"Be Respectful" or: I Critiqued the Sermon Pt. 1.

Christina here…

The other day JT posted this blog entry, “Oh America

JT used some words to describe the preachings of Bill Ledbetter to the Oklahoma House of Representatives. Here, I picked out the juicy ones for you:

“a positively lunatic rant” … “From a faith-drunk populace comes faith-drunk leaders.” … “This is what happens when politicians lie to pander for votes: people actually start believing that our nation owes Christianity jack squat.” … “The ideas oozing out of this man’s brain/mouth are transparently false to anybody with a cursory understanding/education of American history…” … “rank stupidity of an idea” … “poorly-cloaked bullshit.”

Commenter person said this:

Pastor Bill Ledbetter speaks the truth. We should listen to him. If you don’t believe in God, there’s only one other option and it isn’t a good one. At least be respectful in your ignorant comments.

-Warren Crocker Herrick

I hear Christians and other people with various religious beliefs demanding we “be respectful” with far greater frequency than I hear atheists demand the same thing of their lack of belief.

Part of this, I imagine, has to to with the fact that the atheists I know do not see ideas as worthy of respect. When a Christian criticizes me, for example, I don’t ask them to have some respect – I tell tem logically, rationally, where their thinking has gone wrong. The closest I might come to asking for “respect” might be to inform them that snide comments are unconvincing.

If you want to convince an atheist that Christianity is true, don’t demand “respect”. Ideas earn respect based on their verisimilitude and not on their sanctimoniousness.

Present arguments. Preferably ones lacking in logical fallacies. Present evidence, preferably of the reliable and credible variety. If they are cogent, we will change.

Until then, your ideas get no respect.

However, I do respect you as another human being. If I think some idea of yours is dangerous/illogical/unsound, not pointing such danger/illogic out to you out of “respect” – is disrespecting you. Respecting someone means giving them potentially useful information, not intentionally withholding information.

If someone thinks I am wrong – even if they find some spelling or grammatical error in one of my posts – I prefer they point it out. To me, that’s respect.

I didn’t know if I had the time to listen to Pastor Ledbetter’s sermon, but I decided to anyway. Here it is again:


YouTube Preview Image


Here are some claims he made, and my comments regarding those claims. Let’s see whether his ideas deserve respect.

1. “America is the only nation in history that’s been under one governing document her whole history. The second greatest document ever crafted, second only to the Bible is the Constitution of the United States of America.

I understand that Ledbetter intends this statement to inspire awe and wonder at the Constitution. Clearly he reveres the constitution. However, his statement is incorrect. The Articles of Confederation served as the first constitution of the United States. The Constitution is the second. Respectfully, I would like to point out that Ledbetter made a factually incorrect statement. I hope he is amenable to facts.

2. “Some political scientists… discovered that 34% of the time, as our forefathers crafted the constitution, they were quoting the bible….The interesting thing when they got all the writings isolated, got down to the bottom of it – every time they were building the underpinnings of the constitution they were either quoting the Bible, or quoting someone else who was quoting the Bible. “

Which political scientists? Ledbetter does not mention it, but I surmise he means Lutz (1984). One can find a good review of the claim that the founders based all of the Constitution on the bible here. Suffice to say, those who make claim #2 (Notably, David Barton) grossly misrepresent Lutz. I cannot respect misrepresentations of research publications.

3. “Patrick Henry wanted us to understand something – that this great nation was founded not by religionists but by Christians and not on the basis of religion, but on the basis of Christianity.”

David Barton, the man whose work Ledbetter appears to be liberally presenting here, has himself stated that this is an unconfirmed quote which should not be used in support of the Christianity of the framers. The quote:

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! — Patrick Henry (unconfirmed)

The comment by Barton:

Therefore, until more definitive documentation can be presented, please avoid the words in question.

I cannot respect the use of unconfirmed quotes to support assertions regarding the religiosity of the framers.

