The Tea Party does not want America to change: I do

Today I am going to do something which I rarely do, especially here.  I am going to talk about politics.

More specifically, I want to address an idea that has taken root in the Tea Party.  It is probably not universal among them, nor do I expect it to be the most important aspect of the Tea Party movement.  However, when I ran into a rally at Independence Mall, near Independence Hall, on Independence Day, it was a theme that was mentioned more than a few times, especially by Presidential hopeful Herman Cain, who spoke among others.  The key note speaker was John Bolton, who has no chance as a candidate, and whose speech I found silly and uninspiring.

It seems as if one of the problems that the Tea Party is trying to combat is the ‘liberal’ desire to change America.  This was said in context of the “ripping up of the Constitution” (supposedly by people like me).  Herman Cain said several times that there are people who want to change America, and many said that this is the greatest country in the world.  Perhaps.

So, what is wrong with changing America? And why is ripping up the Constitution associated with this, as if one could not change America and follow the Constritution?  Best nation? In what way; culturally, economically, politically, or some other way?

And yes, I do want America to change.  I would like to be part of what changes it, as well.  But I do not want to rip up, either literally or metaphorically, the US Constitution.  I have read the Constitution and  appreciate my rights as well as defend the rights of others even if I disagree with them. Further, my understanding of the process by which we create Constitutional amendments implies that change is an inherent part of our Constitution and therefore our country.  It just seems that this idea is empty rhetoric without real substance.

Despite the empty rhetoric of many of the speakers and apologists I heard from there yesterday, I (as a liberal, at least in most political senses), am not trying to destroy our Constitution.  I am trying to use my constitutional rights to influence the public towards a better America, by use of speech, protest, and litigation in some cases.  Our nation is ripe with cultural problems from sex negativity, poor education, and political naivete which helps cripple our growth to a better nation and a better world.

Me talking with one Ron Paul supporter

I want citizens who are more educated, mature, and willing to challenge their own worldviews.  I want the legality of gay marriage and polyamorous marriage.  I want better healthcare, whether through a single-payer system or some other option.  I want the divide between the rich and the poor to be addressed in a meaningful way.  I want discrimination, breaches in the wall between government and religion, and other effects of poor education and indoctrination to disappear.  All of these goals, and many others, can only be reached by changing America.

The idea that we should not change America is conservative by definition.  And as one conservative-minded person I know told me, there is a difference between wanting to retain traditional ideas per se and simply opposing progressive ideals.  Granted.   However, whether you want to conserve traditional ideas per se or not is not the point.  The point is that our culture, and therefore many governmental policies, need to change if we are going to improve.  Arguing that America should not change sounds a lot like a person telling there therapist that they don’t need help.

In other words, this ideal within at least some Tea Partiers that we should not change, and we should fight change, is a sign of denial of real problems within.  We, as a culture and as a nation, are sick in many ways.   We need to change, if we want to survive and thrive.  Right now, we are not thriving, and more of the same will not help.

So, in 4 years will "2016" be over the "2012"?

Finally, concerning what one Ron Paul supporter told me, which was that the Tea Party movement was started in 2007 to protest the corporate ownership of the two major parties, and that it is trying to remain independent from such influences.  But the recent motions of people associating with the Tea Party, such as Sarah Palin, have taken the name brand and changed it.  My prediction is that what remnants of the Ron Paul revolution that want to stray from corporate interests will die out completely, having been over-taken by the interests of those who have the money to make more noise.  And while I don’t support Ron Paul, I appreciate the attempt by some of his supporters  to remain unaffected by corporate interests.

I just don’t believe that changing (or restoring, as they call it) our government will make the corruption disappear.  I’m too much of a cynic, I suppose.

So, yes, Tea Party leaders, some of us do want to change America.  The fact that you don’t see anything worth changing is one of the many reasons I cannot get behind your cause.


The Great Awakening and anti-Intellectualism in America

The Great Awakening

I have, for some time, had an interest in the historical period around the Revolutionary war.  I am, by no means, a historian but I enjoy reading about the 18th century in America, especially as it pertains to the development of our Republic here in the United States.  It’s certainly not a common topic for discussion on this blog, but today is an exception.

