Alabama Governor Robert Bentley’s Martin Luther King Day speech in Montgomery once again highlights the need for separation of church and state. In case you missed it, Bentley surprisingly said:
”But if you have been adopted in God’s family like I have, and like you have if you’re a Christian and if you’re saved, and the Holy Spirit lives within you just like the Holy Spirit lives within me, then you know what that makes? It makes you and me brothers. And it makes you and me brother and sister.”
Bentley added, ”Now I will have to say that, if we don’t have the same daddy, we’re not brothers and sisters. So anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister, and I want to be your brother.”
If Bentley were a pastor at the Montgomery church where he delivered his speech, this wouldn’t be a big deal; the fact he is the newly elected governor of Alabama makes a stomach turn.
It should come as no surprise that Bentley is a Republican. The religious right and the Republican Party have been nearly synonymous since Reagan was elected in 1980. Reagan was a stalwart disciple of modern conservative movement founder Barry Goldwater, but compromised the conservative movement by cultivating the religious right into the Republican Party in order to ensure his election.
What would the founder of modern conservatism say to Governor Bentley? Probably the same thing he said on the floor of the Senate in 1981:
On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.
I’m frankly sick and tired of the political preachers across this country telling me as a citizen that if I want to be a moral person, I must believe in “A,” “B,” “C” and “D.” Just who do they think they are? And from where do they presume to claim the right to dictate their moral beliefs to me?
And I am even more angry as a legislator who must endure the threats of every religious group who thinks it has some God-granted right to control my vote on every roll call in the Senate. I am warning them today: I will fight them every step of the way if they try to dictate their moral convictions to all Americans in the name of “conservatism.” Link
As the Tea Party movement continues to push the Republican Party further to the Right, led by such intellectual stars as Glenn Beck and his plan to restore America to the vision of our God-fearing Founding Fathers, one can’t help but wonder, does Glenn Beck know anything about our Founding Fathers? One would assume, had he any intellectual curiosity, he would know that his favorite hero, Thomas Paine, was not a Christian – and in fact rejected any religion practiced by man.
“I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church…All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.” Link
Paine went further to decry the ridiculousness of “Christian Mythologists” as antithetical to good governance:
Soon after I had published the pamphlet “Common Sense,” in America, I saw the exceeding probability that a revolution in the system of government would be followed by a revolution in the system of religion. The adulterous connection of Church and State, wherever it has taken place…has so effectually prohibited by pains and penalties every discussion upon established creeds, and upon first principles of religion, that until the system of government should be changed, those subjects could not be brought fairly and openly before the world; but that whenever this should be done, a revolution in the system of religion would follow. Human inventions and priestcraft would be detected; and man would return to the pure, unmixed and unadulterated belief of one God, and no more.
The fact that Paine expressed his belief in “one God” has allowed modern day conservatives, and Beck, to laud as proof that our Founders were religious and that our nation was founded on religious (or more twisted – Christian) principles. The problem is, the main figures in the founding of the American government, Paine, Jefferson, Adams, Washington, Franklin, Monroe, etc., were not Christians – they were, if anything Deists. They may have professed a belief in a singular God, but nowhere in their writings that they left behind did they cite a belief in Christ, or even a biblical God.
The wisdom of our Founding Fathers has been oft-cited by our new Teapublican Party representatives. Their love of Constitution cannot be denied – they rang in the new Congress by reading it aloud. For many, I suspect, it was the first time they actually became acquainted with the document. Jefferson described the First Amendment as a “wall of separation between church and state” while his founding peer James Madison, author of the Bill of Rights, referred to it as the “perfect separation.” It should come as a surprise that the people that claim to be constitutionalists on the Right are actually inclined to subvert and pervert the same constitution they claim as so holy.
Oh that Robert Bentley had been elected governor of Virginia! He would have to support the constitution of that state and the Jefferson-authored Statute of Religious Freedom:
“that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,
that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,
that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it. Link
No, I’m not Robert Bentley’s brother, I’m not even his 5th cousin.