3.5-ish. “And this great nation was underpinned and rooted and founded in the person of Christ and his word the Bible, and our forefathers never intended we would have one church or anything like that. They intended on the principles of Christianity and the Bible to give all people freedom to pursue god as they saw fit… and they came up with the Constitution. It’s because it’s rooted in the person of Christ.”

The Constitution is about as Christian as I am. Strange how the Constitution does not mention any rooting in Christianity, mentions nothing about the person of Jesus, mentions nothing about Biblical underpinnings. In a world where people declare Obama a Muslim/Atheist because he doesn’t mention Jesus in his Thanksgiving address, I’m surprised Ledbetter and people like him declare a founding document such as the Constitution fundamentally Biblical despite saying nothing about religion – save for that the US will not establish one and that no religious test is required for office. I cannot respect when people read an entirely secular document and then insist said document is rooted in religion.

4. “As late as 1892 there’s a court case and I think most of it’s been confirmed where… the church of the Holy Trinity Versus the united States of America where the U.S Supreme Court said this: our laws and institutions must embody and embrace the teachings of Christ, the redeemer of mankind – it cannot be otherwise. To this extent, our laws and our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.”

This is the supreme court case and quote from which Ledbetter derives the above quote:

These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation. 143 U.S. 457 (1892)

Justice Brewer, the author of the above quote, clarified his meaning in 1905, saying:

But in what sense can [the United States] be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or the people are compelled in any manner to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that ‘congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or in name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within its borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all. [...] Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions.

The court case in no way says that any laws and institutions must embrace your Christ. Justice Brewer says exactly not what you claim.  What was that JT said about Ledbetter’s claims? Oh yeah, they are “transparently false”.

I cannot respect when people twist the words of a U.S. Justice.

1200 words already and I’m only 3:09 into this…

5. “When our forefathers ratified the constitution – Bill of Rights – god entered in a covenant, he’s blessed us like no other country on earth. Man, it takes 95 different countries of the world combined just to equal the gross domestic product of the United States of America. We are more blessed than anybody.”

Because GDP is a measure of god’s blessings. Wouldn’t a better measure be not one of consumerism but, say, life expectancy? Oh… the USA is #36. Crap. Maybe god has blessed us with the lowest infant mortality? Oh, we’re #34. Maybe we have the lowest population of people living in poverty? Not that either, we’re #31.

I cannot respect when someone thinks the best measure of his god’s blessings is how much stuff our country produces rather than some other measures indicating health of the populace, like how unimpoverished or how long the citizens live.

6. “50 years ago, America decided that her heritage was something she didn’t want. America decided that she wanted to become a secular nation. And for 50 years now we have been misinterpreting the separation of church and state. If you’ll study that letter by Thomas Jefferson and compare it with the First Amendment of the Constitution, you’ll quickly realize he never intended for the separation clause (which is not in the constitution but in that letter) he never intended for that to mean to keep the church out of the state’s business. He intended to keep the state out of the church’s business.”

What happened 50 years ago? I think he means Engel V Vitale, the landmark Supreme Court decision which deemed it unconstitutional for state officials to encourage the recitation of prayer in public schools.

This decision makes America a secular nation in the same way that forbidding the recitation of official atheist screeds for public schools make America a Christian nation – in other words, it doesn’t. Instead, the decision forbids compulsory prayer. Anyone can pray – but they can’t pray out loud to a captive audience of students in a public school. If Engle V Vitale had abolished all private religious schools and deemed them unconstitutional, you might have a point, but they didn’t, and you don’t. I can’t respect when someone declares that because children can’t be forced to listen to religious prayers, that means America is stamping out Christianity. On the contrary, it allows Christianity to flourish among private citizens and protects Christians, as it also bars students from being forced to listen to non-Christian prayers.

I also can’t respect when someone states that the framers wanted the USA to be an explicitly, foundationally Christian nation when those same framers signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which has within it this:

Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

If the United States must embody the teachings of Christ and indeed cannot do otherwise – why on earth would Article 11 be in this treaty? Did the writers of the treaty lie?

