February 1998

Truth, Justice, and Integrity

“Among the qualities that characterize Sterling McMurrin’s life and mind, perhaps the most notable is the freedom with which he has spoken his views on both the sacred and the profane.” Those are the words Dr. Jackson Newell uses to summarize the remarkable life of the late University of Utah Professor of Philosophy. Speaking to a near record audience at the January 8th meeting of our chapter, Dr. Newell recalled being deeply impressed with Dr. McMurrin when they first met on the U of U campus 24 years ago in 1974. He discovered they shared the view that a liberal education is the key to the development of a free mind that can approach problems openly, evaluate the best available evidence, and accept apparent solutions despite predisposition.

During the next ten years they developed a close friendship and at the invitation of the University Press, co-authored the book about the life and philosophy of McMurrin. It turned out to be a 10-year project, producing transcribed notes 16-inches thick reflecting fifty-five 2-hour conversations! When they submitted the finished manuscript to the University Press, they were asked to trim the contents by one-third. Another Utah publishing house, Signature Books, said they wanted to publish the book in its entirety. “Matters of Conscience” was in the process of being printed when McMurrin died April 6, 1996, in St. George.

Newell said McMurrin’s two greatest assets were his photographic memory and his ability to quickly grasp the essence of matters under discussion. His sense of disarming wit endeared him to friends and fellow professionals.

Commenting on McMurrin’s seemingly conflicting religious views Newell turned to their book for this McMurrin quote: “I don’t think of churches as being true or false. Churches are good or bad or better or worse, but not true or false. Being a Mormon is simply being part of a family, and even the stray sheep in the family can love it and defend it.While I readily confess to being a heretic-one who doesn’t believe-I frankly resent being called an apostate-one who turns against the church. I am critical of the church, but I’m for it, not against it.”

Dr. Newell engaged in conversations and autographed copies of his book for chapter members and visitors for an hour after his formal presentation.

–Flo Wineriter

Memo to US Congress: Thou Shalt Not Bear False History

This article is quoted from The Alternate Approach, newsletter of the Secular Humanist Association of San Antonio. It was written by Robert S. Alley, a member of Americans United’s Board of Trustees and Professor Emeritus of Humanities at the University of Richmond. Alley’s published books include: James Madison on Religious Liberty, The Supreme Court on Church and State, and Without a Prayer: Religious Expression in Public Schools.

While many members of Congress decry the lack of historical knowledge among our youth, the evidence is overwhelming that there is fundamental ignorance of American history in Congress itself.

The most recent evidence of that fact came to national attention last March when U.S. House members rallied to the side of Judge Roy Moore, an Alabama judge who was ordered on church-state grounds to remove a plaque of the Ten Commandments from his courtroom wall. The congressional defense was translated into House Concurrent Resolution 31, a non-binding measure that praised Moore and insisted: “The public display, including display in government offices and courthouses, of the Ten Commandments should be permitted.”

The proponent of H.Con.Res.31 included Rep. Joe Scarborough (R-Fla.), who took to the House floor to contend that foes of Judge Moore’s Ten Commandments display were wrong in saying they wished only to protect the Constitution. Scarborough argued this was true because, “The father of the Constitution, James Madison, stated while he was drafting the Constitution: `We have staked the entire future of the American civilization, not on the power of government, but upon the capacity of the individual to govern himself, to control himself and sustain himself according to the Ten Commandments of God.'”

That alleged Madison quotation has been cited frequently over the past 50 years, but never with a primary source. There’s a reason for that: It is proper to state that Madison cannot be found to have said anything even vaguely similar to the words attributed to him.

David Mattern, an editor of the Madison Papers, in 1993 commented on the so-called Madison “quote.” “We did not find anything in our files,” he concluded, “remotely like the sentiment expressed in the extract you sent us. In addition, the idea is inconsistent with everything we know about Madison’s views on religion and government, views he expressed time and again in public and private.”

Scarborough moved from his bogus Madison material to George Washington. The Florida Republican claimed the father of our country had stood up at his Farewell Address and said, “It is impossible to govern rightly without God and the Ten Commandments.”

As a minor note, Washington did not deliver his address standing up, but rather sent it to a newspaper for publication. Further, Washington did not write the words Scarborough cited in his Farewell. Equally interesting, the editors of the George Washington Papers inform me that a computer check of the entire corpus of the first President’s writing reveal not a single reference to the Ten Command-ments.

To make matters worse Scarborough, having disseminated two completely false statements, had the audacity to say that Thomas Jefferson agreed with the two comments that were never uttered.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.) took the floor to argue that religious liberty pioneer Roger Williams intended “to protect the church, not the state.” This is patently false and misses the entire thrust of the Williams experiment in freedom of conscience brought to colonial Rhode Island atheists, Jews, agnostics, and all manner of dissenting Christians. He was banished from Massachusetts where the church was protected by the state.

Rep. Bob Riley (R-Ala) returned to the fabricated statement attributed to Madison and followed with yet another alleged quote, this time from Jefferson. According to Riley, Jefferson said, “(T)he Bill of Rights are built on the foundations of ethics and morality found in the Ten Commandments.” The editors of the Jefferson Papers at Princeton assured me they found no evidence that the Sage of Monticello ever said any such thing.

When the pro-Moore members of Congress concluded their time at the microphone they had referred to Thomas Jefferson five times, James Madison four times, George Washington twice, and John Adams once. Of those 12 references, 10 are completely false. Of the remaining two, one is a garbled misquote from Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII, the other a reference to John Adams that seems genuine. Finally neither of the two quotes that have some degree of verifiability mention the Ten Commandments.

