Christian Dominionism’s Fruitful Distortion of American History November 1, 2016

Christian Dominionism’s Fruitful Distortion of American History

This is an article by Eric Wojciechowski. It appears in the current issue of American Atheist magazine, which is sold at Barnes & Noble, Book World, and Books-A-Million bookstores in the United States and at Chapters/Indigo bookstores in Canada. To find a store near you or to subscribe, go to atheists.org/magazine.

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Glenn Beck’s latest book, It IS about Islam, articulates the problems that Islam presents to Western values by pointing out that the conflict is not with the Muslim people. The conflict lies with Islamism, which is the ideology that Sharia Law should be the law of the land everywhere. Sharia Law is based on a fundamentalist interpretation of the Koran, and those living under it must comply with a theocratic government.

Beck demonstrates a rather good grasp of the history of Islam, although he dwells a little too much on its blitzkrieg-like spread out of Medina and into Europe. He points out that world leaders are having a hard time calling Islamism what it truly is, and he shows, quite convincingly, that a government run under such terms would be the end of civilization.

I agree. But after this review of history and current events, Beck concludes with a chapter on “What Can Be Done” where he writes, “Our Constitution is being eroded away and our culture is becoming ever more secular. Many of us have forgotten who we are as a people and a country. We’ve forgotten God.” (Italics mine).

The implications are quite staggering because throughout the book, Beck shows how bad a theocratic government is. Then, with those three sentences, he seems to be advocating theocracy after all, as long as it’s Christian and not Muslim. When he says that we “have forgotten who we are as a people and a country,” I can only guess that he’s talking about a mythical time when America was a Christian nation.

Beck isn’t the only one sounding the alarm on Islamism. People all over the political spectrum believe that Islam, the youngest of the Abrahamic religions, needs its own enlightenment. While Atheists and humanist organizations seem to be leading the call to action, there is another group just as vocal about it: the Religious Right, or, better labeled, Christian Dominionists. But unlike secular movements aimed at denying all religions an establishment by government, the Dominionists are in the fight against Islamism because it’s intruding on their goal to establish a Christian government in the U.S.

Christian Dominionism is the idea that the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian values, that we’ve lost them, and it’s time to get them back. Its ideology proclaims the Ten Commandments and the laws of Moses to be the foundations of our Constitution; that Christianity is the one true faith; and that Christians in the U.S. are constantly offended, marginalized, and persecuted by secular society. This point of view should allow Dominionists no more credibility than that of someone claiming to have been abducted by aliens. But that’s not the case. These beliefs are held by many individual lawmakers as well as governing bodies.

For example, the Texas Education Code currently includes these requirements for the history curriculum in public schools: “Identify major intellectual, philosophical, political, and religious traditions that informed the American founding, including Judeo-Christian (especially biblical law), English common law and constitutionalism, Enlightenment, and republicanism, as they address issues of liberty, rights, and responsibilities of individuals [and] identify the individuals whose principles of laws and government institutions informed the American founding documents, including those of Moses, William Blackstone, John Locke, and Charles de Montesquieu.”

More examples of Christian Dominionism egregiously infiltrating American government are littered throughout the 2016 Republican Party Platform. These points are all quoted verbatim:

  • Traditional marriage and family, based on marriage between one man and one woman, is the foundation for a free society and has for millennia been entrusted with rearing children and instilling cultural values.
  • We also condemn the Supreme Court’s lawless ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges… [F]ive unelected lawyers robbed 320 million Americans of their legitimate constitutional authority to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
  • We support laws to confirm the longstanding American tradition that religious individuals and institutions can educate young people, receive government benefits, and participate in public debates without having to check their religious beliefs at the door (italics mine).
  • We support the pubic display of the Ten Commandments as a reflection of our history and our country’s Judeo-Christian heritage and further affirm the rights of religious students to engage in voluntary prayer at pubic school events and to have equal access to school facilities.
  • We will not fund or subsidize health care that includes abortion coverage.
  • We support the appointment of judges who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of human life.
  • We oppose embryonic stem cell research.
  • Strong families, depending upon God and one another, advance the cause of liberty by lessening the need for government in their daily lives.
    We oppose policies and laws that create a financial incentive for or encourage cohabitation.
  • We oppose government discrimination against businesses or entities which decline to sell items or services to individuals for activities that go against their religious views about such activities.
  • We condemn the current Administration’s unconstitutional expansion into… school restroom policies.

This rhetoric demonstrates that they’re not at all interested in the freedom of religion but only in privileges for Christianity. It is true that North America’s first European settlers were mostly Protestants, and that they were a favored class in the colonies. But the Constitution changed all that. A Protestant majority among settlers doesn’t make America a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles. That logic, if applied honestly, would dictate that our nation operate according to the beliefs of Native American tribes because Christianity in America was transplanted from Europe, just as Christianity in Europe was transplanted from the Middle East. There’s not a nation in the world that operates on the rules made by those who lived there first.

We could debate all day about which Founding Fathers were Christians. We could argue that most were Deists. We could argue that some were Atheists. But their personal lives don’t matter. What matters is the government they created through the Constitution, which makes no mention of Jesus, let alone any type of god.

Religion itself is mentioned only twice. The first time occurs in the third paragraph of Article Six: “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States” (italics mine).

The only other mention of religion is in the First Amendment, subtitled “Freedom of religion, speech, and the press, rights of assembly and petition”: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (italics mine).

And that’s it. Nothing else about religion is in the Constitution. Certainly nothing about the laws of Moses, also known as Mosaic law. This means that in 2016, public school students in Texas are deliberately being misled — to put it mildly — when they are taught that the laws of Moses influenced the Founding Fathers. Let’s take a look at what Mosaic law actually is.

