The Right-Wing Myth That America Was Originally a Theocracy Is So Wrong

Dec 16, 2014

By Amanda Marcotte

Rick Santorum may be a terrible politician, but when it comes to being a conduit for some of the hoariest, long-standing myths of the right, he’s ol’ reliable. His latest bleatings are of particular interest, because, without meaning to, Santorum managed to articulate one of the biggest lies that has fueled the conservative movement for decades now: The myth that America was “supposed” to be a theocracy, but somehow lost its way.

In a conference call with members of the right-wing Christian organization STAND America, a caller went on a rant about how Democrats are pushing a secret agenda to push “a number of the tenets of The Communist Manifesto,” a book the caller seemed to believe was about “amnesty, the elevation of pornography, homosexuality, gay marriage, voter fraud, open borders, mass self-importation of illegal immigrants and things of that nature.” (Zero of these issues are mentioned inThe Communist Manifesto, a book about the role of labor in capitalist societies.)

Santorum latched onto this old-fashioned red-baiting and said, “The words ‘separation of church and state’ is not in the U.S. Constitution, but it was in the constitution of the former Soviet Union. That’s where it very, very comfortably sat, not in ours.”

This myth–that separation of church and state is a modern invention created by communists/liberals/atheists and shoved down the throats of a Christian America until it forgot its theocratic roots–is a popular one on the right, perhaps the defining myth that created the modern conservative movement. It’s also pure malarkey. Even just reading the first amendment to the Constitution shows that this line is self-serving nonsense dished out by people who wish to believe they are patriots while standing against America’s grand tradition of secularism. The Constitution explicitly prohibits any law “respecting an establishment of religion,” a phrase that is so obviously about the separation of church and state that even the most literal-minded among us can get that.


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16 comments on “The Right-Wing Myth That America Was Originally a Theocracy Is So Wrong

  • @OP- The Constitution explicitly prohibits any law “respecting an establishment of religion,” a phrase that is so obviously about the separation of church and state that even the most literal-minded among us can get that.

    The likes of Santorum are probably so isolated in their little imagined world of theocracy, that they have never heard of the “Establishment of the Church of England”. – I mean that’s that foreign Europeany type of stuff that home schooled Americans have never heard of!!

    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/04/clegg-calls-disestablishment-church-england-and-hes-right
    ** Clegg calls for the disestablishment of the Church of England – and he’s right**

    In an increasingly atheistic and multi-faith society, a secular state, which protects all religions and privileges none, is a model to embrace.



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  • @OP- The Constitution explicitly prohibits any law “respecting an establishment of religion,” a phrase that is so obviously about the separation of church and state that even the most literal-minded among us can get that.

    The likes of Santorum are probably so isolated in their little imagined world of theocracy, that they have never heard of the “Establishment of the Church of England”. – I mean that’s that foreign Europeany type of stuff that home schooled Americans have never heard of!!

    http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/04/clegg-calls-disestablishment-church-england-and-hes-right
    Clegg calls for the disestablishment of the Church of England – and he’s right

    In an increasingly atheistic and multi-faith society, a secular state, which protects all religions and privileges none, is a model to embrace.



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  • The Puritans established a Theocracy that would make the Taliban weep. Also, most of the 13 colonies were originally established by the religious to impose their own brand on idiocy on the populace. The Enlightenment constitution was grafted onto this stock, and there in lies the problem with American Democracy. Realize that this is the root of the problem will go along way to finding a cure.



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  • Here are some Thomas Jefferson quotes you can use in this debate:

    All Fables

    I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded on fables and mythologies.

    ~ Thomas Jefferson (born: 1743-04-13 died: 1826-07-04 at age: 83), third president of the United States.
    Jefferson on Calvinist Lunacy

    These are the demoralizing dogmas of Calvin:

    That there are three Gods.
    That good works, or the love of our neighbor, are nothing.
    That faith is every thing, and the more incomprehensible the proposition, the more merit in its faith.
    That reason in religion is of unlawful use.
    That God, from the beginning, elected certain individuals to be saved, and certain others to be damned; and that no crimes of the former can damn them; no virtues of the latter save.
    ~ Thomas Jefferson (born: 1743-04-13 died: 1826-07-04 at age: 83), third president of the United States.
    Jefferson on God

    The Christian god is a being of terrific character — cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust.