Today I grabbed one of the books I had bought some time ago (probably from a used book store, which is my personal kryptonite) about this time period to do some reading.  I ended up pulling out a book called The Role of Ideology in the American Revolution edited by John R. Howe Jr. (I wonder if there is any relation to the General Howe of the Revolutionary war).  It is a collection of essays, and I began with the first essay entitled The Revolutionary Era as an Age of Politics by Edmund S. Morgan.

The thrust of this essay is about the shift from religious to political influence in colonial thinking during the 17th and 18th centuries.  And in talking about the Great Awakening, started in part by the English minister George Whitefield, Morgan says the following:

Men and women who had worshipped for years without result under the guidance of an erudite but undramatic minister, found grace after a few hours at the feet of some wandering apostle.  The itinerant was often a layman who had never been to college and knew no Greek, Latin, or Hebrew, but had a way with an audience.  If God selected him to do so much without learning, was learning perhaps more a hindrance than a help to true religion? The thought occurred to many converts and was encouraged by the increasingly confident, not to say arrogant, posture of the itinerants.  Whitefield had warned broadly against ministers who preached an unknown and unfelt Christ.  His followers did not hesitate to name individual ministers as dead of heart, blind teachers of the blind.

The time-period here is the middle of the 18th century, the 1740’s to be more precise.  But what we are seeing here is precisely what many preachers, specifically televangelists, have become today; largely ignorant, charismatic people with an ability to keep an audience.

What we see here is the beginning of a part of the anti-intellectual protestant Christian American mindset.  Granted, it has become more complicated over the last 250+ years, but the basics are all here.  Most Americans are ignorant not only of theology, but of their own scripture’s history and the history of their religion.  They are simply acculturated, entertained, and emoted towards their faith, and then subsequently sustained by the occasional inspirational feeling that they associate with the charismatic mythology that they have been fed with a flailing spoon by people who don’t know very much more than their congregations.  Yes, they often know much of the scripture itself, but not the context of its composition nor how it relates to higher learning in the sciences, history, and philosophy.

Morgan continues in talking about what happened to the “erudite but undramatic ministers” after they were deserted for the more charismatic and entertaining itinerants:

At first the deserted clergymen merely looked upon the Awakening with skepticism.  But as its exponents (known at the time as the New Lights) became more and more extravagant, skepticism spread and grew to hostility.  Ministers who had spent their lives in the study of theology and who had perhaps been touched by the Enlightenment, were appalled at the ignorance of New Light preachers and dismissed their convictions and conversations as hysteria….

This reminds me somewhat of Karen Armstrong’s point in The Battle for God that fundamentalism (which this movement seems to be a necessary precursor to) is a reaction to modernity.  These “New Lights” (perhaps comparable in some sociological sense to “new atheists”?  Or perhaps not 😉 ) were in part a reaction to the recent Enlightenment, being a primarily emotional and anti-reason approach to religion.  The educated and Enlightenment-influenced clergy were understandably affected by this movement, since it took away not only from their sophistication and effort, but also from their wallets.

With historical hindsight, we can reflect that this is sort of pre-cursor to what is happening now.  These educated 18th century theologians were dissociating themselves from the uneducated and charismatic itinerants only to find that their congregations were abandoning them for those for said itinerants.  And, like many liberal theologians today, these sophisticated clergy were not quite yet aware that they were being deserted by reason and science as well.  Today’s clergy don’t have the excuse, like their 18th century analogs, of having less conflicting scientific discovery to deal with (no Darwin yet, for example) but they were often aware that what people such as Newton had discovered were at least raising their theological dander a little.  And while Newton himself was a pious man (to some degree), the discovery of natural laws was the beginning of the conflict between faith and reason, science and religion, naturalism and supernaturalism.

When we put this into our contemporary context, the appearance of Rob Bell and other accommodating religious thinkers is not a surprise.  Reason and much of the religious instinct, especially that led by our emotion, are in conflict.  To soften the blow of the success of scientific naturalism’s effect on religion and its many revelations, the liberalization of theology is a reaction to the fundamentalism which is, itself, a reaction to the Enlightenment.

It is a resignation on the part of some of today’s religious leaders that the Enlightenment and it subsequent naturalistic worldview (and to gnu atheism, ultimately) are forces that cannot be beaten, ignored, or entertained away; they must be dealt with, even if some insist upon maintaining their belief despite the immanent conflict between the faith that sustains such a belief and the reason that tells them they must resign–even if not all the way.