Relying almost exclusively on these egregious historical distortions, Republicans in Congress castigated their opponents as supporters of moral corruption. Rep. Scarborough, the most historically ill-informed of the lot, offered-with his voice in high-pitched piety-arguably the most ridiculous sentence in the debate. Citing the Madison and Washington quotes, he said, “Now, if the revisionists do not like that, that is fine, but please, do not insult Americans’ intelligence, please do not try to do a verbal burning of our American history books.”

Regrettably, the House passed H.Con.Res.31 by a whopping 295-125 margin. And many among that majority on March 5 had come to office decrying the sad state of public education. How would they know?

The Fundamentalist War Against Humanism

Richard Layton’s Discussion Group Report

“So let us be blunt about it: we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.” So declared Gary North, a featured speaker at the Continental Congress on the Christian World View III in Washington D.C. on July 4, 1986. North was one of a number of persuasive writers and preachers, who, though viewed as radical outcasts even by conservatives, have begun to influence the thought of leading fundamentalist apologists.

The Congress “twas no mere social get-together for friendly faith-partners,” say Frederick Edwords and Stephen McCabe in “Getting Out God’s Vote: Pat Robertson and the Evangelicals” in the May/June, 1987, issue of The Humanist. These fundamentalists are vociferously advocating Christian Reconstruction, a concept first advanced by Rousas J. Rushdoony in his book By What Standard? Christian Reconstructionists adhere to what they call “dominion theology.” It calls on them to dominate society, take control, and institute God’s covenant as the basis of law and government. A critical aspect is postmillennialism, the notion that the second coming of Christ will be after the millennium, a thousand years of Christian utopia. The idea is that that Christians must set up God’s kingdom by claiming dominion over the world and reconstructing society to make the world ready for Christ’s return. The opposite doctrine, premillennialism, is the belief that the second coming will precede the millenium. Christ will come first and he, not mortals, will set up the thousand-year utopian reign. This idea was put forth in Hal Lindsay’s doomsday best seller, The Late, Great Planet Earth.

Rushdoony says the premillennials have a duty under God to conquer in Christ’s name. This change in thinking from premillennialism to postmillennialism has made possible the religious right and the political mobilization of millions of otherwise fatalistic fundamentalists. Pat Robertson is denying that a nuclear war will usher in the second coming. “What’s coming next? I want you to imagine a society where church members have taken dominion over the forces of the world…no drug addiction…pornographers no longer have any access to the public whatever…the people of God inherit the earth…these things can take place now in this time.. and they are going to because I am persuaded that we are standing on the brink of the greatest spiritual revival the world has ever known!”

The Christian Reconstructionist influence on conservatives has increased. With the influx of Calvinistic ideas into their convention, Southern Baptists have been influenced to shed their once sacred individualism, move into political action, and turn their seminaries from academically free institutions of higher learning to trade schools for evangelists and conservative social reformers. Others have been taken in as well. The Coalition on Revival represents a unification of Reconstructionists with charismatics, other evangelicals, black revivalists, creationists, and fundamentalists behind a theocratic political agenda. The goal is to hammer out a unified social policy for all conservative Christians to be promoted actively from the pulpits of various denominations, through legislation, and by other means. Their position paper declares that, “the Bible is therefore a guidebook both for man’s spiritual/religious life and for society’s legal life; and that it is therefore to be followed by civil law as it sets standards for societal conduct.” They are trying to use the U.S. Constitution as a vehicle for taking over the public schools and every other major aspect of political life.

“Clearly,” say Edwords and McCabe, “the latter-day influence on American fundamentalists, evangelicals, and others has changed the politics of a nation. We are already in the third presidential campaign in a row that bears unmistakable witness to the power of politicized conservative religion. We are at this point because we failed to read the Reconstructionists’ own honest words about their aims. In Germany they failed to read, and believe, the plan set forth in Mein Kampf. Our only hope is that the majority of Americans will, through the reverend Pat Robertson’s brazen presidential bid, see the obvious implications of the religious right’s agenda and therefore decide that this country doesn’t need theocracy.”

A tactic that is used by religious conservatives to undermine the secular posture of our government established by the U.S. Constitution is to accuse secularists of causing “moral decline.” LDS church president Gordon B. Hinckley, in a speech to the Provo Community Centennial Service on August 4, 1996, said, “I believe that a significant factor in the decay we observe about us comes of a forsaking of the God whom our fathers knew, loved, worshipped, and looked to for strength. There is a plainly discernible secularization that is occurring. Its consequences are a deterioration of family life, a weakening of self-discipline, a scoffing at the thought of accountability unto the Almighty, and an unbecoming arrogance for any people who have been so richly blessed through the goodness of a generous Providence as we have been.”

God, the early American Christian settlers with their Judeo-Christian moral concepts, and other ethnic groups who believed in and worshipped God, says Hinckley, were the foundation of what Lady Margaret Thatcher called “the goodness and strength of America,” much of which persists and keeps hope for our country’s future alive in spite of the “growing moral deficit” growing out of “secularizing America.”

In our country during the past seven decades we have created rape crisis centers and battered women’s shelters, improved provisions for the care of the homeless, passed civil rights laws, bettered economic and social opportunities for minorities (although there is still much need for improvements in these), helped preserve the peace in Bosnia and other areas, established an extensive social welfare net, and made some other ethical achievements showing that in some respects we are a more caring society than we used to be. Historians estimate that between the years 1880 and 1940 60,000 black people were lynched in the United States, and that problem is no longer with us. In view of the facts that nearly all of these killings were carried out by avowed Christians and that the pilgrim settlers persecuted people whose religious beliefs differed from their own, is the faith of our fathers what we really want to return to? In many respects we have become a more moral people.