Saturday, December 09, 2006

Did the Founders view this as a Christian nation?

Some people are now claiming that this country was viewed by its founders as a Christian nation. In 1797, the last year of President Washington's presidency, a treaty with the "Bey and People of Tripoli" was signed, promising cash and other considerations to Tripoli in exchange for peace. The following provision was written by a governement composed of Founding Fathers:
As the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the law, religion or tranquility of Musselmen; and as the states never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mohometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever produce an interruption of harmony existing between the two countries.

- 1797 Treaty of Tripoli Article 11

Unlike many European countries which had state religions the United States was specifically founded as not being "in any sense" a Christian nation -- a fact which was seen by the authors of this treaty as an advantage when dealing with Muslims. It would be a shame to throw away this foreign policy advantage our Founding Fathers bequeathed us.


Robbie C. said...

I personally feel there is a lot of misinformation out there about this countries beginnings. Everyone seems to think that all the Europeans were over here fleeing religious persecution. Sure there were some fanatical groups like the pilgrims that kept getting kicked out of countries for their differing religious views, but most of the initial settlers in the new world were simply here for money. If I recall correctly from high school the Virginia Company of London was the first to really push people over here looking for precious resources.

I think as Americans we need to be honest with ourselves. Its not religion or even democracy that we are so in love with. Its capitalism. For several hundred years now we have prided ourselves on the ability to make a buck. Almost always at the expense of someone else.


saul said...

Kudos to David for pointing out that the authors of the constitution and the founders of our country were not just secular, but that secularism was in fact one of their primary principles.

And that was a very smart comment, robbie c. I think you hit the nail on the head.

It's difficult to deny, though, that there are lots of people who support our current policies because they are sincere in their religious beliefs and/or faith in democracy. It's sometimes hard to really untangle people's motivations, and figure out why they really favor one course of action over another. For example, it's possible to make a "pro-democracy" argument for the invasion of Iraq--Sadaam was a horrible dictator, etc. etc. At the same time, though, I think it's extremely unlikely that we Bush and his cronies would have pushed to invade Iraq if it weren't for the oil. So in that case some kind of "self-interest" seems to have been decisive.

But it would have almost certainly been impossible for Bush to push the invasion if he hadn't been able to convince the American people that we were doing it for more noble purposes. I think it was important for Bush to convince himself, too, that his motivations were pure. We can't admit to ourselves that our interests play a major if not the major role in our actions, so we need this other argument about "democracy" etc.

Actually, though, come to think of it, the key argument for hard core supporters of the war boils down to fear. I don't believe that Bush and his cronies were or are sincere in that argument. They purposely manipulated intelligence, and tried very hard to convince America that Sadaam=al Qaeda, latching on to every exaggerated story and unbelievable source they could find about how Sadaam/al-Qaeda was about to come and destroy us. Fear was a tool they used to get people to agree with their policy of invasion, which (as their own documents show) they had already decided on before 9/11 and before they took office.

Some Americans, have bought the fear argument hook, line and sinker, and think that "the Muslims" aka "the terrorists" are going to destroy us and take over the world unless we stop them. Much of the basis for this belief relies on racism as well as religious ignorance and bigotry. Only a very tiny minority of Muslims support terrorism (just as a tiny minority of Christians are murderers). But the more we mistrust and mistreat ordinary Muslims, the more we turn our paranoia into a self-fulfilling prophesy.

And who's making a buck out of this? Haliburton, the weapons industry, and the fear-mongering politicians and hate-mongering right-wing radio hosts and columnists who serve them.