Besides the Ten Commandments, Mosaic law encompasses hundreds of laws found in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). Here are just three. Leviticus 20:27 orders that a man or woman with a “familiar spirit” or who is a “witch” shall be put to death. This law contradicts the First Amendment.

Leviticus 25:44-46 gives the Israelites permission to conscript unbelievers into slavery. I use this example while acknowledging that the original Constitution did allow slavery, which is the only tenet of Mosaic law that did make it into the Constitution. But, in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution, slavery was eventually eradicated with passage of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Leviticus 18:22 is a favorite of Christian Dominionists. It’s the verse that forbids homosexual relations—but only between men. It says nothing about homosexual relations between women. The Constitution says nothing about homosexual relations, or any other kind, at all. And let us note that homosexuality was never addressed by Jesus.

Throughout the Torah there are reminders that the God of Israel is a jealous god (Exodus 34:14), and failure to worship him in the proper way will bring you death (Deuteronomy 13:1-5). These orders are in complete violation of the First Amendment.

Now let’s turn to the Ten Commandments (listed three different times: Exodus 20:1-17, Exodus 34:1-28, and Deuteronomy 5:4-21). In the book Christianity is not Great, Richard Carrier’s essay, entitled “Christianity and the Rise of Democracy,” does a superb job of laying the myth of a biblical Constitution to rest. The following paragraphs are my summary of his argument.

The first four commandments are in honor of the god of Israel, the one true god. Yet nothing of this is found in the Constitution. There is no prohibition against making idols or honoring the god who brought the Hebrews out of Egypt or taking the name of the Lord in vain. Nothing. In fact, disallowing someone to commit blasphemy goes completely against the First Amendment.

The next commandment, to keep the Sabbath (Saturday or Sunday, depending on one’s interpretation) is also absent from the Constitution, where there is nothing prohibiting work on any specific day of the week.

Next up is in honoring one’s father and mother. Carrier notes that while this also is not in the Constitution, it goes completely against the progress of society. Is it not the rebellious teenagers and young adults who overthrow bad ideas with the good? Isn’t it the youth who forged civil rights and challenged the wisdom of the elders? A rebellious young generation can be a good thing.

Carrier addresses the commandments against murder, theft, and perjury together. These three crimes are addressed indirectly in the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution, but such prohibitions exist in all societies. There’s nothing special about them being part of Mosaic law.

Regarding the commandment against adultery, I have already observed that there is nothing in the Constitution regulating the sex lives of U.S. citizens. The final commandment, which prohibits coveting of your neighbor’s property, goes completely against the values of the American free market. Coveting gets no mention at all in the Constitution. In fact, the desire to emulate, if not do better, than a predecessor is what drives innovation and invention. Advances in all areas of life would stagnate without this desire. The Declaration of Independence actually encourages coveting by observing that everyone has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

I highly recommend a complete reading of Carrier’s essay in Christianity is not Great. Besides his detailed look at the non-relationship between the Constitution and the Ten Commandments, he makes other important observations which knock down the myth of the Christian Nation.

Another excellent book is In Freedom We Trust: An Atheist Guide to Religious Liberty, co-authored by former American Atheists president Ed Buckner and his son, Michael. The book includes a chapter on the Treaty of Tripoli, a document that should have long ago killed any claim that the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. The treaty was negotiated during Washington’s presidency and was signed by President John Adams after being unanimously ratified by the Senate in 1797. The treaty put into place an agreement of peace between the United States and Tripoli in order to cease the ongoing piracy towards American merchant vessels in the Mediterranean.

The most important part of that treaty for our purposes lies in the eleventh article, which begins, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” Read that one more time before continuing.

Christian Dominionists would do themselves less intellectual dishonesty if they not only understood what has been discussed so far, but actually consulted their own holy book for instructions on how religion fits into government. The first chapter of Romans 13 says, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” This directs Christians to not get involved in government, for whatever is in place should not be tampered with. In Mark 12:17, Jesus says, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” A declaration of separation of church and state if I ever heard one.

Christian Dominionism is not the default of Christianity, it’s the perversion. And this perverted version is just as bad as Islamism. When Glenn Beck and others of his ilk complain that Islamism wants to bring about the end of this world, they, too, promote the same thing. According to the Book of Revelation, the return of Christ will end this world. What an awful thing to long for. How Beck can write an entire book on the dangers of a society based on god’s law and then in the next breath espouse getting back to god is beyond me. For one only needs to read the Bible to see it is just as damning to human decency as the Koran. Biblical government is not a limited government with free people. Biblical government is one with an overbearing authority, threatening pain and suffering for any disobedience.

I’d like to tell Beck that there are many of us who haven’t forgotten god. We remember very well what has been done, not as a perversion in his name, but in complete compliance with his orders. When Dominionism made its way out of the Middle East, Judeo-Christian values had their chance at ruling the world. The result was hundreds of years that we remember as the Dark Ages. Around 1600 CE, the Age of Enlightenment finally shone light on the darkness. Then the American Revolution brought about an alternative to monarchies and theocracies. It was a Western Spring which launched a new form of government, one based on secular values.

The United States was and still is made up of people with different belief systems. In order to maintain harmony among everyone, we must commit to a secular solution. Forgetting god is not the problem. It’s the solution.

Eric Wojciechowski lives with his wife and two children in Livonia, Michigan. He has also written for Skeptic and Free Inquiry, as well as the political blog Freedom Cocktail.

(Image via Shutterstock)

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