The View From 1776

The Pledge Under God, Under Attack: Liberty vs License - Part Three

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This third article about the challenge to the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance examines the social and political implications of making the United States an atheistic society and then asks whether atheism has any historical or philosophical validity in the United States.

Michael Newdow’s action is far more than opposing an establishment of religion or of furthering the free exercise of conscience in matters of religion.  The choice before the Court is between two opposing philosophies of human nature and political governance.  If the Supreme Court rules in Mr. Newdow’s favor, it will amount to an endorsement of atheism and a further rejection of morality and spiritual religion.

 

Endorsing atheism destroys the foundations of the Constitution.  Removing “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance is not preventing an establishment of religion.  It is establishing atheistic socialism as the official national religion.

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Parts One and Two of this series recounted the history of the atheism represented by Mr. Newdow.  Atheism was shown to be an inseparable part of the radical philosophy of socialism and its doctrines of amorality, secularity, and materialism.  All of these are antithetical to the grounding philosophy of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.  Those documents were based on what Jefferson said were the common understandings throughout the colonies in 1776, namely a belief in God as the author of inalienable individual rights to life, liberty, and private property.

What confronts us is not some conspiracy.  That could be dealt with by the public outcry following exposure.  Our challenge is far greater: a huge portion of the populace has been converted to the religion of socialism by a century of continuous work by intellectuals in the educational system.  Young students have been drilled in the catechism of social justice, which tells them that ours is a history of repression at home and crimes against humanity abroad.  They have been catechized to believe that individualism is barbarism that must be replaced with socialized cooperation under government regulation of all aspects of our lives.

 

Most importantly, they have been catechized by our public schools and colleges to believe that seeing actions as right or wrong is to make unscientific value judgments.  Atheism and materialism have become fashionable, old wisdom is ridiculed, and we have become a juvenocracy, a nation ruled by the immature tastes and sensual urges of teenagers.

This Part Three makes five main points: first, that atheism is part of the religion of socialism; second, that atheism is amoral, which means that political rulers are bound by no inherent limits on their powers; third, that wherever atheism has gained political ascendency despotic rule has followed; fourth; that, while it is inaccurate to say that the United States is entirely a Christian nation, it is historically accurate to say that all of its political institutions were founded upon Christian ideas of morality; and fifth, that the meaning of “an establishment of religion” is utterly different from what Mr. Newdow objects to.

(1)  People have reason to fear atheism as the enemy of Constitutional liberty.

 

The Columbia Encyclopedia states that, until the 19th century, atheists were rare in any population.  Atheism became an ideology and spread widely following the introduction of secular materialism by the French Revolution.  Educated classes in Europe and the United States accepted the claims of French materialistic philosophers that being scientific necessitated abandoning Christianity and adopting the religious ideology of atheistic moral relativism.

Atheism is by definition amorality.  Moral principles in every society, as far back into antiquity as history and archaeology have taken us, have been understood as coming from nature itself and from the God or gods that control nature.  Thus, to reject God is to reject the entire foundation of morality, to reject belief in right and wrong, and thereby to reject the concept of law itself.  What atheism leaves us with is the raw, unlimited power of self-designated intellectuals to follow their whims about what regulations to impose upon the people.  What atheism leaves us with is a government of men, not of laws.  What regulates our lives under atheism is not stability and continuity under relatively predictable law, but the fearful instability of caprice, potentially under a madman like Stalin.

Atheists rationalize eradicating spiritual religion by declaring that belief in God is a neurosis, if not insanity.  Freud, for example, says in his “Civilization and Its Discontents” that Western society’s problems result from the guilt produced by the conflict between irrational dictates of religious morality and the true nature of humans, which in his theory is reduced to the lowest possible materialistic level, the sex drive.  This condescending attitude also explains why liberal college professors today assert that only liberal-socialists are fit to teach.

Atheism as a political movement necessarily requires a disbelief in moral principles and a belief in authoritarian government.  The connection between atheism and centralized government power is simply that the vast majority of the people in every society have always believed in a Divine moral order, and their belief must be suppressed by force.

Thomas Huxley, the champion of Darwin’s evolutionary theory in England during the 1860s, said that there is no such thing as sin.  People’s actions are merely the struggle for survival, in which material conditions, not Divine Will, are the controlling factors. Correct political and social order can be imposed upon this struggle only by atheistic intellectuals, who alone understand the true nature of the world.

