Church-State Cage Match: Chuck Norris v. The Treaty of Tripoli
DonByrd printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Sep 21, 2007 at 01:24:36 AM EST
Which is more maddening and makes you pull more hair out: the dialogue in an episode of Chuck Norris's TV show, or the arguments in one of his newspaper columns decrying the separation of church and state? Today, I'm voting for the column. In his latest, Chuck tries to place Article XI of 1797's Treaty of Tripoli in some context, to make the case that it means something entirely different from what it quite plainly says:
[T]he government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion...
That Treaty was ratified by the Senate and signed by President John Adams in 1797, and the particular phrase is often quoted to counter the common mis-perception that America is "a Christian nation".

Read about Chuck's troubling argument - and see why I'm left wondering how he competes in ultimate fighting with such huge blinders on - in the extended entry below.

First, credit where it's due: he may be correct that this clause was not intended as the sweeping, blanket statement it is often used to represent. As Forrest Church says in his new book (review forthcoming) "So Help Me God":
Too much can be made of this document as a proof text that Adams believed, as the treaty says, that "the United States is by no means founded on the Christian Religion." Washington, Jefferson and Madison certainly could have endorsed this clause, but Adams at this point in his political career, anyway, could not. In signing the treaty, he either glossed over the eleventh article as being of no moment or read its meaning narrowly. At the time Adams expressly believed that the U.S. government could not prosper apart from a sound Christian foundation.
For his part, Norris has 2 tactics for trying to wish away the phrase. For one, he says, under duress we probably didn't really mean it. We were negotiating with kidnappers and would have said whatever we had to. So much for principle I guess.
[H]ow would and should a Christian nation's delegates answer the question, "Are you a Christian nation?" If you answer "yes," you are quickly categorized into a Crusade-form of Christianity and an enemy. If you answer "no," then you appear to be denying the basis upon which you were founded. Add to the mix that you are negotiating in a time of war, have very limited naval resources, are in recovery from another (Revolutionary) war, and that "yes, with an explanation" is not exactly the answer that is going to bail your seamen, cargo and ships out of Muslim extremist captivity.
We were just trying to free captives, you see...from captors who don't understand nuance.

The other argument he uses is much more instructive and is similar to Church's explanation of a "narrow" reading. It's all about the context here, he says. The U.S. government was not trying to deny its Christian heritage under this view, it was trying to assure Tripoli that we mean no harm, that the violent, warring experience they had with the Christian nations of Europe is not what they will find with us.

The way they understood Christianity was through the lens of the Crusades, and so perceived any Christian country as a militant threat to their existence.
One wonders why - if that was the important specific message that needed to be sent - we didn't just say it that way. And clearly the answer is that, in fact, America was not founded as a Christian nation. It was, perhaps, founded as a nation of (mostly) Christians. But isn't that distinction important? In fact, isn't that a more precise way to express the distinction that Norris claims we were trying to make to the Kingdom of Tripoli 210 years ago? That we may be Christians, but we are not governed - in any sense - by the church. We may look like your European enemies but we left Europe in search of religious liberty, and revolted in the face of their oppression.

At this point, I always wonder of those arguing America as a Christian nation: what are they hoping to gain? What entanglement are they attempting to justify? America is a Christian nation, therefore.... what? Government should give preference to the Christian faith? or should actively inhibit the growth of other religions? I don't think even Walker, Texas Ranger would endorse such a clearly unconstitutional view. What, then?

With that uncertain skepticism, and at the risk of appearing to compare Chuck Norris and today's religious right with the rather dangerous Kingdom of Tripoli, circa 1790, I would ask Chuck's earlier question right back at him, with some modifications:

How would and should a free nation's delegates answer the question, "Are you a Christian nation?" If you answer "yes," you are encouraging those who would argue for implicit religious preference by government, undermining the religious freedom principles on which the country was founded, and If you answer "no," then you appear to be denying - or at least lamenting - the reality that America is overwhelmingly made up of religious, indeed Christian, citizens. Add to the mix that you are engaged in a culture war with those who would deny the importance of our religious diversity and the principle of keeping church and state institutionally separate, and that "yes, with an explanation" is not exactly the answer that is going to keep our First Amendment freedoms intact.

