Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Silencing of God: A Few Responses to the First Session

In session one of the "Silencing of God Seminar," speaker Dave Miller followed the script I figured he would.

We were told, for example, that expressions like "Nature's God" and "Creator" in the Declaration of Independence are references to the God of the Christian Bible. But this question was never entertained: If the authors of the Declaration really wanted to clearly identify that God, why didn't they say something like "the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ"? That would have done it, right? But they didn't say that. And with reason.

The expression "Nature's God" is about as broad and generic as you can get. Contrary to Miller's assertion, references to deity in the Declaration would mean just as much to a colonial-era Deist--or to a contemporary Hindu or a Muslim for that matter--as they would to any Christian. This point is completely suppressed.

The speaker was just as inconsistent when he came to the separation of church and state. The idea, he said, "is not a Constitutional concept" and was nowhere in the minds of the Framers.

But the facts speak otherwise. In 1802, Thomas Jefferson used the phrase "wall of separation" to describe his vision of the relationship between church and state. Any number of historians and constitutional scholars have concluded that Jefferson's remark is a good summary of his thinking in regard to church-state relations.

This view was upheld in 1879, for example, when the Supreme Court noted that Jefferson's observations could be "accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the [First] Amendment."

Similar language is found in the writings of James Madison, commonly considered the Father of the Constitution (pictured above, and never mentioned by Miller). In the early 1800s, Madison wrote, "Strongly guarded . . . is the separation between religion and government in the Constitution of the United States." Again, in 1819, he observed that the religious devotion of the American people had been encouraged by "the total separation of the church and state."

When he referred to the phrase that Jefferson used, Miller said that there are only two possible understandings. Either it means that there is a government ban on all public expression of religion, or it means that the government cannot interfere at all with religious expression. Take your pick. But those aren't the only alternatives when it comes to understanding the intent and right application of the First Amendment.

Such are what I see as just some of the inconsistencies and the question begging to be heard in the "Silencing of God Seminar." But you can listen for yourself to the audio portion of all five presentations.

27 comments:

Adam Gonnerman said...

That's basically the same misrepresentation of history that I was subjected to in NM. The early founders were a mix of traditional Protestant and Catholic Christians (more of the former than the latter) and Deists. Many were heavily influenced by Masonic ideas. The feel of the wording in early public docs, including the constitution, is clearly religious and monotheistic, but not necessarily Christian.

This is a moot issue anyway. The U.S. won't turn into a "Christian" nation in the manner dreamed of, as the clock can't be turned back and millions of non-Christians are American citizens. Accepting a pluralistic society or not, it is here.

Dee Andrews said...

Frank -

I really like these two posts on "The Silencing of God" series y'all are going to be watching. I like your thoughts on the subject and agree with them.

I hope you'll continue to post each week on your responses to each video. I find them very interesting and insightful.

I don't think many "Christians" in this nation have a clue about American history!

Cheers & Blessings to you all today from Abilene!

Dee

johnmarkhicks said...

I am not surprised to hear again the ahistorical reading of the Declaration of Independence. The committee appointed to draw up the document consisted of two Deists (Jefferson and Franklin) and one Puritan (John Adams). As the primary author, Jefferson certainly intended no supernatural understanding of God, miracles or divine revelation. The language of the document is inclusive enough to appeal to both Deist and Christian in the setting of late 18th century Colonial America.

I would suggest we have never been a "Christian" nation if "Christian" means following Jesus in pursuring peace, caring for the poor, and giving everyone human dignity.

As a fairly decent "Lipscombite," I would suggest the only Christian nation is the coming Kingdom of God when it fills the new heavens and new earth. :-)

Frank Bellizzi said...

Amen and Maranatha.

James W. Isenberg said...

After reading all of the above comments, I'm concluding that most if not all are skeptical of Dave Miller's research and/or interpretation of American history. If he's wrong, then why didn't the founders of this nation simply leave God (or "Nature's God", or the "Supreme Being of the Universe") out of the foundning documents entirely? They have to mean something and have some application to our government. By their very inclusion, America's current interpretation of "separation of church and state" is contradicted.

Frank Bellizzi said...

James,

Thanks for chiming in. As you can tell, I do believe that Miller is off in some of what he says.

Your question is something I mention in this post that we're commenting on. So I'd only request that you go back to the original post here for more information about why I (and others) disagree.

Also, two other posts here at Frankly Speaking take up the subject of the Silencing of God Seminar. Just click on that label at the end of the post.

Nikki said...

Did you actually talk to Dave about this...I mean your rebuttals? I am sure he could refute your claims.

Here is some information I found regarding the separation of church and state as you mentioned. This came from Dave Miller.

