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Today in Circular Reasoning

American Flag BibleVia Al.com:  Alabama county wants Ten Commandments included on monument of historical documents at courthouse:

A commissioner in Jackson County wants to erect a monument at the courthouse that would feature the Ten Commandments alongside other historical documents.

Tim Guffey, a Republican who was elected to the commission in 2012, said the Ten Commandments should be included in the monument alongside the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

“What I’m trying to do is erect a monument of historical documents,” Guffey said Thursday in an interview with AL.com. “It’s the Constitution, the Ten Commandments and the Declaration of Independence. I feel like that’s what this country was founded on. These documents helped America become the greatest country in history.”

Inclusion of the Ten Commandments is for historical reasons, not religious, Guffey said. The influence of the Ten Commandments, he said, cannot be separated from the writings of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Ok, so we get a great deal of poor logic and terrible history here.

First, poor logic:

“The Ten Commandments is a historical document (in this context) and it has nothing to do with religion. It shows that these founders had great beliefs in God and the Ten Commandments and His Word and it helped them get to the point where they were. Their feeling was God helped them build the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. If you read all of the writings of John Adams, Patrick Henry, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, they speak about how that was their foundation that helped them interpret and write a great Constitution.”

Ok, so claiming that something has its origins with God is a religious claim, by definition.  Hence, one cannot claim that displaying these documents to show their religious origins “has nothing to do with religion.”  This is basic transitive property stuff (if a=b and b=c, then a=c and so forth).

What this really sounds like is someone who has half-digested the knowledge that religion-linked issues can be raised in a public context by public officials when the purpose is secular in nature (such as studying the Bible as literature), but who really has fundamentally religious intentions for bringing up the subject in the first place.  I don’t mean, by the way, that he is being disingenuous, but rather that he rally doesn’t understand the basis of his claim.

Second, poor history.  I will stipulate that I am not a historian, but I do have more than reasonable claims to significant knowledge in the realms of both a) the political philosophies/theories that informed the documents in question the as well as b) of the construction of the US Constitution in particular.*  (I would even throw into the mix a great deal of lay study of the Bible/Christian theology over the years, although by no means of an expert level).

Back to Guffey:

“I just can’t see how you could explain a Constitution – why it was written the way it was written – without understanding why those men wrote it the way they wrote it,” Guffey said. “They don’t teach this at school anymore and a person would have to go back and research and study each one of those men’s writings to find out that that’s what established them. That’s what gave them the inspiration to read the greatest Constitution this world has ever seen.

“There’s no other country that’s ever done what we have done. And I feel like taking that document out, if that document wasn’t there to guide them, then our Constitution wouldn’t be what it is today. (All the documents) would not be the way it is today without it. I’m using it in the context of this is historical. I’m not doing it to push religion at all. But I don’t see how I could do the other two and not do that one and be truthful about it.”

I certainly am all for people going back and studying the founding, but it is rather difficult to see how such study would actually lead to Guffey’s conclusions.   I would also submit that actual study might disabuse Guffey of making claims like “There’s no other country that’s ever done what we have done” if by that he means established a functional constitutional order of self-governance.   Indeed, one thing that the “don’t teach…at school” is decent comparative politics, but that is a another discussion entirely.

These claims (i.e., that the Ten Commandments form the basis of the US Constitution) are not new in Alabama as they are central to the political philosophy of the Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, Roy Moore.  Moore is extremely fond of stating that our constitutional order is based on the Ten Commandments.  While one can certainly make connections to things like murder being illegal to the laws of Moses this is hardly unique to that list. As such, one allow that the Ten Commandments are an early example of a basic legal code, and so forth, it hard to draw any direct-line connection between them and to the main characteristics of either the Declaration or the US Constitution.

For example, it is all but impossible to derive the right to rebel from Christian theology (and certainly not from the Commandments) and the right to rebel is the central thesis of the Declaration of Independence (with the basic theory coming mostly from John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government).  Yes, the Creator is invoked in the document, but the theoretical basis is pretty far off from having firm theological origins not to mention that for the bulk of the common era that the Bible has been used to justify monarchy not self-government (see, for example, Aquinas’ On Kingship).