Norris - and those who think like him - would demand the right to add context and caveat to any official expression of distance between the church and institutions of government. He demands the right to say "yes, with an explanation...". But he would deny the same right on the other side, those of us who in the spirit of religious liberty would say of our nation's prominent religious culture "yes, but..."

So, even if it may be true that we are a nation of mostly Christians, and that many of our national principles have the same shape as some Christian principles - peace, equality, justice, freedom of conscience -  the answer to the question is as clear and as simple and right as it was 210 years ago, and must be said this way for many of the same reasons, to avoid many of the same potential  misunderstandings: The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion. [Cross-posted from the Baptist Joint Committee blog.]




Display:
Maybe ol' Chuckie has taken a few too many blows to the head.  I hear that tends to leave a person a little addled and somewhat cerebrally challenged.

I've never heard him heralded as anything resembling an intellectual giant.  After all, we've seen his so called "acting".  (Didn't I hear that he studied at the Joey Tribbiani school of acting?)

by PatrickH on Fri Sep 21, 2007 at 11:29:42 AM EST



WWW Talk To Action


Cognitive Dissonance & Dominionism Denial
There is new research on why people are averse to hearing or learning about the views of ideological opponents. Based on evaluation of five......
By Frederick Clarkson (235 comments)
Will the Air Force Do Anything To Rein In Its Dynamic Duo of Gay-Bashing, Misogynistic Bloggers?
"I always get nervous when I see female pastors/chaplains. Here is why everyone should as well: "First, women are not called to be pastors,......
By Chris Rodda (72 comments)
The Legacy of Big Oil
The media is ablaze with the upcoming publication of David Grann's book, Killers of the Flower Moon. The shocking non fiction account of the......
By wilkyjr (41 comments)
Gimme That Old Time Dominionism Denial
Over the years, I have written a great deal here and in other venues about the explicitly theocratic movement called dominionism -- which has......
By Frederick Clarkson (44 comments)
History Advisor to Members of Congress Completely Twists Jefferson's Words to Support Muslim Ban
Pseudo-historian David Barton, best known for his misquoting of our country's founders to promote the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation,......
By Chris Rodda (47 comments)
"Christian Fighter Pilot" Calls First Lesbian Air Force Academy Commandant a Liar
In a new post on his "Christian Fighter Pilot" blog titled "BGen Kristin Goodwin and the USAFA Honor Code," Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan......
By Chris Rodda (63 comments)
Catholic Right Leader Unapologetic about Call for 'Death to Liberal Professors' -- UPDATED
Today, Donald Trump appointed C-FAM Executive Vice President Lisa Correnti to the US Delegation To UN Commission On Status Of Women. (C-FAM is a......
By Frederick Clarkson (59 comments)
Controlling Information
     Yesterday I listened to Russ Limbaugh.  Rush advised listeners it would be best that they not listen to CNN,MSNBC, ABC, CBS and......
By wilkyjr (46 comments)
Is Bannon Fifth-Columning the Pope?
In December 2016 I wrote about how White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who likes to flash his Catholic credentials when it comes to......
By Frank Cocozzelli (45 comments)
Ross Douthat's Hackery on the Seemingly Incongruous Alliance of Bannon & Burke
Conservative Catholic writer Ross Douthat has dissembled again. This time, in a February 15, 2017 New York Times op-ed titled The Trump Era's Catholic......
By Frank Cocozzelli (35 comments)
`So-Called Patriots' Attack The Rule Of Law
Every so often, right-wing commentator Pat Buchanan lurches out of the far-right fever swamp where he has resided for the past 50 years to......
By Rob Boston (48 comments)
Bad Faith from Focus on the Family
Here is one from the archives, Feb 12, 2011, that serves as a reminder of how deeply disingenuous people can be. Appeals to seek......
By Frederick Clarkson (87 comments)
The Legacy of George Wallace
"One need not accept any of those views to agree that they had appealed to real concerns of real people, not to mindless, unreasoning......
By wilkyjr (13 comments)
Betsy DeVos's Mudsill View of Public Education
My Talk to Action colleague Rachel Tabachnick has been doing yeoman's work in explaining Betsy DeVos's long-term strategy for decimating universal public education. If......
By Frank Cocozzelli (33 comments)
Prince and DeVos Families at Intersection of Radical Free Market Privatizers and Religious Right
This post from 2011 surfaces important information about President-Elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos. -- FC Erik Prince, Brother of Betsy......
By Rachel Tabachnick (78 comments)

