The Official Blog Of Edward Cline

America was not Gilead

A reader queried CAC wanting sources that would substantiate the assertion in my letter to the Wall Street Journal (“State Department’s Faith-Based Initiatives,” July 31) that the U.S. was not founded on Christian principles, but secular ones. Here is my reply, and the instances cited below do not begin to exhaust the amount of proof:

From Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia (1782):

“The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me . . .”

Jefferson endorsed individual freedom; he argued that any form of government control, not only of religion, but of individual mercantilism, was tyranny. He maintained that our rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, that is, that individual rights do not derive from religious dogma or belief, but from observable nature. Whether or not a “God” was responsible for that nature, was to him and to most of his fellow Founders, utterly irrelevant.


“Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.” – Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787.

From James Madison, fourth president of the U.S.:

“Every new & successful example of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance.” – Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822.

“And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed.” – Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822, in Saul K. Padover, ed., The Complete Madison: His Basic Writings (1953).

“The civil government…functions with complete success…by the total separation of the Church from the State.” – Madison, Writings Volume 8, p. 432, quote from Gene Garman, “Essays in Addition to America’s Real Religion.”

From Benjamin Franklin:

“I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absenteed myself from Christian assemblies.”

“Lighthouses are more helpful then churches.”

From John Adams:

“The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?” – Letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 20, 1815.

“The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.” – Adams, “A Defence of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America” (1787-88), from Adrienne Koch, ed., The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society (1965), p. 258, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, “Quotations that Support Separation of State and Church.”

“Thirteen governments [of the original thirteen states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.” – Adams, “A Defence of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America” (1787-88), from Adrienne Koch, ed., The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society (1965), p. 258, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, “Quotations that Support Separation of State and Church.”

“We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions … shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power … we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.” – Letter to Dr. Price, April 8, 1785, quoted from Albert Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom (1991).

“As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?” – Letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816.

Regarding the 1797 Treaty with Tripoli, cited in my letter/article, here is the wording from it regarding the query:

In 1797, six years after the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the United States government signed a treaty with the Muslim nation of Tripoli that contained the following statement (numbered Article 11 in the treaty):

As the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the law, religion or tranquility of Musselmen; and as the states never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mohometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever produce an interruption of harmony existing between the two countries.” (Italics original)

The treaty was approved by President John Adams and his Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, and was then ratified by the Senate without objection. Of course, today, the U.S., as a secular nation, should harbor a natural enmity “against the law, religion and tranquility of Islam,” since Islamist jihadists and states that sponsor terrorism have declared war on America, and it should bear hostility against any Muslim nation that seeks to harm America.

The historical instances are legion that support the contention that the Founders did not intend America to be a Judeo-Christian state. The Founders may have been deists, but their position was that if God existed, he played no role in human affairs; it was left to men to find the means to achieve happiness on earth through reason, especially in their political arrangements. The Founders were reality oriented; they asserted repeatedly that religious beliefs or fantasies were the purview of individuals, not to be regulated or commanded by the state.

To claim otherwise is to reveal a sorry ignorance of the philosophical and political origins of America; or a patent dishonesty passing for “revealed” truth and masking a frightening political agenda.

The fundamental problem is that our President believes – and I stress believes – that America is indeed a nation governed by Christian principles. It is the altruistic, self-sacrificing tenets of the Christian morality that have enmeshed the U.S. in a no-win war in Iraq and Afghanistan against belligerent “Musselmen.”

It was clergymen of Bush’s ilk who accused Jefferson of wanting to declare war on religion. But it was their “schemes” to impose religion by force that he opposed. It is noteworthy that even in Jefferson’s time, while the majority of Americans were nominally Christian, very few of them would likely have disagreed with him (or with Madison or Adams) that the nation was founded on a secular, natural rights philosophy, not a religious one.

Presidential candidates should also take note of it, as well, especially those who in the past evinced no particular religious bent, but who are now jumping on the Gideonite bandwagon. An Associated Press article of July 30th, “Religion Looms Large over 2008 Race,” reported:

“…All the Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls have been grilled on their religious beliefs. Most seem eager to talk publicly about their faith as they actively court religious voters.”