    ~ Thomas Jefferson (born: 1743-04-13 died: 1826-07-04 at age: 83), third president of the United States.
    Logically, God should Approve of Reason more than Fear

    Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.

    ~ Thomas Jefferson (born: 1743-04-13 died: 1826-07-04 at age: 83), third president of the United States, letter to Peter Carr, 1787-08-10
    Ridicule the Unintelligible

    Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.

    ~ Thomas Jefferson (born: 1743-04-13 died: 1826-07-04 at age: 83), third president of the United States.
    Separation of Church and State

    Believing with you that religion is a matter that lies solely between man & his god… that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only and not opinions… Legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state.

    ~ Thomas Jefferson (born: 1743-04-13 died: 1826-07-04 at age: 83), third president of the United States.
    Unintelligible Abstractions

    On the dogmas of religion, as distinguished from moral principles, all mankind, from the beginning of the world to this day, have been quarrelling, fighting, burning and torturing one another, for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to all others, and absolutely beyond the comprehension of the human mind.

    ~ Thomas Jefferson (born: 1743-04-13 died: 1826-07-04 at age: 83), third president of the United States.



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  • George Washington Quote:

    George Washington On Religion

    Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.

    ~ George Washington (born: 1732-02-22 died: 1799-12-14 at age: 67), first president of the United States, letter to Edward Newenham, 1792-10-20



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  • 8
    Miserablegit says:

    It is always the most twisted of religious zealots who insist that their way is always right and no amount of logical reasoning will get them to change their mind.



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  • This myth–that separation of church and state is a modern invention created by communists/liberals/atheists and shoved down the throats of a Christian America until it forgot its theocratic roots–is a popular one on the right, perhaps the defining myth that created the modern conservative movement. It’s also pure malarkey. Even just reading the first amendment to the Constitution shows that this line is self-serving nonsense dished out by people who wish to believe they are patriots while standing against America’s grand tradition of secularism. The Constitution explicitly prohibits any law “respecting an establishment of religion,” a phrase that is so obviously about the separation of church and state that even the most literal-minded among us can get that.

    Amanda Marcotte spews her pseudo-authority on the topic with the rhetorical eloquence, and intellectual competence of a TV wrestler. No one has sole ownership of an ahistorical truth that represents the final word on the ambiguity of American history.

    Yes, we Americans were fortunate to have founders steeped in enlightenment political philosophy and humanism. Thomas Jefferson et. al. were religious skeptics remarkably forward-looking to the vision of modern agnosticism and atheism, but “separation of church and state,” though a phrase written by Jefferson in fact does not appear in the constitution. More accurately referred to as “the establishment clause,” the founders were attempting to form a republic in opposition to monarchy, where religion would be eliminated as a volatile cause of civil war and conflict. (Like their European contemporaries they were looking back to the 17th century thirty-year religious wars between Catholics and protestants that decimated populations in central Europe [1618 to 1648]). The establishment clause was part and parcel of the mission to root out authoritarian centralized old regimes and replace them with localized democratic-republican governments which would unleash the productive and self-fulfilling potential of emancipated “human nature” in accordance with “natural law” ordained by a non-intervening supreme intelligent designer -the God of Deism. (Ironically only a small group of propertied white males, excluding slaves, women, and the working masses, were “rationally and morally” enfranchised.)

    The establishment clause was neither designed nor implemented to make society a safe place for the flourishing of atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, or free thinkers in any sense remotely touching on our contemporary understanding of the terms. The nation was deeply committed to Christianity, deeply religious and deeply pious. The vast majority identified so strongly with Christianity that the faith found expression in the executive, legislative and judicial action of government at all levels. With few exceptions, no one questioned whether The U.S. was a Christian nation; the concept didn’t even rise to the consciousness of an “assumption.” With few exceptions, if you were an American you were a Christian. Laws requiring the teaching of the Bible in schools,; laws against blasphemy were freely passed and upheld by the courts, including the supreme court.

