First Things

Lincoln and Under God

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As readers of this blog know, History is quite important to me.  Nothing makes my blood boil quicker than the misuse of the historical record in order to fight current political and cultural battles.  The latest issue of the magazine First Things has an article by Robert George entitled God and Gettysburg which explores such a misuse.

George relates how a pamphlet has been issued by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, a liberal group, which contains the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Gettysburg Address.  Perusing the pamphlet, George noticed that the phrase “under God” was omitted from the Gettysburg Address.

When, from 2000 to 2004, the atheist Michael Newdow was challenging in court the inclusion of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, he and his supporters pointed out that the words were not in the original pledge created in the 1920s. They were added by Congress in the 1950s in the midst of the Cold War, in response to a campaign led by the Catholic men’s organization the Knights of Columbus. The words were introduced into the pledge to highlight the profound difference between the United States, whose political system is founded on the theistic proposition that all men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights,” and the atheistic premises of Soviet Marxism.

Newdow has cycled back into the news in recent months with a new case that was appealed to the Supreme Court in March 2010, but what he and his supporters have avoided mentioning is that the pledge’s words under God were not pulled from a sermon by Billy Graham or a papal encyclical. They were taken from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The pledge, as amended, simply quotes one of our nation’s founding texts.

This fact is more than a little inconvenient for those who hold that government must be neutral not only among competing traditions of religious faith, but between religion and atheism—or, as it is sometimes put, “between religion and irreligion.” The constitutional basis for their claim is the Religion Clause of the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Their evidence for the claim that these words were intended to forbid such things as descriptions of America as a nation “under God” in official government documents is that the founders (allegedly) sought this “strict separation” of church and state.

But this puts the American Constitution Society in a sticky position. In assembling their pamphlet, they were eager to include Lincoln as a founder—the author of one of America’s founding documents, the Gettysburg Address. But the Great Emancipator’s characterization of the United States as a nation under God appears to undermine the strict separationism that the American Constitution Society wishes to promote. What to do?

The answer they hit on was simply to make Lincoln’s inconvenient words disappear. Now you are thinking: How did they imagine they could get away with it? The Gettysburg Address is the opposite of an obscure document. Millions of Americans can recite it by heart. →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

The Debate is about Authority

Witnessing the continued implosion of the Anglicans and the ELCA over matters of Christian morality, I am intrigued by the way present circumstances have inspired renewed consideration of tradition, authority and obedience.

As I wrote a few months ago (“On the troubles within the ELCA” American Catholic September 7, 2009): “What is interesting, at least from this Catholic perspective, is the extent to which the critics of recent decisions recognize the seeds of their present troubles woven into the very fabric of their tradition.”

In a recent post to First Things‘ “On the Square”, Rusty Reno described the crisis of those experiencing “the agony of mainline Protestantism” thus:

One either recommits oneself to the troubled world of mainline Protestantism with articulate criticisms, but also with a spirit of sacrifice, as he so powerfully evokes. Or one stumbles forward-who can see in advance by what uncertain steps?-and abandons oneself, not to “orthodoxy” or “true doctrine” or “good theology,” but to the tender care of Mother Church.

As Joe Carter (First Things) noted, as with the Anglicans, so a faction of Lutherans have chosen a third route — forming a new Lutheran church body separate from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Meanwhile, it appears that the homosexuality debate is fanning faculty and student protests at Calvin College — the furor instigated by a memo reminding faculty that they were bound to the confessional documents of the Christian Reformed Church: →']);" class="more-link">Continue reading

Res et Explicatio for AD 9-7-2009

Salvete AC readers!

Buckle Up! Because here are today’s Top Picks in the world of Catholicism:

1. Sadly most of us will miss the Catholic Report blog run by Dave Hartline.  Due to pleasant new circumstances of a new member of the family, Dave will be rolling back some of his extra-curricular activities to attend to his growing family.  In addition Dave will be the newest contributor to the American Catholic website and joining our family of writers.

2. Since First Things began gobbling up good bloggers such as Spengler, Wesley J. Smith, and Elizabeth Scalia and adding writers such as the American Catholic’s own Christopher Blosser, Jay Anderson, and Joseph Bottum under the First Thoughts blog, their website has gotten a WHOLE lot better.  Many interesting stories and newsbites all neatly marketed in a spiffy new look.

I suggest you all check it out here.

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Karen Novak, 1938-2009

Joseph Bottum @ First Things, relays the sad news:

Karen Novak slipped away this morning—a great artist, a good friend, the beloved wife of Michael Novak, and convivial presence at so many of our events.

You can find some of her artwork described on her website. But even they don’t capture her fun, her spirit, or how much we will miss her.

Please keep Michael Novak and his family in your prayers.

Marci Hamilton's Crusade

Several weeks ago there was a rather unpleasant exchange in First Things, between Marci Hamilton of the Cardozo School of Law, and Martin and Melissa Nussbaum of the Diocese of Colorado. Ms. Hamilton supports lifting the statute of limitations for child sex abuse claims, while the Nussbaums are decidedly against the idea. There are reasonable arguments on both sides, and, in this particular discussion, unreasonable arguments on both sides. But I think removing the statute of limitations, as Ms. Hamilton proposes, is likely to provide little benefit in terms of deterring abuse, and myriad opportunities for malicious or frivolous litigation. Furthermore, Ms. Hamilton’s professed concern for children has been rather morbidly focused on the Catholic Church rather than, for instance, public schools, where abuse problems are far more rampant.

I thought at the time I read the exchange that Ms. Hamilton’s name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t quite place it. And then I remembered: Ms. Hamilton was the author of a rather incautiously written book entitled God v. the Gavel, in which she made a case against many traditional religious liberties (noticing a theme in her oeuvre?). I say incautiously because the book contained enough errors and sloppy argumentation to elicit a legendarily harsh book review from Douglas Laycock, one of the field’s most distinguished scholars. The whole review is worth reading if the topic is of interest to you (or if, like me, you enjoy reading rigorous criticism), but here is the conclusion:

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Religion, Culture, & Politics

R.R. Reno reflecting on Fr. Neuhaus:

I have many fond memories of him, but many important and influential ones, as well. During the fall of 2006, I was in his office, expressing my anxious agitation about the upcoming congressional elections. I worried over the loss of  a Republican majority, linking my political concerns to the future of the pro-life cause, the dangers of unfettered bioengineering, and so forth. He sat back in his chair, puffing on his cigar while I prattled on. Then, with a wave of his hand, he dismissed my anxieties with a simple observation:

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