The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


January 1, 2011

Karley Johnston, guest columnist: Founders’ words not sacred

LAMAR, Mo. — I don’t understand what people’s intentions are when they hold up the beliefs of individual Founders to prop up their arguments.

Sure, these factoids are relevant from time to time. However, way too many people use them in the manner of “Founding Father X said (something), therefore we should (something),” as if these folks were infallible.

An example is in a recent Dave Spiering letter (Globe, Dec. 25), in which he claims that America’s partisan bickering can be easily cured by everyone being true Christians. Good idea! I bet that being identical to one another is sure to smooth out any tensions. That would probably work with any religion, though, and not just Spiering’s particular flavor of Christianity. It probably would work just as well if everyone became Scientologists, or Greens, or a species of hardy seabird. I digress, though.

To back up his point, he misquotes John Adams, who he claims to have said that America was made for Christian people. Mr. Adams actually said: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.” Nice sleight of hand there to excuse non-Christian religions, Mr. Spiering! However, the real quote still spells doom for the moral and nonreligious people, no?

My fellow debate lovers and quote droppers are probably writhing in their seats right now. But wait! Most of the Founders were non-Christian deists! Even Mr. Adams got some zingers ripping on religion! One time he said, “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.” Then there’s Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin … and blah blah blah.

I think these quotes are, by and large, irrelevant. Patrick Henry said “Give me liberty or give me death” during a time in his life when he owned 65 slaves. Patrick Henry’s 18th-century ideas of liberty simply won’t fly in the 21st. I doubt there are many 18th-century anythings that would.

Here are the only words of the Founders that matter: the ones that they bothered to commit to the U.S. Constitution. Back then it was the most radical thing out there. It said the people could govern themselves, without deferring to a king, and God isn’t even mentioned once. The closest thing we have is the freedom of religion bit, which implies that no, you don’t even have to defer to a god. Not only are America’s cherished freedoms not dependent on Christianity, I would argue that America holds these freedoms in spite of it. We are free to view nothing as divine — not kingly authority, not gods, and not even out-of-context quotes from Founding Fathers.

Karley Johnston lives in Lamar.

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