7. “We have used the separation now as a crowbar to throw god and Christ and the word of god out of the center of this country. And though we know he’s the creator, we know he’s god, we no longer honor him as god, we want to be secular so we throw him out. Consequently when you do that, you cannot create law that corresponds with his word and brings his favor inevitably a secular nation will create law that puts us on the course of a head-on collision with god. “

Yes, and I’m going to go on thinking that putting secular laws on a collision course with your religious laws is a good thing until you show me evidence that your god exists. Then show me evidence that your god wrote those laws. Then show me evidence that your god says we need to follow them.  Then show me evidence those laws are morally superior to secular laws.

Secular doesn’t mean throwing god out any more than it means throwing out atheism. Secularism is fundamentally neutral. This is why we secularists/atheists don’t advocate carving the Ten Principals of Atheism on the courthouse steps, or why we don’t advocate imprinting “Non est deus.” on our currency. Secularism leaves room for religion and non-religion.

I can’t respect when people don’t understand why secularism is fundamentally neutral, leaving room for Christians and atheists alike. Furthermore, you’ve made it clear you don’t really want room for Christians and atheists alike. You want a theocracy: a form of government in which God or a deity is recognized as the supreme civil ruler. If our government “is rooted in Christ” then it can only be a theocracy. In fact, you essentially argue that our government should and was meant to be a theocracy.

I can’t respect when people want a theocracy.

8. “If you throw god out, then you have to come up with some idea that you’re going to teach your kids about where they came from. And you have to teach that in school. And now all across our nations, kids are taught that they are advanced mutations of a baboon. They are taught that they came from a monkey. Let me tell you something. Evolution is not science – and I know that’s not politically correct…”

Pastor Ledbetter, you’ve got this backward. Biologists did not “come up with some idea” about the origin of diversity among living things because they had some desire to throw out your god. Natural Selection is the fundamental unifying explanation of the facts of biology. Instead of taking new information and working it into your worldview, you see any information contradicting your worldview as evidence someone is trying to attack your worldview, instead of considering that your worldview might be wrong. I cannot respect that. I cannot respect when people’s worldviews are unamenable to evidence.

Children only get taught evolution says we “are advanced mutations of baboons” in Christian sermons. Nobody teaches them they are “advanced mutations of a baboon”, because humans are not advanced mutations of baboons. Humans and baboons share a common ancestor.  I cannot respect when someone knocks down strawman science without understanding even the fundamentals of it.

Also, “evolution is not science” is not “politically incorrect” – it’s just plain incorrect.

9. “But what it is is an indoctrination to teach a godless worldview.”

You know what else is an indoctrination to teach a godless worldview? The theory that pregnancy is the result of a male and female gamete merging in fertilization. That contradicts the idea of immaculate conception virgin birth. Does the Theory of Pregnancy indoctrinate children into a godless worldview? How about the Theory Of Animals Lacking Vocal Cords Cannot Speak, or the Theory Of Water, In Liquid Form, Lacks The surface Tension Required For a Man To Walk Upon It,  or the Theory Of Once a Human Dies, He Can’t Come Back To Life? Or the Theory Of Women Aren’t Created From Ribs?

I cannot respect when someone declares a fundamental, unifiying principal of biology, as taught in a public school classroom (and barely taught at that) indoctrination.

Holy Moley. This blog post is now over 2500 words. TL:DR yet?

I’m finishing up tomorrow, lest your brains explode.


Lutz DS.The Relative Influence of European Writers on Late Eighteenth-Century American Political Thought The American Political Science Review Vol. 78, No. 1 (Mar., 1984), pp. 189-197 Abstract here.


Learn more about Christina and follow her @ziztur.

About christinastephens
  • http://nigelthebold.com/ nigelTheBold to the power of nigelTheBold

    The first amendment alone refutes the idea the Constitution was based on the Bible. The establishment clause goes directly against much of the Bible, which demands absolute subservience to the Abrahamic God.