Further into the article, it says:

“The links between religion and governance intensified with the presidency of George W. Bush, said Joan Konner, former dean of the Columbia Journalism School. ‘He brought it up when he ran for office and he said his favorite philosopher, in answer to a question in a debate, was Jesus….And then he followed up on that by faith-based public funding and various other actions that started to erode what Americans took for granted as the separation between church and state,’ said Konner….”

One of the Associated Press article’s examples of a candidate exploiting the religion angle is Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who “emphasizes her Methodist upbringing and says her faith helped her repair her marriage.”

So she might claim. It is a more credible likelihood that it was her faith in Bill Clinton’s political guidance and savvy and arm-twisting skills that “repaired” her marriage than her belief in the literal truth of the Bible’s chapter and verse. Why sacrifice a political career and a chance to satisfy one’s power-lust over such a petty thing as a cuckolding spouse? That she is willing to “forgive” her husband’s sexual escapades to facilitate her quest for political power is a measure of this ambitious harridan’s selflessness and consequent need to “serve society.”

However, all the presidential candidates are of the left – name me one Republican who is advocating, for example, repeal of the 16th Amendment, or unregulated laissez faire capitalism, or the absolute right of Americans to be secure in their property – and all of them want to serve “society.”

But, as Jamie Whyte writes with sardonic wit in an excellent article in the Financial Times of London (“Thatcher was right about society, David,” August 2), “Society is for the left what God is for Christians. Its mere existence creates moral obligations, with no need for contracts and with no need for tiresome debate about the merits of making these obligations law. Those who deny the existence of society are simply trying to evade their responsibilities.”

Whyte agrees with former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women….”

Another way of saying it is that “society” is as much a phantasm as God, and those who believe in it also claim that being a member of it entails duties, responsibilities and debts to it, just as one must obey God’s commandments, if one is a conscientious Christian. But if “society” is only the people one encounters in one’s lifetime, or sees on television, where is that entity called “society”? And if such a thing does not exist, what is the source of all those duties, obligations and debts? That amorphous mass of strangers sociologists call “society”?

As Ayn Rand would put it: Blank out.

Both Republicans and Democrats are attempting to wed God and Society in their venal campaigns to win first, the primaries, and then the national election, by appealing to the delusional worst in the electorate: Christian collectivists.

If the left and conservative right combine to create a political force, we may today be witnessing the beginnings of the establishment of a nation the Founders would have abhorred: a theocracy – but with a socialist base.


Gunboat Pragmatism


Hillary Clinton’s Uncle Ellsworth


  1. Aquinas Dad

    The stance of Jefferson and many other founders is a bit more complicated than you propose. For example, in the first Jefferson quote *you* cite he states that he has ‘sworn upon the altar of God’; hardly the statement of an atheist. Further, his quote

    “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?” –Thomas Jefferson: Notes on Virginia Q.XVIII, 1782. ME 2:227

    is hardly the statement of a true Deist. Another famous quote of his is

    “I sincerely pray that all the members of the human family may, in the time prescribed by the Father of us all, find themselves securely established in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and happiness.” –Thomas Jefferson: Reply to Ellicot Thomas, et al., 1807. ME 16:290

    – Prayer was not an element of Deistic practice or theology, and Jefferson clearly seems to think, in these two quotes, at least, that the God he clearly believes in does sometimes act in the world of Men.

    And while this quote

    “The evidence of [the] natural right [of expatriation], like that of our right to life, liberty, the use of our faculties, the pursuit of happiness, is not left to the feeble and sophistical investigations of reason, but is impressed on the sense of every man. We do not claim these under the charters of kings or legislators, but under the King of Kings.” –Thomas Jefferson to John Manners, 1817. ME 15:124

    could be seen as Deistic, it uses very traditional Christian language.

