May 1995

James Madison: Father of the Constitution

The Grass-Roots News is the official publication of The Chapter Assembly–the organization of AHA chapters. This article is extracted from the March 1995 edition of GRN

James Madison is known as the Father of the Constitution. In large part we owe our religious freedom under the Constitution to Madison. He was born March 16, 1751 in Virginia and grew up in the Piedmont areas as did his friend of later years, Thomas Jefferson. A diligent student, he completed his college education in less than three years at the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton University.

The religious persecution prevalent in Colonial America profoundly disturbed Madison. At the age of 23, he wrote to his friend William Bradford, “The diabolical Hell conceived principle of persecution rages among some and to their eternal Infamy the Clergy can furnish their quota of Imps for such business. This vexes me the most of anything whatever.” Three months later he again wrote Bradford, “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded prospect.”

James Madison came to the fore during the drafting of Virginia’s Constitution when his own wording making freedom of religion a right was substituted for George Mason’s which merely guaranteed toleration of religious differences.

Madison, while serving in the Virginia House of Delegates, wrote A Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments in reply to Patrick Henry’s proposal for an assessment to support religious ministers or teachers. This document formed the intellectual basis for the First Amendment’s ban on the establishment of religion.

In urging the adoption of the Federal Constitution, Madison stated, “Freedom arises from a multiplicity of sects, which pervades America, and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society.” He wanted authority to stem from the general legislature rather than from the states individually because one religion could predominate and oppress within a state but America as a whole was too diverse in religious belief to allow one to become dominant.

In his later years Madison wrote, “The danger of silent accumulations and encroachments by Ecclesiastical Bodies have not sufficiently engaged attention in the US.” He disliked the establishment of the chaplainship to Congress as well as to the military as “a palpable violation of equal rights, as well as of Constitutional principles.”

Madison deserves our admiration and much credit for the religious safeguards we enjoy today. We must keep ever vigilant against those who wish to tear down the Wall of Separation between Church and State that Madison helped to establish.

The Moral Sense

In The Moral Sense author James Q. Wilson makes a good case for humans having an innate sense of moral values that is a genetical result of evolution. Wilson defines moral sense as an intuitive or directly felt belief about how one ought to act when one is free to act voluntarily. He contends this sense is fragile and needs nurturing but does give us a reasonable reference for human sympathy, fairness, self-control and duty. Wilson’s research indicates this moral sense is present in all ages of all races. He wrote the book in hopes of helping humans to magnify the better side of their nature.

With the current religious emphasis on divinely inspired family values, I recommend reading this book to develop a sound basis for discussing evolutionary acquired human values.

–Flo Wineriter

Old Time Religion

Kurt Vonnegut has “invented” several religions. Here is a prayer offered by a minister of the “Church of God the Utterly Indifferent” from the novel Sirens of Titan.

O Lord Most High, Creator of the Cosmos, Spinner of Galaxies, Soul of Electromagnetic Waves, Inhaler and Exhaler of Inconceivable Volumes of Vacuum, Spitter of Fire and Rock, Trifler with Millennia–what could we do for Thee that Thou couldst not do for Thyself one octillion times better?


What could we do or say that could possibly interest Thee?


Oh, Mankind, rejoice in the apathy of our Creator, for it makes us free and truthful and dignified at last. No longer can a fool like Malachi Constant point to a ridiculous accident of good luck and say, “Somebody up there likes me.” And no longer can a tyrant say, “God wants this or that to happen, and anybody who doesn’t help this or that to happen is against God.”

O Lord Most High, what a glorious weapon is Thy Apathy, for we have unsheathed it, have thrust and slashed mightily with it, and the claptrap that has so often enslaved us or driven us into the madhouse lies slain!

The Human Conscious

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

The focus of our April meeting was the human unconscious mind. The lively discussion was led by John Paul. Sigmund Freud, the Father of psychoanalysis, cut a sloppy road into the wilderness of the unconscious by studying only ill humans. He developed the process of psychoanalysis, which is introspection externally orchestrated by another. It is a search for truth, one’s inner truth.

