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Putting the “Fun” in Fundamentalism

March 28th, 2012 in Musings by

The “my-perverted-form-of-Christianity-is-crazier-than-yours” show will be coming to New York soon when the GOP candidates come-a-barnstorming through our blue state. I have already received a lovely letter from Willard Romney asking for my support as if things aren’t bad enough with Tebow-mania sweeping the region.

My pitiful Jets. Sigh. That’s for another day.

Recently, my wife and I were fortunate to procure tickets to The Book of Mormon on Broadway. As one would imagine, it was delightfully wicked and painfully funny. (Unless, of course, you’re a Mormon, in which case I wouldn’t recommend it.) But its brilliance isn’t necessarily its provocative humor as much as its ability to bring the audience from uproarious laughter to dead silence within seconds. For all of its entertaining vulgarity, this Broadway show is a cautionary tale against the evils of forcing a belief system down the throats of others. If nothing else, it will leave you wondering how this particular sect became so powerful and accepted as to produce the odds-on favorite for the GOP nomination.

On the same side of the bizarro-spectrum is the new breed of Christian fundamentalist personified by Rick Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator. In addition to the many things I find loathsome about him and other sanctimonious politicians is their annoying habit of twisting the words of the Constitution and, in particular, the Founding Fathers.

The rise of the conservative Christian fundamentalist clutching the Bible in one hand and the Constitution in the other is one of the more intellectually insulting developments of our time. The Founding Fathers were undoubtedly brilliant. But many of their flaws such as their racism and infidelity have been whitewashed over time, explained away as unfortunate characteristics of the era instead of the morally reprehensible traits they have always been. By claiming ownership of their ideas and intentions, the conservative fundamentalist movement has completely distorted the spirit of the Constitution. In everything they did the Founding Fathers—many of them downright heathens if ever there were any—took great pains to eradicate the role of God in governance. After all, these were men who knew and understood that America was settled by people fleeing, not seeking, religious persecution.

One needs to look no further than the Constitution itself to discover that our form of government was intended to be an entirely secular affair. Moreover, The Federalist Papers, which offers the greatest insight into the intentions set forth by the most scholarly of the Founding Fathers, explicitly denounced religious influence over government.  In his portion of the introduction, James Madison credits the “zeal for different opinions concerning religion,” among other things, with having, “divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.” The majority of the writings proffered by our forefathers echo this sentiment. While freedom of religion among citizens was indeed a critical aspect of their collective philosophy, so too was freedom from religion.

This doesn’t mean they weren’t men of faith. In fact, my guess is that if they heard Rick Santorum profess that JFK’s insistence upon separation of church and state made him want to throw up, the Founding Fathers would likely vomit themselves.  After a good laugh at Santorum’s expense and a few hits of opium, Benjamin Franklin would take off with one of his several prostitute paramours, Jefferson would go back to chasing Sally Hemmings around her slave quarters, Washington would return to bidding on a few more colored people, Hamilton would resume paying hush money to the husband of his 20-something-year-old mistress, Adams would continue attempting to imprison reporters under the Alien and Sedition Acts, and Aaron Burr would get back to his target practice.

These guys would have fit in perfectly today with the likes of former Nevada Sen. John Ensign and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who both called for President Clinton’s impeachment over the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal while simultaneously carrying on extra-marital affairs of their own— the former with the wife of his best friend.

But enough about those God-fearing noblemen; let’s get on to the oft-abused phrases that seemingly comprise the bulk of Middle America’s knowledge of American history.

For those who insist on God as part of the original intent in America, allow me to disabuse you of the most commonly mistaken beliefs. To begin, there are no references to God in the Constitution. Period. Furthermore, the phrase “under God” was not part of the original Pledge of Allegiance, which was written by a socialist, by the by; it was formally adopted by Congress in 1954 as a reaction to the rise of secular Communism. I’ve also heard the argument the president serves the Almighty first and foremost because the Oath of Office closes with the phrase: “so help me God.” This is true, but you should know that it was ad-libbed by George Washington, not originally written as such. And finally, “In God We Trust” is neither from the Constitution nor the Declaration of Independence. It’s on our money. How very Christian of us.American history is fascinating and the work of our Founding Fathers is legendary and enduring, but it’s important to get it right. So too is it important to understand the origins of the modern Christian fundamentalist movement. In a nutshell:

A couple of babbling prophets roamed the country in the 1800s and early 1900s selling a new shiny brand of Jesus with little attention paid to them. Then, in the 1920s, Bruce Barton, best known as one of the “B’s” in the BBD&O ad agency, published The Man Nobody Knows. It was a self-help book about Corporate Jesus that spread like wildfire, and the fundamentalist movement latched on immediately with the thought that if you’re successful in this life, then Jesus must love you. Of course, the flip side of that coin is that if you’re poor through no fault of your own, it must be because Jesus hates you. Fundamentalists don’t like that side of the story much, though.

That’s right; the babbling nomadic Christian fundamentalists who evangelized throughout the United States were universally recognized as the crazy people they were until they got a makeover by the Don Draper of the 1920’s. The result: Rick Santorum. And the people who believed Jesus buried golden tablets (that no one ever actually saw) in the three days between dying on the cross and rising again only to later tell an angel named Moroni to let Joseph Smith know that the plates were buried in his back yard…in Rochester…New York…? I give you, Mitt Romney.

These are the GOP frontrunners that shall walk among us next month in a primary that looks like it actually might matter. And since I have maintained my Republican registration, I get to weigh in on this contest. Any thoughts on which one I should pull the lever, er, fill in the bubble for? Can I just go all the way and write in “Tim Tebow?” What the hell, right? Oops! There I go again.

