David Limbaugh, brother to Rush Limbaugh and author of the book “Persecution: How Liberals Are Waging War Against Christianity”, was the keynote speaker at the Baptist Press Excellence in Journalism Banquet last Saturday. His speech was a call-to-arms against the rise of secular values in American culture and it included many of the popular distortions about what the Founding Fathers intended with the establishment clause and how the Christian world view is supposedly the basis for American concepts of freedom and liberty.
“We are engaged in a culture war in this country,” Limbaugh said. “I believe that Christians are the primary targets of the secular humanists who are engaged in this culture war…. Our entire Christian worldview is under siege.”
Secular values “have taken primacy in our culture,” he said. “And it’s something that we really need to be concerned about.”
Many Fundamentalist Christians love to drone on and on about the “threat” of Secular Values without ever bothering to explain just what, exactly, these values that secularists hold supposedly are. David points out that they come from secular humanists so a good place to look would be the Secular Humanists homepage and look specifically at what their Affirmations of Humanism has to say their values are. Here’s a small sampling of these “dangerous” values:
- We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.
- We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.
- We believe in supporting the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves.
- We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.
- We believe in the cultivation of moral excellence.
- We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amenable to critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences.
- We are deeply concerned with the moral education of our children. We want to nourish reason and compassion.
- We believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.
- We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.
- We want to protect and enhance the earth, to preserve it for future generations, and to avoid inflicting needless suffering on other species.
- We are engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences.
Now to most folks the above probably doesn’t come across as being that terrible of a set of values to have gaining prominence in American culture. I would argue that American culture would be better off if these values had really taken primacy as Limbaugh claims. An open and free society? More justice and less discrimination and intolerance? Help the poor and disadvantaged? Working together for the common good? Cultivating moral excellence? How could any reasonable Christian have a problem with a set of values like that? What’s the basis for the claims that secularist values are evil and dangerous then? Well, there’s a few I didn’t list yet that will show you what the Fundamentalist Christians really fear about Secular Humanism:
- We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.
You can’t use Reason and Science to understand the Universe or solve human problems! Only through hours spent praying and appealing to the Great Invisible Superfriend in the sky can you accomplish these things!
- We deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.
Do I even need to explain why this one gets the Fundie’s panties all in a bunch?
- We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.
No, no, NO! We’ll have plenty of time for that nonsense once we help to bring about the apocalypse and the after-life!
- We respect the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health-care, and to die with dignity.
Socialized health care? Freedom to practice sex as you choose?? Dieing on your own terms instead of God’s??? Why that’s UNAMERICAN!!
- We are skeptical of untested claims to knowledge, and we are open to novel ideas and seek new departures in our thinking.
You want PROOF?? You can’t HANDLE the PROOF!! Just BELIEVE or you’re gonna burn, burn, BURN!!
- We affirm humanism as a realistic alternative to theologies of despair and ideologies of violence and as a source of rich personal significance and genuine satisfaction in the service to others.
This is another one that causes these guys to flip their wigs. Imagine thinking that there’s any world view that could be considered as being a “realistic alternative” to the Christian world view.
- We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.
This one counters so many basic tenets of Christianity that it should be no surprise that the Fundies fear it becoming a popular idea so much.
To more moderate Christians the above list isn’t all that threatening and there’s probably more than a couple of values listed there that they’d agree would be a good thing to see more people embrace, but to the hardliners on the far Right they may as well be statements of intent to engage in large-scale rampages of murder, rape, and baby killing. These are the values that folks like David Limbaugh would like you to think are the very definition of evil. He continues with…
“The establishment clause … meant that Congress, the federal government, would not establish a national church,” Limbaugh said. “… The thrust of the establishment clause was not to separate church and state, which it’s later been construed to do. The purpose of it is to promote religious liberty.”
This is a very popular claim by Fundamentalist Christians and it’s based on a dissenting opinion authored by Justice Rehnquist in which he claimed that the intent of the Founding Fathers was only to prevent the establishment of a national church. A claim that is completely untrue. Both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison wrote extensively about what the intended effect of the first amendment was and Madison’s letters in particular support the Supreme Court’s 20th-century understanding of the term “wall of separation.” In a letter to his friend Robert Walsh, James Madison wrote of how successful both church and state were proving to be in spite of the wall of separation:
- “It was the Universal opinion of the Century preceding the last, that Civil Government could not stand without the prop of a Religious establishment, and that the Christian religion itself, would perish if not supported by a legal provision for its Clergy. The experience of Virginia conspicuously corroborates the disproof of both opinions. The Civil Government, tho’ bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability and performs its functions with complete success; whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State.” (Robert L. Maddox, Separation of Church and State: Guarantor of Religious Freedom, New York: Crossroad Publishing, 1987, p. 39.)