Indeed, the only actual example of governance as we would understand it in the Christian Bible is kingship in the Old Testament and then a general endorsement of earthly governments in the New (all of which would have been autocratic in nature at the time).  Romans 13 has about the most definitive statement on that subject that I am aware of :

13 Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.

6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.

The citation of a religious text will, no doubt, spark debate over interpretation, but I would submit that it is rather difficult to logically take that passage and then demonstrate how it flows into the claims made in Declaration. For example, the Declaration claims that government are “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” and that claim is diametrically opposed to that of Romans:  “The authorities that exist have been established by God.”  The Declaration claims that men have the right to severe ties to an existing government based on human perceptions of injustice even to the point, we know, of armed rebellion, but Romans states “Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”  The Bible does not teach self-determination, that is, rather, a tenet of classical liberalism.

At a minimum, the passage from Romans should raise any number of questions given the degree to which many American Christians like to assert that the US was founded as a Christian nation and that God himself helped usher in success in the war for our independence.**

Indeed, a grand irony here is that Moore talks incessantly about how it is the duty of the government to “acknowledge God” but the US government has as a central constitutional principle that eschews established religion while to this day the government of the UK acknowledges Christianity by having a state church.  So, really, when it comes to officially and governmentally acknowledging God, the Brits beat us Yanks rather substantially.

Beyond the right to rebel, general concepts such as popular sovereignty, republicanism, and limited government are impossible to derive from the religious texts of Christianity in general, let alone the Ten Commandments in specific.   And when we get into specific institutional constructs like separation of powers, checks and balances, federalism, presidential, and so forth (all key conceptual elements of our constitution), we stretch the claims of linkage well beyond the breaking point.  One might as well claim that the basic rules of baseball can be found in those texts.

At any rate, if Guffey really wants a monument featuring influences on America’s founding documents he should replace the Ten Commandments with things like the aforementioned Second Treatise by Locke, Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws, as well as any number of texts by Hume and various Greeks and Romans (and I mean the people group, not the book of the Bible).

I would conclude by noting that unless one is looking for the structure of a theocracy, religious texts tend to be lousy places to go for institutional design (especially when we are talking texts written millennia ago for contemporary governance).

——-

*On the first count, one of the fields for which I tested in my doctoral program was political theory and I have been teaching it for roughly a decade and a half.  On the second, not only is institutional/constitutional design a long-term part of my research agenda, but have recently done a great of research on the issue of the US constitution’s design.

**For example, I once sat in a sermon (at a church here in Alabama) that detailed how weather conditions helped Washington escape the British army, thus proving divine intervention in the colonial fight for independence.  These types of claims are quite common.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Janis Gore says:

    Are they sure they want to put up God’s condemnation of:

    Stealing
    Lying
    Adultery

    Fo’ real? Aren’t very serious, are they?

    They want to see the writing on the wall, do they?

    Daniel, get your butt over here right this minute!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  2. Janis Gore says:

    I ain’t exactly a GREAT MOTHER, but I do try to keep him out of the street.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  3. OzarkHillbilly says:

    1: Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
    2: Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
    3:Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain;
    4: Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.

    Nothing at all religious there, nothing at all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 15 Thumb down 1

  4. Gustopher says:

    No one ever wants to include the Articles of Confederation into one of these monuments, and that is probably the most important document for understanding the Constitution.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Funny thing Steven, that is the 2nd time today I have read of Romans 13. Some RWNJ in Maryland interpreted it this way:

    In the 13th chapter of the book of Romans in the New Testament, God’s [sic] says that those who govern us, such as this (yourselves, this Council, whatever) are ministers of God — that actual word “minister” is used. And that you are a minister of God to us for good, for good, as defined by God’s Word. And that you are, conversely, to bring wrath on those who are evil — evil as defined by God’s Word.

    Thus, your job is ministerial and not legislative. Your job is to administer and apply God’s Law. And this means it is not the role of government to house or feed or clothe or give health care or education or welfare to anyone. There is no Biblical authority for that kind of thing. The provision of those things is the job of Christ’s Church. -John Lofton

    from,

    GOP’s post-racial fantasy: Secession, delusion and the truth about America’s most hateful dividers

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  6. KM says:

    Selective reading, selective reasoning and the deeply-held belief in American Exceptionalism.