    I imagine one could go through the Constitution point by point and illustrate how it does not represent particularly Christian policies.

    I’m not entirely well-versed in political studies, but that gives me an idea for a blog post.

  • http://nigelthebold.com/ nigelTheBold to the power of nigelTheBold

    Sorry — I’d meant to state also that his necessary reference to a document other than the first amendment shows his hand. Any literate reading of the establishment clause results in the wall of separation. If the government must stay out of church business, the church must stay out of the government’s business. Otherwise, any policies resulting from church meddling in government will result in the de facto involvement of the government in some church.

    His interpretation is effectively, “Of course I don’t want the government involved in my church. It’s those other churches that require meddling.”

    • RW Ahrens

      +1 (at least!)

  • otrame

    There is a great book, “Plain, Honest Men” which is a day by day examination of the Constitutional Convention. I recommend.

    At one point, fairly early along, one of them said “Should we open each day with a prayer?”. The others looked at each other and said the 18th century version of, “Nah.”

  • TJ

    Just a minor point – immaculate conception is not the same as virgin birth – immaculate conception involves Mary, virgin birth involves Jesus.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

      Oh right. Fixing.

  • mck9

    In nitpick mode:

    The theory that pregnancy is the result of a male and female gamete merging in fertilization. That contradicts the idea of immaculate conception.

    No it doesn’t. It contradicts the idea of virgin birth.

    The doctrine of immaculate conception asserts that Jesus’ mother was free from original sin. I don’t think the theory of pregnancy has anything to say on that subject.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

      My wrong. See what happens when someone is raised entirely secular? We make basic mistakes like that. Fixed!

      • Steve

        It’s a very common misconception (no pun intended)

  • Steve

    Christopher Hitchens had a great bit to say about the respect thing:


  • Yellow Thursday

    I was listening to a sermon on the radio this morning, and the preacher was saying a lot of the same things: That God gave us the Constitution. That America is a Christian Nation because of some document one or more of the founding fathers wrote before the Constitution (I don’t remember which one; I couldn’t write it down because I was driving). That everything that’s wrong with the US is because we’ve “turned away from God.” That students can’t pray in school. That you can’t give a child an asprin without a note, but a “little girl” can be led to an abortion clinic without involving her parents.

    Yelling at the radio keeps me from yelling at customers (some of whom are very vocal Christians) at work.

    • kosk11348

      That America is a Christian Nation because of some document one or more of the founding fathers wrote before the Constitution (I don’t remember which one; I couldn’t write it down because I was driving).

      Probably the Magna Carta. Fundies love to cite that document because it did establish a theocracy, unlike the U.S. Constitution which would follow several centuries later.

      • kosk11348

        Sorry, I actually meant the Mayflower Compact. That’s the Pilgrim’s founding document.

  • Rieux

    Just another nitpick:

    Maybe god has blessed us with the lowest infant mortality? Oh, we’re #34.

    Actually, as obstetrician Amy Tuteur (“The Skeptical O.B.”) has pointed out, America’s infant mortality is actually much better-ranked than that, because a huge number of other nations cook their books by pretending that many premature births are “stillbirths” rather than “infants” at all:

    According to the World Health Organization, the infant death rate is the number of infant deaths divided by the total number of live births in a year. Similarly, the WHO definition of neonatal mortality is the number of neonatal deaths divided by the total number of live births in a year. Not surprisingly ALL live born babies, regardless of weight or gestational age are supposed to be included in these calculations. The US adheres to these guidelines, as does Canada. Most other first world countries do not. They cheat by deliberately excluding very premature babies. In other words, they classify the babies who are most likely to die as born dead (and therefore not included) even when they are born alive.

    So, for example, a 28 weeker who lives for several days is counted in the US or Canadian neonatal mortality statistics, but is treated in many other countries as if it never existed, thereby artificially lowering the neonatal mortality rate.

