Thursday, May 28, 2009

It was an “interesting” day on my Facebook page. I put this comment on the top as my daily status:

“William isn't surprised but is disgusted at Conservative attacks on Sonia Sotomayor as lacking intelligence and real experience.”

I have for a long time been deeply unhappy with the attack and insult culture that has become typical of our political process in the last two or three decades. Virtually the moment that Judge Sotomayor was nominated by the president, the word was being put out that she was deficient in intelligence and lacked experience for the position. By any standards, both contentions are ridiculous. But personal attack has become a common tool in our debased public “discourse” these days--a cheap and easy way to score points instead of engaging in reasoned debate over the real issues.

How has this come about? How have we lost the civility to discuss, to engage in productive debate and to respect each other even while maintaining divergent opinions? It wasn’t always thus. I’m just old enough to remember political debate where policies and proposals were the target, not the personal traits of the other candidate. It’s about attacking the identity of the person on the other side (Liberal! Homosexual! Muslim! Foreigner! Woman!) It’s unacceptably ugly now.

Several years ago it occurred to me that Don Rickles may have had something to do with a major shift in the way we treat each other. He may have been part of the cause, a symptom of the situation, or perhaps a product of it, but his brutal insult “humor” seemed to me both unfunny and unhealthy even as audiences were roaring laughing at the abuse he heaped on people--including some of them. Throughout society, put-downs and outright invective began to replace basic politeness. Rodney Dangerfield may have been the comic who got no respect, but Rickles was the one who gave none.

At any rate, the “conversation" on my page quickly escalated out of control. I eventually rejoined and pointed out that all the issues that were being thrown about were irrelevant to my point, which was that the substantive topics—a judge’s legal philosophy and record of decisions--are matters that should be examined seriously, and with dignity, but that personal attacks and vicious insults should have no place in the debate.

Yeah, I know I’m living in the past here, but I think it’s time to reintroduce civility into American life.


Whether it’s a coincidence or a direct result of the enormous presence of Christian denominations in the political process these days, three bloggers recently researched and posted quotes by major figures in the founding and early history of this country that throw a strongly revealing light on the claims that the USA is a “Christian nation.” Please remember that the majority of the “Founding Fathers” were Freemasons, a secret society that was both politically progressive and anti-clerical.

With thanks to Alexander of Voenix Rising:

“The Bible is not my book nor Christianity my profession. I could never give assent to the long, complicated statements of Christian dogma.”
- Abraham Lincoln, American president (1809-1865).

“I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absenteed myself from Christian assemblies.”
“Lighthouses are more helpful then churches.”
-Benjamin Franklin, American Founding Father

“Where do we find a precept in the Bible for Creeds, Confessions, Doctrines and Oaths, and whole carloads of other trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days?”
“The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity.”
“This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.”
-John Adams, U.S. President, Founding Father of the United States

With thanks to Scott at Bill in Exile for the next three:

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility {sic}, of Mussulmen {Muslims}; and, as the said States never have entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”
-This is from the Treaty of Tripoli, 1797

“The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent — that of total separation of Church and State. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment. The offices of the Government are open alike to all. No tithes are levied to support an established Hierarchy, nor is the fallible judgment of man set up as the sure and infallible creed of faith. The Mohammedan, if he will to come among us would have the privilege guaranteed to him by the constitution to worship according to the Koran; and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma, if it so pleased him. Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political Institutions.”
-John Tyler, tenth President of the United States

“The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support … May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
-George Washington, first President and Father of the Country

I blush to admit that I’ve lost track of the blogger who posted this:

“Religion [which] I found to be without any tendency to inspire, promote, or confirm morality, serves principally to divide us and make us unfriendly to one another.”
Benjamin Franklin, Founding Father of the USA

Love those quotes. Thanks for posting them!
I was watching all the American news channels here in the UK as soon as it was announced that Sonia Sotomayor was appointed. The British press and media can be well known for its hounding of people but I was very surprised at how much everyone seemed to be attacking her personally. I don't know much about her only from what I seen on the news but I thought to myself WOW! The lady has only been appointed and I have hardly heard anyone say anything nice about her as a person. Will I totally agree with your last line and I could not have said it any better : but I think it’s time to reintroduce civility into American life. I hope we can re introduce some over here too. Hope you and Fritz are well and have a great weekend :-)
Wow, the self righteousness on the facebook..... I want to say very "cul serré".

You did not say Sarah Palin was dumb as a post. I mean, really, how could you ; )
alas, it doesn't matter
The Founding Fathers are so whitewashed into Christian saints nothing sticks to them.
I like the line in "1776" when John Adams says to Ben his concern how history will think of them (pimping for Jefferson).
"Oh don't worry John, they'll clean up the history books".
I've seen whole series of dueling quotes attributed to the founding fathers. They are used by folks with points of view all over the political spectrum. There have even been quotations falsely attributed to our nation's founders- and these have occurred on both the right and the left wing sides of the debate (no points for guessing which side uses way more false quotations. It's who you think it is). David Barton is a proponent of the Christian nation myth, and a particularly egregious promoter of false quotations.

My own response to this has been to have a diminished interest in simple list of quotes attributed to various folks either decrying or promoting the role of religion in American politics. You might enjoy the blog Dispatched from the Culture Wars that takes a very interesting and nuanced look at these issues. I'm amused by the fact that the blogger there is a big fan of The Federalist Papers and similar historical documents and comes to a very different conclusion from your commenter on Facebook.
Let's not forget Jefferson (I don't think you had this one):
"I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition [Christianity] one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies."

Our history, if the bigots bother to read it, is full of statements making clear that religion and government must be separate. But the right-wingers have made up stories that most people are too intellectually lazy to question. They just believe the "Christian nation" bullshit and repeat it as if it were fact.
I am with you - I miss civility.

I liked it when I lived in Orlando and could take a quick road trip up to Savannah where everyone was so polite and nice.

So many ppl these days are just pigs on the social level.
Damien, I've heard a lot of great things about Savannah but never visited--it's on my list. I've loved Charleston a bit up the coast. Nice to see you here and I hope you'll stop by often.

Jess, I did not know that one--I'll keep it in my file and thanks very much for sending it along.

Doug, many thanks for the referral to DfCW--I'll give it a check out.

Michael--yes, the myths keep attaching like barnacles. Look at "George Washington Crossing the Delaware": people and horses standing up in a small, shallow-draught boat just for starters (but I do know that kind of painting is always intended to be theatrical rather than historical).

As always, thanks to all of you for reading and commenting!
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