The political triumph of atheism means the end of freedom of religion.  Wherever atheism has prevailed, socialistic totalitarian dictatorships have followed.  The revolutions in France, Russia, China, Cuba, and elsewhere were peculiarly modern in the sense that they were revolutions based on abstract ideas.  And those ideas were atheism, socialism, and the amorality of atheism that permits intellectuals to order the mass execution of millions of people, believing their actions to be justified by their intention to perfect humanity.

One of the most repulsive slanders by liberal-socialists is to equate the American War of Independence with the French Revolution.  Our war was a conservative action to preserve the concept of English self-government the colonists had enjoyed for 154 years.  The French Revolution was a mob action by thugs, looters, and rapists who roamed the streets murdering anyone they disliked, urged on by the intellectuals’ propaganda.  This is what Mr. Newdow’s atheism stands for.

Mikhail N. Epstein states it this way in “Fugitive Russian Sects: A Handbook for Beginners,” which he wrote in Moscow in the 1980s as the Soviet Union was unraveling:

“Socialist society is the only society constructed according to a previously-laid plan based on ideas born in the minds of thinker-founders: it is the most speculative and “premeditated” society on earth. Socialism is society without God and without things—spiritually and materially poor but ideologically strong, built on ideas alone; it is the kingdom of ideas ruling in their own name, a kingdom where a ruler rules only in the name of an idea, as the impersonation of an idea, the triumph of its truth…....... All there is is ideas. They neither save us in the next life nor feed us in this one, but they do give us the feeling that our life is rightly lived and our death not in vain. Thus the third comedy, the Comedy of Ideas, arises precisely from the self-consciousness of socialist society, whose moving force is neither the will of God nor the private   interests of human beings, but the ideas in which the faith and passion of immense human masses have been concentrated.  Ludicrous and terrible—in the highest sense comical—is a human being who has fallen away from God into sin, living by merely human laws…... Consciousness can be liberated from the dictatorship of ideas, from attachment to absolutized points of view, only when it acknowledges the mystery of the Absolute as a Person and not an Idea—that is, only when it acknowledges the impossibility of fixing the Absolute in consciousness itself.

Just as pre-Revolutionary Russian sects cannot be understood outside the system of the official Orthodox Church, so the incipient sects of the Soviet period cannot be understood outside the system of government atheism. ....... The government dogma in its turn lived and flourished precisely by eradicating every slightest glimmer of free religious thought,... “

In an article appearing in the September 20, 1997, edition of the Washington Times, Douglas Burton wrote:

PRAGUE- The many crises of this era arise from a first-ever “global atheism,” leading to man’s loss of the purpose of every living thing, Czech Republic President Vaclav Havel told an international gathering here this month.

“The contemporary global civilization is indeed in essence a deeply atheistic one,” Mr. Havel said. “Indeed, it is to date the first atheistic civilization in the history of mankind.” .......Mr. Havel, a leader in 1989 of Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Revolution,” urged conferees to consider whether remedies to the world’s most acute problems might be found through a search for common religious values and principles.

In an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Havel emphasized the civic role of churches in the newly democratic nations of Central and Eastern Europe.

“Many threats which mankind will have to face soon will be possible to solve only if human spirituality and responsibility for the world will be restored in some way, if some global consciousness will be awakened,” he said. “And who should contribute to it more than the religions? Of course, it assumes that the religions would not stress their differences, but more they would seek their original roots and what they have in common, and therefore what is held in common by all peoples.”

(2)  Mr. Newdow’s petition has no historical foundation:

The First Amendment’s opening two clauses state: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; .....”  No matter how one interprets those words, it is undeniable that declaring unconstitutional the phrase “under God” requires repudiation of nearly three and a half centuries of historical fact.  Like it or not, the American colonies were founded upon Christianity, and that religion has played an intimate daily role in the lives of Americans ever since.  Our Constitution does not endorse any specific religion or sect, but it is founded upon and permeated by Christian understanding.

Mr. Newdow’s court petition requires the sort of thing his fellow Soviet atheists specialized in: rewriting history.  Whenever Stalin, a paranoid, decided that a rival Soviet leader was a threat to him, that rival was executed.  To expunge any remembrance of the rival’s ideas and actions, he was made a nonperson.  His image was retouched out of photographs showing him standing alongside Lenin, Stalin, and other Soviet leaders reviewing Red Square military parades.  All mention of the nonperson was removed from textbooks, news archives, and official documents.  History books and official records were rewritten to attribute to Stalin all the nonperson’s accomplishments for the Communist Party.

