We’re still dealing with organized ignorance in high places here in Texas. Specifically, as I’ve mentioned in prior posts, our State Board of Education is stuffed with fundamentalist activists. Their latest effort is to make sure that social studies textbooks emphasize how America was “founded on biblical principles.” Below is my letter to the Houston Chronicle published, very slightly edited, in today’s (7/20) paper:
What the social conservatives on the State Board of Education like Don McLeroy don’t know about the Founding Fathers could, and does, fill volumes. One such volume is Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers by Brooke Allen. Of course, Ms. Allen enjoys the advantage of having actually read the Founders’ words on religion, while Mr. McLeroy apparently has only consulted the likes of David Barton, an activist whose version of American history may be charitably described as “extreme revisionism.” What Allen’s book shows is that Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton were anything but the sorts of narrow, doctrinaire, ax-grinding Christians that constitute today’s religious right. The last thing these intellectuals of the Enlightenment wanted was for the United States to be founded on “biblical principles” as understood by the likes of Mr. McLeroy. Indeed, many of the Founders’ religious views were shockingly skeptical: Adams thought the orthodox creeds and the doctrine of the Trinity to be absurd; Franklin ridiculed strict observance of the Sabbath, and even expressed doubts about Christ’s divinity. Though falsely portrayed as devout by early propagandists like Parson Weems, Washington’s religious zeal was tepid at best. Jefferson frankly despised the Christian clergy and rejected biblical miracles. In fact, if the SBOE required that what the Founders really said about religion to be taught in Texas schools, the conservative churches would scream bloody murder.
Keith M. Parsons