Lincoln and Under God

Sunday, July 18, AD 2010

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.

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8 Responses to Lincoln and Under God

  • Good post!

    It seems disingenuousness “comes with the (godless) territory.”

    I once read that a requirement to join the Masons is that one must believe in a Supreme Being – any Supreme Being. Sounds “American” doesn’t it? Well, that book stated the reason for this is that if one does not believe in God, one cannot be completely trustworthy nor loyal.

    So, (with that in mind) it seems consistent that atheists distort, omit, fabricate and outright lie to impose on the rest of us their their ideology: irreligion.

    Another godless goal I think (many here are better qualified) is to distort the Constitutional right of “free exercise” to a right to private worship, and a total ban of any religious symbol or moral teaching from public debate/discourse.

    Finally, (now I’ve run off the tracks) If Congress hasn’t passed a law regarding establishment of religion, I see no need to run a SCOTUS case . . .

    I started with an ad hominem, then an insult, and finally went irrational – I must be turning into a liberal.

  • Boy I hope nobody ever shows them Lincoln’s second inaugural address. There’s not enough white-out in the world to take out all the allusions to God in that one.

  • That is what I was thinking Paul when I read this story in First Things. The omission was so transparently fraudulent, and to no purpose.

  • “Boy I hope nobody ever shows them Lincoln’s second inagural address.”

    I also hope nobody ever shows them the House Divided speech, the defining phrase of which (“A house divided against itself cannot stand”) was taken directly from Christ’s words in the Gospels.

  • My family and I will be down in your neck of the woods on Tuesday Elaine making our annual pilgrimage (that word should get neo-Confederate juices flowing!) to the Lincoln Museum and the other Lincoln sites. I can’t wait to see what treasures we uncover at the Prairie Archives!

  • If you have time, Don, don’t forget to make a stop at the Cathedral too, now that the renovation is finished.

  • A side note, Don, but I’ve a couple times heard atheists claim that Lincoln was among their number — any idea what the deal with that is? It certainly doesn’t seem to fit with his rhetoric.

  • “If you have time, Don, don’t forget to make a stop at the Cathedral too, now that the renovation is finished.”

    I will put that on my list Elaine.

    Darwin here is a link to a post where I explored Lincoln’s religious views:

    The bottom line is that I think the evidence shows that throughout most of his life Lincoln believed in God. During the war he became more religious, and by the time his life ended he was probably a Christian.

    He wrote the following in the White House with no intention that it ever become public knowledge. He wrote it for his personal contemplation:

    “The will of God prevails. In great contests each party claims to act in accordance with the will of God. Both may be, and one must be, wrong. God cannot be for and against the same thing at the same time. In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party — and yet the human instrumentalities, working just as they do, are of the best adaptation to effect His purpose. I am almost ready to say that this is probably true — that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet. By his mere great power, on the minds of the now contestants, He could have either saved or destroyed the Union without a human contest. Yet the contest began. And, having begun He could give the final victory to either side any day. Yet the contest proceeds.”

    As his Second Inaugural Address indicates, few Presidents, indeed few men or women, have thought harder about the will of God.

The Debate is about Authority

Tuesday, December 1, AD 2009

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:

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2 Responses to The Debate is about Authority

  • It has always been about authority. Seems the Protestant seeds planted 500 years ago are starting to mature and will eventually choke itself off. Not that there won’t be Protestant denominations with us unitl the end of time. They may even become the most numerous. But eventually they will not resemble anything like Christianity. Heck, some are already unrecognizable as Christian.

  • Unitarians come to mind. Latter Day Saints. Just two off the top of my head that barely resemble Christianity at all.

Res et Explicatio for AD 9-7-2009

Monday, September 7, AD 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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One Response to Res et Explicatio for AD 9-7-2009

Karen Novak, 1938-2009

Wednesday, August 12, AD 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.

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One Response to Karen Novak, 1938-2009

Marci Hamilton's Crusade

Tuesday, March 31, AD 2009

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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7 Responses to Marci Hamilton's Crusade

  • More children are abused each year in the California Public School System than there are children in the whole US Catholic School System…. Public School teachers are many more times likely to abuse a child than are clergy of any religion, and Catholic clergy are even less likely than all religions…. We are just too big a target.

  • Few things please me more than reading a good negative book review!

  • Yo, Marty (Nussbaum):

    So we don’t get off on the wrong foot here, let me introduce myself. I am a life-long Philadelphia Catholic who values his religion/faith dearly. Married for over 34 years with two special needs daughters..I tell you this because this writer is quite accustomed to speaking up and out and advocating for those who fall victim to the agencies/organizations whose mission it is to serve people and, in this case, Catholic parishioners.