Never mind the fact that the phrase “separation of church and state” is not even found in the Constitution! (Thomas Jefferson used the term in a private letter to reassure the Baptists that the government would not interfere in the free exercise of their religious beliefs [Jefferson, 1802]). In fact, labeling the phrase a “misguided analytical concept,” and noting “the absence of a historical basis for this theory of rigid separation,” the late U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist insightfully observed:

It is impossible to build sound constitutional doctrine upon a mistaken understanding of constitutional history, but unfortunately the Establishment Clause has been expressly freighted with Jefferson’s misleading metaphor for nearly 40 years.... The “wall of separation between church and State” is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned (Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38[1985], 92,106-107, emp. added).

Frank Bellizzi said...

Nikki, a few responses.

First, I don't think it's necessary for me to contact Dave Miller. We don't know each other, and I'm simply disagreeing with something he has said and broadcast in public.

Second, it's often asserted that "the separation of church and state" is not found in the Constitution and, therefore, all meanings attached to that phrase must be unconstitutional. But this is a little like saying that since the phrase "drug abuse" is nowhere found in the Bible, therefore any prohibition of drug abuse must be unbiblical. It's just not a helpful observation.

Finally, I don't know the context in which Judge Rehnquist wrote the words you attribute to him. However, I have no doubt that the phrase in question has been abused from all sides. The quotation refers to the importance of interpreting the Constitution with sensitivity to its historic dimensions. I completely agree with that view. For more along that line, I would refer you to another "Frankly Speaking" post which discusses how the First Amendment was understood and applied in the early days of our federal republic.

http://frankbellizzi.blogspot.com/2008/07/is-us-christian-nation.html

Anonymous said...

I recommend you look further than just the first presentation and you'll see "Christ Jesus", hundreds of quotations straight from the Bible, and words such as "our Saviour" and such were all used favorably by the founding fathers.
Interesting to see that a man was fined a large sum of money for blaspheming the name of Jesus Christ and Mary, by the Supreme Court.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Anonymous,

I've seen all five segments of the series. Nothing I saw or heard changed my opinion that "The Silencing of God" is way off.

Are you sure the Supreme Court issues fines? Either way, I doubt that a big fine led the blasphemer to honor God more than he did previously. What do you think?

Adam Gonnerman said...

Anonymous,

The United Supreme Court, as the highest appellate court in the country, does not issue fines.

What are you talking about?

timetotravel said...

After hearing Miller's lectures I have never been under the impression he is trying to bring the Christian Religion into the government of the USA. What I gather from the lectures is ample evidence the Founders certainly and generally (not all) believed in some or all of the christian concepts.If the founding fathers were influenced by christianity, perhaps that influence necessarily creeped into the thoughts of those men now examined only as history. This being the case, it is a far cry from what the current and mainstream scoffers believe and counter to what they are trying to make history say. The athiests of today seem to prefer that no christian influenc be attributed to the Fathers consequently coloring their actual beliefs. I see no effort anywhere that Hicks is trying to undo the concept of state and religion. Perhaps what he is trying to accomplish is to show there is some christian influence in our basic government. The current movements in USA seem to want to exclude all christian influence. Further Hicks confirms that our Founding Fathers believed this nation would be great only if christian influence is seen in all government processes. This is NOT to say the church should run the government. They fled England to escape that . Never-the-less, this nation became great because those men gave us a form of government that was separated from the church, and allowed the church to flourish separate from government. Athiests seem to be trying to take even the concept of God out of our Government. If that ever happens the USA will no doubt follow the example of Rome.

timetotravel said...

After hearing Miller's lectures I have never been under the impression he is trying to bring the Christian Religion into the government of the USA. What I gather from the lectures is ample evidence the Founders certainly and generally (not all) believed in some or all of the christian concepts.If the founding fathers were influenced by christianity, perhaps that influence necessarily creeped into the thoughts of those men now examined only as history. This being the case, it is a far cry from what the current and mainstream scoffers believe and counter to what they are trying to make history say. The athiests of today seem to prefer that no christian influenc be attributed to the Fathers consequently coloring their actual beliefs. I see no effort anywhere that Hicks is trying to undo the concept of state and religion. Perhaps what he is trying to accomplish is to show there is some christian influence in our basic government. The current movements in USA seem to want to exclude all christian influence. Further Hicks confirms that our Founding Fathers believed this nation would be great only if christian influence is seen in all government processes. This is NOT to say the church should run the government. They fled England to escape that . Never-the-less, this nation became great because those men gave us a form of government that was separated from the church, and allowed the church to flourish separate from government. Athiests seem to be trying to take even the concept of God out of our Government. If that ever happens the USA will no doubt follow the example of Rome.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Time,

I won't go back through what Miller does and doesn't say in his seminar. There are other posts on this blog that take up some of the other specific points.

Many of Miller's basic assumptions and assertions are false. As much as anything, I reject his notion that (granted what he's staying is true) the church should wring its hands, fret, and worry about American government. That's not what Jesus has brought us.

Anonymous said...

So my question is this...What was it exactly you were looking for or hoping to hear from your viewing of this video? I guess it wasn't what you wanted to hear, huh? It's amazing to me that so many people reject these ideas (aka: God) even though there's proof!! WOW! This too is in our history...the Bible. I'm guessing you've read some of and know how it ended before?

