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US: Another religious war?



It was bad enough having the Muslim-Jewish disputer spilling over into the United States. Are we headed for a Christian-atheist war following the decision of the Ninth Court of Appeals? Atheists are active all over the place. They greeted President Bush with a hostile banner when he visited Birmingham, Alabama, which has few if any home-grown atheists. The US Congress has gone to war with the Atheists. It is a bi-partisan war. Senator Robert Byrd (Dem., West Virginia) recited all the constitutional references to religion to prove that the United States is on record as being religious. The major effort was made by Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (Rep., Maryland), who gave a long speech summarizing the history of the United States. It was an excellent example of what can be done to history for political purposes. It began with a traditional eulogy of the Founding Fathers. insisting they were Christians, not deists, and with no mention of the Masons. He spoke of John Harvard as though he were a young New Englander. In fact, born in London, England in 1607, Harvard was a Puritan minister who had been Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge. The American town of the same name was been so named because some seventy leading men of the colony had been educated at Cambridge. My guess is that most of the men of Virginia went to Oxford, Cambridge being the home of the Puritans and Oxford of the Royalists. Harvard died in Massachusetts in 1638, at the age of 31 (!?). leaving half his estate and 300 books to a new college which was named after him. It held its first commencement in 1642. The founders "dreaded to leave an illiterate Ministry to the Churches, when our present Ministers shall lie in the dust". The charter said the college was dedicated to "the education of English and Indian youth". The second building was called "the Indian College", where a college press was set up. It reportedly printed the translation of the Bible by another Englishman, John Eliot (1604-1690), into the language of the natives. A fair number of the students were Indians. This is stressed because it proves that, like its English counterparts, Harvard was a pious foundation and that its social prestige (and snobbery) came much later. Cf. our debate on snobbery in education.

This is a gloss on the speech by Representative Bartlett who, like Byrd, was marshalling facts for a judicial fight with the Atheists. In this dispute, the simple fact was forgotten that the separation of Church and state (a phrase not in the constitution) was meant to ensure that neither the Anglican church nor any other would have an official, privileged position. The authors never dreamed that they were opening the door to Atheists. Who will win?

Ronald Hilton - 7/16/02


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