Mr. Newdow demands that we similarly rewrite 346 years of history to eliminate one of its most essential characteristics.  His only conceivable basis for this is what the New York Times editorial board likes to call “the living Constitution.”  This is a theory that depends upon incorporating into the Constitution Charles Darwin’s speculative theory of evolution.  Today’s Constitution has evolved to become a different species from the original Constitution.  Under that perspective, what was intended when the Constitution was written is immaterial.  All that counts is changes in popular opinion, the snap judgments expressed in focus groups of the moment.

 

This is the juvenocracy in action.  Truth and wisdom are supposedly to be found in the off-hand reactions of people for whom reality TV represents educational fare, people whose native intelligence can not function because our educational system has left them ignorant of history and our system of government.

Socialist Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes endorsed this position without reservation.  His famous dictum was that truth is whatever wins out in the market place.  One can wonder, however, whether he would entrust his own life to that theory.  If he were seriously ill, would he follow the medical advice of two hundred people interviewed at random?

There is, said Justice Holmes, no such thing as a higher law of morality, and by implication no inalienable Constitutional rights to anything, if popular opinion turns against those rights.  Holmes went on to write that, should popular opinion come to support turning the United States into a Bolshevik dictatorship, neither the Constitution nor the Supreme Court should stand in the way of raw opinion, however uninformed it might be.

 

This is literally the opposite of Constitutional government.

Ironically, the alleged “evolving” understanding of the First Amendment espoused by Mr. Newdow and his fellow liberals is overwhelmingly opposed by public opinion.  This “evolution” of understanding exists only in the minds of the liberal elite.  Their demands reveal clearly that the issue in this case is not really liberty, but the asserted right of socialist intellectuals to dictate political standards.

In their Soviet-style rewriting of American history, liberal-socialists assert that the “under God” phrase, indeed the whole religious connection with government, are very new things, dating back only to 1954.  Presumably this proves that “under God” is too recent to have real Constitutional legitimacy.  Yet they fiercely defend the 1973 Roe vs Wade abortion rights ruling, which is nineteen years younger, as firmly established Constitutional law.

When the Bill of Rights amendments were ratified in 1791, the people of the United States had lived in all respects “under God” for 183 years.  When that phrase was added to the Pledge, by an act of Congress in 1954, an overwhelming majority of citizens had continuously for 346 years professed a faith that we are a people “under God.”  To emphasize this incontrovertible fact, Congress in 1956 made “In God We Trust” the official national motto.  The Pledge of Allegiance as it now stands without question represents the fundamental faith of the majority.

So pervasive and voluminous are statements by American leaders supporting faith in God and Divine guidance that listing all available quotations from 1608 onwards would require incalculable thousands of pages.  David Barton’s “Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, and Religion” uses 350 pages for just a sampling of such quotations by famous persons.

Let’s turn to Thomas Jefferson, because he is the author of the celebrated “wall of separation between church and state” phrase that is repeatedly cited by secular humanists and by the Supreme Court’s liberal-social Justices like the late William Brennan.  Even a cursory review of Jefferson’s views makes abundantly clear that, though he was a God-fearing Deist, Jefferson took for granted that Christian morality permeated the very soul of American citizenry.  In no way could his “wall of separation between church and state” be taken to mean that Christian morality should be eradicated from consideration in public affairs.

Foremost among the examples is the Declaration of Independence, in which Jefferson bases the colonists’ right to independence upon “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”  This means that the primary justification for the very existence of the United States is the God-given natural-law rights to life, liberty, and private property, which flow from “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.”  Acceding to Mr. Newdow’s demand is to repudiate the Declaration of Independence, along with the Constitution and its Bill of Rights, all of which are founded entirely upon the concept of God-given natural law.

One of the three things Jefferson regarded as his most important achievements in life was authoring the 1786 Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty.  That act begins: “An Act for establishing Religious Freedom.  I. WHEREAS Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was his Almighty power to do;.......”

 

This is a freight train that rolls over and obliterates the rationale for the case now before the Supreme Court.  The freedom of religion claimed by atheists like Mr. Newdow is, in Jefferson’s words, a gift of God to humanity.  To assert that freedom of religion means freedom from spiritual religion, as does Mr. Newdow, is to remove the freedom demanded.

