New York Times’ Egan Shows Vast Ignorance of Religion, the Founders and the Constitution

In the pages of The New York Times columnist Timothy Egan unleashed an attack on religion that was at once wholly uninformed about both religion and American history yet entirely typical of how uninformed liberals typically are about both religion and history. Egan’s anti-religious rant was also quite hysterical by saying that there is little difference between business owners who don’t want to pay for abortion drugs and radical Islamic terrorists, another opinion increasingly gaining cachet on the left.

Egan began his screed seemingly assigning acts of evil–or at least acts of bias–to God himself. Then he somehow made the World Cup into a religious battle between Popes, found room to slam Texas Governor Rick Perry, and concluded that “God is on a rampage” in 2014.

Now, let us first understand that God is in no way associated with the evil man does in his name. Egan’s claim that God is at fault is a childish exercise that is akin to blaming J. D. Salinger for the murder of John Lennon because shooter Mark David Chapman was a reader.

It is also a bit rich for Egan to make the Summer of 2014 “the Summer of the violent God” with his detailing of Muslim fanaticism considering the fact that Muslims have been on the rampage in varying degrees for thousands of years. But, at least he even admitted there is Muslim fanaticism going on, something that few liberals will even admit.

It was also kind of him to admit that not all wars are based in religious fanaticism, a claim all too many atheists and liberals (and sometimes even libertarians) make these days.

Of course, it was rather simple minded of him to focus solely on the evil men have done in the name of religion without even a token mention of all the good religion has brought mankind. But even if his first 12 paragraphs are somewhat dismissible as mere sarcasm, it was his last two that proved that ultimately he really didn’t have a clue what he was on about.

In his penultimate paragraph, Egan said, “The problem is that people of faith often become fanatics of faith. Reason and force are useless against aspiring martyrs.”

In light of the last few words of his final paragraph, the line above in his second to last paragraph is somewhat amusing for its lack of introspection over his own thoroughly religious belief in liberalism. To fully explain my accusation in context, we must see that last paragraph:

In the United States, God is on the currency. By brilliant design, though, he is not mentioned in the Constitution. The founders were explicit: This country would never formally align God with one political party, or allow someone to use religion to ignore civil laws. At least that was the intent. In this summer of the violent God, five justices on the Supreme Court seem to feel otherwise.

Note Egan’s last words equate the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby–one that allows businesses owners to forgo paying for abortion inducing drugs–to the Islamic fanaticism he detailed earlier in the piece making the decision one that turns Christians into lovers of a “violent God.”

That is just what he did, too. After 12 paragraphs of showing how violence carried out in the name of religion makes 2014 the “summer of a violent God,” then appending the SCOTUS decision to that detailing of violence, Egan reveals his religiously fanatic assumption that all Christians who stand against abortion are somehow “just like” Muslim terrorists who cut off the heads of their enemies because they don’t practices the correct brand of Islam.

But the rest of that last paragraph also reveals his complete ignorance of American religious history and its role in the founding of this country.

“By brilliant design, though, [God] is not mentioned in the Constitution,” Egan says. Like every liberal Egan expects that this lack of mention must mean that the founders wanted to totally exclude God from the public sphere. This is an incorrect reading of history. His is also a point ignorant of history because god is mentioned in or other founding document, the Declaration of Independence. If the founders hated god so, why was it mentioned in the very document that announced our intentions to start a new nation?

Nonetheless, Egan goes on to claim, “The founders were explicit: This country would never formally align God with one political party, or allow someone to use religion to ignore civil laws. At least that was the intent.”

No, actually that was not “the intent.”

Firstly, the founders did not anticipate political parties at all. In fact, they all rather spoke out against political parties and mistakenly expected that our Constitution would make such things unnecessary. So, saying the founders were trying to keep a particular party from claiming god is a non-sequitur since parties did not form any part of their initial plans.

Secondly, the founders had no intentions whatsoever in mucking around with the religious laws in the states, each of which had a different major religion. Their goal was to make sure the overarching federal government didn’t favor one state’s religious leanings over the others. The goal wasn’t to eliminate religion it was to make sure the states could comfortably do whatever they wanted without fear of the feds interfering.

Nor did the founders ever consider that religious people might use religion to squirm out of civil law. It wasn’t a consideration, really. What the founders were doing was attempting to make sure civil law didn’t worm its way into religious matters.

It is likely that Egan wrote his a-historic screed with the idea of “separation of church and state” in mind, but this is also not a “founding” ideal. The phrase did not make its entrance into American history until more than a decade after the founding of the nation and the ratification of the Constitution.

It was invented by Thomas Jefferson as a sort of toss off phrase written into a letter to the Danbury Baptists in 1802. The Connecticut churchmen were attempting to get a recently elected President Jefferson to intervene on their behalf with several restrictive state laws. Jefferson demurred from the request essentially saying that the federal government had no role in telling a state how to carry out its business.

But speaking even stronger to the point that Jefferson’s “separation” phrase was not really a founding principle is the fact that Jefferson’s letter and phraseology went unnoticed by Americans and history until it was cited by the Supreme Court in the 1940s!

So, while the founders were striving to make sure all religions were free to grow and be practiced as each individual American pleases, Egan’s sarcastic essay is under girded by the exact opposite impulse. That clearly makes Egan the anti-American, here.

Like many modern leftist, Egan wants government to restrict religion as much as possible. This impulse is today certainly an increasingly common left-wing shibboleth, but by claiming the mantle of the founders in the propagation of this truly un-American concept, he is wholly wrong.

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  • jim_m

    Of course that doesn’t even get down to the rank hypocrisy of a leftist bitching about evil, when in their philosophy all morality is relative so evil cannot exist objectively. It only exists when subjectively compared to another possibility through the lens of the leftist’s ideology. In other words, evil is the creation of the observer and cannot be ascribed to God or anyone else.

    • warnertoddhuston

      Heh. good point.

  • GarandFan

    Egan – just another East Coast pseudo-intellectual. I’m surprised he didn’t say that God was a wealthy Republican.

  • Joe Lagle

    Minor quibble, Islam has only been around since 570 CE, so stating that Islam has been on the rampage for “thousands of years” is inaccurate. However the rest of the article is spot on

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