we were NOT founded as a christian nation: thoughts on article 11 of the u.s. treaty with tripoli

The U.S. Treaty of Tripoli

With Libya continuing to be in the news, I was reminded this morning of one of the earliest treaties the United States ever signed with another nation. (See complete list here.) It is the Treaty of Tripoli, signed with Ottoman Tripolitania in Tripoli on November 4, 1796, unanimously ratified by the U.S. Senate on June 7, 1797, and signed into law by President John Adams on June 10, 1797.

While the treaty is a typical diplomatic agreement with a Mediterranean state, Article 11 of the treaty has attracted much attention as a corrective to those like Glenn Beck, who believe that the “Founding Fathers” founded the United States as a “Christian nation.”

Article 11 of our first treaty explains rather precisely what the founding fathers intended, how the Senate interpreted it, and by signing it into law, how the President applied it:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

The point of the United States was to deliberately found a new nation that was not founded upon a single religion, but one that tolerates all beliefs, including the choice not to believe in any religion. The entire point was not to have a particular religion (the Church of England at first) dictating law in the country. Our founding documents, while acknowledging and appealing to a higher power deity (akin to simple Deism), took great strides to avoid founding this secular nation on a particular religious foundation. Rather, it was intended to be tolerant of all faiths and beliefs. Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli made this crystal clear.

dear fox news, please stop trying to be religious scholars, because you suck at it

allow me to welcome jim west, who will set this one up for us:

I’m trying to think of a word that describes people worse than dilettantes.  Idiots?  Imbeciles? Morons?  People who should NEVER talk about or be allowed within 10 miles of the Bible or biblical interpretation?  Or, more accurately, all of the above.  Because all of the above certainly describes Fox News and their utter unfamiliarity with anything related to Scripture.

A page on Fox Nation…claims Obama “misquoted a familiar Bible verse” during his address yesterday:

President Obama misquoted a familiar Bible verse during a faith-based address at the National Prayer Breakfast.”Those who wait on the Lord will soar on wings like eagles, and they will run and not be weary, and they will walk and not faint,” the president said during a speech to several thousand people at the breakfast.

But the actual passage, from Isaiah 40:31, states: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”

Somewhat ironically, while Fox Nation appears to be positioning themselves as the arbiters of authentic Christianity, they seem unfamiliar with the fact that there is more than one version of the Bible.  Obama was  quoting from the New International Version while Fox Nation was pointing to the King James Version to “debunk” him.  This would be funny if it weren’t so pathetic.

Really Fox, please, please, just shut up.  Just shut up and never talk about the Bible or Christianity ever again.  Every time you do (or Beck does or O’Reilly does) you all just prove to the rest of the world how thoroughly moronic you are.  You’re not just dilettantes.  You’re far worse.  You’re Fox News.

i’ve said it before, i’ll say it again: the sooner people at fox news stop trying to be theologians – i’m looking at you bill o’reilly (here) and glenn beck (here and here and here and here) – and stop trying to establish themselves as religious authorities attempting to cultivate some sort of christian version of sharia law, the better off we’ll all be.

just admit that you only want to criticize president obama, and don’t mind using some sloppy biblical exegesis misinterpretation to do so.

don’t you think that a journalist with even a shred of integrity might hear president obama’s speech and say, ‘hmm, that sounds like a verse i know. i wonder if he’s using a different translation?’ nope. instead, this ‘fox nation‘ report (note that the name of whoever wrote that ‘article’ is nowhere to be found) just assumes that obama misquoted scripture and started ranting, betraying both his/her own ignorance of the bible (and its translations) and his/her (religious?) animosity toward president obama.

dear fox news: please stop pretending to be religious scholars, because you suck at it.

via Zwinglius Redivivus

excellent article on glenn beck’s call to a generic american civil religion

American Civil Religion

American Civil Religion

Robert Parham, Executive Director of  EthicsDaily.com and of the Baptist Center for Ethics, has written an excellent analysis of Glenn Beck’s recent MLK Day substitute, “Restoring Honor,” in the “On Faith” blog of the Washington Post entitled “Glenn Beck’s Generic God.” It is well worth the read.