    In addition, Jefferson was more aware of a society than you seem to be, evidenced by this quote

    “In a government bottomed on the will of all, the life and liberty of every individual citizen becomes interesting to all.” –Thomas Jefferson: 5th Annual Message, 1805. ME 3:390

    which is a weak claim to society being a collective will/interest of free men. Similar weak claims can be seen in this quote

    “The only orthodox object of the institution of government is to secure the greatest degree of happiness possible to the general mass of those associated under it.” –Thomas Jefferson to M. van der Kemp, 1812. ME 13:135

    Similarly, most other founders were likewise much more complex in their statements and beliefs than your rather carefully-chosen quotes reveal. John Adams, for example, was arguably more an anti-Catholic bigot than a Deist.

    Your ad hominem of ‘sorry ignorance’ was a rather thin attempt to conceal how shallow your descriptions of the positions of the founders is. The truth of the matter is that America was founded by a rather large group of very diverse people with a wide range of religious beliefs and political theories and that they all merged into the origins of the nation. to claim that America was *not* founded on Christian principles is as foolish a claim as the notion that it was founded *only* on Christian principles. The facts show that some founders were very successful in placing their own Christian principles into the Constitution; at the same time, other founders were as successful in placing their own non-Christian philosophies onto the Constitution.

    In the end, the beginnings of America are as complex as the present of America.

  2. Anonymous

    The issue here is the essential principles behind the foundation of the American republic. There is no evidence that the Constitution was to any significant degree founded upon the Christian religion. There is ample evidence, however, that it was founded upon the ideas of John Locke, Hugo Grotius, and Samuel Pufendorf as well as ancient authors such as Polybius and Cicero. From the former you have the natural rights theory, from the later you have the idea of the tripartite republic. This is why the government of the United States resembles the Roman Republic more than the Christian theocracies of the dark ages or that Whore of Babylon called the Papacy.

    Could you name an essential part of the US constitution intentionally, that is to say not incidentally, based upon the Christian religion.

  3. Aquinas Dad

    Of course, Locke’s theories of natural law explicitly refer to ‘divine providence’ and the ‘judgment of heaven’ as he consciously emulated Thomistic theology and the Catholic theological theory of natural and inherent rights. This echoing of Thomistic theology extends into Locke’s discussion of Aquinas’ tabula rasa discourses, as well.

    Of course, Hugo de Groot (or Hugo Grotius) was a Christian apologist who also founded his Natural Theory of Justice on Christian theology and made his arguments for international laws of the seas and universal standards of justice on decidedly Christian priniciples. Hugo Grotius’ main fame is actually as the theological founder of Methodism, the Protestant denomination whose conceptualization of natural law and human equality drove the Abolition movement in America.

    von Pufendorf’s theories were also founded in the same post-Thomistic theology that was so rich for de Groot and his theories held the same basic roots in Christian theology. Indeed, one of Pufendorf’s most long-lasting legacies is his argument that Protestant’s must tolerate the presence of Catholics amongst them (a view that you do not seem to share based upon the anti-Catholic slur in your comment).

    Further, it can be argued (and has been, very successfully) that the US looks a lot more like the Dutch Republic than it does Rome. John Adam’s even said that “…[America” seems but a transcript of [the Dutch Republic]”

    All in all, selecting Locke, de Groot, and Pufendorf as *cough* “proof” that Christian theological principles were not the foundation of the theories incorporated into the US Constitution may have been a mistake on your part.

  4. Anonymous

    I do not deny that there is a connection between Christians, and Natural Rights theory, what I do however deny is that it is founded principally upon the Christian religion, that is to say that it is a natural extension of the New Testament. Nor do I believe the conclusions of the naturals rights theorists to necessarily be dependent upon revelation; its truth is to be found in our own nature through reason.

    What was commonly called the first natural law, that we have a duty to live, is not peculiarly Christian, nor is much of the reasoning from that first principle to the right to property.

    Locke in the Second Treatise, On Property, appeals to what he calls “natural reason” first before divine revelation. Though he sometimes appeals to revelation that in no way implies a coherence with the Christian religion.

