I’ve been doing some research into this concept lately.
I’m firmly of the mind that we (the USA) are in no way a country founded on “Judeo-Christian values” and that this has been a revision of our country’s history by the same theists who were blocked from having a strangle hold on our government in the first place.
The values laid down into law by the Torah/Old Testament and the New Testament are not a corollary of democracy, but fascism and totalitarianism.
To believe otherwise is untrue to history. We were founded on the principles of The Enlightenment, which arose from the the persecution of philosophers by various religious groups. There was no established and state involved religion that supported the Enlightenment.
If anything we are a country founded in spite of Judeo-Christian values.
During John Adam’s administration the Senate ratified the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which states in Article XI that “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.”
And that wasn’t an isolated incident.
The Treaty of Tripoli, passed by the U.S. Senate in 1797, read in part: “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” The treaty was written during the Washington administration, and sent to the Senate during the Adams administration. It was read aloud to the Senate, and each Senator received a printed copy. This was the 339th time that a recorded vote was required by the Senate, but only the third time a vote was unanimous (the next time was to honor George Washington). There is no record of any debate or dissension on the treaty. It was reprinted in full in three newspapers - two in Philadelphia, one in New York City. There is no record of public outcry or complaint in subsequent editions of the papers.
Ethan Allen, whose capture of Fort Ticonderoga while commanding the Green Mountain Boys helped inspire Congress and the country to pursue the War of Independence, said, “That Jesus Christ was not God is evidence from his own words.” In the same book, Allen noted that he was generally “denominated a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious that I am no Christian.” When Allen married Fanny Buchanan, he stopped his own wedding ceremony when the judge asked him if he promised “to live with Fanny Buchanan agreeable to the laws of God.” Allen refused to answer until the judge agreed that the God referred to was the God of Nature, and the laws those “written in the great book of nature.”
The words “In God We Trust” were not consistently on all U.S. currency until 1956, during the McCarthy Hysteria. And we’ve also already covered that “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance until the 20th century.
All of the above writings can be found in the excellent article “The Founding Fathers Were Not Christians”
by Steven Morris, in Free Inquiry, Fall, 1995.
He saved me a lot of typing, and I give credit where credit is due.
That covers the Christian side of things, onto the Torah…
The Ten Commandment that are claimed by many to be the “foundations of our laws,” are very plainly in no way foundational, and are only 30% relevant to modern (and by modern I mean the years following 10 A.D.) law.
For the sake of clarity I’m going with the Talmudic numbering. Catholics and Lutherans number them differently. I’m sticking with the traditional Torah/Old Testament version.
The first four of the ten are not laws at all:
1. I am the Lord your God.
2. You shall have no other gods before me.
3. You shall not make for yourself an idol.
4. Do not take the name of the Lord in vain
Very clearly, if these were laws, it would be unconstitutional. The very fist amendment of the constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” so those 4 are obviously out.
The 5th commandment says “Honor your father and mother.” A fine sentiment, provided your parents actually deserve to be honored. But I’m pretty sure no one here actually thinks this should be a law.
The 7th commandment says “You shall not commit adultery.” Adultery being a moral crime, not a legal issue, also tends to be a self-punishing endeavor. And is not the territory I want our laws to stray into.
The 10th commandment says ” Neither shall you covet your neighbor’s wife. Neither shall you desire your neighbor’s house, or field, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
This commandment is the only one to punish thought. It also makes direct comparison of a man’s wife to his neighbor’s ox. Not only is this not a law, even in the most backward of America’s founding ideals, women were not considered chattel.
Now we get into the meat of the matter. The legally functional of the commandments:
6. You shall not murder.
8. You shall not steal.
9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
6 and 8 are just fine. But if you expect me to believe that prior to the arrival of the Jews at Mount Sinai that they thought murder and theft were okay, I don’t know what to say to you. It is plain that we would not have survived as a species if that was the case.
If we use the “Judeo-Christian” example of the old testament, shortly after giving the the commandment of “Thou shalt not kill” Moses orders genocide on a tribe of nonbelievers.
Joshua 11:12 All the cities of those kings, and all the kings of them, did Joshua take, and he struck them with the edge of the sword, and utterly destroyed them; as Moses the servant of Yahweh commanded.
11:14 All the spoil of these cities, and the cattle, the children of Israel took for a prey to themselves; but every man they struck with the edge of the sword, until they had destroyed them, neither left they any who breathed.
So it turns out that commandment is flexible if you’re up against nonbelievers.
Hmmm, where have I heard of killing infidels before? Was it in the Bill of Rights? Oh wait, that’s right, religious fascism!
Slavery, while not being written into the constitution of the Bill of Rights, is protected by the Bible, Torah, and the Qur’an. So in that sense, I guess there may be an argument there.
Back on topic…
The best commandment, clearly is the 9th, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.”
I have no issue with this. But I will point to the Code of Hammurabi and the Analects of Confucius, which contain most if not all of these concepts, and predate the Bible, the Torah, and the Qur’an.
I say this because what organized religion wants to claim as their exclusive territory (ethics) is something that has been with us since the beginning. We are genetically programed to look out for each other. And it didn’t take Jews and Christians to make it so.
Due credit where it is due, I had this idea around the same time as Christopher Hitchens was writing about the same topic. I can say he added some points I had never considered, but I’ve also felt strongly about this issue for a very long time.
Then again, none of these views are new. I’m quite sure the founders felt the same way.
I will admit to feeling some murk when it comes to credit/plagiarism on these ideas. So much has already been discussed/written, but so much more needs to be covered.
I do believe that most of the theo-critics out there feel we are in a battle for reason, and an occasional quoting without credit is bound to happen.
So please, forgive me if I made an errors of omission in terms of crediting previous philosophers.