Beck’s rally was little more than an attempt to cast himself as the new leader of an American civil religion (similar to how Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan used the 1995 400,000 Million Man March to cast himself as the new leader of the U.S. civil rights movement). Blending nationalistic themes with a piecemeal selection of biblical passages and “American Scripture” (i.e., passages from famous U.S. founding documents and speeches given by U.S. politicians), Beck attempted to craft together an American civil religion that equates belief in God with belief in country – specifically, belief in political conservatism.

The problem with American civil religion is that it reduces faith to a particular brand of nationalism, which is precisely the opposite of the message preached by Jesus and the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. By ignoring passages about social justice and community and highlighting appeals to individual liberties, Deuteronomistic theology, the Exodus, and conquest narratives, Beck attempted to weave together a generic, nationalistic religion that he hopes will appeal to the lowest common denominator of both faith and politics – personal ‘salvation’ via individual liberties – and overlook the more pervasive themes of social justice, equality, and community – which all people of faith are called to do! We are called to live together in community together as one body, not as rugged individuals.

I have no problem with the regular “God bless America” at the end of political speeches, but I suffer a well-concealed apoplexy every time I witness a church worship service that integrates state-related functionaries and activities. I’m all for having religious individuals in the U.S. government, but preying on religion to push a political agenda, or worse yet, blending nationalism and religion to create a diluted religio-political amalgam that equates proper faith with American patriotism betrays both faith and the founding principles of the nation.

It is highly ironic that Glenn Beck, a conservative who regularly appeals to the U.S. Constitution and the writings of the Founding Fathers to make his appeals, had to blend church and state together to make his point. Beck’s political goal is simple: to cast anyone who dares oppose his conservative viewpoint not only as unpatriotic, but as unfaithful.

Parham’s conclusion hits the nail on the head:

No amount of Bible reading, sermons masquerading as prayers and Christian hymns can cover up Beck’s civil religion that slides back and forth between the Bible and nationalism, between authentic faith and patriotic religion.

He treats the “American scripture” – such as the Gettysburg Address – as if it bears the same revelatory weight as Christian Scripture.

What is important to Beck is belief in God – God generically – not a specific understanding of God revealed in the biblical witness, but God who appears in nature and from which one draws universal truths.

Not surprisingly, Beck only uses the Bible to point toward the idea of a God-generic. He does not listen to the God of the Bible who calls for the practice of social justice, the pursuit of peacemaking, the protection of the poor in the formation of community. Beck has little room for God’s warning about national idolatry and rejection of fabricated religion.

For Beck, God-generic is a unifying theme and religion is a unifying force for what appears to be his revivalist agenda for Americanism – blended nationalism and individualism.

a one man ventriloquist: glenn beck’s misrepresentation of the dead sea scrolls

Glenn Beckyou have got to be absolutely kidding me.

joel mentioned it. jim brought it to my attention. and now i must vomit.

just when you thought glenn beck couldn’t get any stupider, this one-man intellectual gulf oil spill has spewed forth yet another gusher of sheer misinformation madness. my first inclination was to blow off mr. beck with a response in the form of a quote from the adam sandler cult classic, billy madison:

Mr. Madison Beck, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.

however, because glenn beck chose to tread on the treacherous triumvirate of biblical studies, archaeology, and religion that is the dead sea scrolls, i feel compelled, nay, obligated in my role as a member of an apparent scholarly squad of biblical ‘discovery’ debunkers to respond.

first, let me assure you that i have no political or anti-conservative bent. i am a political moderate, with an appreciation of pundits on both sides. there are smart liberals and there are smart conservatives; glenn beck is neither. mr. beck is not as cunning as bill o’reilly, not as witty as keith olbermann, not as smart as rush limbaugh, and not as hot (intellectually) as rachel maddow. glenn beck lacks the political acumen of george will, the savvy of paul begala, the objective demeanor of juan williams, the strategic humor of james carville, the ingenuity of thomas friedman, the inquisitive journalistic tenacity of steve inskeep, the experience of david gergen, the brains of jeff greenfield, and the influence of matt drudge. rather, our friend mr. beck, apparently suffering from diarrhea of the mouth, is little more than an annoying sideshow – an overly dramatic, undereducated, sub-populist, train wreck, that makes the otherwise media-wise rupert murdoch look like a fool for signing him.

