Tim Rutten is a left-wing, hack writer from L.A. He is always good for contemporary left wing trope but the other day we discovered that he is also good for the sort of uninformed blathering that leftists of his ilk pretend is American history. Chiefly that of America’s religious history and the so-called “wall of separation between church and state.”
In a June 1 piece about Mitt Romney, Rutten regaled us with his “reading” of Mitt’s current political reality. Rutten proposed that any question about Mitt’s Mormonism was somehow a threat to the United States.
Before I get to Rutten’s warped take on U.S. history, let’s take this business about the attacks on Mitt’s Mormonism.
To make his point, Rutten proves himself keen on unduly enlarging the supposed attacks on Mitt Romney’s Mormon religion from both today and in his earlier run for the White House. While there were attacks on Romney for his religion in 2008, those attacks were relatively minor and never really made much headway against his candidacy.
Certainly there are many thousands of Christians that don’t think Mormonism is a Christian religion. I believe that it is a correct assessment, too. But so what? Whether Mormonism is a Christian religion or not has nothing whatever to do with Mitt Romney’s suitability for becoming president of the United States. Only a small minority of Republican voters hold Romney’s Mormonism against him. I’d guess that number would dwindle to even less should Mitt become the GOP nominee, too.
But Mitt’s positions on the issues are another thing. Conservative Republicans stand against Mitt Romney, not because he is a Mormon but because he is one of the most athletic flip floppers of modern Republican history. Let us remember that no one is questioning Jon Huntsman’s Mormon religion and Orrin Hatch, also a Mormon, has been a stalwart Republican for many years without being overly attacked for his religion.
For Mitt, his religion is the last thing to trouble his possible voters base. Romney is disliked because he’s been on every side of every issue over the last 30 years. His religion is the last thing on most Republican’s minds. Rutten is simply wrong as can be about his whole premise.
Now, let’s get to his garbled read on American history.
The second half of Rutten’s piece centers on the “no religious test” provision in the U.S. Constitution. Rutten fears what he thinks is a Christian propensity to damn non-Christians and his easily enflamed imagination sees sudden “religious tests” being applied to Mitt and, by extension, everyone else. It’s a threat to the very existence of America, Rutten posits.
Rutten rightly notes that the founders designed the Constitution to prevent those religious tests from being deployed against our candidates for office, but he incorrectly relays the whole history of the provision.
Rutten points to one of those wonderful “experts” that left-wingers always resort to in times like this. In this case it is one William Lee Miller who claims that the founders wanted a nation “nonreligious in its civil life.” Miller, according to Rutten, also notes that the Constitution never mentions God or the “providence” to which “many deists among the framers often alluded.”
It is absolutely true that the founders did not want a national religion. But he is incorrect in the claim that the founders expected religion to be wholly separated from government and the character of the nation. In fact, even the so-called deists among the framers felt that religion must inform the moral character of American life, both common and political.
Rutten is also wrong that there were all those “deists among the framers.” This is a canard that the left has trotted out for decades, ever since the early 1900s when Charles Beard warped American history toward his communist ideology and dragged our educational establishment along with him in so doing. There were in fact, only two of the most involved founders that can be claimed to be “deists.” Ben Franklin once called himself a deist and so did Gouverneur Morris — Morris helped write the Constitution.
No other founder called himself a deist. No, not even Thomas Jefferson. He called himself a Unitarian or a Unitarian Universalist. Heck, Jefferson even frequently attend the church services held right in the halls of Congress when he was president, so he obviously had no thought of banishing all vestiges of religion from government.
It is absolutely true that some of the big name founders were not very conventional in their religious beliefs. Adams railed against the clergy, and Madison and Jefferson both were not your run-of-the-mill religious Virginians. Neither was George Washington, for that matter, yet as Vincent Phillip Muñoz notes, Washington was quite happy to mix religious ideals with the civic religion of the United States. Conventionally religious or no, the truth is that the ranks of the founders were not shot through with “deists.” It is simply an historical myth that they were.
In any case, we need to understand that Christianity formed the basis for all the moral assumptions upon which the Constitution and American society were based. And while Rutten is right that God does not appear at all in the Constitution, the all powerful God does appear several times in the Federalist Papers, the very book written to extol the virtues of that Constitution. Remember also that the Federalist Papers was written in part by the “Father of the Constitution,” James Madison. Further, the Christian religion and tenets are referenced by the founding generation more than any other set of ideas as they wrote tracts, books and newspaper articles to impress their American case on their fellows in the decades before the framing of the Constitution. (Do check out, among others, the book We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future by Matthew Spalding for more.)
The problem with Rutten’s false impression is one of limited scope. To focus solely on the lack of “God” being in the Constitution and making the case that religion has no part in American life or government is woefully uninformed. The fact is that Christianity was laced entirely throughout the founder’s philosophy and they never intended to have religion divorced wholesale from government.
But for those like Rutten, making sure that Americans do not find out about the real religious history of our nation suits their purpose to make religion wholly non grata. As it happens, the truth is much more complicated than the Christianity-haters of the left want anyone to understand.