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Attorney General defends 'under God'

Attorney General defends  'under God'

POSTED: Thursday, December 3, 2009 - 4:37pm

UPDATED: Thursday, April 8, 2010 - 3:02am

DALLAS - Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott today filed a brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit defending the constitutionality of the Texas Pledge of Allegiance.

"Just as it is perfectly constitutional for Texas schoolchildren to pledge their allegiance to 'one nation, under God,' it is also constitutional for students to pledge their allegiance to 'one state, under God,'" Attorney General Abbott said. "Despite multiple U.S. Supreme Court decisions finding that patriotic acknowledgments of the Almighty are constitutional - and a federal district court ruling rejecting their lawsuit - the plaintiffs are continuing their attack on the Texas Pledge. The Office of the Attorney General remains committed to protecting young Texans' right to express their patriotism and recite the Texas Pledge of Allegiance each morning."

In 2007, the Texas Legislature added the words "under God" to the Texas Pledge. That year, a Dallas couple filed a lawsuit arguing that the amended state pledge violated the First Amendment's Establishment Clause.

During the trial, the Office of the Attorney General successfully argued that patriotic acknowledgments of the Almighty are completely consistent with the U.S. Constitution.

After a federal district judge rejected the plaintiffs' challenge in 2009, the plaintiffs appealed. In response, the attorney general is urging the Fifth Circuit to deny their appeals and affirm the Texas Pledge's constitutionality.

In today's brief, the attorney general reiterated that "patriotic acknowledgments of religion are constitutional." The state's brief explains that the plaintiffs' challenge is "based on a proposition that this Court has repeatedly rejected, and indeed condemned as 'frivolous' - namely, that the inclusion of the words 'under God' somehow violates the Establishment Clause."

Attorney General Abbott also rejects the plaintiffs' argument that the Texas Pledge endorses a particular religious belief. On the contrary, the state explains, the Pledge "simply acknowledges, within a broader patriotic statement, a basic historic fact about our Nation: that religion was significant to our Founders and to their enduring political philosophy." The Texas pledge, amended in 2007, reads: "Honor the Texas flag; I pledge allegiance to thee, Texas, one state under God, one and indivisible."

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We are told that God, who is perfect, created this world about half a hundred centuries ago. Of course, being perfect himself the world which he created was perfect, too. But the world did not stay perfect very long. Nay, from the heights it fell, not slowly, but suddenly, into the lowest depths of degradation. How a world which God had created perfect, could in the twinkling of an eye become so vile as to be cursed by the same being who a moment before had pronounced it "good," and besides be handed the devil as fuel for eternal burnings, only credulity can explain. I am giving the story of what is called the "plan of salvation," in order to show its mythical nature. I believe that when we have reflected upon the story of man's fall and his supposed subsequent salvation by the blood of Jesus, we shall conclude that the function, or the office, which Jesus is said to perform, is as mythical as his person.

The story of Eden possesses all the marks of an allegory. Adam and Eve, and a perfect world suddenly plunged from a snowy whiteness into the blackness of hell, are the thoughts of a child who exaggerates because of an as yet undisciplined fancy. Yet, if Adam and Eve are unreal, theologically speaking, Jesus is unreal. If they are allegory and myth, so is Jesus. It is claimed that it was the fall of Adam which necessitated the death of Jesus, but if Adam's fall be a fiction, as we know it is, Jesus' death as an atonement must also be a fiction.

In the fall of Adam, we are told, humanity itself fell. Could anything be more fanciful than that? And what was Adam's sin? He coveted knowledge. He wished to improve his mind. He experimented with forbidden things. He dared to take the initiative. And for that imaginary crime, even the generations not yet born are to be forever blighted. Even the animals, the flowers and vegetables were cursed for it. Can you conceive of anything more mythical than that? one of the English divines of the age of Calvin declared that original sin, -- Adam's sin imputed to us, -- was so awful, that "if a man had never been born he would yet have been damned for it." It is from this mythical sin that a mythical Savior saves us. And how does he do it? In a very mythical way, as we shall see.

When the world fell, it fell into the devil's hands. To redeem a part of it, at least, the deity concludes to give up his only son for a ransom. This is interesting. God is represented as being greatly offended, because the world which he had created perfect was all in a heap before him. To placate himself he sacrificed his son -- not himself.