Freud discovered the important real connection or relationship between neurosis and religion. Therapy for various neuroses can take one of two general paths: 1) correcting the exhibited behavior (social adjustment) or 2) correcting the underlying cause (through psychotherapy.)

Freud wrote some 35 books, including Moses and Monotheism and The Future of an Illusion.

Carl Justav Jung saw the unconscious as 1) a source of revelation and 2) a symbol for that which in religious language is “God.” In this view, the fact that we are subject to the dictates of our “unconscious” is a religious phenomenon. Our “individual unconscious” is just a small part of the “collective unconscious,” which permeates the entire universe. This “psychological theology” is brilliant but theistic.

Abraham Maslow concentrated on self-identity and self-actualization. He taught that each human who falls short of a full-blooming humanness subtracts from what could have been–should have been. He believed that most, if not all, evil could be attributed to human ignorance. In this framework he developed his hierarchy of basic needs.

Buddhists developed Tibetan Yoga and the Secret Doctrine almost 2500 years ago. They taught that certain sensations so resemble each other that they need to be studied to know what is actually happening. Examples include: desire vs. faithfulness, attachment vs. benevolence and compassion, cessation of thought vs. the Quiescence of Unlimited Mind (bliss), deceptive methods vs. prudence and charlatans vs. sages.

Erich Fromm defined religion as any system of thought and action shared by a group which gives the individual a frame of orientation and an object of devotion.

We discussed that when humans pray, they are basically attempting to put themselves in touch with their unconscious. In trying to understand the functions of the human mind, we are considering a 3-pound electrochemical meat organ. When damaged, “mindfulness” can be severely impaired. This fact is proof that mindfulness is directly dependent upon the condition of this meat organ, not some mysterious “out there” phenomenon. Although we know less about the brain than about some other organs, we humans are light-years ahead of our ancestors in knowledge about ourselves.

Conspiracy of Goodness

Nancy’s Corner

I was impressed with Michael Werner’s lecture in March, and his premise that our moral sense is biological and not theistic in nature. His argument verifies the conclusion of researchers who conducted an eight year study of altruism by analyzing the human characteristics of those people who risked their lives to protect the Jews in Europe during World War II. Time Magazine (3/16/92) covered the researchers’ conclusions in the following brief summation of their article.

One researcher, Nechama Tec, drew the following conclusions that challenge the general public’s moral assumptions of people in general: “When you look at the ‘rescuers’ as a large group, you cannot put them into any of the categories that you are used to. They include both rich and poor, educated and barely literate, believers and atheists. But on closer examination, you see a series of interrelated human characteristics.” She found, for example, that many of the rescuers were individualists. Most people do what society demands at the moment. But because the rescuers were not as constrained by the expectations of the group, they were better able to act on their own. (Sounds like humanism to me!)

In addition, Tec found that many of the rescuers had a history of doing good deeds before the war. Some visited people in hospitals, others collected books for poor students, still others took care of stray animals. “They just got into the habit of doing good,” she says. Many rescuers also shared a sense of universalism. They saw the Jews not as Jews but as persecuted human beings. (Sounds like Unitarianism and Humanism to me!)

Perhaps, most astounding of all, the majority of rescuers believe that the gift of goodness can be passed on. “It is like flowers growing in a certain soil,” says Helena, age 71, who with her family secretly sheltered Jews in their home across the street from a police station. “Goodness is natural in every human being, but it must be nourished and cultivated.”

Malka Drucker, photographer and interviewer of 105 rescuers from 10 countries concludes, “You don’t have to be Mother Teresa. You don’t have to be a better person than you already are in order to do good. Turning the rescuers into paragons of perfection would let the rest of humanity off the hook.”

According to Michael Werner, these ordinary, human, compassionate acts stem from our biological need to survive. The “reciprocal altruism” he speaks of that becomes “emotionally satisfying” also gratifies our biological need for happiness.

–Nancy Moore