23 Oct 2009

I’m Glad The Conservatives Are There to Protect the Legacy of the Founders

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A few months ago, Glenn Beck confidently stated that Thomas Paine was an atheist. No, he was a Deist. It’s true that in The Age of Reason Paine was very harsh on the Christian God, but Paine was so offended because he thought the Christian worldview mocked the grandeur of the true Creator of the universe. Does this sound like a quote from an atheist?

But in Deism our reason and our belief become happily united. The wonderful structure of the universe, and everything we behold in the system of the creation, prove to us, far better than books can do, the existence of a God, and at the same time proclaim His attributes.

It is by the exercise of our reason that we are enabled to contemplate God in His works, and imitate Him in His ways. When we see His care and goodness extended over all His creatures, it teaches us our duty toward each other, while it calls forth our gratitude to Him. It is by forgetting God in His works, and running after the books of pretended revelation, that man has wandered from the straight path of duty and happiness, and become by turns the victim of doubt and the dupe of delusion.

Except in the first article in the Christian creed, that of believing in God, there is not an article in it but fills the mind with doubt as to the truth of it, the instant man begins to think. Now every article in a creed that is necessary to the happiness and salvation of man, ought to be as evident to the reason and comprehension of man as the first article is, for God has not given us reason for the purpose of confounding us, but that we should use it for our own happiness and His glory.

I was going to let this one go, except that Glenn Beck doubled down the other day and went on at length with his sidekick along the lines of, “Now look, I’m not saying we all have to agree with everything about the Founding Fathers. For example, Thomas Paine was an atheist. OK, I’m not, I believe in God, but I still think he was right in his description of A-mer-ica.” (Not an exact quote but definitely the spirit of what Beck said.)

Tell you what, Mr. Beck, you don’t know the first thing about Thomas Paine, even though you tell your listeners how avid a historian you are when it comes to the colonial period. I would also venture to say that Thomas Paine knew the Christian Bible better than you (or me); he wrote the first part of Age of Reason from his French prison cell from memory, when he was on the guillotine death row for the shocking crime of saying they shouldn’t kill the deposed king, Louis XVI. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, readers, you should read up on Thomas Paine. He was so freaking cool.)

OK, then just the other day I heard an ad from the Heritage Foundation during Rush Limbaugh’s show. Again, not an exact quote, but it went something like this: First the narrator read a really cool quote, one that makes you want to throw a Nobama! sticker on your bumper. Then the narrator says, “That was Samuel Adams, one of the patriots who founded our country. And Sam Adams’ weapon was the Constitution. Join the Heritage Foundation today, and receive a free pocket copy of the U.S. Constitution–the liberals in DC don’t want you to know what it says.”

So that sounded a little fishy to me. All the “patriotic” stuff Sam Adams did (and which the British people would rightly have classified as terrorist acts of insurgency) happened before the Constitution was ratified. So I was pretty sure the people who wrote that Heritage ad were bluffing. I checked Wikipedia to see how bad it was, and yep, it’s pretty bad:

Shays’s Rebellion contributed to the belief that the Articles of Confederation needed to be revised. In 1787, delegates to the Philadelphia Convention, instead of revising the Articles, created a new United States Constitution with a much stronger national government. When the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification, Adams expressed his displeasure. “I confess,” he wrote to Richard Henry Lee in 1787, “as I enter the Building I stumble at the Threshold. I meet with a National Government, instead of a Federal Union of States.”[195] Adams was one of those derisively labeled “Anti-Federalists” by proponents of the new Constitution, who called themselves “Federalists”.[196] Adams was elected to the Massachusetts ratifying convention, which met in January 1788. Despite his reservations, Adams rarely spoke at the convention, and listened carefully to the arguments rather than raising objections.[197] Adams and John Hancock, who had reconciled, finally agreed to give their support for the Constitution, with the proviso that some amendments be added later.[198] Even with the support of Hancock and Adams, the Massachusetts convention narrowly ratified the Constitution by a vote of 187 to 168.[199]

Concerned about the new Constitution, Adams made an attempt to reenter national politics. He allowed his name to be put forth as a candidate for the United States House of Representatives in the December 1788 election, but lost to Fisher Ames, apparently because Ames was a stronger supporter of the Constitution, a more popular position.[202] Despite his defeat, Adams continued to work for amendments to the Constitution, a movement that ultimately resulted in the addition of a Bill of Rights in 1791.[203] With these amendments, and the possibility of more, Adams subsequently became a firm supporter of the Constitution.

What do you think, kids? Were the Heritage scriptwriters aware of all the above? Did Glenn Beck know full well the nuances of Thomas Paine’s position on the existence of God? I must confess I am skeptical.

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