But, as intimated above, he does not intend to restore the whole world to its pristine purity, but only a part of it. This is alarming. He creates the whole world perfect, but now he is satisfied to have only a portion of it redeemed from the devil. If he can save at all, pray, why not save all? This is not an irrelevant question when it is remembered that the whole world was created perfect in the first place.

The refusal of the deity to save all of his world from the devil would lead one to believe that even when God created the world perfect he did not mean to keep all of it to himself, but meant that some of it, the greater part of it, as some theologians contend, should go to the devil! Surely this is nothing but myth. Let us hope for the sake of our ideals that all this is no more than the childish prattle of primitive man.

But let us return to the story of the fall of man; God decides to save a part of his ruined perfect world by the sacrifice of his son. The latter is supposed to have said to his father: "Punish me, kill me, accept my blood, and let it pay for the sins of man." He thus interceded for the elect, and the deity was mollified. As Jesus is also God, it follows that one God tried to pacify another, which is. pure myth. Some theologians have another theory -- there is room here for many theories. According to these, God gave up his son as a ransom, not to himself, but to the devil, who now claimed the world as his own. I heard a distinguished minister explain this in the following manner: A poor man whose house is mortgaged hears that some philanthropist has redeemed the property by paying off the mortgage. The soul of man was by the fall of Adam mortgaged to the devil. God has raised the mortgage by abandoning his son to be killed to satisfy the devil who held the mortgage. The debt which we owed ha been paid by Jesus. By this arrangement the devil loses his legal right to our souls and we are saved. All we need to do is to believe in this story and we'll be sure to go to heaven. And to think that intelligent Americans not only accept all this as inspired, but denounce the man who venture to intimate modestly that it might be a myth as a blasphemer! "O, judgment!" cries Shakespeare, "thou hast fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason."

The morality which the Christian church teaches is of as mythical a nature as the story of the fall, and the blood- atonement. It is not natural morality, but something quite unintelligible and fictitious. For instance, we are told that we cannot of our selves be righteous. We must first have the grace of God. Then we are told that we cannot have the grace of God unless he gives it to us. And he will not give it us unless we ask for it. But we cannot ask for it, unless he moves us to ask for it. And there we are. We shall be damned if we do not come to God, and we cannot come to God unless he calls us. Besides, could anything be more mythical than a righteousness which can only be imputed to us, -- any righteousness of our own being but "filthy rags?"

The Christian religion has the appearance of being one great myth, constructed out of many minor myths. It is the same with Mohammedanism, or Judaism, which latter is the mischievous parent of both the Mohammedan and the Christian faiths. It is the same with all supernatural creeds. Myth is the dominating element in them all. Compared with these Asiatic religions how glorious is science! How wholesome, helpful, and luminous, are her commandments!

If I were to command you to believe that Mount Olympus was once tenanted by blue eyed gods and their consorts, -- sipping nectar and ambrosia the live-long day, -- You will answer, "Oh, that is only mythology." If I were to tell you that you cannot be saved unless you believe that Minerva was born full-fledged from the brain of Jupiter, you will laugh at me. If I were to tell you that you must punish your innocent sons for the guilt of their brothers and sisters, you will answer that I insult your moral sense.

And yet, every Sunday, the preacher repeats the myth of Adam and Eve, and how God killed his innocent son to please himself, or to satisfy the devil, and with bated breath, and on your knees, you whisper, Amen.

How is it that when you read the literature of the Greeks, the literature of the Persians, the literature of Hindostan, or of the Mohammedan world, you discriminate between fact and fiction, between history and myth, but when it comes to the literature of the Jews, you stammer, you stutter, you bite your lips, you turn pale, and fall upon your face before it as the savage before his fetish? You would consider it unreasonable to believe that everything a Greek, or a Roman, or an Arab ever said was inspired. And yet, men have been hounded to death for not believing everything that a Jew ever said in olden times was inspired.

I do not have to use arguments, I hope, to prove to an intelligent public that an infallible book is as much a myth as the Garden of Eden, or the Star of Bethlehem. A mythical Savior, a mythical Bible, a mythical plan of salvation!