    These things do not go well together if you expect coherent thought.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  7. gVOR08 says:

    Well researched, well reasoned, well written. And, one suspects, completely irrelevant to Commissioner Guffey.

    I suppose he wants to post the King James version, not the Catholic, Orthodox, or Jewish versions. Much less the other ten.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  8. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Please release me, let me go…. I have a comment in moderation, don’t know why.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. matt bernius says:

    Great take Steven.

    with the basic theory coming mostly from John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government

    When I read that Mr. Guffey’s goal was to “erect a monument of historical documents … [that] this country was founded on. These documents helped America become the greatest country in history,” I immediately wondered if it would include the writings of Locke, which have a far more *historical* claim to being founding documents.

    Beyond that, as always, I think it’s important to remind folks like Mr. Guffey and Mr. Moore that for one reason or another, the sainted founders decided to *not* include any reference/praise/invocation of the Almighty in the Constitution. The choice is notable as both the Declaration and the red headed stepchild of a founding document — The Articles of Confederation — both included explicit references to the Creator. Perhaps the founders had a reason for that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  10. KM says:

    I would conclude by noting that unless one is looking for the structure of a theocracy, religious texts tend to be lousy places to go for institutional design (especially when we are talking texts written millennia ago for contemporary governance).

    Especially since the Big 10 aren’t anything more then a condensed list – the highlights, if you will. They are high-level proclamations, brief and lacking in nuance; the most famous example being “Shall Not Kill” – does this mean no capital punishment, no war, no self-defense allowed? The actual spelling out of how these things will work in real life (ie Laws) are called Leviticus and Deuteronomy…. and they’re those books that get conveniently cherry-picked if not outright ignored as not falling under the purview of Christian Grace and thus not applicable to their daily lives.

    Really, he wants a Cliff Notes version listed – which is surprisingly appropriate given how he and his only follow what they want from their faith and blatantly violate the rest.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  11. KM says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    I have a comment in moderation, don’t know why.

    Same here. Mine just went into mod too – maybe the new server they’re using?

    Steven, I beseech thee, let my people go!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  12. Jim R says:

    Too many words and too much logic wasted on this guy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  13. Tillman says:

    Are they having some sort of crisis of faith in Alabama I’m unaware of? They want to slap the Ten Commandments on anything made of stone down there nowadays.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  14. @OzarkHillbilly: @KM: Leftover problems from the server crash. It may take a few more days to get everything straightened out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. Tyrell says:

    @gVOR08: KJV: I actually prefer some of the literary terms and language of the KJV. I also will use the NKJV, RSV, NIV (original), and “The Message” (this is a paraphrase that is in today’s language, kind of edgy). If someone wants the most original text, they would need to be able to read Greek and Hebrew.
    People need to be aware of some of these new revisions that are “gender friendly”, changing and deleting many gender words such as “father” “man” . Those would be newer versions of the NIV, NRSV, and others. These changes were made by some misguided individuals who think that any reference to gender, mainly males, is somehow going to offend women. These bible versions are false and should be avoided.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  16. michael reynolds says:

    In fact no part of the Ten Commandments is included in the Constitution. Nothing in the Constitution about the primacy of Jehovah, the sabbath, cursing, honoring parents, adultery, lying, stealing, murder or covetousness.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

  17. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: OK, thanx.

    @Tillman: Last time I was down there, they tried to slap ‘em on me! (or maybe they were just trying to slap me with them?)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. C. Clavin says:

    What about the other five???
    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=4TAtRCJIqnk

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  19. Ron Beasley says:

    I think this is all about fear. The old guard in Alabama does not like the way the state is trending. As the Huntsville area continues to grow with high tech and professionals come down from the north they see their comfortable old way of life in danger. The same can be said for Texas where the two largest cities, Houston and Dallas, are now bluish purple.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  20. EddieInCA says:

    @Ron Beasley:

    I’m in Austin, and it’s oh so blue. Feels like someone took Berkely, CA, and plopped it into the middle of Texas.

    Seriously, food co-ops everywhere.
    Organic everywhere.
    No bags at grocery stores unless you buy them (bring your own is encouraged).
    No plastic bags anywhere.
    Whole Foods Headquarters and flagship stores.
    Serious green initiatives everywhere.
    Bike lanes everywhere.