Author: Jed Morey

Jed Morey is the publisher of the Long Island Press, LI's Cultural Arts and Investigative News Journal. The Press has a monthly circulation of 100,000, and www.longislandpress.com, welcomes more than 500,000 unique visitors every month. He serves on the board of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Nassau County, as well as the President's Council of Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Long Island. In addition to the contributions on this blog, Morey authors a column for the Long Island Press titled "Off The Reservation" and is a staunch advocate for Indian rights. The column was voted Best Column in New York by the NY Press Association in 2010 and third overall in the nation among alternative publications by the Association of Alternative Weeklies in 2012. Morey lives in Glen Cove with his wife, Eden White, and their two daughters.

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11 Comments

Ray Soller

March 29th, 2012

I don’t have a clue as to where you’ve heard the argument that “the president serves the Almighty because the Oath of Office closes with the phrase: SHMG,” but this extra-constitutional practice did not begin with George Washington. What is true is that on September 20, 1881, soon after the death of President Garfield, Chester Alan Arthur became the first president who is reliably known to have included SHMG as part of his swearing-in ceremony. One has to skip into the early part of the 20th century to hear those words for the first time as part of an inauguration for an ELECTED President. And, you know what? It’s only with FDR’s 1933 inauguration that every president has deviated from the prescribed presidential oath by inflating it with those four words. (When those same words were heard again at FDR’s second inauguration, the January 30, 1937 issue of Newsweek magazine chastised Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes with this remark: “The Chief Justice recited the oath of office as prescribed by the constitution, adding gratuitously and unconstitutionally –– the words ‘so help me God.’”)

Ray Soller

March 29th, 2012

As for your saying, “you should know that it [the phrase, SHMG] was ad-libbed by George Washington” that’s just not so. Actually, there is no known firsthand account describing Washington as having inflated the presidential oath by adding a religious codicil. (See 1/7/2009, USA Today – No proof Washington said ‘so help me God’; 1/11/2009 History News Network article – “So Help Me God”: A George Washington Myth That Should be Discarded by Prof. Peter Henriques.)

The imaginative notion that Washington added SHMG made its dupe d’état sixty-five years after the event (1854) with the help of “Reverend” Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Griswold may have embellished the wording for Washington’s oath from a prior conversation he had with Washington Irving, but this possibility is not spelled out. In any case, three years later (1857), when Irving wrote volume four of his biography of GW where he repeated the SHMG tidbit without providing a source.

Still, even with all of this Griswold and Irving inaugural story-telling, it took another century for the “GW said SHMG” folktale to take in its modern shape where SHMG has become an almost irrevocable part of the presidential oath. This happened most noticably on January 20, 1957, on the eve of President Eisenhower’s official inauguration where we have Pulitzer-prize, Civil War author, Bruce Catton issuing a LA Times article, “… So help me God.” Here the author wrote this confabulated whopper: “After reciting the formal oath, he [GW] put in a short sentence of his own: ‘So help me God’. Every President since has added those words.”

Now, just three years after the Bruce Catton article, renown constitutional scholar Philip B. Kurland made this scholarly law journal claim: “There is hoary tradition for this: George Washington added the words “so help me God” to his presidential oath and every successor has done the same.”

Jed Morey

March 29th, 2012

Next thing you’re going to tell me he didn’t chop down a cherry tree…
In all seriousness, I welcome and applaud the fact-checking. Very interesting stuff you have put forward. Thanks for pointing it out.

Ellis Adler

March 29th, 2012

Great article, as usual Jed. What a circus the GOP is.

Tom P.

April 2nd, 2012

Jed,
A great read thanks for shedding the light. So what are balanced republicans to do this fall.

As for the Jets get off the ride man, Giants.

Jed Morey

April 2nd, 2012

I’m contemplating writing in “Anonymous” to support the group’s effort to shed light on corruption in Congress. (There’s an actual movement for that… ) It’s an interesting question, Tom. If you take the emotion out of it I would argue that Obama’s tenure has been one of the more successful Republican administrations. The healthcare mandate was something originally conceived by Congressional republicans and passed in Mass (as we know) by a Republican governor. Taxes have remained low. Military spending is still astronomical. Funding for welfare has been reduced. Offshore and inland drilling has increased and the environment has been completely ignored. That’s a tough record for Republicans to campaign against, which is why I think we’re seeing such extremist rhetoric among the GOP. How else would they differentiate themselves? We live in bizarre times, to be sure. I’m a Republican in spirit only at this point. From an era long dead I suppose. So, for my money Obama is the best Republican in the race…

agernon

April 3rd, 2012

i applaud this article!

Dorian Dale

April 3rd, 2012

We’re all Republicans now, except for all the John Birchers who have taken over the former Republican party exacting loyalty oaths as they perpetrate mayhem.

C. Blakes

April 3rd, 2012

Santorum is over zealous for sure. Fundamentalism and Evagelicalism are not the same. Jesus said to
Nicodumus “you must be born again (or anew, or from above)”. After this expierience politics can move any direction that the people see fit. Of course the free will of each person to choose their faith (or no faith) is their business, but let’s not bash evangelical’s for carrying out His great commission to offer discipleship to everyone. Peace.

Diane Lockspeiser

April 3rd, 2012

I am still registered as a Democrat, reluctantly, and I heartily agree with your above comment on Obama. I have started telling people that I am willing to vote for anyone willing to fight for clean air, clean water, and normal, healthy food. Unfortunately, there is no one that I know of. I think that we need a new party… call it the Common Sense Party.

[...] counter that this can’t be true for at least three reasons: (1) the United States is a secular nation, (2) the First Amendment provides the “separation of Church and State” and (3) Natural Law and [...]

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