Ben Witherington annoys me.

Patheos makes me feel schizophrenic.  On the one hand they have the Friendly Atheist blog, which is awesome, and makes it look like Patheos pursues only top tier talent.  On the other hand, they have some other blogs that make me wonder if there are any standards in place at all.

(Speaking of bloggers at Patheos, I’ve still heard nothing from Leah Libresco and, at this point, have given up hope that I will.  Too bad.  Should anything change, I’ll let you know.)

Anyway, first it was Elizabeth Scalia with a defense of Libresco and the Catholic church so overflowing with inaccuracies that it pushes the limits of my charity to think it wasn’t purposefully dishonest.  Now I get sent this piece by Ben Witherington dragging out a canard that should’ve died ages ago:

But what about those founding documents— the Declaration, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights. Didn’t they set up a secular society for America? Didn’t they set up ‘a separation of church and state’? Look hard— can you find any clause that uses that phrase in our founding documents? Basically this incorrect. You will fail to find a pronouncement that sets up some Berlin-like wall between the secular and the sacred in these documents.

People like Witherington must think the founding fathers were the biggest bunch of fuck ups to ever stumble onto the continent.  Did they intend to put the bible, Jesus, and Christianity throughout all of our founding documents and just forget?  There’s nary a Republican today that would make such a glaring faux paus!  It’d be everywhere, including right smack dab on the front, John Hancock style (and probably with lots of random capitalization)!

Anyway, it’s for this post by Witherington that my previous post was written.  Jesus Fictional Christ, it’s stuff like this that pushes my charity well over the limit.  Is it too much to ask that people like this do research on a subject before they express an opinion on it?

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • ‘Tis Himself

    Back in February I posted an essay on separation of church and state on Ophelia Benson’s blog:

    The lesson they drew from the Anglican experience was that religion mixed with government inevitably led to the defilement of both. This is a source of confusion for many modern American religious extremists who can’t seem to bridge the understanding that the American Founding Fathers being devoted to god (except for some atheists like Ben Franklin) and yet distrusting religion. American Christian fundamentalists love to quote religious citations from the Founding Fathers without knowing the context of these remarks.

    The American Constitution was framed with a strict separation between state and religion. It is not anti-religious but it says that while religion has a place in society, that place cannot be connected with the government. Anyone can practice any religion or lack thereof, but they cannot force anyone else to practice that religion and the government cannot endorse or support any particular religion.

    • Rory

      Can you provide any evidence that Ben Franklin was an atheist. I’ve heard the claim made, but a quick reference to Chris Rodda’s ‘Liars for Jesus’ points out on page 252 that at one point of contention during the Constitutional Convention Franklin called for a recess for people to pray. While that’s not proof of atheism, it certainly suggests religious belief of some sort. Admittedly I haven’t dug into this deeply, but if you can provide some citation I’d be interested in seeing it.

  • Glodson

    I thought that everyone understood that the “wall of separation” that Jefferson, among others, wrote about in the letter to Danbury Baptists existed in the First Amendment. I mean, that letter was assuring the Danbury Baptists that the government wouldn’t be used against them because of their religion, that the government was secular and apart from any church.

    And if I recall, didn’t Christine O’Donnell get laughed out for making an argument in front of a college audience? I just don’t get that people can ignore the wording of the First Amendment, the subsequent jurisprudence on the subject, and the writings of many of the Founders in regards to this subject. Not to mention the Treaty of Tripoli that should end this whole idea behind mixing religion and our government.

    I often wonder how one could be so delusional. Hell, I grew up Southern Baptist, and I thought the mix of religion and government was a bad thing then, so the desire to ignore the Constitution so that we can be that shiny beacon on a hill for the rest of this godless world has always been lost on me, as both when I was a believer and now that I’m free of those fairy tales.