    It’s odd driving here from the West. At some point, you leave Texas and enter Berkeley/Austin.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  21. Tyrell says:

    Here’s the deal: religion stays out of the government, government stays out of religion.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  22. stonetools says:

    Isn’t this kind of like shooting fish in a barrel, really, or like boxing with a three year old?
    Guffey isn’t really trying for some rigorously reasoned argument in favor of erecting a monument to the Ten Commandments, he is just throwing up some sophistry in order to please the masses of his constituents, who don’t really give a d@mn about the merits of the argument. All his constituents care about is that he is “defending God” against the atheistic “secularists” who want to drive God from his “rightful place”.
    As far as a serious argument is concerned, it fails at the first hurdle, but that’s unimportant. What matters is that it’s great for whipping up the faithful. Mission accomplished as far as that goal is concerned.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  23. Ron Beasley says:

    @EddieInCA: I didn’t mention Austin because it’s been blue for a long time. Houston and Dallas are a more recent event.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  24. Pinky says:

    I haven’t read Guffey’s full statement. But Steven says this:

    “The Ten Commandments is a historical document (in this context) and it has nothing to do with religion. It shows that these founders had great beliefs in God and the Ten Commandments and His Word and it helped them get to the point where they were. Their feeling was God helped them build the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. If you read all of the writings of John Adams, Patrick Henry, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, they speak about how that was their foundation that helped them interpret and write a great Constitution.”

    Ok, so claiming that something has its origins with God is a religious claim, by definition. Hence, one cannot claim that displaying these documents to show their religious origins “has nothing to do with religion.” This is basic transitive property stuff (if a=b and b=c, then a=c and so forth).

    Where does Guffey say that the Constitution has its origins in God? He says
    – “these founders had great beliefs in God and the Ten Commandments and His Word and it helped them get to the point where they were”. “It” is their belief in God, not God.
    – “Their feeling was God helped them….they speak about how that was their foundation that helped them interpret and write a great Constitution.” That doesn’t say that God helped them either, just that their belief in God did.

    I could tell you that Lenin was influenced by Marx, but that’s not the same as saying that Marx was right. I could tell you that Manson was influenced by Helter Skelter, but all that says is that a person could gain some perspective on Manson by listening to Helter Skelter. I could say that Atta and the other hijackers were acting according to their reading of the Koran, but that wouldn’t prove that the Koran is God’s word. It wouldn’t even demonstrate that I believed that the Koran is God’s word. If I went on to say that “he” influenced them, you could take “he” as referring to God or Muhammad (although the lack of capitalization might be a tell), but if I said that “it” influenced them, I could only be referring to the book and/or their belief in it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 5

  25. Pinky says:

    @Pinky: I mean, I guess it’s possible that Steven could mean that it’s religious because it demonstrated that the Founders were religious, but that’s not what Steven said. Maybe he meant to say, “Ok, so claiming that something has its origins with God religious faith is a religious claim, by definition.” I don’t think that’s true though. It’s a historical claim. Claiming that something had its origins with God is a religious claim, but it’s not one that Guffey made, at least in Steven’s excerpt. If you’re going to fault someone’s logic, you really better lay out your argument correctly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. JohnMcC says:

    It’s fun for we who are self-declared rationalists to find the occasional fool like Commissioner Guffy and fill his arguments with well deserved scorn.

    But it would be a mistake to think that the political potency of the core idea Com Guffy is expressing is somehow equally weak. The power of the ‘social-conservatives’ who to some extent share the theocratic dream of a covenant binding the Christian God to the United States through an inspired Constitution has been demonstrated again and again in our history. Today they are the Tea Party and NRA crowds.

    We’ve always had them with us and they are not going away soon. Indeed, it seems to me that the so-called ‘Dominionist’ thread on the rightwing side is growing bolder these last few years.

    Times like this, I always quote Sinclair Lewis: When Fascism comes to America it will come wrapped in the flag and carrying a Bible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 1

  27. Tillman says:

    @Pinky:

    “Their feeling was God helped them….they speak about how that was their foundation that helped them interpret and write a great Constitution.” That doesn’t say that God helped them either, just that their belief in God did.

