Religiosity in the U.S.

hoov hoov at
Sat Jun 13 17:51:22 PDT 1998

> Yes, but don't forget the secular equivalent -- the unthinking obeisance to
> the Founding Fathers, the pious invocation of the Federalist Papers, the all-
> prevailing notion that if Madison or Jefferson said something -- anything --
> it must be right, even though they contradicted themselves on innumerable
> occsions. Religious piety in the US rests on a solid foundation of
> constitutional piety.
> Dan Lazare

that the US constitution is a myth that binds is unmistakable...and the mere mention of the 'founding fathers' conjures up images of Washington crossing the Delaware, Jefferson writing "all men are created equal," Patrick Henry demanding liberty or death, and ole' Ben Franklin flying kites and issuing witty maxims (never mind that neither J nor H were in Philly in 1787 or that the former initially had mixed feelings about the document and the latter absolutely hated it)...even the term 'framers' suggests the same men stood, quill pens in hand, gathered around a table, creating a timeless document...

but John Winthrop's sermon on the Arbella obviously precedes the constitution and establishes the basis for the tradition of pronouncements about religious values and perspectives common to US politics: America as a "city on a hill" would be an example for the rest of the world to follow...Winthrop's theme is reiterated throughout US history, for example, in Washington's Farewell Address, in Lincoln's Gettysburg Address, in John Kennedy's inaugural address...and, from John Adams to Calvin Coolidge (at least), the Calvinist belief in hard work, self-reliance, stern morality influenced the familiar image of an 'American' textbooks used to (and may well again) routinely teach that the Revolution and the Constitution were inspired by God... accordingly, the founders became virtual saints...these same texts described George Washington as 'immortal, 'godlike', a 'savior', and as a 'propitious divinity"...

as for the *Federalist Papers*, two decades of teaching introductory US Gov't students suggests to me that many people have never heard of them (which doesn't detract from their value as an explanation of the 1787 constitution)...same goes for Madison (only 1% of respondents could identify him in a *Wall Street Journal*/*NBC* bicentennial poll) whose obscurity indicates the preference for personality over issues/ideas, and for style over substance in US political culture...

the US is a religious - a Christian - nation with a constitution that establishes a secular political state...evidence for the latter is the fact that the 'founding' documents' - Declaration of Independence and the Constitution - only mention god three times, each time indirectly and only in passing...they mention religion twice, both times to exclude it (Article VI and Amendment I)...Michael Hoover

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