    This has a huge impact on mortality rates. That’s why other countries cheat in the first place. A paper published last month in the British Medical Journal has quantified exactly how large the impact is. It turns out that the US (and Canada) don’t have poor rankings and never had poor rankings. They actually have among the best ranking for infant and neonatal mortality it the world!


    This does not, obviously, prove the existence of God, the Christianness of the United States, or the legitimacy of a single word Ledbetter says.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

      Hey, thanks for that info! I love Amy, but have not read that particular post of hers, and that makes perfect sense. +1!

  • Paul W., OM

    Nicely done.

    Another nit, though:

    We did evolve from monkeys, for any reasonable definition of “monkey.”

    The latest common ancestor of humans, other apes, and (other) monkeys was the latest common ancestor of all the monkeys, too.

    We are actually more closely related to Old World monkeys than Old World monkeys are to New World monkeys.

    It’s a matter of arcane traditional terminology and not a matter of scientific fact that we don’t call that latest common ancestor “a monkey,” despite the fact that it was literally the prototypical monkey, from which all others sprang, and was apparently itself entirely monkey-like, being small and tailed and jumping around in trees and so on.

    It was not just some primate, like a lemur or tarsier, but specifically a monkey. It was in the monkeys-and-apes clade, and not particularly ape-like, so just a monkey. The mother of all monkeys, even.

    We should stop “gotcha”ing the fundies about this.

    When they say that evolutionary theory says we evolved from monkeys, they’re really not wrong. Saying that we didn’t evolve from monkeys is much wronger.

    We should be happy to say that we evolved from apes, and are still (atypical) apes.

    By the same token, we should be happy to say that we evolved from monkeys, and even that we are still (even more atypical) monkeys.

    Saying that we are “not apes” would not be informative—it’s obvious we’re not typical apes, and it’s scientifically interesting that we are nonetheless among the apes in the “tree of life.”

    Likewise, saying that we are “not monkeys” is uninformative. It’s obvious that we are big and tailless and walk upright and use computers, unlike prototypical “monkeys.” It’s scientifically interesting that we (and other apes) are nonetheless among the monkeys in the tree of life.

    Whenever we “correct” the fundies about this, it is very misleading—it makes it sound like there’s an important scientific fact at stake, and our common ancestor really wasn’t a monkey.

    The truth is more interesting—the common ancestor really was a monkey, except in an uninteresting, gerrymandered terminological sense.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

      I understand your criticism. “Fair enough”, as my husband is want to frequently say.

      • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina


        And I changed my critique to reflect your correction, thanks!

  • Traion

    You forgot to mention one thing:

    Man, it takes 95 different countries of the world combined just to equal the gross domestic product of the United States of America

    According to Wikipedia:
    GDP US(2011):$15.065 trillion
    GDP EU(2011):$15,788 trillion

    • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

      It’s true. I saw that, but decided since the EU isn’t one country, I didn’t want to bother hashing all that out, though it is kinda amusing that he mentions the “95 countries” but not the EU.

    • Steve

      You can do it with 95 if you include some of the less wealthy countries

      • Anonymous

        When he says that “it takes” 95 different countries, that very much sounds like you can’t out-GDP us with just three or four, which you can. (China, Japan, and Germany, and maybe France.)

        So basically it’s a lie.

        Besides, it’s off-point. gdp by itself is a shitty indicator of how “blessed” a nation is. China having a bigger gdp than Japan isn’t very impressive, given that they’re got a much, much bigger population–median income would be a much better measure of how “blessed” we are as a nation. (Is a big poor country like China really more “blessed” than a small rich one like Japan?)

        But then of course, we wouldn’t come out on top, which the Pastor doesn’t want to admit. The top ten list of “most blessed” countries would include us near the top, but consist mostly of much less religious and rather more socialistic countries.

        He probably doesn’t want to say that we’re “halfway between Luxembourg and Iceland in blessedness, and tied with Norway.” That wouldn’t fit with the American Exceptionalist / Christian country narrative.

