…Conviction And Conscience Of Every Man

The sheer and utter ignorance and stupidity of people like Bill O’Reilly and Sarah Palin continues to know no bounds. The former’s stupidity is intentional and contrived, designed to attract ignorant people to his TV program and make O’Reilly and his employer rich. We live in a capitalist economic system, so it’s almost understandable. Almost. It’s all about the almighty buck.

The latter’s stupidity is harder to tell. It may be about the buck. Her net worth has significantly increased since she appeared on the national scene, and she may feel that she’s found her niche, but I’m not so sure that’s the entire picture. She may be just plain old stupid in the sense that her brain cells are not close enough to rub against each other to create the synaptic connections needed to generate what we call thought. Or, she may have willfully turned off her brain, a common phenomenon among those who believe that all knowledge is contained within the covers of one book.  Either way, she’s propagating complete and utter lies when she says the Founding Fathers crafted documents based on her Judeo-Christian  beliefs.  Both she and O’Reilly are in the forefront of a revisionist attempt to re-write history, by creating and planting the notion that we are a “Christian Nation” in the minds of the slavish followers of Fox News.

I happened upon a nice example of what one of our Founding Fathers thought and wrote about at the time the country was actually being founded. James Madison can easily be called one of the 3 or 4 intellectual philosophers of the American Democratic experiment. In 1785, in the Virginia General Assembly, there was a bill proposed to levy a tax to support religious teachers. Madison was against it and wrote the Memorial And Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments in opposition to the bill, in which he set forth 15 reasons why not only this tax, but, by extrapolation, any legislative pronouncement on the subject of religion was antithetical to the “conviction and conscience of every man”. A number of them stand out, and reflect exactly how much “Judeo-Christian” beliefs, as opposed to Enlightenment thinking, played a part in the shaping of the American government.

Keep in mind that both O’Reilly and Palin were speaking in the context of the statute recently declared unconstitutional creating a ‘National Day of Prayer”. Now read what Madison thought.

We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

What he’s saying here is that religious belief is personal to the individual, it “must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man”, and as such, Civil Society (government) has no place telling anyone what they must or must not do in their religious life. For the majority to impose on the minority anything dealing with their personal religious convictions, whatever they may be, is against their unalienable and fundamental right to believe what they want.

It’s interesting that people like O’Reilly and Palin, who are clearly deficient in their knowledge of Enlightenment thinking, would try to turn this notion on its head by claiming that because some of the Founding Fathers were practicing Christians, their beliefs about the powers of government came from their Judeo-Christian antecedents, and not their political philosophy. Balderdash! 1 O’Reilly even goes so far as to claim that it’s “beyond a reasonable doubt”, which shows further ignorance of basic concepts relating to evidence and burden of proof.

Because Religion be exempt from the authority of the Society at large, still less can it be subject to that of the Legislative Body. The latter are but the creatures and vicegerents 2 of the former. Their jurisdiction is both derivative and limited: it is limited with regard to the co-ordinate departments, more necessarily is it limited with regard to the constituents. The preservation of a free government requires not merely, that the metes and bounds which separate each department of power be invariably maintained; but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great Barrier which defends the rights of the people. The Rulers who are guilty of such an encroachment, exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are Tyrants. The People who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by an authority derived from them, and are slaves.

This is self explanatory, but to make it simple, because the legislature works for us it has no authority to try to “overleap” the fundamental right of the people to the free exercise, or non-exercise, of their religion,  and to do so makes for a tyrannical government, and us slaves.

So what happens when our legislature enacts a statute setting forth a national day of prayer? Must I spell it out? Yes, if you are Sarah Palin or Bill O’Reilly, but none of my readers have their mentality, so I’ll leave you to contemplate the obvious.

While there are passages here that might lead one to conclude that Madison was a believer  of something 3 (references to “the Creator”,  “the Supreme Lawgiver of the Universe”, etc.) clearly there is nothing in here that he believed all rights regarding religious expression were underwritten by the Ten Commandments, or for that matter that he was even a Christian, much less a Judeo-Christian.

Within the rest of the Remonstrance there are further ideas that clearly contradict the notions that idiots like O’Reilly and Palin espouse, such as

Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

or this one:

Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us.

But, I’m not going to analyze the whole thing. Read it yourself and you’ll see why Fox News, Tea Party aficionados, and politicians like Palin do a great disservice to this country when they try to convince us that we are a nation founded on Christian principles.

To steal from Madison,

…no effort may be omitted on our part against so dangerous an usurpation

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11 thoughts on “…Conviction And Conscience Of Every Man

  1. I definitely find it hard to tell whether these people are honestly stupid or are just trying to make money. Like everything else in life, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. They’re idiots, yes, but they’re also ignoring their little inside voice that’s trying to speak reason to them, for the sake of the money they’re making.

    Truth is that in our capitalist world, those who are able to tell more lies with a straight face are the ones who achieve success. To make money, to sell books, to get jobs, one has to be able to lie, and the better we are at it, the more money we make.

  2. Sarah Palin seems to have become a sort of Chauncey Gardner for the Bible thumpin’ wing of the Republican Party. She spouts meaningless platitudes and talking points that are lapped up by her fans who seem to think she possess some keen insight into the nation’s problems and how to fix them.

    As for O’Reilly, the man is a serial liar.

  3. From my brief research, every president prior to Andrew Jackson is described by historians as no more than a deist or unitarian. How, then , do we get Christian founding? From Thomas Paine, the outspoken anti-religion philosopher who lit the fuse of revolution?

    I call bullshit on all the religious people who claim that their magic book is the source of all knowledge. If that is the case, and they truly believe it, then why have they not memorized it? If one really believed that, how is it that the shelves of Wal-Mart are full of bodice rippers instead of wall-to-wall bibles? If you could be one step closer to your god, you should be reading their bibles instead of spending 6 hours a day watching television.

  4. we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us

    Damned if that doesn’t sound a whole lot like “freedom from religion.” I guess the wingnuts didn’t get that memo.

  5. And the really annoying part about this is that Sarah Palin would never discuss these things outside the protective cocoon of Fox News. Just imagine her going on Rachel Maddow’s show and Rachel hitting her with Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance or other remarks from the Founders that dispute her claims. She would be reduced to babbling her usual word salad.

  6. It’s about the money and the power…and ego, too.

    Palin (and most importantly her backers) are swinging a certain section of the populace “on a cord” with certain ideas and symbols. (apologies to T.E. Laurence)

    They know about the myth and the symbol. Facts do not matter, it is what the myth and symbol evoke, what a certain segment of the populace do in response to them that’s important. This segment has been told since it was possible for them to understand the spoken word, that certain “things” were “so”.
    The knowledge that these symbols were a potent force, were “theirs” and are now discounted and even being taken away and forbidden them is a powerful prod.

    O’Reilly seems to be the usual angry, mean, ambitious asshole whose chief cause of rage is that the rest of the world isn’t exactly like him, and he wishes it had one set of ribs so he could kick it in. He isn’t stupid, though.
    Really, people who have what can only be a psychotic episode in public usually wind up meeting Mr. Lithium, but he rolls in money.

    But it’s the eyes. They remind me of a garter snake, but with quite a bit of cunning.

    • Personally, I always figured him to be more in line with the orifice that’s a few degrees further around the “vertical smile”. Always passing out a ration of shit.

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