Vail Daily letter: Dangerous remarks
Beaver Creek, CO Colorado
This letter is addressed to the recent exchanges between Henry Bornstein and Jim Taylor, in particular, to Taylor’s most recent (Dec. 31) letter.
This letter raises numerous issues both of fact and of historical method, most of which I dispute.
1. The claim that our national unity and purpose can be regained only by returning to the specifically Christian faith of the founders fails on the historical fact that religion was not a source of unity in the colonies but was instead highly divisive. Christianity existed at the time primarily in the form of established, creedal state churches that were jealous of their independence and hostile to each other. It was only in the decades after the revolution and into the early 1800s that a specifically American, Evangelical Christianity developed. But it was emphatically and sometimes violently Protestant – a movement of limited usefulness as a foundation for a nation with a large Roman Catholic minority, to say nothing of the significant number of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Jains, Shivites, other Hindus, atheists, and variously uncommitted citizens that live here.
2. This helps to clarify why the term “God” appears nowhere in the Constitution. Religion was so divisive that no central authority could be trusted with any aspect of it. The omission was deliberate even though some observers at the time considered it to be scandalous. Furthermore, Taylor’s attempt to smuggle God into the Constitution by reference to the language “in the year of our Lord” in its closing is ridiculous. The passage quoted is a full statement of the “A.D.” (Anno Domini), which conventionally divides the Western calendar and is used by all parties without doctrinal commitment.
3. I am no lawyer (as I think both the disputants are), but I am confident that there is no basis in law to treat the constitution as a set of “bylaws” to its presumed “charter,” the Declaration of Independence. The latter is a charter for revolution, not governance. And even if it were more, Taylor can take no comfort in the references to deity it contains. This is not the God of Christian dogma but Jefferson’s deist God, a force for order in the heavens and civility on earth that can manifest itself in various religious forms.
4. Taylor quotes many people, some of them judges, who agreed with him at the time. He is right. Many did and still do. But this is beside the point. These statements do not determine the law as it now stands since the First Amendment has been applied to all the states by the 14th. One may or may not approve of that, but it is without doubt the law.
5. Finally and most important, I find Taylor’s concluding remarks outright dangerous. His claim that “people like Bornstein” have a problem with the truth of American history because “their problem is with Jesus Christ” attacks the very foundation of religious freedom in this country. As much as I disagree with his conception of Christianity, I will accept and defend his right to assert it. But I will reject and resist any attempt by him or anyone else to convert that right into a basis for a claim that I or anyone else must adopt his religious views in order for us to understand our identity as Americans.