"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:



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.

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