Dissecting Rick Perry’s ‘Strong’ Ad

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.”

Did it?

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.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Trace

    At least his “Faith” ad is a little bit more inclusive (or something) that his “Strong” one.

    The one I really liked was the recent one in Camels with Hammers (with pretty much the same message minus the polticking).

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers/2011/12/10/the-true-victims-of-the-war-on-christmas/

    I don’t know if we are supposed to put links in this blog, and if so, I don’t know how to make them short, so…. sorry.

    • Anonymous

      How about Bit.ly? This is a site that allows people to shorten their links to a morew convenient size.

      https://bitly.com/

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1198150213 Joe Murray

        How about this shortening service:  http://www.fuckw.it/
        It had to be done ;).

        • Drew M.

          That’s hilarious!

        • Trace

          Thanks you!  :)

      • Trace

        Thanks!

  • Warner

    Of course children pray in school, they still have algebra don’t they?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1662432506 Jonas Green

    If anything the Prayer in schools comment refers to a time when prayers were school sponsored, and read over the loudspeakers. It wasn’t Obama, that had anything to do with tha of course but the American Atheists M.M. O’hair case which put a stop to it.

    I’m sure Perry would like to return to a time when Christianity were more prominent in schools, i.e. school sponsored prayers opening the school day, over the loudspeakers

    • Demonhype

      That’s what that type means when they say “children aren’t allowed to pray in school”.  They mean “Christian children aren’t allowed to force their non-Christian friends to pray to Jesus, or at least give open deference to Christianity or out themselves as a legitimate target for righteous bullying”.

      They told me when I was a kid that Christianity was being persecuting and oppressed in this country because they were being prevented from using any and all means, including government, to convert everyone else and since that is such a fundamental part of the Christian faith (using any means necessary to make other people be Christian or at least pretend) that meant they were being prevented from exercising an important part of their faith.

      I’m a little kid, years away from the outright doubt that would lead me to atheism, and even then I was flabbergasted at the suggestions that being prevented from persecuting others was persecution, just so long as you can frame your own persecutionary efforts as “part of my deeply held religious beliefs”.  That somehow there was a qualifier that made it “my freedom to swing my arms ends where your nose begins–unless I think Jesus wants me to break your nose, then it’s part of my freedom and you should suck it up because my Christian Faith will always trump your civil and human rights”.

      At the same time, you know people like that don’t believe that a Muslim’s deep and abiding faith that he must use any means necessary to bring you into the Muslim faith would allow him similar free reign.  It’s more like “my freedom to swing my arms only ends where your nose begins so long as Jesus doesn’t tell me to go farther, but your freedom to swing your arms ends several feet from where my nose begins no matter what your religious, moral, or social beliefs might be.  Only Christians may do this, no one else.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    Desperate acts of a man who’s never lost an election before, and isn’t ready to lose this nomination without pulling out every gun, cowboy jacket, belt buckle and religious pander.

    • Demonhype

      Quite a meltdown but, as you said, entertaining.  Sad, but hilarious.  Schadenfreude and all that!  :)

  • JimG

    You’ll notice that Perry didn’t say “Faith made America smart.”

  • Michael

    I thought this was a good explanation of where this idea of tradition comes from. Be sure to hover your mouse pointer over the strip.

    http://xkcd.com/988/

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adrian-Chester/682538320 Adrian Chester

      xkcd FTW!

  • Anonymous

    What Perry’s ad might look like in the Harry Potter world:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3N11rJ2VMA

    • Tiffany

      No offense, but other than shoving some characters’ names in it, has very little relevance to Harry Potter. I like the idea, but it could have been executed better. Or it could be my love for Snape. Either way…meh.

    • http://twitter.com/paix_amour88 Maria

      I get it….J.K. Rowling had a very strong anti-racism message wrapped up in her books, e.i. the whole pureblood/mudblood/half-blood thing.  So this video kind of embodies the feel Perry’s video had, where there’s an in-group and an out-group, and makes it very clear which are in (christians) and which are out (gays, any non-christians at all)….same as what Voldemort was trying to do with pure-bloods and half-bloods and the like.

      • Anonymous

        Thanks Maria, I’m glad someone gets it!

  • Jolly Banker

    First, I would like to say that we are
    on the same page regarding Perry’s ad…What a poor campaign he is running.

    Anyways, on to the point I want to make. It’s not accurate to assert that the majority of the founding fathers (which is a somewhat vague term…I’m referring to those involved in signing/affirming the Declaration of Independence as well as the United States Constitution,) deists or Unitarian humanists, etc. It is true that there were some Unitarian, deistic founders; however, there were a significant number of founding fathers that were protestant Christians. That’s not to say they sought to create a Christian state, but it is a red herring focus only on the prominent founding fathers such as Jefferson or Paine and think that was the norm among them. The Declaration of Independence appeals to God-given rights. And much of the values behind the DOC and constitution are based off of the Judeo-Christian worldview. It is revisionist history to say that founding fathers were not a
    religious group of men. Do not read this as a ‘we are Christian nation and we should stay that way’ mantra. I’m just addressing the growing popular idea that we were founded by a bunch of unreligious humanists. I’ll leave you with a quote by Patrick Henry, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here.”

    *editing for formatting…for some reason it always appears different that I type it.

    • http://wordsideasandthings.blogspot.com/ Garren

      ..”And much of the values behind the DOC and constitution are based off of the Judeo-Christian worldview.”