    Happily, this culture began to disintegrate with advances in the scientific understanding of nature, the planet and the universe; and indeed with discoveries of our own origins by way of Charles Darwin and evolutionary biology. Coincidentally the breakdown of Jim Crow segregation in the mid 1950s also marked the first critical mass impetus for the broader secularization of American society that advanced in the 60s and 70s. Today the inertia and momentum of the religious right and many other religious forces, still holds a majority of Americans in thrall to belief in the supernatural, but the seeds of doubt and skepticism have sprouted into irreversible growth.

    Santorum’s views may seem anachronistic to most (or many) Americans participating in contemporary mainstream American culture, but not too many decades ago -historically most Americans would have reflexively assented to the “Christian Nation” premise without batting an eyelash.



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  • Since the Communist Manifesto is alluded to in the article, how about the most important bit :

    Workers of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains, you have a world to gain !



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  • Of course the likes of Santorum don’t want them workers getting uppity, speshully them women ! How many kids does he have, was it 7 ? After all college educashon is bad for kids, especially the gals.

    What a cynical opportunist he is.



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  • The “Establishment Clause” prohibited the establishment of a state religion in the United States of America principally to safeguard freedom of conscience and the democratic integrity of small states instituted as “republics” within the federation. The framers recognized that diverse denominations of Christianity could easily fragment into warring factions if an authoritarian central government (monarchy) tried to impose religious conformity. These purposes in no way were intended to “secularize” America or subvert the “virtuous” Christian faith that ennobled the character of American citizens.

    Notwithstanding the latter-day ravings of Rick Santorum running amuck on today’s news cycle, Santorum does intuit the role of Christianity in American history more accurately than Amanda Marcotte who carelessly proclaims: Even just reading the first amendment to the Constitution shows that this line is self-serving nonsense dished out by people who wish to believe they are patriots while standing against America’s grand tradition of secularism.

    America has progressed toward a secularized frame of mind especially in the decades since WWII, becoming inclined more recently toward a growing skepticism with religion itself, but historically America has no “grand tradition of secularism.” America’s grand [historical] tradition is just the opposite – one of zealous, aggressive Christianity.

    Three major examples of how religion shaped American history:

    Manifest Destiny: The phrase was first coined in 1845 to express the idea that American territorial expansion was divinely sanctioned. The annexation of Texas later expanded with other southwest territories seized in the Mexican war of 1848 were viewed as outcomes in compliance with a Divine Mandate.

    Though the civil war was not a jihadist holy war, the sacrifices of both Northern and Southern soldiers were widely believed to be made respectively in service of a sacred cause. “The Battle Hymn of The Republic” ends with: “As He [Christ] died to make men holy let us die to make men free.” Clearly union soldiers, and the northern states which sent them into battle, believed they were carrying out God’s will by serving their Lord Jesus Christ.

    Finally and still relevant to recent projections of American power throughout the world is the religious belief in American Exceptionalism. In 1630 Calvinist John Winthrop, first governor of the Mass. bay colony, delivered a sermon titled “A Model of Christian Charity.” Wikipedia observes: “Winthrop’s sermon gave rise to the widespread belief in American folklore that the United States of America is God’s country because metaphorically it is a Shining City upon a Hill, an early example of American exceptionalism.” Woodrow Wilson later incorporated Christian (Presbyterian-Calvinist) theology into American foreign policy as the
    U. S. entered WWI. Historian Malcom Magee concludes: “ [Wilson] believed the United States was divinely chosen to do God’s will on earth.” The United States was the “redeemer nation” destined by God to “instruct and lead the world.” Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, Barack Obama have all labored mightily to pursue this divinely sanctioned mission to make the world “safe for democracy.”

    The religious rhetoric has become muted, even repellant to modern Americans, receding to the background where it will hopefully expire along with the policies that have outlived their usefulness.



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  • The one statement by Jefferson that destroys Santorum’s sentiments is “Logically, God should approve of Reason over Fear.” The right-wing just cannot let our society anneal into a sane world without a self-righteous fear-monger bilge coating the fabric of our constitution. Santorum and such ilk will not be satisfied until our society devolves into the world of our Puritan ancestors. I can visualize a salivating Santorum, babbling in Right-Wing tongues, while holding an upraised GOP manifesto at a witch burning.



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