Anonymous said...

Timetotravel is absolutely correct!

Frank Bellizzi said...

Anonymous,

I didn't go looking for the "Silencing" videos. They were shown at the church I attend, presented in the class I go to every week. But once I started watching, what was I hoping for? I was hoping:

that American history would be presented accurately;

that proposals for the church's engagement with the broader culture would be bathed in the Gospel

that the truth of God's sovereignty would be the first and last word, since He spoke everything into existence, and since the Almighty will have the final say.

That sort of thing.

Adam Gonnerman said...

You gotta admire the courage shown in anonymous comments.

Anonymous said...

to those who are waiting for "God's Kingdom", it's been here since the day of Pentacost. It's called the church.

Adam Gonnerman said...

Anonymous,

That's certainly true (re:church = God's kingdom), but why did you say it anonymously?

Frank Bellizzi said...

I have to disagree with the Augustinian equation of the church and kingdom. There are plenty of NT passages where a substitute of one word for the other makes no sense. For example, try substituting "church" for the word "kingdom" in passages like Acts 8:12, 19:8, 20:25, and 28:23 and 31. There's a reason it doesn't sound quite right. The church does not proclaim itself. Though closely related, the church and the kingdom are not the same.

Nicholas said...

Your response to "The Silencing of God" seminar is informed and well put. It's a breath of fresh air to find people that understand U.S. history on a broad level, particularly in the face of the pervasive propaganda foisted ad nauseam on the layman. This seminar is going to be held on 03/26/2010 in my hometown, which has given me some cause for concern. I could care less if somebody feels compelled to air out misinformed dogma before an audience, but the chosen venue for the seminar is the Ripon California public high school. It's funny how the argument is framed in such a way that to have a dissenting opinion renders me case and point to the speaker. This stifling of academic discourse is absolutely cancerous to reasoned argument and certainly to furthering an accurate understanding of U.S. history. I feel as though I am somehow obliged to stand up for the founding fathers as I'm concerned the audience will be filled with nothing but reactionary Jesus-huggers (no offense intended, i just love that expression lol). My concern is that by not engaging in the argument I will enable the false dichotomies therein espoused to more deeply fester and become the root cause of a REAL culture war in which this interpretation of Christianity chooses to combat facts on a more dangerous scale.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Hi Nicholas. Best wishes with any counters you might attempt. Just be as well-prepared as you can be, stay with the facts, and be as kind as possible. As you know, discussions about things like church-and-state tend to become highly-emotinal. Be ready for that.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Another comment from an "Anonymous" source. Here's the deal, folks: if you don't have whatever it takes to sign your name to your comment, then your comment gets deleted.

Rebecca said...

It is really Kind of sad to see that even amoung people who are christians there seems to be a real solid lack of understand at the real issue of the matter. When it comes to this Seminar. Let me ask you this. Why is it a problem to believe that the God of this universe is the ultimate Judge and protector of Nations. All you have to do is look at the founders words in these documents to realize. That whatever their affiliation. They believed beyond a shadow of a doubt that as long as we humbled ourselves before God as long as we implored him for his protection. We would fully prosper as a nation, and as a people. Yet, should we stop accrediting God for the work he has done in bringing us to where we are to this day. Then his protection will end his blessings will end, and we will find nothing but trouble. The problem with this nation right now is that everyone wants to do what they want when the want to do it. Without any concious thought of the consicuinces for those actions. Let me ask you this? What good are you doing by trying to refute what this man says? What good are you doing by just giving in and letting everyone believe that we can be excepting of anything and everything. The only one who can get us out of our current predicament is God. And the best thing we can do is to pray to him for guidence and for help. In reality they United States with all its problems has until this point been more of a Christian nation than any other nation in the history of the world.That means something to God and it will have and effect if we as a nation choose to deny him.

Frank Bellizzi said...

Rebecca, I trust that your intentions are good. But on this question, I do not think your information and reasoning are good.

Nations of the world--yes, including the United States--tend to look out for what they regard as their own best interests, and not the things of God. To overlook this fundamental fact is not wise. In this respect, the U.S. is not and never has been a Christian nation. Nor should we expect it to be. I mean that as a simple observation, and not as an affront. Like most Americans, I love and appreciate my country. But if I confuse my country with the kingdom of Christ, or love it more than the kingdom of Christ, I have become less than Christian. At that point, I have become an idolater, someone who loves a created thing more than the Creator.

On the question of history, there were several downright deists among the founders. They usually accommodated the sensibilities of their Christian neighbors, partly because those founders were also politicians, and it was in their best interests to not irritate people of orthodox faith.

You ask me why I allow people to believe what they want to believe. Was that a joke? It's not in my power to control someone else's conscience or beliefs. The genius of the U.S. Constitution is that it recognizes that nations should not attempt to control a freedom so very basic to human nature.

Mike Ludwig said...
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