      How is the Constitution based on “the Judeo-Christian worldview”? For starters, where is the Bible ever in favor of republican government? Like. At all.

    • Donna

      Patrick Henry never said anything of the kind.   http://fakehistory.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/fake-quotations-patrick-henry-on-religionists/

      • Rich Wilson

        Even if you give that that was Patrick Henry’s sentiment, he was at the extreme end of a spectrum.  Just because one founding father thought we needed to be a Christian Nation didn’t mean they all did.  The secular nature of the constitution backs up the fact that whatever Patrick Henry wanted, he lost the debate.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      The Declaration of Independence appeals to God-given rights.

      ‘the laws of Nature and Nature’s God.’ What very odd wording. That doesn’t sound anything like the Christian God.

      And much of
      the values behind the DOC and constitution are based off of the
      Judeo-Christian worldview.

      Haw haw haw! I don’t think you can make a case for that. The constitution starts off very clearly with a preamble stating that government emanates from “we the people.” Tell me how that is a “Judeo-Christian” *  idea.

      * BTW, did it ever occur to you that the Jews are not all that impressed with attempts to invoke inclusiveness in their name? They are familiar with the long history of anti-Semitism in Christianity.

      • Anonymous

        “Nature’s god” and “Creator” are clearly deistic references. At the very least it’s meant to be universal so people can mentally insert their deity of choice.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Certainly, many of the Founding Fathers were Christians. During the constitutional convention they deliberately decided to leave God and religion out of the constitution. Unlike many of today’s religious right theocrats, they understood that separation of church and state benefits even the religious.

      • Demonhype

        Yes, regardless of what any or most of our Founders personally believed, the vast majority chose to base this country on a firm separation of Church and State for a lot of important reasons that religious people today seem to have forgotten.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    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.”

    Ahem. The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness was first published in 1996. A paperback version came out in 1997. You apparently got the later re-issue with the altered subtitle.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      Note the reference to “dime store atheists” on page 21

  • Charles Black

    Apparently you can’t comment on the video not to mention that there are much more people who dislike his message than like his message.
    Bit mysterious eh?

  • PWinright

    I am curious about how an atheist feels about physical death. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the atheistic view is that of oblivion. If that is correct then what would be the point of living a good and moral life here on earth. Life could be a free for all on this planet without there being any punishment. By the same token there would be no reward for doing good. I am hoping someone will answer this question. I am a Christian (Catholic) but I respect other peoples point of view. Thank you.

    • Rich Wilson

      The basic difference between atheists and theists with respect to morality  is that atheists generally believe that morality evolves as part of society, rather than being handed down from a deity.  For the most part we have the same morals.  Although we generally don’t care about things defined as ‘sins’ since those are specifically religious violations.

      This previous post might also help http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/12/02/after-a-christian-wonders-whom-atheists-thanks-at-thanksgiving-one-offers-this-powerful-response/

      Let me ask you this, is your belief in the afterlife the ONLY thing that guides your morality?  If you didn’t fear hell, would you suddenly have  a compulsion to do whatever you want and damned be anyone else?  I suspect not.  You probably hold the door for people without thinking what God thinks about it.  And you appreciate it when other people hold the door for you.

    • Rich Wilson

      Sorry, this is the one I was thinking of http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/11/04/what-do-atheists-live-for/

      This one is good too http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2011/11/22/what-are-atheists-thankful-for/

      (Hemant- we need a way to be able to search back more than one page of results!)

    • Damian Reed

      PWinright,
      I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for asking as opposed to assuming. It’s always refreshing when someone, regardless of belief or non-belief, seeks answers with an open mind.

      I can only speak for myself here, but in terms of my atheism I feel that physical death isn’t an end to anything. Sure, my life comes to an end as my body dies. I’ll be either buried or cremated. Loved ones will mourn my passing and I will hopefully left the world something good of myself.

      Once I die, I simply cease to be. Over the course of thousands of years my remains will eventually disintegrate. The component molecules and atoms that make me up will be left behind. Eventually the Earth will come to an end as well, itself reduced to it’s most basic physical components. Our sun will die, our solar system will perish and even our entire galaxy will one day end. So in a very real sense, whatever remains are left of me will eventually be cast out into the cosmos. Perhaps even eventually becoming integrated into a new galaxy, a new star, a new planet, or even a new biological entity. I take comfort knowing that despite lacking a belief in a deity, I am currently and will always be something larger and more amazing than myself. I am part of the universe and all of it’s ongoing mysteries. There’s a simple happiness I have with that.

      Now to the question of morality. This is a tricky subject that is sometimes hotly debated even among my own peers. But for me, my morality is dictated by the notion of continuity. I wish for my species to survive. I want the human race in all it’s capacity and complexity to flourish. I only have one limited lifetime here, so I truly wish to help it find harmony and peace through rational discourse and steadfast reason. I seek a consensus which rises above what religion tends to provide. Whereas most religions espouse the idea that love, peace, and happiness can only be found by following their strict doctrine, reason and logic can often produce much greater results. Morality dictated by what’s inherently best for the entire human race, as opposed to the fear or retribution of an eternity in hell for exercising free will, seems to be the best kind of moral compass we can ever hope to have.

      Thank you once again for the opportunity.

      Damian Reed

  • Gabe

    Was this post originally about climate change? It appeared in my reader, but then disappeared. I had a comment regarding that post…

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Hemant Mehta

      Patheos is having server issues. The climate change post (not this one) will be up soon.


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