    Is it really a giant and ridiculous leap to go from…

    Their feeling was God helped them build the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

    …to saying the documents had their origins in God? Further, by definition any historical act cannot be ascribed to God if done by someone in his name. It could easily be excused as “originating in his belief in God” instead. It’s not a meaningful point to make the semantic distinction.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  28. Matt Bernius says:

    @Pinky:
    But the point is if Guffey’s goal is to honor the “historical” texts that influenced the founding of our country, there are countless ones that had a far more direct and profound effect on the founders than the Ten Commandments. So while Mr Guffey can claim he’s putting it the Commandments in there to honor its historical role, the *choice* to honor it (as opposed to the secular writings of Locke, Montesquieu, Hume, Hobbes and others) has far more to do with Mr Guffey’s *religious* beliefs than the Ten Commandment’s *historical* role in the founding of the US.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  29. Matt Bernius says:

    @Tillman:

    Guffey: Their feeling was God helped them build the Constitution.

    Then Mr Guffey should respect God’s decision to ask the Founders to leave all mention of Him/Her out of the Constitution. And since that was the last major Divinely inspired founding document that Mr. Guffey cares about, that suggests that God probably isn’t interested in having any other idols erected to him or additional documented credit for her good works.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  30. Pinky says:

    @Tillman:

    Is it really a giant and ridiculous leap to go from…

    Their feeling was God helped them build the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

    …to saying the documents had their origins in God?

    OF COURSE IT IS! Is there a difference from saying that a child believes that the Tooth Fairy gives him money and saying that the Tooth Fairy is real? You and I both believe in God, Tillman, but neither of us believes that God exists because we assert that he does. Neither of us believes that every claim made about God is necessarily correct. The Founding Fathers believed that God helped them. One may conclude from that fact that the documents had their origin to some extent in the Founding Fathers’ belief in God. One cannot conclude from that fact that the documents came from God.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  31. Pinky says:

    @Matt Bernius: One can soundly make that argument. One cannot soundly make the argument that Steven does.

    We have statues of Lady Justice as a nod to the Greek influence on our founding; we include fasces on our official architecture as a nod to the Romans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  32. JohnMcC says:

    Commissioner Guffy probably spoke his convictions as well as he has thought through them. But his thoughts are not a complete explanation for the decalogue to be venerated co-equally with the Declaration and the Constitution. So parsing his statement is not too helpful in understanding the ideology behind his proposal.

    A fully developed and articulated statement of this thinking is found in — to name just one — the preaching of Rafael Cruz (the Senator’s father). Read about it:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/morgan-guyton/the-theology-of-governmen_b_4020537.html

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  33. DrDaveT says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    that actual word “minister” is used

    Wow, that apostle Paul was even more learned than I thought — speaking English in the first century AD…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  34. stonetools says:

    @JohnMcC:

    It’s fun for we who are self-declared rationalists to find the occasional fool like Commissioner Guffy and fill his arguments with well deserved scorn.

    Yup. What I am afraid of is liberals smugly declaring , ” We’re right and those Bible thumping yahoos are wrong-again” , and concluding that’s all that’s needed.
    I would really have liked some analysis on how to counter this argument politically. Frankly I doubt saying , “We’re right. You’re wrong” is to going to blunt Mr. Guffey’s political progress.
    For the last decade, conservative arguments has consistently been shown to be wrong, yet they still wield tremendous political power. How can we counter that? To be honest, I as a liberal just don’t want to be right-I want to see the right policies implemented. How does that happen?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  35. @stonetools: Speaking for myself, my goal is not to change Guffey’s mind, as I somehow doubt he will read this.

    I can only hope that perhaps someone who has not fully considered these issues will find this post an opportunity to think more about the subject.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  36. DrDaveT says:

    If they really want to honor the documents that influenced the Founders, they need to add:

    Jean-Jacques Rousseau:
    Of The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right (Du contrat social ou Principes du droit politique) (1762)

    John Locke:
    A Letter Concerning Toleration, 1689.
    (1690) A Second Letter Concerning Toleration
    (1692) A Third Letter for Toleration
    (1689) Two Treatises of Government
    (1690) An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

    These were all hugely influential, but not exactly what the Dominionists ordered…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  37. Pinky says:

    @DrDaveT: I would have gone with the Magna Carta and something by Cicero, but also the Bible.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  38. Matt Bernius says:

    @Pinky:

    would have gone with the Magna Carta

    Agreed 110%. But not one in power typically likes being reminded of Habeas Corpus — especially in court houses.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  39. Tillman says:

    @Pinky: And I understand all that. Logically you’re fine. I’m just wondering if it’s worth bringing up the difference when any act of belief can be taken as an assertion of that belief, and not proof of the belief’s object itself. You could use the same defense for a multitude of things to do with belief even though colloquially we’d still consider them “religious” in some fashion.

