I Thought Christians Weren’t Supposed To Lie

I’m of course kidding.  Everyone lies, and to this extent, Christianity isn’t even a good medicine for lying.  But that just leaves Christians down on the ground with the rest of us sinners who occasionally tell a fib here and there.  Thus, we know Mike Huckabee is not only Christian, because he says he is quite frequently, but also because he lied, and not just any lie, but something of a doosey.

First, of course, kudos to Gov. Huckabee whose star truly is rising.  If nothing else, it’s nice to see a lower tiered candidate threaten the upper tiers, if nothing else it is entertaining, and personally, I think Huckabee’s a decent enough guy.  Heck, I’ve been watching enough debates to where I think I honestly like him after a fashion.

But this is where we separate who we like, and who we think ought to be running the country.  I like candidates on both sides of the field (admittedly not nearly as many on the Republican side, but I could imagine having an interesting luncheon with John McCain, or Tommy Thompson when he was still running or (sigh) Ron Paul.  I disagree with all men on many fronts, but I would still like to pick at their brains a bit), but that doesn’t necessarily mean that any of these candidates I like belong anywhere near the White House.

Which brings me back to Huckabee.  The St. Petersburg Times managed to catch Mike Huckabee in one whopper of a lie during his performance at the last debate.

The signers of the Declaration of Independence were “brave people, most of whom, by the way, were clergymen.”

(snip)

We’d like to give Huckabee every benefit of the doubt, but even if you consider former clergymen among the signers the best you could come up with is four. Out of 56. That’s not “most,” that’s Pants-on-Fire wrong.

Now, there are two sides to this kind of a lie.  On one side, it is simply that someone has his facts wrong, a forgivable mistake sometimes, but I don’t think that this is what we have here, not even close.  In fact, this too closely mirrors the kind of rhetoric that comes from the most politicized portions of the religious community who stand by the assertion that this was a Christian Nation at its birth and that it should essentially stay that way.

It is true that at the onset of this country much of its citizens were Christian, definitely a good portion of those who had any kind of political power anyway.  But comments like Huckabee’s tend to play a part in the kind of revisionist history that suits the needs of the Religious Right, and ultimately plays up the already prominent role of Christianity in early America.

The purpose for this is that it stands as justification.  In the face of an increasingly diverse society, one in which religions not even resembling Christianity are practiced, a turn towards secularism is the only way to maintain the integrity of our multicultural peoples while at the same time engendering unity.  This creeping secularism, however, is viewed as a threat by many Christians, particularly those Christian leaders who intend to weild political power as well as theological power amongst their own flock.

Further, it’s difficult being the majority for so long and then seeing that you have to make room for minorities, which I think becomes why so many of the flock become just as animated as key religious leaders.  Somehow, other religions, or simply not treating Christianity as the single best religion ever has been viewed as a threat to those that practice Christianity. 

The idea that Christianity should hold no political power is a right one though.  We are, after all, a nation of immigrants, and not all people from all lands pray to the same God.  To elevate one God over another is to subjugate those who pray to what is deemed to be the lesser Gods, and this is in the best case scenario.  In the worst case scenario, America turns into the kind of theocratic institutions that many of our forefathers fled in the first place.

So there’s a reason for it.  But just because there are mechanisms designed to keep the church and the government separate, that does not prevent those of faith from still trying desperately to inject faith back into the public squares in ways that are inappropriate for our society.  This is where the whole founding fathers were Christian, Christian Nation argumen I believe comes from.

But it is a false argument.  For one, it is not, as Huckabee’s statement above outlines, not entirely accurate.  Yes, those who legislated and held power in Early America were predominantly Christian, our public school system arose out of more private institutions designed to instruct students such that they may read the bible and grow up to be good Christians.  However, the revisionist history of the Religious Right negates or at the least neglects to lend equal weight to those founding fathers who worked hard to prevent this from becoming a completely Christian nation.

Madison and Jefferson were champions of the wall of separation between Church and State probably in part because they themselves weren’t exactly what you would call Christian, but also because they remembered the kind of theological ire in which this country was forged, and understood that allowing too much, or any latitude for the church and the government to work hand in hand could result in yet another utterly repressive religious regime.

But the other side of this argument which falls down deals with relevance.  It is unrealistic to believe that all things that existed two and a half centuries ago are still valid now.  Just because America was a Christian nation then (to a degree), does not mean that that is what is right for America today.  The argument employed by the Religious Right, the attempt at revising the past is ultimately all for naught for even if every single American back at the country’s birth actually was Christian, that does not reflect the society of today, and this is still a country that is born upon the ideals of economic, religious, and personal freedom.

Such freedoms take precedence, high precedence mind you, over the will of one religion and its leveraging for role of America’s faith.  There are too many people that would suffer under such a thing.