When we subject what are called religious truths to the same tests by which we determine scientific or historical truths, we discover that they are not truths at all; they are only opinions. Any statement which snaps under the strain of reason is unworthy of credence. But it is claimed that religious truth is discovered by intuition and not by investigation. The believer, it is claimed, feels in his own soul -- he has the witness of the spirit, that the Bible is infallible, and that Jesus is the Savior of man. The Christian does not have to look into the arguments for or against his religion it is said, before he makes up his mind; he knows by an inward assurance; he has proved it to his own deepermost being that Jesus is real and that he is the only Savior. But what is that but another kind of argument? The argument is quite inadequate to inspire assurance, as you will presently see, but it is an argument nevertheless. To say that we must believe and not reason is a kind of reasoning, This device

of reasoning against reasoning is resorted to by people who have been compelled by modern thought to give up, one after another, the strongholds of their position. They run under shelter of what they call faith, or the "inward witness of the spirit," or the intuitive argument, hoping thereby to escape the enemy's fire, if I may use so objectionable a phrase.

What is called faith, then, or an intuitive spiritual assurance, is a Species of reasoning; let its worth be tested honestly.

In the first place, faith or the intuitive argument would prove too much. If Jesus is real, notwithstanding that there is no reliable historical data to warrant the belief, because the believer feels in his own soul that He is real and divine, I answer that, the same mode of reasoning -- and let us not forget, it is a kind of reasoning -- would prove Mohammed a divine savior, and the wooden idol of the savage a god. The African Bushman trembles before an image, because he feels in his own soul that the thing is real. Does that make it real? The Moslem cries unto Mohammed, because he believes in his innermost heart that Mohammed is near and can hear him. He will risk his life on that assurance. To quote to him history and science to prove that Mohammed is dead and unable to save, would be of no avail, for he has the witness of the spirit in him, an intuitive assurance, that the great prophet sits on the right hand of Allah. An argument which proves too much, proves nothing.

In the second place, an intuition is not communicable. I may have an intuition that I see spirits all about me this morning. They come, they go, they nod, they brush my forehead with their wings. But do you see them, too, because I see them? There is the difference between a scientific demonstration and a purely metaphysical assumption. I could go to the blackboard and assure you, as I am myself assured, that two parallel lines running in the same direction will not and cannot meet. That is demonstration. A fever patient when in a state of delirium, and a frightened child in the dark, see things. We do not deny that they do, but their testimony does not prove that the things they see are real.

"What is this I see before me?" cries Macbeth, the murderer, and be shrieks and shakes from head to foot -- he draws his sword and rushes upon Banquo's ghost, which be sees coldly staring at him. But is that any proof that what he saw we could see also? Yes, we could, if we were in the same frenzy! And it is the revivalist's aim, by creating a general excitement, to make everybody see things. "Doctor, Doctor, help! they are coming to kill me; there they are the assassins, -- one, two, three -- oh, help," and the patient jumps out of bed to escape the banditti crowding in upon him. But is that any reason why the attending physician, his pulse normal and his brow cool should believe that the room is filling up with assassins? I observe people jump up and down, as they do in holiness meetings; I hear them say they see angels, they see Jesus, they feel his presence. But is that any evidence for you or me? An intuitive argument is not communicable, and, therefore, it is no argument at all.

Our orthodox friends are finally driven by modern thought, which is growing bolder every day, to the only refuge left for them. It is the one already mentioned. Granted that Jesus was an imaginary character, even then, as an ideal, they argue, he is an inspiration, and the most effective moral force the world has ever known. We do not care, they say, whether the story of his birth, trial, death, and resurrection is myth or actual history; such a man as Jesus may never have existed, the things he is reported as saying may have been put in his mouth by others, but what of that -- is not the picture of his character perfect? Are not the Beatitudes beautiful -- no matter who said them? To strengthen this position they call our attention to Shakespeare's creations, the majority of whom -- Hamlet, Othello, Lear, Portia, Imogen, Desdemona, are fictitious. Yet where are there grander men, or finer women? These children of Shakespeare may never have lived, but, surely, they will never die. In the same sense, Jesus may be just as ideal a character as those of Shakespeare, they say, and still be "the light of the world." A New York preacher is reported as saying that if Christianity is a lie, it is a "glorious lie."