  • Adam Lee

    Something else that we can’t point out often enough is that the religious right of the founders’ day knew full well that the Constitution was a secular document, and threw a kicking-and-screaming temper tantrum about it… and the founders held firm in the face of those protests, demonstrating that they knew exactly what they were doing and did it on purpose. Believe it or not, it’s only within the last fifty years or so that the religious right has flip-flopped from angrily lamenting the godlessness of the Constitution to insisting that we were a Christian nation all along.

    Here’s some background on this (self-linkage alert):

  • Star Foster

    “The fact is that the Founders were educated and far-sighted men who understood quite well what they were constructing and its implications. Barton would have them be short-sighted dolts.” – Jason Pitzl-Waters

  • John Eberhard

    I wanted to post a comment on his article but couldn’t find a “post comment” place……so I’m going to post it here! :o)

    “To some it seems self-evident. America is a secular country.”
    Let’s be a bit more precise: America has a secular GOVERNMENT. This will help keep you from conflating what the Constitution DOES with what a majority of the populace has in the way of religious belief. These are in fact two entirely different things. Shame on you for either not figuring that out or for trying to fast shuffle them together, whichever the case may be.

    That should take care of things down to “documents”.

    “Didn’t they set up ‘a separation of church and state’?” Yes, they did. Just ask generation after generation of Supreme Court Justices…you know, the ones with the legal authority to interpret what the Constitution MEANS.

    You ask, “Look hard— can you find any clause that uses that phrase in our founding documents?” How about YOU look hard—the Constitution also does not actually use the phrases “freedom of religion”, “religious liberty”, “right to privacy”, “President’s Cabinet”, and “fair trial”. Would you argue that the Constitution doesn’t provide these concepts and the framework to implement them just because those actual phrases are not in there?

    In short, are you going to argue you shouldn’t have freedom of religion because that phrase isn’t in the Constitution? Yessss? It is exactly the same (cringe) “logic”.

  • Star Foster

    Jason only allows comments for two days and then shuts it down to keep people from endlessly arguing in loops(like people do in comment sections from time to time). I’ve told him to check your comment out. He’s at a conference this weekend, so he might not respond quickly.

    • John Eberhard

      Thank you! Hopefully, if he is over here, he will see this one also:

      He says, “To the contrary, not only is the President sworn in on a Bible….” Well, some of them have been. “According to his own version of his Inauguration, Adams took the oath upon a volume of law.” ” Theodore Roosevelt did not use a Bible when taking the oath in 1901.”
      I haven’t bothered to go through them one by one, but obviously Ben Witherington hasn’t either,and if he is going to trot that out as dependable information then his credibility deserves to take a hit when it isn’t.

      He says “…. there is a chaplain of the Senate and the House.” The Father of the Constitution, James Madison certainly spoke out against this. He said “Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative.” and
      “I observe with particular pleasure the view you have taken of the immunity of Religion from civil jurisdiction, in every case where it does not trespass on private rights or the public peace. This has always been a favorite principle with me; and it was not with my approbation, that the deviation from it took place in Cong. when they appointed Chaplains, to be paid from the Natl Treasury. It would have been a much better proof to their Constituents of their pious feeling if the members had contributed for the purpose, a pittance from their own pockets. As the precedent is not likely to be rescinded, the best that can now be done, may be to apply to the Constitution the maxim of the law, de minimis non curat.”

      This means: The law does not concern itself with trifles; – a principle of law, that even if a technical violation of a law appears to exist according to the letter of the law, if the effect is too small to be of consequence, the violation of the law will not be considered as a sufficient cause of action, whether in civil or criminal proceedings.

      In short, according to President Madison, it is IN FACT a violation,it was recognized as such at that time by the Father of the Constitution, but the effect of it was so minimal that it would be ignored due to bigger fish to fry in getting our country going. If only he had been able to foresee what the theocrats would try to use it for today.

      JAMES MADISON: “The establishment of the chaplainship to Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles….Rather than let this step beyond the landmarks of power have the effect of a legitimate precedent, it will be better to apply to it the legal aphorism de minimis non curat lex: or to class it cum “maculis quas aut incuria fudit, aut humana parum cavit natura (with faults which human nature either has scattered around through negligence or has guarded against too little]..”