Respect for Others? or Political Correctness?
The term "political correctness" as used by Conservatives and Republicans has often puzzled me: what exactly do they mean by it? After reading Chip Berlin's piece here-- http://www.talk2action.org/story/2016/7/21/04356/9417 I thought about what he explained......
MTOLincoln (91 comments)
Fear
What I'm feeling now is fear.  I swear that it seems my nightmares are coming true with this new "president".  I'm also frustrated because so many people are not connecting all the dots! I've......
ArchaeoBob (48 comments)
"America - love it or LEAVE!"
I've been hearing that and similar sentiments fairly frequently in the last few days - far FAR more often than ever before.  Hearing about "consequences for burning the flag (actions) from Trump is chilling!......
ArchaeoBob (46 comments)
"Faked!" Meme
Keep your eyes and ears open for a possible move to try to discredit the people openly opposing Trump and the bigots, especially people who have experienced terrorism from the "Right"  (Christian Terrorism is......
ArchaeoBob (82 comments)
More aggressive proselytizing
My wife told me today of an experience she had this last week, where she was proselytized by a McDonald's employee while in the store. ......
ArchaeoBob (73 comments)
See if you recognize names on this list
This comes from the local newspaper, which was conservative before and took a hard right turn after it was sold. Hint: Sarah Palin's name is on it!  (It's also connected to Trump.) ......
ArchaeoBob (77 comments)
Unions: A Labor Day Discussion
This is a revision of an article which I posted on my personal board and also on Dailykos. I had an interesting discussion on a discussion board concerning Unions. I tried to piece it......
Xulon (76 comments)
Extremely obnoxious protesters at WitchsFest NYC: connected to NAR?
In July of this year, some extremely loud, obnoxious Christian-identified protesters showed up at WitchsFest, an annual Pagan street fair here in NYC.  Here's an account of the protest by Pagan writer Heather Greene......
Diane Vera (44 comments)
Capitalism and the Attack on the Imago Dei
I joined this site today, having been linked here by Crooksandliars' Blog Roundup. I thought I'd put up something I put up previously on my Wordpress blog and also at the DailyKos. As will......
Xulon (53 comments)
History of attitudes towards poverty and the churches.
Jesus is said to have stated that "The Poor will always be with you" and some Christians have used that to refuse to try to help the poor, because "they will always be with......
ArchaeoBob (54 comments)
Alternate economy medical treatment
Dogemperor wrote several times about the alternate economy structure that dominionists have built.  Well, it's actually made the news.  Pretty good article, although it doesn't get into how bad people could be (have been)......
ArchaeoBob (41 comments)
Evidence violence is more common than believed
Think I've been making things up about experiencing Christian Terrorism or exaggerating, or that it was an isolated incident?  I suggest you read this article (linked below in body), which is about our great......
ArchaeoBob (64 comments)
Central Florida Sheriff Preached Sermon in Uniform
If anyone has been following the craziness in Polk County Florida, they know that some really strange and troubling things have happened here.  We've had multiple separation of church and state lawsuits going at......
ArchaeoBob (44 comments)
Demon Mammon?
An anthropologist from outer space might be forgiven for concluding that the god of this world is Mammon. (Or, rather, The Market, as depicted by John McMurtry in his book The Cancer Stage of......
daerie (52 comments)
Anti-Sharia Fever in Texas: This is How It Starts
The mayor of a mid-size Texan city has emerged in recent months as the newest face of Islamophobia. Aligning herself with extremists hostile to Islam, Mayor Beth Van Duyne of Irving, Texas has helped......
JSanford (45 comments)

More Diaries...




All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. Comments, posts, stories, and all other content are owned by the authors. Everything else 2005 Talk to Action, LLC.