    To broaden it a bit (or move goalposts, whichever you prefer), it seems from the passage

    “What I’m trying to do is erect a monument of historical documents,” Guffey said Thursday in an interview with AL.com. “It’s the Constitution, the Ten Commandments and the Declaration of Independence. I feel like that’s what this country was founded on. These documents helped America become the greatest country in history.”

    that he’d have plenty of other sources, like Montesquieu or Locke, to pick from. The Ten Commandments is foundational in the same way Hammurabi’s Code is in terms of how far back we’re going.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  40. KM says:

    @Pinky:

    Is there a difference from saying that a child believes that the Tooth Fairy gives him money and saying that the Tooth Fairy is real?

    For the child, there’s no difference. He has been told the Tooth Fairy is real by a trusted authority figure and has no reason to disbelieve them, especially when tangible evidence (in the form of money) is regularly presented throughout their lives. Only when confronted with contrary evidence will the belief cease.

    When your average religious American has been told by various trusted sources their whole lives that the Constitution and Founding Fathers was “divinely inspired”, that America is “the Shining City on a Hill”, that America is blessed among all nations… yeah, they’re not going to care about sophistry or nuance like your example. For them, its QED – as Steven originally said, circular logic. “God helped them build” for people who take the Bible literally means they tend to believe in literal help – thus the “divine inspiration” adjective, same used for other religious documents.

    Your statement is like the Exploding Trousers on Mythbusters. “Even so, a person witnessing such an event (especially if he or she were wearing the trousers) would likely describe such a sudden event as an explosion.” Qibbling.

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  41. Pinky says:

    @Tillman: I think we’re saying the same thing, and I’m not sure why we’re disagreeing. The point of my original comment was that Steven’s argument is transparently wrong. I probably agree with where he’s going, but to call someone out for bad reasoning on the basis of bad reasoning is something that has to be noted and denounced on the spot. Beyond that, a few people (including me) have commented on possible texts worthy of public acclaim as sources of the Founding Fathers’ inspiration.

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  42. Pinky says:

    @KM: You are entitled to your own projections, but you are not entitled to your own reasoning. My point was about reasoning.

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  43. @Pinky:

    The point of my original comment was that Steven’s argument is transparently wrong.

    I must confess, I am at a loss as to your point.

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  44. @Pinky:

    but also the Bible.

    Why? On what basis?

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  45. KM says:

    @Pinky:

    You are entitled to your own projections, but you are not entitled to your own reasoning. My point was about reasoning

    How is it about my projections, pray tell? I’m pointing out the basis for their reasoning. They don’t feel there’s any difference because from their rationale, there is none. By saying “God helped”, there is explicit acknowledgement that there is some sort “divine inspiration” in play and therefore they tend to use such terminology – entirely consistent with their internal logic. With repeated insistence on importance and primacy, they are in fact insistent this is an integral part of the legacy and providence of the document.

    Where does Guffey say that the Constitution has its origins in God?

    Steven’s point was this was poor reasoning, period. Your point appears to be trying to link actions with validity of beliefs and noting that since there’s no explicitly spelled out affirmation by Guffey, this isn’t his belief or something close to it. My point was that based on the verbiage used, it’s fairly easy to extrapolate his beliefs based on the words used and the circular theological morass it leads to. There is a common word for when “God helps” – miracle. He’s stating without using the exact words that there was something miraculous about the documents and the process that created them – a common fundamentalist belief in regards to America’s founding. One very easy to find with even a cursory Google search. Unless he’s a very good faker – something I would’t put past a politician.

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  46. Pinky says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: And here I thought I was beating a dead horse. Three questions. First, do you see a difference between saying “the Founding Fathers were affected by their belief in God” and “the Founding Fathers were affected by God”? Secondly, do you think the former statement is a religious one? Thirdly, which do you think conforms to Guffey’s statements?

