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September 14, 2008 - Ray Hall (Archive)

The title of this blog comes from a friend. I do not know if Norman Carlson was the original source, but he was the first person I heard use the term. The phrase conveys a practice so rampant in our culture that it replaces argument and reason. Coupled with bumper sticker slogans, picking or mining an isolated quote from one or another scientist, a philosopher or from one of our founding fathers is commonly used to bolster weak arguments. Repetition of such quotes contribute to fictitious attributions and both take root in the continuum of history.

“America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” Preacher and politician alike frequently quote that phrase and attribute it to Alexis de Tocqueville. As powerful and inspiring as the words might be, they are also spurious. The lines do not appear in de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America and they cannot be found in any of his speeches. Eisenhower used the term in a campaign speech but attributed the words to a wise philosopher and President Reagan’s speechwriters directly attributed the phrase to de Tocqueville. (The Tocqueville Fraud, The Weekly Standard, November 13, 1995)

“You can fool all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Abraham Lincoln was supposed to have uttered those words in a speech in Clinton, Illinois in 1858, but the quote does not appear in the local newspaper, the Bloomington Pantagraph nor does it appear in his collected speeches.

Nowhere is this practice more prevalent than in religious and political intercourse. In the United States it has become fashionable to attribute quotes, whether true or not, to our nation’s Founding Fathers to validate support for a particular brand of religion and posit that our Founding Fathers were devout Protestant Christians. Although many of our founders expressed belief in an omnipotent deity their piety was much different as evidenced by the record from that supposed by contemporary practitioners of religion. Thomas Jefferson, our third President and the person credited with starting the “church- state" wall of separation debate, might have believed in God. However, if alive today he would be forbidden communion in the Catholic Church or to serve as a deacon, elder or even be a member of most Christian congregations.

Thomas Jefferson strongly believed that the Christian System had long been hijacked by the Christian Church and that prompted him to create the Jefferson Bible, or more precisely, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. The 86 pages were written in four columns separated by a black line. The two left columns were Greek and Latin; to the right were French and English. Jefferson removed all things supernatural from the gospels; there were no miracles, no healings, no divinity and no resurrection. Belief in the resurrection is a core tenant of the Christian faith.

Consider this statement from Thomas Paine, a founder that many historians credit with being as responsible for a Federal Government as any other, including George Washington: “I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.” Standing alone one might conclude from this statement that Thomas Paine was perfectly attuned to the existing religious fealty and a god-fearing man looking forward to heavenly rewards. But, a further reading of Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason, Part First, Section 1, 1797-1796 gives Paine’s thoughts more clarity. “I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy. But, lest it should be supposed that I believe in many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them. I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

I do not mean by this declaration to condemn those who believe otherwise; they have the same right to their belief as I have to mine. But it is necessary to the happiness of man, that he be mentally faithful to himself. Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving; it consists in professing to believe what he does not believe. It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with a perjury. Can we conceive any thing more destructive to morality than this?”

Thomas Paine likely did not fill Sunday pews.

Perhaps the most mined and misquoted of the scientists is Charles Darwin. Whenever someone relies on the oft-attributed Darwin quote “man descended from an ape” to bolster an argument against evolution the scholarly minded knows immediately that the speaker is neither versed in science nor Darwin. For that to be true an ape would have given birth to a human. That never happened. Darwin knew that never happened. Darwin claimed man and ape had a common ancestry—something else all together.

Let it be known that a false attribution, a cute retort, and bumper sticker slogans do not contribute to intellectual or scholarly pursuits. Constantly repeating that those who support the right of a woman to choose an abortion are murderers of millions of unborn babies is no more accurate than those who every day painfully and prayerfully remove hundreds of loved ones from life supports.

Purely personal, for those who suppose otherwise, I do not speak for Democrats and for me the question of when life begins is irrelevant. A woman should have the right to choose an abortion anywhere and at anytime and yes, abortions should be included in universal health care. But, that’s my view—I have not yet heard an argument persuasive enough to convince me otherwise. Nor am I convinced that our Founding Fathers were as deeply religious as others posit. Repeatedly claiming they were does not make it so.


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