The Signing of the Constitution (note lack of Christian symbolism)

Fundamentalism is anti-intellectual, especially when it tries not to be.  Many are starting to realize, as we gnus are especially aware, that even the anti-intellectual cannot hide from the quality of reason’s success in changing our world.  And so religion and its allies resign and accommodate to this realization by shifting, a little at a time, until their religion is not much more than the a watered-down new age paganism, some Sunday social gathering of hymn-singers and socializers, or to some vague deism recognizable to many of our Constitutional fathers.  And if deism is all that can survive this neo-Enlightenment which is the science-driven worldview of the skeptic, the atheist, and the gnu, then that’s the right step in the right direction of history.

It makes me wonder if I should be less cynical and misanthropic.  I’m still skeptical about hat though.

Finally, I wonder (as I have before) if when American religious thinkers claim that this is  Christian nation, they are referring to this attitude that exists from before the Constitution.  Well, yes we are largely a Christian culture, but the simple fact is that the Constitution was composed, signed, and ratified after a period of time when the Colonial culture that spawned the Great Awakening and its anti-intellectual attitude gave way to a somewhat elitist deist crowd of people in Philadelphia in the 1780 and 1790s.  Yes, our culture is largely influenced by this anti-intellectual worldview from the Great Awakening (And, later, the Second Great Awakening), but our Constitutional Government arose despite this, not because of it.

Our attempt, here in the United States of America, at creating a more perfect union occurred despite our anti-intellectual Christian culture, not because of it.  The Great Awakening was not what created America, after all.  What created America was a desire for a secular government conceived of by men who, mostly, saw the effects of the Great Awakening as I see it; anti-intellectual riff-raff in a time of need for reason and education.

Let’s get on that.

Local Christian admits to excluding atheists in society

Doug Billings
Doug Billings

I ran into this article from a local Philadelphia writer today.  I must say that I was a bit flabbergasted by it.  What a disgusting piece of writing this was.  So full of hate, misinformation, and lack of compassion and love that I thought it was written by his straw-man atheist.

Let’s see where he starts:

Here we go again – another new political building and another new lawsuit brought about by atheists without anything better to do. Is being an atheist really so boring that for fun they spend thousands of dollars on frivolous lawsuits just to get their name(s) in the paper? How dreadfully pitiful. One almost feels sorry for them.

If you don’t know what he’s talking about, it is the issue of the lawsuit concerning the carving of the phrases “In God we trust” and “One nation under God” on the visitor center at the capital.  And right, we are just doing it because we are bored.  We are so lonesome and desperate for attention that we have to mess with him and his ilk.  We are so pathetic.

Oh, right.  They are the ones that are spending thousands of dollars to engrave their phrases on the building which we object to for legitimate reasons.  I’ll get to that.  But first, let’s see what our loving and compassionate Christian friend has to say further along in his article:

Did you know that “In God We Trust” is the official motto of the United States? It is.

This is correct.  However, it has not always been so.  The phrase did not appear on our money until 1864, and the motto was changed to this in 1956 in an act of Congress.  It was not right to do then, and it is still not right.  This is an issue of concern for atheists for two reasons; one is that it keeps on being used as an example of why atheists can be treated like second-class citizens.  The other is that it excludes us in the first place.  It is divisive of our citizens to have something official that does not represent all of us.

Oh wait, our loving Christian friend does not care about that:

First of all you’re correct that the engravings will exclude you. This is the intent. We want you excluded. Keeping idiocy out of the mainstream is a healthy goal.

Um…hmm.  I don’t know what to say to that.  He admits to wanting to exclude us.  Man, that really sounds like dislike, at very least.  Idiocy? Why are atheists idiots?  Isn’t that the cultural debate we are having now?  Has the government sided with you officially? When did this happen? And even if we were idiots, doesn’t the constitution protect our rights anyway?  I mean, even if there were clearly a god (there isn’t clearly a god), our rights as citizens are protected nonetheless.

Let me quote the holy Gospel according to the United Constitution:

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.

And then the Gospel according to Matthew (22:21):

Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s

Ah, yes, this is indeed a Christian nation.  All that debate during the writing of the Constitution in this very city of Philadelphia, where many times a proposition to include Jesus in the document were rejected.  Jefferson’s idea of the wall between church and state, as he described in his letter to the Danbury Baptist church, indicate this:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that 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 & State.