    If your style is anything like the lead counsel to Cardinal Rigali, Archbishop of Phila., then this will be most interesting. I’m sure you have had some communication with the very special William Sasso, and, if not this icon, surely the head of his non-profit group, Mark Chopko (former counsel to America’s Bishops).

    Anyhow, I would like to quote your opening statement from a “First Things” article in 2003. I just love that publication, “First Things”, because it so aptly describes and portrays the US Catholic Church, its leadership, both lay and religious as well as its management and organizational style. In other words, the “first things” we take care of is “ourselves.” No, no, Marty, you don’t understand, Our Lord made it quite clear and the “first things” are the children.

    “Let us stipulate from the beginning, as we lawyers say, that the Catholic scandal is fueled
    by a minority of priests who, mostly from the mid-1960s through the early 1990s, egregiously
    violated their ordination promises; by the bishops who reappointed known perpetrators; and by
    partisans of the left and the right now seeking to advance their pre-existing agendas for Church

    Marty, partisans, left and right, advance pre-existing agendas for Church reform, etc…….Marty, maybe it’s the high altitude in Colorado but you’re making as much sense as the Catholic leader, Cardinal Kaput (yeah, I got it right, he’s over and kaput). See if you can follow this one, I’ll take it slow…….the agenda here is to PROTECT OUR CHILDREN.

    You can jump in anytime and help out if you want. Why don’t you take your high-powered legal expertise and address the sovereign immunity issue regarding sexual abuse of children in public schools. This way, Marty, you take care of the children in the public arena and Marci will take care of the children in the religious arena. Now that sounds like a plan,….what do you think, Marty?

    Back to the original point of this correspondence….I envision a title bout between Marty and Marci……we have the Vegas venue on your end or the Atlantic City venue here. As mentioned, you guys can use the sobriquet “Abusers-Enablers” and Marci’s side will be appropriately called “Children-Survivors” We would have all of the accompanying hoopla as the date/day approaches with the media, press and oddsmakers weighing in on the outcome. We have all of the factors for an interesting bout……age, gender, experience differences and concerns. Height, weight, reach and even, you guessed it, hairstyle.

  • Michael S.,

    You failed to advance any argument for either side. Your comments are neither constructive nor helpful.

    I appreciate the passion on both sides of the debate, but mocking people for taking a position will not be tolerated on this blog.

  • Sir…..satire and what you call “mocking” aside, the only truth that matters here is that “First Things” in our society should be the protection of our children. Marty’s diatribe that is personally directed at Ms. Hamilton and her extraordinary efforts to protect this nation’s children, both now and in the future….now this, sir, is mocking behavior and conduct.
    Mr. Nussbaum, as counsel to the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, would do well to obey the court’s directive as part of the settlement agreement and turn over the personnel files…..stop the obfuscation and delay.

  • Michael S.,

    Thanks for clearing that up.

    The comment is back up again.

  • [Comment deleted: Michael, you’ve already made your point; any future comments in this vein will be deleted – JH]

Religion, Culture, & Politics

Monday, March 16, AD 2009

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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7 Responses to Religion, Culture, & Politics

  • One of the fatal flaws of the libs. They have the equation turned around. Ooopsie. Won’t make it easier for Tiller the Killer in court.

  • Put not your trust in congressional majorities…

  • When you give Republicans free passes on unjust war (even cheerleading the Iraq War), torture, exceptions with ESCR funding et al., you should not be surprised if they are apt to betray you in the most important matters of life and death.

    And Ii am not saying the Democrats are any better.

  • I would argue those things are betrayals (maybe not Iraq if you accept the Just war arguments for it), rather than signs of betrayals, but that was one of my first thoughts also. I liked the oft-overlooked point about religion shaping culture and then politics – makes me wonder why I bother spending time blogging about politics.

  • JH,

    I concur with your qualification completely.

    As a personal note, I was an avid First Things reader until I became loosely privvy (sic?) to the challenges set forth to that group from David Schindler and the Communio crowd in the mid to late 90s.

    As I sided with Schindler from a distance, I stopped following Neuhaus, Weigel and that bunch.

    I only checked in with there writings during the buildup to the Iraq invasion in 2003. Needless to say, I was tremendously disappointed then.

  • I was whole-heartedly in favor of the Iraq war and still am, so of course I do not view that as a betrayal. In regard to ESR I was against the initial decision by Bush to allow any use of the stem cells. However, afterwards he stood like a champion against it.

    In regard to water-boarding, I thought it crossed a line into physical torture that I do not personally approve of, although I can see how reasonable people would disagree with my conclusion. One should also note the firm stance that Neuhaus took against Obama in the last election:

  • Obama’s record on abortion is a disgrace; I can’t vote for pro-abortion rights politicians for President. I’ll miss Fr. Neuhaus’s critiques next time around even if I disagreed with some of his other stances.