        • Paul W., OM

          FWIW, that “anonymous” above was me again; I guess my login timed out.

  • https://twitter.com/#!/Erulora Erulóra Maikalambe

    You’d think they’d notice that the First Amendment violates the First Commandment. But they don’t.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/Erulora Erulóra Maikalambe

      This was supposed to be a reply to Nigel’s #1, but I screwed it up.

  • http://blogingproject.blogspot.com/ Ing: I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream So I Comment Instead

    I hear Christians and other people with various religious beliefs demanding we “be respectful” with far greater frequency than I hear atheists demand the same thing of their lack of belief.

    Because you only have to demand respect when you can’t earn it?

  • eric

    Christina, you don’t really think that re-parsing your opinions in nice, academic language is going to get anyone to back off on the ‘disrespectful’ label, do you? Ultimately, its the content they view as disrespectful. It is simply impossible to make a secular or an atheist argument and not be deemed disrepectful, as they find the ideas of secularism and atheism to be inherently disrespectful. They are offended by the belief you hold, not how you describe it.

    Just look at those Atheists bus ads. One word. No message to speak of. Yet, rejected.

  • http://www.atheist-faq.com JT (Generic)

    It’s pretty obvious that the U.S. was founded on the Bible, especially when you read through 1st and 2nd Democracyius.

    *flips through Bible*

    Where the hell did those go?

  • smrnda

    When people say that the US has somehow gone astray or things have started going wrong since we’ve become more secular, I’d say that we were far more Christian back when there was slavery and genocide against native peoples. If you are GLBT America has, in many ways, become a better place since we’ve become more secular.

    I mean, I’d argue that we’re better today just because of laws like ADA and FMLA. Plus, we have social welfare programs so people don’t have to beg for crumbs from ‘charitable’ organizations whose primary purpose is really to catch people hungry and proselytize.

    • Aquaria

      Paradise Lost syndrome.

      I think Douglas Adams said it best in Hitchhikers, when he talked about the people who were upset that we came down from the trees, but there were further people who thought we shouldn’t have come out of the water, or some such. It’s been a while since I read it, so I don’t remember how it worked exactly.

      But the point was that there are always people who idealize the past, and think that we lost something by not keeping things exactly as they were, frozen in some older, more supposedly perfect, time. People in the 50s longed for the roaring 20s. People in that generation wanted to go back to the more genteel 1870s, and so on, back through time.

      But there is no halcyon era. There is no perfect time to be alive. All you have is the time that is before you.

      Do we really expect for these christers, though, to be content or appreciative to be alive in a time that even a king from the medieval era would envy? They don’t look at reality to begin with, always looking anywhere but at it, so how can they know what they have in the here and now?

      They disgust me.

  • stubby

    That is a great response. It’s a shame theists refuse to accept facts when it comes to their faith. Imagine how quickly we could change the world if they did.

    • http://anthrozine.com Cubist

      If theists did accept facts when it comes to their faith, the world wouldn’t need changing in the sense you mean…

  • Aliasalpha

    Oh come on, america is obviously a christian nation, most of the words in your consitiution are also in the bible!

    Sure they’re not in the same order or anything and they don’t describe the same things but the words are there!

    • NotAProphet

      Yup, reminds me of Eric Morecambe’s “I am playing the right notes, just not necessarily in the right order”!


      • Aquaria

        Alban Berg beat them to it, and people actually play his compositions to make money.

  • NotAProphet

    I found a nit! There are two #3s!

    I think the “Theory Of Water, In Liquid Form, Lacks The surface Tension Required For a Man To Walk Upon It” is my new favourite thing! It’s not like evolution is the first of our discoveries about how the world works that shows religious claims as bollocks, it’s just one that’s a little more complex, thus enables apologists to attempt to baffle with bullshit.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ziztur Christina

      Now it’s 3 and 3.5ish. Whee!

  • http://purl.org/NET/JesseW/SundryStuff/ JesseW

    Here is Part 2.