes clear arguments for why this nation was carefully founded as a secular state.
It is not true that the founders designed a Christian commonwealth, which was then eroded by secular humanists and liberals; the reverse is true. The framers erected a godless federal constitutional structure, which was then undermined as God entered the first U.S. currency in 1863, then the federal mail service in 1912, and finally the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954.
The Founding Fathers would not have fit in with our contemporary Christian right. They were deists and Unitarians, believing in a distant, somewhat disinterested God that simply set things into motion. Thomas Jefferson famously composed his own Bible, eliminating miracles and other supernatural material. It is doubtful that many of the founding fathers would have claimed to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Beyond this misrepresentation of history, Perry is claiming that a child can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. To be honest, I’m wondering if I missed something. Since when is a child not allowed to pray in school? A child may not be allowed to use a school’s resources to coerce other children into praying, but that child is still allowed to practice whatever belief system he or she ascribes to. Unless I’ve missed something significant, we still live in a nation of incredible religious freedom. In this ad, Perry is not advocating for a return to religious freedom — he’s advocating for a religious state.
Perry knows his audience well. And there’s absolutely no doubt that there are people somewhere cheering in their armchairs as he promises to end this “war on religion.” That’s fine. If they like what he says, they can vote for him. Though I sincerely doubt they’ll get a chance.
I do have a problem, however, when our nation’s history is distorted and manipulated to support a politician’s claims. I have a problem with attempts to recolor our past with a religious heritage that simply didn’t exist. If we’re going to mix up religion and government, at the very least, let’s be honest about it.