My answer to the above is that such an argument evades instead of facing the question. It is receding from a position under cover of a rhetorical manoeuvre. It is a retreat in disguise. If Christianity is a "glorious lie," then call it such. The question under discussion is, Is Jesus Historical? To answer that it is immaterial whether or not he is historical, is to admit that there is no evidence that he is historical. To urge that, unhistorical though he be, he, is, nevertheless, the only savior of the world, is, I regret to say, not only evasive, -- not only does it beg the question, but it is also clearly dishonest. How long will the tremendous ecclesiastical machinery last, if it were candidly avowed that it is doubtful whether there ever was such a historical character as Jesus, or that in all probability he is no more real than one of Shakespeare's creations? What! all these prayers, these churches, these denominations, these sectarian wars which have shed oceans of human blood -- these unfortunate persecutions which have blackened the face of man -- the fear of hell and the devil which has blasted millions of lives -- all these for a Christ who may, after all, be only a picturer!

Neither is it true that this pictorial Jesus saved the world. He has had two thousand years to do it in, but as missionaries are still being sent out, it follows that the world is yet to be saved. The argument presented elsewhere in these pages may here be recapitulated.

There was war before Christianity; has Jesus abolished war?

There was poverty and misery in the world before Christianity; has Jesus removed these evils?

There was ignorance in the world before Christianity; has Jesus destroyed ignorance?

There were disease, crime, persecution, oppression, slavery, massacres, and bloodshed in the world before Christianity; alas, are they not still with us?

When Jesus shall succeed in pacifying his own disciples; in healing the sectarian world of its endless and bitter quarrels, then it will be time to ask what else Jesus has done for humanity.

If the world is improving at all, and we believe it is, the progress is due to the fact that man pays now more attention to this life than formerly. He is thinking less of the other world and more of this. He no longer sings with John Wesley:

The world is all a fleeting show
For man's delusion given.
Its smiles of joy, its tears of woe,
Deceitful shine, deceitful flow,
There's nothing true but heaven.

How could people with such feelings labor to improve a world they hated? How could they be in the least interested in social or political reforms when they were constantly repeating to themselves --

I'm a pilgrim, and I'm a stranger --
I can tarry, I can tarry, but a night.

That these same people should now claim not only a part of the credit for the many improvements, but all of it -- saying that but for their religion the "world would now have been a hell," [Rev. Frank Gunsaulus, of the Central Church, Chicago.] is really a little too much for even the most serene temperament.
Which of the religions has persecuted as long and as relentlessly as Christianity?

Which of the many faiths of the world has opposed Science as stubbornly and as bitterly as Christianity?

In the name of what other prophets have more people been burned at the stake than in the names of Jesus and Moses?

What other revelation has given rise to so many sects, hostile and irreconcilable, as the Christian?

Which religion has furnished as many effective texts for political oppression, polygamy, slavery, and the subjection of woman [See A New Catechism. -- M.M. Mangasarian.] as the religion of Jesus and Paul?

Is there, -- has there ever been another creed which makes salvation dependent on belief, -- thereby encouraging hypocrisy, and making honest inquiry a crime?

To send a thief to heaven from the gallows because he believes, and an honest man to hell because he doubts, is that the virtue which is going to save the world?

The claim that Jesus has saved the world is another myth.

A pictorial Christ, then, has not done anything for humanity to deserve the tremendous expenditure of time, energy, love, and devotion, which has for two thousand years taxed the resources of civilization.

The passing away of this imaginary savior will relieve the world of an unproductive investment.

We conclude: Honesty, like charity, must begin at home. Unless we can tell the truth in our churches we will never tell the truth in our shops. Unless our teachers, the ministers of God, are honest, our insurance companies and corporations will have to be watched. Permit sham in your religious life, and the disease will spread to every member of the social body. If you may keep religion in the dark, and cry "hush," "hush," when people ask that it be brought out into the light, why may not polities or business cultivate a similar partiality for darkness? If the king cries, "rebel," when a citizen asks for justice, it is because he has heard the priest cry, "infidel," when a member of his church asked for evidence. Religious hypocrisy is the mother of all hypocrisies. Cure a man of that, and the human world will recover its health.

Not so long ago, nearly everybody believed in the existence of a personal devil. People saw him, heard him, described him, danced with him, and claimed, besides, to have whipped him. Luther hurled his ink-stand at him, and American women accused as witches were put to death in the name of the devil. Yet all this "evidence" has not saved the devil from passing out of existence. What has happened to the devil will happen to the gods. Man is the only real savior. If he is not a savior, there is no other.

When will these people get it? We are going to continue to acknowlage God in all we do.

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