No Separation?

Todayʼs post is the direct continuation of the long essay I began yesterday.

I frequently wonder at the kind of mind (even soul) that must cling to a rock-solid, dead-certain set of irrational principles (if principles isnʼt too decent a term for extremist rigidity) at all costs, including violence to others who appear to threaten the comfy security of the believer. The current wildness of the Rightists in the U.S. and Muslim hatemongering jihadists worldwide leaves me jaw-dropped at our human abilities to deceive and blind ourselves. Most vividly of late is the Christine OʼDonnell debate gaffe (or masterly thrust and skewering of her opponent, if you are yourself an initated Rightist) about the First Amendment. If you watch the video, she clearly accepts the laughter at her denial of separation of church and state (terminology which, as she wished to assert, is not verbatim in the Amendment, true) as supporting her and undermining Coons. She sadly but goofily was wrong about the laughs, but Coons, not being a blinkered Rightized fundamentalist, didnʼt get her intended point about the exact words not being in the Constitution, accepting instead the valid and majority-held nearly 250 years of history and legislation that have defined the establishment clause to erect just that Jeffersonian wall of separation between religion and government. She didnʼt understand that her denial of separation made her appear a fool to the general public. She believed from her eight days of Rightist Constitutional training that Coons was the fool for expressing the key clause of the Amendment in the terms of “separation of church and state.” What we had there was a classic failure to communicate.

OʼDonnellʼs mindframe was so set in her rigidly Rightist terminology that she had forgotten or neglected that a larger history had not excluded separation from the Amendmentʼs nonestablishment of religion clause. I have found recently that in the narrow alterworld of Fundamentalist Christian Rightism, from which OʼDonnell spoke, the Amendmentʼs meaning has been sculpted to mean that Christianity is the foundation of the government of the United States (the goal these Fundies do want with their calls for established and required school prayer and all). And the establishment clause means that their presumed basic Christian foundation for the country should never be undermined.

Seem like a stretch into fantasyland to you? It did (still does) to me. Our dissenting, Deistic (not quite the good oldtime Christians the Right wants to paint them), freethinking, agnostic, revisionistic (think of Jeffersonʼs cut-and-paste collection of Bible quotes), frequently Unitarian founders would be startled, I am sure. Only an easy skim through the politico-religious biographies of the founders turns up the, to be gently mild about it, uniqueness of their possible personal connections to any established Christian religion(s). And, of course, contemporary Fundamentalism arises only just over a hundred years ago, chronologically far outside the scope of the original Patriotsʼ comprehension. But the Fundamentalist Right has whole tipsy tiers of rationalization to make it so. The statement “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” is contorted savagely to mean things that I find it difficult to follow. But weʼre going to try, in all fairmindedness, because I have experienced an eye-opening excursion, via the Internet, into the strange waters of seflRighteous selfjustification — from which I am going to utilize some of the most reasonable and least bilious sources.

Before exploring the issues I have recently learned about (you can tell how weakly nonFundie I am by that remark — actually bothering to acquire information beyond my own personal experience and prejudices), I would like to turn your attention to a very enlightening (although perhaps partisan, perhaps not) article in Newsweek, last week, on Rightist Constitutional Fundamentalism. Having the ideas I am exploring here drifting and throbbing through my consciousness for years, for me the reporter put some things into clarity and perspective. Some mindsets seem to need a document of absolute truth (the Bible, the Quʼran or the Constitution, for instance) on which almost thoughtlessly to rely, or they canʼt handle the real world. Unfortunately, it seems most of such fundamentalist believers also pick and choose what to notice/remember/use as weapons of attack from said document. (For instance, spouting uncontextualized Old Testamentary regulations on homosexuality with no regard for Christʼs actual message of brotherly love. Or so-called “Constitutionalists” who refuse to comply fully with the Census, citing only the documentʼs precise text on the required procedure, as if the final clause of Section 8, granting Congressional powers — “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof” — did not exist.) Even as the rocks that comprise the earth are forever shifting and drifting (viz. geological tectonics), our abilities simply to read are a sandy mire of consciousness and inter/contextuality (viz. literary criticism, which began, by the way, in Western civilization as efforts to clearly read and understand the Bible — and one of my heroes, Benedict Spinoza, was crucial in making some important advances therein). Selective emphasis from a text is not new nor particular to fundamentalist points of view; it is the uncertain and varying essential nature of the reading process, sorry to say, fundie friends. But I can discuss lit crit another time.

In order to propound the sorrowfully mistaken notion that the founders of this nation were establishing, deliberately and knowingly, a Christian nation, our contemporary fundamentalists have derived an interesting set of arbitrary (but for them very useful) distinctions. They begin by distinguishing between doctrinal religion and denominational religion (terms absolutely unknown to our Founders, who might have recognized “established religion” versus “personal conscience” — terms which donʼt help the contemporary extremistsʼ argument). The simplest discussion I found for this fundamentalist, Rightist argument is here, which tries to assert that first, somehow (perhaps through the effects historical migration from Europe into the colonial New World) Christianity is gifted with special status among religions (because it is ours/theirs, of course; but also because it was the established, dominant set of beliefs colonists imported from England — regardless of what were to them extremely important, life-shattering denominational differences), and second, that although the Founders clearly stated, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” they didnʼt mean exactly that. Supposedly what the Framers meant was that in this Christian nation (nowhere stated), no one denomination (of Christianity) could be established as the state religion (as the Church of England had been in Great Britain). But Christianity somehow is the religion of the nation…

Clever? But false, unfortunately (and perhaps deliberately so).

The arguers feel supported by various moves the government (federal and states) has made that do impose an almost Christian God on the State. Check the list on the bottom of this page. Or any of the other pro-Christian-nation sites I have referenced above (there is a strong tendency to quote from each other). Those points would be better taken if documented and correlated against strong religious ferment to push that agenda into government historically. Also needing some evidence is their “90 to 95 percentage of them were practicing, Trinitarian Christians,” a position I flat out discredit. Although many of the Founders and Framers were ordinarily Christian for everyday social purposes, the beliefs that filled their hearts and consciences were often anything but staidly traditional (as linked above).

However, having topped thirteen hundred words, weʼll have to save further investigation for tomorrow.

Please click the links. There you will find massive amounts of information, good and bad, from both ends of this argumentative spectrum, to weigh and ponder for yourself. Of course the Rigid Rightists wouldnʼt care for the notion of a spectrum these days; for them the realm of discussion is reduced to only a bipolar, conflicting segregation into the (extreme, unbending, blindly) Right versus the godless secular humanist/atheistic “libs.” And thatʼs a Lie of the First Magnitude.

©2010 John Randolph Burrow, Magickal Monkey Enterprises, Ltd, S.A.

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