Contrary to the oft-repeated claim, history shows us that the intent of the separation clause was indeed to build a solid wall between church and state.
David Limbaugh continues with another popular claim with no basis in reality:
“We need to appreciate our freedom,” he said. “And we need to understand that Christianity is the source of our freedom…. Our constitutional liberties are undergirded by Judeo-Christian principles.”
There’s not much of anything either in the Constitution itself or in any of the letters and articles written about it by the Founding Fathers afterward that gives any support to the above claim, but David tries to establish a link anyway.
Two foundational doctrines for the American concept of freedom are the doctrines of creation and sin, Limbaugh said. The doctrine of creation teaches that each human is created in the image of God and gives rise to the notions of liberty and inalienable rights, he said.
“If we truly believe that God is omni-benevolent, omniscient, omnipotent and He decided to create us in His image, what an ultimate honor and compliment that is,” Limbaugh said. “And it carries with it an obligation to respect the dignity of human life. It is what gives rise to the notion of liberty. Christianity gives rise to liberty, the idea that we’re made in God’s image and therefore entitled to happiness, dignity, freedom.”
He starts off fairly strong on this one at least in regards to inalienable rights as the Declaration of Independence does make reference to a Creator endowing man with certain unalienable Rights, but that same document refers to “Nature’s God,” which is more of a Deist belief than a Christian one, but one could reasonably argue this link isn’t entirely without merit. How he thinks Christianity gives rise to the notion of liberty or that we are entitled to happiness, dignity and freedom is beyond me. Liberty and freedom are more or less synonyms and are often the last things the Christian church is known for supporting. The history of the Christian religion is filled with examples of attempts to deny others anything even remotely resembling liberty and freedom. If the Fundamentalists have their way they will deny homosexual couples the liberty of deciding to marry or even form domestic partnerships. They’re already pissed off that the Supreme Court struck down a Texas sodomy law thus giving people the freedom to engage in a sex act that previously could have gotten them arrested and imprisoned. They also wish to eliminate a woman’s freedom to end an unwanted pregnancy regardless of the circumstances behind it.
I also have a problem with the idea that Limbaugh thinks we’re entitled to happiness. This sort of thinking is where a lot of our social problems come from. That happiness is something you should expect rather than something you pursue and it gives rise to people who think that if they’re not happy then they have a right to do whatever they want to make themselves happy such as stealing those shoes or beating the crap out of people they don’t agree with. Dignity is likewise something you have to work for, not something you’re handed as a door prize for showing up. Limbaugh continues with his explanation for the sin part of his argument:
The doctrine of sin teaches that humans are fallen and that sin must be restrained by governing forces, said Limbaugh, the brother of popular radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh.
The founders “knew that man left to his own devices … will subjugate other men. And obviously that militates against liberty,” he said. “The framers … wanted to invest the government with enough power to ensure ordered liberty, to allow government to protect individuals…. They also need[ed] to turn right around and impose intricate limitations on the government.”
It might just be me, but the two paragraphs above seem to contradict each other. First he argues that sin must be restrained by governing forces, but then argues (quite correctly) that the framers wanted government to establish an ordered liberty while protecting individuals and put limitations on government to ensure it didn’t overstep its bounds. Perhaps it’s because it’s only a partial quote, but I don’t see anything here that supports the idea that the doctrine of sin is responsible for shaping how the framers laid the foundation for our system of government.
Based on the above you’d almost think Limbaugh was a libertarian rather than a die-hard conservative, but this sort of irony is necessary on his part in order for his argument to work. The goal here is to try and convince his audience that Christianity and its world view are directly responsible for the American concept of freedom in order to support his argument that the diminishment of Christian values in American culture is a bad thing. He drives this point home as follows:
Ultimately, the well-being of America depends upon believers’ willingness to acknowledge the nation’s dependence upon the Christian worldview, Limbaugh said.
“We have an obligation … to stay true to the truth and to fact,” he said. “… Infuse your profession with your Christian worldview.”
Never mind that there’s very little in the way of truth or facts behind his argument. That’s of little concern if he can convince folks that Christianity and America’s very survival are inextricably intertwined. If America can’t survive without the Christian world view then the argument that said view should be dominate in American culture is an easy sell. I’ll let Jefferson have the final word on that idea:
- “It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.” – Notes on Virginia, 1782