Archive for the ‘James Madison’ Tag

The Unfortunate Triumph of Ignorance and Emotionalism   Leave a comment

Above:  The Beginning of the Declaration of Independence 

Image in the Public Domain


Or, Why We Should Not Fail to Recognize the Text of the Declaration of Independence, Especially on July 4

In 1988 National Public Radio (NPR) began its annual tradition of reading the Declaration of Independence on the air on the morning of each July 4.  For years I, as a student of American history, have anticipated the orchestra of voices, each speaker reading a segment of the complete text of that great document.  This year NPR tweeted the full text of the Declaration of Independence in 113 tweets, giving rise to an unfortunate Twitter storm.  There were bitter complaints that NPR was, among other offenses, calling for the violent overthrow of the federal government and daring to (gasp!) criticize Donald Trump, as if criticizing those in authority is unpatriotic and un-American.  (Tsk:  Dissenters founded this country.)  Many angry Twitter uses had to eat crow the following day.

 A prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

–From the Declaration of Independence

This incident leads me to some troubling thoughts.  It confirms me in my low opinion of human nature (trust in the faithfulness of God, as Martin Luther said) and illustrates the fact that one negative use of social media is to expose the degree to which one is an overly emotional and poorly informed person.  People out themselves voluntarily and unwittingly as individuals who should study more deeply, or at all.  I recall hearing that my grandfather Taylor, who died in 1976,  said that it was better to have a reputation as a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.  If social media had existed in his time, I am certain, he would have added clauses about posting and sharing.  All of us who are or have been on social media are guilty of some unfortunate acts of posting, sharing, and/or liking, especially with regard to factually inaccurate posts.  I am.  I am also a former used of social media.  It is something best avoided, except for official purposes, at least in my case; I might permit it to take up too much of my time otherwise.

…whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

–From the Declaration of Independence

The Declaration of Independence is a document of which many Americans have superficial knowledge at best.  Many (including some of my students) conflate it with the Constitution, which, of course, a few years younger.  So if one is already worked up emotionally and coming from a certain defensive political perspective while reading a disembodied criticism of George III (Parliament, actually, British Parliamentary supremacy dates to the Glorious Revolution of 1688), one might interpret it as a criticism of Donald Trump or a call for the overthrow of the government.  (George III, by the way, was a loving husband and a kind father-in-law.)  My knowledge of the document is greater than that of such poorly informed Twitter users, for I teach the document not quite line-by-line in U.S. History I survey courses.  The Declaration of Independence is a foundational document, one that schools should teach well and that inquisitiveness should compel one to explore on one’s own.  I do not blame schools and teachers completely though, for, although I teach the document thoroughly, some of my students still manage to confuse it for the Constitution and Thomas Jefferson for James Madison, the Father of the Constitution.  At some point students are responsible for their own ignorance.

He has refused his assent to laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

–From the Declaration of Independence

By the way, is not July 4 a wonderful day to read the full text of the Declaration of Independence?  When one thinks about how much many of the signers of the document sacrificed for idealism and country, one should stand in awe of them.

If NPR retweets the Declaration of Independence again next July 4, it will probably meet with a similar reception, unfortunately.  Ignorance and emotionalism seem never to die.



Feast of All Exiled Saints (September 13)   Leave a comment

Above:  Saint John Chrysostom


The list of saints who went into exile begins with the first century CE; John of Patmos did not finish his days on a vacation island.  Over time officials of various governments have chosen to force people who disagreed with them into exile.  Thomas Becket had to flee from Henry II.  John Chrysostom felt Byzantine imperial wrath.  And, during the Iconoclastic Controversy, monks, priests, and bishops who defended icons faced exile and imprisonment.

I am a serious student of U.S. history.  So I know of both positive and indefensible moments in government treatment of religion from colonial times.  James Madison preferred that the state know nothing of religion. That way the church could operate safely behind the protective wall separating it from the state.  Yet, during World War I, Amish and Mennonite conscientious objectors  faced undue criminal sanctions and official abuse.  Nevertheless, the religion-based exiles I recall occurred in colonial Puritan New England.  Yes, I think mainly of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, who challenged the church-state union in their part of Massachusetts.

One way to honor exiled Christians of the past is to make sure that no more such relocations occur.  And guaranteeing the separation of church and state works toward that goal.

Loving God of the oppressed, forgive us, we pray,

for our blindness to and/or complicity in opposing your agents, sometimes exiles.

And, as we pray for the holy exiles of our own day,

we thank you for faithfulness in adversity which previous exiles manifested.

In the name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Jeremiah 43:8-13

Psalm 137

Revelation 1:9-10

Matthew 2:13-18