Beginning of the End of the Age of Reason By Todd Huffman
History is slowly being rewritten. Hard to believe yet harder to deny is the increasing frequency and fervor with which those on the religious right assert that the United States was founded on Christian principles. Every day, on editorial pages and radio talk shows across the country, more and more unapologetic Christian crusaders state as fact fantastic claims of our founding fathers’ providential mission to create a nation based on the Ten Commandments and a Biblical worldview.
You may be tempted to chuckle, but you must not. Take this seriously, very seriously, for unknown to many of you America has become engaged in nothing less than an epic battle, one whose outcome will shape world history for the next century and beyond. It is not a battle against radical Islamic terrorism—that is a separate fight—but a battle that pits reason against faith, the Enlightenment against the Dark Ages, the light against the cave.
A recurring theme in power relations is that those wanting total control of power first write their own history, and then disseminate it to the unwitting and often uneducated masses. An untruth repeated often enough then becomes truth. If you doubt this, look no further than the polls showing that, nearly four years later, roughly half of Americans still believe Iraq played a role in September 11th despite unquestionable proof otherwise. See how willing people are to accept propaganda masquerading as truth?
Whosoever controls “truth” controls power. History is replete with examples of the willingness of people to absorb disinformation, repeated enough times, and accept it as fact. Our founding fathers knew their history quite well, and thus were quite explicit in insisting that the success of the American experiment in democracy was conditional upon a free and inquiring press, and upon the dissemination of independent information. They even enshrined that insistence within the First Amendment of our Constitution.
You’re probably now thinking that Americans are too smart to be taken in by these Christian crusaders out to rewrite not only the story of America, but the story of the very universe itself. Think again. Some studies show that over half of Americans have not read a book in their adult lives, not since they had to back in high school. Newspaper readership is at an all-time low. Young American adults were more likely raised watching endless hours of television and video games than reading books and learning about the world, past and present, from their parents.
Most Americans today are getting their “news” from morning shows and talk shows preoccupied with feel-good human- interest stories. Even on supposed serious news programs, trivial scandals masquerade as news. Many too many Americans are blissfully happy being given media spectacles that, when worn, are preventing them from seeing what is really going on in the world.
The only way to fight back against untruth is with truth. Every letter to the editor claiming America was founded on Christian principles must be answered with one correctly stating that it was founded on Enlightenment ones. Every caller to a radio talk show who claims the Ten Commandments as the inspiration of our constitutional laws must be answered by a caller correctly stating that our Constitution makes no mention of God whatsoever. “In God We Trust” did not appear on our coinage until the Civil War. The phrase “under God” was inserted into the Pledge of Allegiance at the height of the McCarthy hysteria in 1954. The Treaty of Tripoli of 1797, ratified unanimously by the United States Senate, states: “As the Government of the United States…is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion…”
The founding fathers were determined to keep the new nation free from bondage to the rule of religion. They also enshrined in the Constitution’s First Amendment—in fact, in its very first phrase—that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”, a phrase that actually alludes more to the need to insure freedom from religion than freedom for it. The founders meant not to discourage faith, but to protect the private rights of all Americans from religious zealots wielding state power.
History shows that only harm comes from the union of church and state. Well aware of this, it was Thomas Jefferson who coined the phrase, “a wall of separation between church and state.” It was Ben Franklin who said: “A man compounded of law and gospel is able to cheat a whole country with his religion and then destroy them under color of law.” It was James Madison who said: “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.” Not the comments of men who intended to found a Christian nation.
Our founding fathers feared the day when America might fall victim to religious zealots out to reshape American democracy in their religious image. Well, those zealots are here, and they’re wielding power, and rewriting history. They’re reshaping American foreign policy based on their interpretations of biblical prophecy. They’re out to smite the right to filibuster, which will give them even greater control of the courts, control which they intend to use to enforce those Christian principles upon which they’ll claim louder and louder our country was founded.
It’s up to you and me to defend reason, defend the Enlightenment, and to keep America in the light and out of the cave. It’s an epic battle. If we lose it, the whole world loses.
Todd Huffman, M.D., is a pediatrician in Eugene, Oregon, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.