What does our esteemed Christian Life examiner have to say about such things?

Because of the glorious and unique foundation of Christian principles, precepts and beliefs this country rests upon and due to the indelible imprint the founding fathers gave us by using them in our constitution and declaration of independence, these kinds of engravings and inscriptions will never be eliminated from our government.

Well, first of all the only use of anything god-like was either in the use of the dating system, references tosome vague ‘Creator’ and ‘providence’ in the Declaration of Independence (which has no legal implications for us anyway), and the things I just mentioned above which seek to create a secular nation.  Secular meaning without respect to any religious view, not without religion.

And that is precisely the point.  The reason that these phrases don’t belong on a government building is that they are not only divisive, but they are not in line with the founders of our nation as they agreed in the Constitution.  Those founders discussed these things and the only time religion and god are mentioned in the Constitution are in keeping a separation from the religious beliefs of individuals from the government which is supposed to represent them.

Doug adds the following:

In another gleaming example of her intellectual shortcomings, Gaylor said, “They want this engraving up there because they think God is the foundation of our government. Boy, are they misinformed.”

I could print hundreds of pages with quotes from our founding fathers to modern politicians proving her wrong, but why when she’s so obviously a lunatic? (Please cue up Lunatic Fringe by Red Rider)

Here’s the thing.  Many of the founders were Christian.  Many legislators and lawyers are today.  That does not matter.  The fact is that when it came to forging a document to create a basis for law in our society, what they came up with makes it very clear that not only no religious test will be permitted, but that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, which Jefferson was kind enough to elaborate on for us above.

And granted, Jefferson’s comments outside the constitution can be held with the same skepticism as the Christian fellow-founders that he disagreed with, but the fact is that nowhere in the Constitution is it made clear that the laws of our nation are derived from a god, but instead it says this:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Nothing about God, but “we the people” instead.  What I think is going on is the people that argue God is behind this argue that EVERYTHING is from God.  But this question is precisely what different citizens disagree about.  And since the Constitution does not address this issue, government has to be neutral about the question, even if the people who are supposed to be the representatives are not neutral themselves.

Sure, culturally this nation is steeped in Christian ideas.  But this must be kept separate from the government.  I will never try to prevent a person from practicing whatever his conscience wills in his or her private life, but a government building is not that private life.  A government building is public, and I’m part of that public.  Excluding me because I disagree with the majority violates the essence of the Constitution.

And it does not matter how many of us are atheists, agnostics, etc.  It does not matter if it is 15%, 5%, or .5%.  The point is that by excluding us from our Constitutional rights, people like Doug Billings are invoking the same kind of thinking that allowed rights to be kept from minority races, women, and gays throughout our history.

But Doug isn’t done yet:

No American with any sense will stand for this attempt to whitewash our American religious heritage and Little Miss Annie and her FFRF will remain on the fringe of society because of their own choices, not because the mainstream puts them there. This is the thing about fringe groups – they choose to be on the fringe. No one forces them to be there.

Right, just like nobody forced you to be part of the mainstream (if you are in fact there).  What does that have to do with anything? So those on the fringe don’t matter? People with unpopular opinions are just SOL? That reminds me of groups like the Taliban.  I imagine if the phrase was “In Allah we trust” you may feel differently about this.  Then, perhaps, we would agree that this phrase doesn’t belong there.  But you fail to see, Dougy boy, that “In God is trust” is sectarian and divisive.

It’s time for the fringe groups to stop wasting money and time. They have a right to believe whatever they want and they can choose to remain on the fringe. They just don’t have the right to tie up our courts with frivolity and stupidity.

No, there is where you are wrong.  We all, including you Dougy, have the right to believe whatever stupidity we want to.  The fact is that the government has to be neutral on whether any of them are actually stupid.  We have every right to sue where we see a violation of rights, just as you would do if the phrase “In no gods we trust” were carved on a government building.

And if you did sue because of that, I’d sign on with you.  Because I believe in fighting for the rights of everyone, not only those with whom I agree.  And if you would not sue, then that’s also your right.  My view is that these legal issues are of minor concern…except that people like Doug will perpetually use the presence of such phrases on government buildings as support for their discrimination.