10 Responses to “I Thought Christians Weren’t Supposed To Lie”

  1. wayne arant says:

    what you dont understand is the reason ameica is blessed with the freedoms we have
    is because it was founded on the bible and christianity. Do you know any nation in the
    world that was founded on another religion or athiesm that has been blessed with
    freedoms and prosperity, of america? The gospel of Jesus christ is where we get our freedom. If it is diluted or eliminated as our foundation, our freedoms will crumble.

  2. Jesus Christ in politics does not bring freedom nor peace, my friend. And when we talk about free nations outside of America, truly free nations, what you will oft see is notably LESS religiosity in their politicians than those here at home.

    Likewise, the following of Jesus Christ as part of the governmental foundation has led to some impressively dictatorial states, and in fact such a governmental oppression in the name of religion helped stand as part of this nation’s birth. American pilgrims did not flee followers of Allah, or the students of Buddhist teachings, but instead they fled those who had a different view on how Christ should be worshipped.

    No, if you truly want to see our freedoms crumble, inject Christ in government, and that is exactly what you will see, particularly as the rights of those who do not believe in Jesus Christ have their freedome to believe as such stomped underfoot.

  3. Macswain says:

    Seems to me that the writings of Rousseau, Locke & Paine played a larger role in the creation of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution than the Bible. It seems our friend, Mr. Arant, has overlooked the Constitution’s ban on the government’s establishment of religion.

  4. Excellent post, Kyle.

    Mr. Arant seems to conflate secularism with atheism- they are two very different concepts. The US was founded on secularism, not atheism. As for successful non-Christian governments, I’d say the Romans were a hell of a lot more successful before they adopted Christianity than after.

    In any event, the Huckabee quote struck me as wrong when he said it. I’m kind of angry at myself for not being the first to fact-check it. I don’t know if this was a deliberate lie on Huckabee’s part, though, as things like this are a common myth amongst the religious right, perhaps because they see the effects that originalism had on the law in the 70s and 80s, and wanted to get a piece of the action.

    I do take issue, though, with the suggestion that the founders’ beliefs are irrelevant. We are supposed to be (emphasis on “supposed”) a nation of laws. Thus, the framework for those laws needs to be reliable- the framework should only be changed under the terms of the Constitution itself, rather than by simply using modern necessity as an excuse to change the original meaning (see, eg, Cheney, Richard 2001-present). That said, though, it is entirely possible to be a secularist without giving up your Christianity- something that I think the founders understood quite well.

  5. Mick Arran says:

    A good argument could be made – and has been – that the “constitution” of the Iroquois Nations Confederation served as the template for ours, containing as it does most of the ideas and concepts of liberty and tolerance that later became enshrined in Philly. Just saying, not to take anything away from RL&P.

    Huckabee’s a Reconstructionist theocrat, so however likable he is, you’ve got good reason to be wary.

  6. Macswain says:

    Publius,

    There is actually a compelling case to be made that the founders did not want future generations to be bound by their intent; to the extent any uniform intent can be determined. The Constitution uses broad and oftentimes ambiguous language language. Certainly, in many instances, this is the result of compromises designed to leave difficult issues to future generations.

    The participants at the Constitutional Convention agreed not to keep notes and it appears all but Madison adhered to this agreement. Madison’s papers re the convention were only released after his death. Moreover, the Constitution specifically acknowledges that the Bill of Rights does not set forth an exclusive list of all the rights retained by the States or the People (See the Ninth Amendment). While the Constitution was necessitated in large part by a need to sacrifice some commercial freedoms for better uniform laws (i.e. the Commerce clause), many of the founding fathers, the Federalists particularly, would never have gone for a Constitution that limited individual liberty and self-determination to very narrow readings of the few items specifically set forth in the Bill of Rights.

    This is not to say there should be no rule of law. Constitutional interpretation should be principled and bounded by reason and the well-worn logic of stare decisis. But one principle that is a part of the Constitution and part of this country’s founding is the right of individual self-determination.

  7. Mac: On the spot, and I’m going to throw in a couple of my personal heroes in the mix when it comes to the Constitution (of the two documents, technically the Declaration of Independence carries no actual power with it. It is, of course, the most important document in American History to enjoy the status of carrying no actual authority, but that is still how it is; we do not govern by the DOI); Madison and Jefferson who would be among the founding fathers I mention who were both not Christian, and champions for the wall (it was actually Madison, I believe, who first created the metaphor of the wall between church and state).

    PE: Thank you and will address what you have taken issue with first so we get on the same page, which I think we essentially are. The idea of relevence, and I was careful to write that in the positive as opposed to the negative in the hopes of expressing the sentiment that you took that just because they are long since gone nothing they did was irrelevent.