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  47. @Pinky: Both are, by definition, religious statements.

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  48. Pinky says:

    @Pinky: I’m definitely beating a dead horse, but here goes. Is there a difference between saying “Kepler’s theories were affected by his endorsement of Copernicus” and “Kepler’s theories were affected by his endorsement of Copernicus, who was correct”? The first statement is a matter of history; the second, of physics.

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  49. @Pinky: You are splitting hairs that are not relevant to the claims I made, nor the claims that Guffey made.

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  50. Pinky says:

    @KM: “Projection” is the wrong term. You’re making assumptions, which is different. That was sloppy on my part.

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  51. Tillman says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: That’s essentially what I’m saying. The point Pinky has is fine as far as it goes, but it’s not pertinent.

    @Pinky: We don’t disagree on what you said so much as whether it was worth saying. You’ve made a distinction that, while valid, wouldn’t enter into consideration. As Taylor said, both kinds of statements that you distinguish (and say involve a giant leap to tie together) could be considered religious statements. Certainly of varying degree, since saying God wrote the Constitution is a different matter than saying the Founders were inspired (divinely or not) by the Bible in writing the Constitution.

    Then again I make a lot of worthless statements, so I don’t know where I get off judging. :)

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  52. JohnMcC says:

    @Tillman: Criminey! All this round and round devoted to parsing Com Guffy’s inarticulate statement! If the goal was really to acknowledge on a stone monument the documents that provided foundations for the US, several suggestions have been made in these comments. I’m certain that everyone here knows that J.J.Rousseau is absolutely not going to make it onto Com Guffy’s megalith. What is being planned for that courthouse is a theocratic statement that American history — if we properly understand it — is the story of a covenant between the christian god and the US. When we follow ‘His’ commandments, we prosper as a nation. When we are in rebellion against god, we fail.

    This is not unheard of; lots of President Lincoln’s finer speeches have a similar thought pattern. His 2d Inaugural contains the statement: “Yet, if God wills that (war) continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years unrequited toil shall be sunk, and every drop of blood drawn by the lash shall be paid by another drawn by the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.

    Which sounds poetic and moving when we know that Lincoln freed the slaves and was not demonstrably what we would mistake for a contemporary evangelical christian. But the same belief that god somehow directs the affairs of our country according to his own purposes is in other hands (and heads) today. Glenn Beck and W Cleon Skousen have popularized a scheme based on the same idea.

    Here’s the catch: What about those poor lost souls who reject the political plans that god makes for us? Do they have political rights? If they are in rebellion against the god who plans and directs the affairs of nations, why should they?

    Com Guffy’s inability to voice the ideas he proposes does not detract from the seriousness of those ideas.

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  53. Neil Hudelson says:

    This is Pinky’s M.O. (and it’s not a bad one, necessarily). In thread after thread she* will take a statement by (usually) a Republican that is pretty stupid/silly/boneheaded/hateful, and patiently explain that we are wrong because the statement–when treated as a composed, edited essay–clearly doesn’t say what, contextually, it does say.

    It’s the same as Clinton’s “it depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” Technically Pinky is correct, contextually it’s clear what Guffey was saying.

    *I mean no disrespect if this is Pinky’s incorrect gender.** The internet has finally made clear how ridiculous it is that the English language doesn’t have a common-vernacular gender-neutral pronoun.

    **She could be referring to the color or Brain’s sidekick.***

    ***I don’t know whom I am trying to emulate more, Steven Taylor or Terry Pratchett.

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  54. @Neil Hudelson:

    I don’t know whom I am trying to emulate more, Steven Taylor or Terry Pratchett.

    Personally I am just pleased to have my name in the same sentence as his.

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  55. Neil Hudelson says:

    @JohnMcC:

    Umm, wow, what he said.

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  56. @Tillman: Indeed. Clearly Guffey does not think that God Himself wrote the Declaration and the Constitution. However, Guffey is quite clearly claiming that the Founders were inspired by the Ten Commandments (and, by extension, the Bible). Further, Guffey is not claiming the scriptures to be mere literature or a philosophical tome, ergo he is making a religious claim and, moreover, making a claim that the founding documents of the US were influenced by religious texts.

