Home > Wingnut Forwards > Fwd: AGREE or delete-this is good!

Fwd: AGREE or delete-this is good!

I’m not quite certain how to post the original forwarded messages; unfortunately, a nontrivial number of them actually contain large numbers of images, some pertinent, some just annoying. For now, we’ll skip the images, and consider the most recent forward I’ve received, which features misquoted Founding Fathers, inaccurate statistics, and religion…

AGREE OR DELETE

DID YOU KNOW?

As you walk up the steps to the building which houses the U.S Supreme Court you can see near the top of the building a row of the world’s law givers and each one is facing one in the middle who is facing forward with a full frontal view … it is Moses and he is holding the Ten Commandments!

DID YOU KNOW?

As you enter the Supreme Court courtroom, the Two huge oak doors have the Ten Commandments Engraved on each lower portion of each door.

DID YOU KNOW?

As you sit inside the courtroom, you can see The wall, right above where the Supreme Court judges sit, a display of the Ten Commandments!

DID YOU KNOW?

There are Bible verses etched in stone all over the Federal Buildings and Monuments in Washington , D..C.

DID YOU KNOW?

James Madison, the fourth president, known as ‘The Father of Our Constitution’ made the following statement:

‘ We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.’

DID YOU KNOW?

Every session of Congress begins with a prayer by a paid preacher, whose salary has been paid by the taxpayer since 1777.

DID YOU KNOW?

Fifty-two of the 55 founders of the Constitution were members of the established orthodox churches in the colonies.


DID YOU KNOW?

Thomas Jefferson worried that the Courts would overstep their authority and instead of interpreting the law would begin making law an oligarchy the rule of few over many.

I’ve also saved your eyes from the terrible formatting– be thankful. Italics are added.

First off, we’ll address this “since the 10 Commandments are depicted on the Supreme Court building, it means that separation of church and state is bunk”:

As you walk up the steps to the building which houses the U.S Supreme Court you can see near the top of the building a row of the world’s law givers and each one is facing one in the middle who is facing forward with a full frontal view … it is Moses and he is holding the Ten Commandments!

…etc…

This is handled nicely somewhere else:

The gist of this is that yes, the 10 Commandments are present in depictions on the building but (a) architectural elements do not indicate Constitutional support; architects don’t make law, and politicians don’t design buildings and (b) contrary to the statements in this email, Moses and the 10 Commandments are not actually depicted as more important than any other ancient/historical/mythical lawgivers.  Furthermore, the third statement of the 10 Commandments appearing in the courtroom itself is erroneous.

I’m not even going to bother with the “Bible verses etched in stone all over the Federal Buildings.. etc” statement. While it would be an interesting bit of research to figure out exactly which verses are etched on which buildings and monuments, and what the artistic reasoning behind them all originally was, I have to draw the line somewhere. I’m supposed to be writing a dissertation in computer science, not really blogging, after all.

James Madison, the fourth president, known as ‘The Father of Our Constitution’ made the following statement:

‘ We have staked the whole of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.’

This one is beautiful. There is no evidence that Madison ever actually said this. See this press release by au.org. While I’m at it, here’s the snopes article on this email forward, one of my places to find the refutation of this statement.

DID YOU KNOW?

Every session of Congress begins with a prayer by a paid preacher, whose salary has been paid by the taxpayer since 1777.

The snopes article is again useful here. Digging a little deeper, the Madison quote from the Snopes page:

“Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them, and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does this not involve the principle of a national establishment?”

is from James Madison’s “Essays on Monopolies”. I can’t immediately find a copy of this online to confirm the quote, though, and I’m unwilling to state its legitimacy without seeing it myself.

The statement about the church membership of the “founding of the Constitution” is also debated, and is an excessively simplistic treatment. I’m just going to refer back to the Snopes page. This is outside the scope, and– quite frankly– I want to get to what I see as the major problem with this email.

First, an exercise:

Surveys by the Pew Forum suggest that roughly 16.1% of the US population is religiously unaffiliated, and if you include affiliation with religions of the book (all forms of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), about 18.7% of the US population is not affiliated with a religious tradition that includes the 10 Commandments or the any portion of the Bible. This, of course, may include any number of lapsed individuals– we’ll say this is reflected in 71% of people absolutely believe in the existence of a god or gods. So if the assumption is made that all of that 71% of people believe that religion has a place in government– which is a pretty big assumption given that only 24% of the respondents stated that they believe “My religion is the one, true faith leading to eternal life”, and that 52% of respondents stated that government is too involved in morality (40% stated that government should do more) — then I think it’s reasonable to assume that at least 25% of the US population agrees that religion does *not* have a place in government.

But why is 25% a particularly special number?

Well, as of 2007, the General Social Survey found that 25% of all US adults are gun owners. This means, of course, that 75% are not gun owners. So why shouldn’t the 75% of non-gun owning Americans agree that guns are just a source of violence in this country, and so they should all be banned?

(At this point, I should clarify, I’m getting into the actual email responses I wrote to the person who sent me this forward; the individual himself is a gun owner– as am I, incidentally.)

What is most troublesome about this email is really that final quote:

It is said that 86% of Americans believe in God. Therefore, it is very hard to understand
why there is such a mess about having the Ten Commandments on display or ‘In God We Trust’ on our money and having God in the Pledge of Allegiance.

Why don’t we just tell the other 14% to sit down and be quiet!!! If you agree, pass this on

This is what sets me off. Not the random 86% statistic which is used, not the simplistic statement of the Pledge of Allegiance reference, but “tell the other 14%” to shut up. The statement of “Why don’t we just tell the other 14% to sit down and be quiet!!!” would be found extremely offensive by Madison, though this email claims to quote him anyway. See Federalist No. 10 for Madison’s ideas on factions, and the “violence of faction”, both of majority and minority factions.

(Now fully back to an email response I wrote)

I care very much about the writings of the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights– my last year at Swarthmore, I faced a tough decision of whether to focus on computer science in grad school, or else pursue a path of work and study in political science. I am fascinated by Constitutional law, and spent a great deal of time studying the writings of not just the Founding Fathers, but also the political theory that they studied and referenced in building their own political philosophies. I find it offensive when their words are twisted to support bigotry in any form.

There is a great deal to debate about the political theory behind the Constitution, and the reasons behind every paragraph and clause. But the “tyranny” or “violence” of the majority — or of minority factions with an excessive share of power — is something on which a great deal has been written, by many philosophers and political theorists– Plato, Rousseau, Madison, Mill, and de Tocqueville, to name a few– both before our Constitution was written, and since (note Mill and de Tocqueville). Again, Federalist No. 10, written by James Madison, is devoted to this issue.

The email which was forwarded spurns the words of all of these great men, old, dead, white, olive-skinned, Greek, French, American and more (also no doubt influenced by the wisdom of many great women around them, though history fails to credit them), instead opting for a militant, xenophobic populism which denies the political traditions of compromise and acceptance which have made this country work for so long. Granted, this is also a long tradition in US history, but one which we’ve struggled against.

Still, there’s something particularly nasty about some of what’s happening now, with people refusing to show even the slightest respect to a sitting President; if the news reports are correct, keeping children home from school so they won’t be “indoctrinated into socialism” by President Obama. Is this really the way to show respect to our Constitution and the Founding Fathers? By telling children that the President’s speech encouraging them to work hard at school is malicious political engineering?

Debate on political, social, religious, and moral issues will always be heated, but as long as it’s also reasoned and builds upon the ideas of those who have gone before, rather than twisting their words to contradict those ideas, it can be productive.

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