    What is a non starter, however, is the idea that everything that occurred back in that time is completely and wholely transferable to our time, which is true. It is not even necessarily rational to compare the religious conflicts domestically of today to those of that time period because the religious make up has most definitely changed. At the heart of what we are talking about is something you mentioned and that is the conflict between whether this is a nation of laws or men. Those who are, wittingly or not, attempting to establish a theocracy are guilty of taking the nature of the country at the time of its founding, and using that to turn this into a nation of men; that is to say that they are trying to model the country after the lifestyles and personal beliefs of persons who have died over two hundred years ago to a degree which would fall inadequate to the needs and wants of the union as they stand today.

    By contrast, there are aspects of the wisdom of the founding fathers that will never be irrelevent, and that would be of course embodied in the constitution, a document that was made amendable partially because they had the foresight to understand that time does not stand still, and situations would arise that would result in governance accounting for things that they in their time could not conceive of.

    Ultimately, to me, the idea of mixing Church and State is not, as the pro Christ in Politics zealots advertize, a matter of following the founding fathers, but instead questioning their wisdom.

    About Huckabee, don’t get mad, these things happen.

    And finally, I want to applaud your point that secularism does not equate atheism; I myself am not an atheist. Nor does atheism deserve to be demonized as it is by the politically motivated Christian organizations.

    Mick: That is interesting, you got anything I can read up on that, I’ve not heard that posited before.

  8. mick says:

    Kyle: It’s been around a long time. I first heard it in the early 70’s when I went to a lecture at Wesleyan (my then-girlfriend was a student there). Can’t remember who gave it. Might have been Howard Zinn. Ten years later I went to another lecture, this one by Michael Parenti at Smith (I think; might have been Amherst College) in which he referenced it, altho the lecture itself was about the similarity of the Roman oligarchy to movement conservatism.

    IAC, the connection is pretty obvious when you look at the Iroquois Constitution itself. Ben Franklin in particular was highly impressed by it. It predates our Constitution by as much as 600 yrs, 3-400 yrs before Columbus. There’s a short history of the Nations here. I’ll try to find more when I get time. For now, gotta go to work.

  9. Per my statement on my site I’m going to drop my moniker for commenting purposes- the site name is different from me and frankly I’ve been thinking that calling myself PE is, well, a bit arrogant (calling the site PE, however, is I think ok).

    Anyways, I understand what you are saying about intent, and there is certainly a lot to it. I’m going to plead guilty to extremely poor word choice resulting from writing in a hurry. Anyways, divining intent based on extraneous writings is generally an exercise in futility (even, I hate to admit, the Federalist papers must be taken with a grain of salt since they were intended as propaganda to persuad the anti-Federalists). You are almost always going to be able to find some statement from someone that supports just about any argument from intent (this is why originalist lawyers get frustrated whenever “legislative history” is cited). All we have to go by is the text of the Constitution itself, which grants very specific (and thus specifically limited) powers to the federal government and very broad (and explicitly unlimited) rights to the People and states.

    The problem I have is when the words of the Constitution are twisted around in such a way as to guarantee a particular result for the sake of modern political expediency. Certainly, the words are frequently ambiguous, but that ambiguity is too often resolved in favor of increasing government powers rather than restricting them (which would be the sole way of reading the Constitution if the 9th and 10th Amendments weren’t largely disregarded by the Courts). Worse, though, is when modern meanings of words are used to create ambiguity when the 1789 definition of the word would leave no ambiguity whatsoever. This is also where I have a problem with stare decisis- when a decision relies on a twisted reading of Constitutional language and is given authority as stare decisis, the decision is effectively amending the Constitution without going through the amendment process. Indeed, we actually wind up with the bizarre result that you need to amend the Constitution in order to restore the Constitution.

    Where ambiguity does exist, though, there are a number of rules of construction that generally should be applied (just as a matter of contractual law). For instance, one general rule that is rarely applied (and which was horribly ignored by the New Deal court, thanks to the court-packing threat) is that of construing language against the drafter (or, in this case, the drafter’s successor-in-interest). Every time that the SCOTUS uses ambiguity to expand government power (usually Executive power these days), it is fundamentally weakening the Constitution and destroying, rather than clarifying or increasing, the certainty that is essential to the Rule of Law.

    I guess what I’m saying is that, to a large extent, you are correct that the Founders’ intent about a specific issue is irrelevant. But the original words need to be honored above all else, or else the Constitution amended.

  10. christianity says:

    I too heard somewhere that Christians shouldn’t lie but as a human any one can lie and the best example is Politics where we can’t judge who are lying. So, it doesn’t depend on the religion but on the human.

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