      Did you catch that? “RATHER THAN LET THIS STEP BEYOND THE LANDMARKS OF POWER HAVE THE EFFECT OF A LEGITIMATE PRECEDENT”….just regard it as human negligence or something guarded against too little.

  • HP

    It’s like I always say, the “wall of separation” isn’t there to protect non-believers; it’s there to protect Christians from each other.

    I embarrassed to admit it, but it was only recently that I learned the standard history of the English Civil War and its aftermath. But you can bet that for the founders, this was fairly recent and relevant history. That war was fought, after all, over taxation and parliamentary power, and I’m sure Jefferson, et al, were the first to make the connection. But they also know that the first thing Cromwell did was to establish an Iranian-style theocratic republic, and to start killing Christians who happened to be the wrong kind of Christians. That’s what the establishment clause is meant to prevent.

    Frankly, I’m sick and tired of it always falling on atheists and humanists to defend the establishment clause. I’d think that the major beneficiaries of the law (i.e., Catholics and Baptists) ought to pony up once in a while.

    (Having said that, I also think that the establishment clause is a dated and outmoded historical legacy, and that the US would be better off with a constitutional protection more similar to the laicisme enshrined in the constitution of the fifth French republic. But that’s a different discussion.)

  • Jon Rowe

    “Did they intend to put the bible, Jesus, and Christianity throughout all of our founding documents and just forget?”

    I’m pretty sure that’s not what he’s arguing. He’s not David Barton. You can be a non-Christian Nationalist and still disagree with the high wall of separation understanding of the US Constitution.

  • Anonymous

    You know I’ve had this type of argument many times and it gets kind of tiring. Even Obama made a statement about religion and the claims that the US is a Christian nation and I bet his comment or, specifically, question about which denominations of Christianity the US is went right over the heads of those who are the type to make the claim. From what I have observed there are many Christians how don’t know what other denominations believe or that they even have different beliefs. Honestly though, the saddest part about this whole issue is that no matter how much evidence, logic and clear explanations you give these people they just don’t buy it, they don’t want to, they would rather ignore the truth to believe in the fallacy. Then I wonder how we can help this nation progress if people are unwilling to accept the facts. I will say this, if the US ever becomes an actual religiously ruled country I’m moving the fuck out.

  • Yogg SoGoth

    Just a remark, the word “schizophrenic” is spelled with a z, not a tz.

    • Azkyroth, Former Growing Toaster Oven

      Also it’s being used incorrectly.

  • bad Jim

    What most annoys me about the “Christian nation” argument is that it repudiates our revolutionary heritage. Back when the U.S. was founded, every European country was officially Christian, nearly all had established churches, and only a few offered some meager religious toleration.

    The founders were being deliberately radical in establishing the first nation to offer universal liberty of conscience, to use Washington’s words, and they were proud of themselves for setting an example for the rest of the world. It’s dishonestly ignorant to suggest that they were doing something different from what they said they did.

  • Sunny Day

    Really? You’re going to mention blogroll standards? When you’ve got this guy?

    “Joe Girardi’s head and neck veins were pulsating like a motherfucker today!”

    “I ate two large bowls of grape nuttes about eight hours ago, and I can’t stoppe fucken farteing….”

    “Do cattes have a set number of tittes, like people always have two? Or is it a range of numbers of tittes?”

    “How fucken hilarious is itte that not only have these Faceshitte fuckebagges…..”

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Didn’t they set up ‘a separation of church and state’? Look hard— can you find any clause that uses that phrase in our founding documents?

    Tell Witherington to get back to you when he finds the word Trinity in his Bible.

  • fastlane

    I wish high school US history classes would mention the bible riots of the 1840s. I think that is a pretty important event in the development of US policy wrt church/government separation, yet, it is completely ignored as far as I know.

    I learned about reading the quite excellent biography of Ellory Schempp. (sp?)