so what has mr. beck said that has so roused my intellectual ire? beck recently touched a nerve – a nerve i’ve sworn to defend – by pontificating upon the dead sea scrolls. beck, who apparently feels that his single theology class at yale before dropping out qualifies him to expound on the scrolls, recently made comments so utterly and fantastically false, that i dropped what i was doing and began to write this response.

in his amateurish attempt to imitate and channel the dilettantish ways of jim barfield, simcha jacobovichi, ron wyatt, noah’s ark ministries international, and vendyl jones, beck invoked the dead sea scrolls in a nonsensical rant that began with comparing children to empty clay pots and ended with the recitation of portions of the declaration of independence.

A Fragment of the Dead Sea Scrollslisten as beck speaks concerning things about which he knows nothing (beginning at the 0:36 second mark) and read along:

Beck: You know the… Dead Sea Scrolls. You know what they are? Stu, do you know what the Dead Sea Scrolls are? …

Stu: Well, of course I do.

Beck: No, come on. Most people don’t. I’m not…

Stu: I heard of them. I don’t really know.

Beck: You don’t really know, do you. You have no why they were there.

Stu: Nu uh.

Beck: Sarah, average person doesn’t know. Any idea? Take a guess on what, why the Dead Sea Scrolls are there, anything else.

Sarah: Something religious.

Beck: OK good. Even though I’ve explained this on this program a couple of times, I’m glad to see that, I’m glad to see that even the people that work with me everyday don’t even listen.

Stu: Well, there’s, we were actually talking about American Idol last night. The guy won! It was unbelievable.

Beck: All right. So here’s what happened. When Constantine decided he was going to uh… cobble together an army, um, he did the uh… Council of uh… Nicaea, right, Pat?

Pat: Yea.

Beck: Council of Nicaea. Um… and what they did is brought all of the religious figures, uhh, together, all the Christians and then they said, “Ok, let’s uh, put together the Apostles’ Creed, let’s, you know, you guys do it.” So they brought all their religious scripture together, and that’s when the Bible was first bound and everything else. And then they said, “Anybody that disagrees with this is a heretic and… off with their head!” Well, that’s what the Dead Sea Scrolls are. The Dead Sea Scrolls are those scriptures that people had at the time that they said, “They are destroying all of this truth.” Whether it’s truth or not is, is up to the individual, but that… at that time those people thought that this was something that needed to be preserved and so they rolled up the scrolls and they put ’em in clay pots and they, they put ’em in the back of caves where no one could find them. They were hidden scripture because everything was being destroyed that disagreed with the Council of Nicaea and Constantine. That’s what those things are.

this is absolutely, fundamentally, unequivocally false! allow me to make two key points:

  • the dead sea scrolls were written between approximately 200 bce and 70 ce. the council of nicaea met in 325 ce. not even close.
  • there is nothing whatsoever christian about the dead sea scrolls. no portion of the new testament is represented in the scrolls.

i don’t know where to begin. arguing that the dead sea scrolls were hidden to hide them from the council of nicaea is like arguing that we won the war of independence over the british because of our advanced computer technology; the timing is off a couple of hundred years. perhaps glenn beck is confusing the dead sea scrolls with the nag hammadi library, a cache of early christian gnostic texts written in coptic dating to the third and fourth centuries ce and discovered in the upper egypt town of nag hammadi in 1945. but of course, facts are secondary in the mind of glenn beck. what really matters to the likes of beck is massaging and distorting these facts until they fit whatever preconceived argument he’s already formulated in his mind.

in this regard, the comments glenn beck made about the dead sea scrolls closely resemble the deteriorated state in which the dead sea scrolls were discovered: they came forth from the mouth of a dark, seemingly bottomless cave, covered in bat guano, and smelling like bullshit, which is exactly what glenn beck has offered up in his latest attempt to portray himself as a biblical historian. the difference, of course, between the dead sea scrolls and glenn beck is that the dead sea scrolls at least tried to keep their thoughts and ideas hidden away to themselves.

in attempting to discuss religion and the dead sea scrolls, glenn beck has achieved something astonishing. he is a one-man ventriloquist: his lips are moving, but he’s actually talking out of his ass.

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