    I am not even sure what the controversy is.

    I would be interesting in Pinky explaining to me how to reconcile Romans 13 with the logic of the Declaration.

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  57. Tillman says:

    @Neil Hudelson: It’s not a tactic reserved for one person. :)

    Also, I assume everyone is a white twentysomething male until it’s said otherwise. Yes, even Janis Gore.

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  58. Pinky says:

    @Neil Hudelson: Neil – Have you ever read a conservative taking a few words out of context – like Obama talking about “fundamentally transform the United States of America”, and claiming that he understands what they really mean? Then he takes some quote from a socialist and makes it sound like they’re saying the same thing? You know how absurd that is, how it demeans discourse?

    How are you doing anything different? On what basis are you guys taking Guffey’s statement and viewing them through a dominionist filter?

    If the worst thing I get accused of today is holding people to the meaning of their words, I’m doing all right.

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  59. @Pinky:

    If the worst thing I get accused of today is holding people to the meaning of their words, I’m doing all right. – See more at: http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/today-in-circular-reasoning/#comments

    Guffey’s own words:

    The Ten Commandments is a historical document (in this context) and it has nothing to do with religion. It shows that these founders had great beliefs in God and the Ten Commandments and His Word and it helped them get to the point where they were. Their feeling was God helped them build the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. If you read all of the writings of John Adams, Patrick Henry, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, they speak about how that was their foundation that helped them interpret and write a great Constitution.

    BTW: in regards to his last sentence, this has not been my experience in reading the writings of the persons listed–certainly not in terms of helping them “interpret and write a great Constitution” (say, perhaps in platitudinous ways). This is certainly true of Jefferson in particular (and for a variety of reasons.

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  60. I just would think that if you are going to accuse someone of being “transparently wrong” that you could more easily hammer home your allegedly obvious rebuttal.

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  61. Grewgills says:

    @Pinky:

    I could tell you that Lenin was influenced by Marx, but that’s not the same as saying that Marx was right.

    True, but you couldn’t then claim that this statement, when used by someone elevating both Lenin and Marx as foundational to their nation, was not a statement in favor of socialism or communism.

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  62. matt bernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    To your point, everything hangs on the meaning of “that” in the final sentence of the Guffey quote:

    If you read all of the writings of John Adams, Patrick Henry, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, they speak about how that was their foundation that helped them interpret and write a great Constitution.

    I think most readers would that “that” to mean “[their] great beliefs in God and the Ten Commandments and His Word.” Note how substituting “that” for “that” changes the quote and get’s the heart of the issue:

    If you read all of the writings of John Adams, Patrick Henry, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, they speak about how [[their] great beliefs in God and the Ten Commandments and His Word] was their foundation that helped them interpret and write a great Constitution.

    Without getting into questions of Christianity, Deism, and the faith of our founding fathers, this is simply inaccurate based on their writings. While many of the Founders did write on the topic of faith, there is little to demonstrate that it was “their foundation” in the way that Guffey seems to think.

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  63. grumpy realist says:

    @Pinky: Even more influential was the Corpus Iuris Civilis, Bartolus’s De Tyrannis, a whole bunch of relatively obscure jurists, and so forth. (remember the Le x Julia, anyone?)

    Someone please hit this lunatic from Alabama over the head with a book on the history of Resistance Theory. There was a LOT of ink spilled over how a bunch of right-believing Protestant/Catholic peasants could rightfully rebel against their Catholic/Protestant ruler and not draw down on themselves the lawful wrath of God.

    And if he wants to look back even further, the foundation of Constitutional thought was laid in the power struggles between the Pope and the Cardinals in the 10th-12th centuries. (Coupled to this was the whole Benedictine/property/whatever cat fights)

    P.S. I’ll be commenting far less frequently in the future. Have a company to expand to the multi-million dollar level. Ciao!

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  64. rudderpedals says:

    In retrospect the most one can say of the founding majority is that they had a tally-ho on the Ten Commandments and had they wanted to incorporate them in the Constitution they’d be there. What we have instead is the beneficial separation of the sacred and profane, the church and state.

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  65. Neil Hudelson says:

    @grumpy realist:

    Good luck! Any insider tips on your new company’s stock? :)

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