Finally, let’s look at the source of the phrase “wall of separation between church and state.”  It occurs in a letter written by Jefferson in 1802 to a committee of the Baptist Association in Danbury, Connecticut.  Jefferson repeats the classic definition of tolerance stated in John Locke’s 1685 “Letter Concerning Toleration.”  Note in passing that Locke’s “Second Treatise,” which justified ousting James II for breaking the social compact by infringing God-given natural-law property and religious rights, was the philosophical basis for the Declaration of Independence.  Locke’s and Jefferson’s position regarding toleration was that religious belief is a matter between an individual and God, for which the individual owes no account to the government or his fellows.

As Jefferson put it in the 1802 letter, “...the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions.  I contemplate with solemn reverence the act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”  Toleration does not mean that there should be no religion, but that the sovereign can not command an individual’s beliefs.

 

Several points must be noted in this connection.  First, Jefferson is writing to a church in support of Christianity.  Second, both Jefferson and Locke took it for granted that the people as a whole would be God-fearing Christians.  Third, Locke went so far, in his “Letter Concerning Toleration,” as to exclude atheists from most legal rights on the grounds that their renunciation of moral principles made them unfit for political liberty.  Finally, freedom to hold a religious or non-religious opinion is not at all the same thing as claiming that one has a right not to hear opinions with which he disagrees.

(3) Mr. Newdow’s petition misconstrues the meaning of “an establishment of religion”:

Living in the United States, few of us realize that, until the founding of our nation, every nation and city state in the world had had an established, official religion.  The meaning of “establishment” therefore can best be understood by studying its meaning in historical context.

 

The reason for having an established church was its crucial importance to legitimizing the ruler’s powers.  Monarchs’ powers in Western Europe were considered to be legitimate because they flowed from God’s natural law, which by the time of Thomas Aquinas, was separated from the spiritual power of the church.  But both were under God and part of the Divine plan for humanity.

When the First Amendment was written, everyone in the United States understood exactly what was intended, and it had nothing whatever to do with Mr. Newdow’s being offended by hearing government expressions of piety that conflict with the dogma of the socialist religion.

 

The establishment of religion issue had a specific meaning for the writers of the First Amendment, arising from Henry VIII’s break with the Catholic church in the 16th century and establishment of the Church of England.  Henry decreed that the Church of England, with himself at its head, was to be the sole official state religion.  The ensuing century was one of repeated turmoil, involving the English Civil War, Cromwell’s beheading Charles I, imposition of the Puritan Commonwealth, and the Restoration of Charles II.  Anglicans, Puritans, and Catholics fought among themselves, often to death.

To escape this strife and the strictures of established religion, the Pilgrims and the Puritans sailed to Massachusetts, Lord Baltimore brought Catholics to Maryland, Quakers went to Pennsylvania, and Jews built their oldest New World synagogue in Newport, Rhode island.

Several of the colonies, and later as states of the Union, had established religions.  Jefferson in his Autobiography describes what having an established religion entailed.  Including the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance doesn’t even come close.

The Royal grant to Sir Walter Raleigh establishing the Virginia colony required that its laws be consonant with “the true Christian faith, now professed in the church of England.”  The new colony was divided into church parishes, and all colonists, whether they were members of the Anglican Church or not, were taxed to pay the ministers’ salaries and other church expenses.  Quakers attempting to settle in Virginia were physically driven out.  The College of William and Mary was controlled by the Anglican church, and its faculty and students had to be professing members of that church.  By an act of the Virginia Assembly in 1705, persons denying the doctrine of Christianity and the Church of England were not permitted to hold public office or any other church, civil, or military employment at public expense.  Nor could a dissenter be a guardian, executor, or administrator under a will, and the children of a dissenter might be taken from him to be raised in an Anglican home.

(4)  To summarize, we can say: first, that atheism is part of the religion of socialism; second, that atheism is amoral, which means that political rulers are bound by no inherent limits on their powers; third, that wherever atheism has gained political ascendency despotic rule has followed; fourth; that, while it is inaccurate to say that the United States is entirely a Christian nation, it is historically accurate to say that all of its political institutions reflect Christian ideas of morality; and fifth, that the meaning of “an establishment of religion” is utterly different from what Mr. Newdow objects to.