    “WHETHER we consider natural reason, which tells us, that men, being once born, have a right to their preservation, and consequently to meat and drink, and such other things as nature affords for their subsistence ; or revelation, which gives us an account of those grants God made of the -world to Adam, and to Noah, and his sons ; it is very clear, that God, as king David says, Psal. cxv. 16, has given the earth to the children of men ;” given it to mankind in common. “

    If your point is that Locke, Grotius, and Pufendorf were in agreement with many prominent Thomists and other Catholic theologians; well that may very well be the case to some extent, but what an individual Catholic believes is not necessarily the same thing as Christianity.

    My final statement stands; could you please establish a connection between the Christian religion and the Constitution of the United States.

  5. Anonymous

    Well argued, Ed and Jeff!

    And thank you to the Founders for venturing as far from religion as they DID go! In earlier generations, many would have been burned at the stake by Christians for not believing in their Cerberus-like 3-headed God (as Jefferson referred to Him in one of his letters).

    The Founders weren’t atheists; and Objectivists never claimed that they were. The world was so saturated with superstition, that it would be unreasonable to expect thinkers to liberate themselves from it totally in a single generation.

    What Objectivists DO claim is that they did go far — and that we owe a debt of thanks to the Founders for breaking with the superstitions of the past as much as they did — enough to found a free, SECULAR society.

    The Founders were thoroughly lambasted by Christians for leaving God out of the Constitution. The Constitution enshrines individual rights, not “God’s” alleged rights.

    Christianity and individual rights? Totally incompatible.

    What is the Christians’ stated IDEAL, after all? their idea of perfection? A totalitarian society –that’s what your (imaginary) heaven IS, isn’t it? You don’t think you’re going to be allowed to disagree with GOD, do you? — and eternal torture in a concentration camp (hell) for those who commit the unforgiveable crime: to think.

    You can massacre thousands of innocents (see Numbers 31, I Samuel 15, etc.), and have no problem getting into heaven. It’s only those who think (to doubt is to THINK that the evidence for some belief is insufficent) who are barred: “He who believes not, will be damned.”

    So says your highest authority (Yeshua, a.k.a. Iesous, a.k.a. Jesus, son of the alleged Virgin Mary) — Mark 16.

    Thank the Founders we don’t have to live in a society based on religion!

  6. Joseph Kellard

    People (usually religious conservatives) who counter articles such as Ed Cline’s “America was not Gilead” often do so by providing religious quotes from the Founders. What these people overlook is the fact that the Founder’s religious quotes were, in their time (and today), nothing new: virtually all men prior to Jefferson and Madison and Washington, or at least before the Enlightenment, made such religious statements. In this respect, the Founders were like their predecessors. What make the Founders historically significant, however, are their unprecedented anti-religious, secular ideas. That is why these quotes are so important, and cannot be countered or “balanced” by their standard religious quotes.

    Instead, I challenge the opponents of Mr. Cline’s view to come up with similar, or stronger, anti-religious quotes from a group of men, not just individual men scattered here and there over centuries past, who were bent on brining significant political change (i.e., freedom) to an existing or new land—prior to the Founders. That’s a much more difficult, perhaps impossible, task. Those men, in so far as they existed, knew that they would be burned at the stake.

  7. Anonymous

    The deist god, as previously noted, created the earth/universe and then bugged out for parts unknown. This god was as remote and as cold as the distant stars unlike the cloying loving/vengeful Christian god that wants to micro-manage every second of your life.

    Thomas Paine ,just such a deist, was suspicious of all organized religions, especially Christianity. In his book “The Age Of Reason” he lambasts the Old Testament:

    “Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness, with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon that the Word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind; and for my own part, I sincerely detest it, as I detest everything that is cruel.”

    “The Age Of Reason” is an unrelenting attack on the Bible and Christianity. How apt was the name of this book at the height of the Enlightenment!

  8. Aquinas Dad

    I always find it fascinating how desperately atheist try to deny the essential contributions of Christian theology to all elements of modern philosophy, law, and political science.

    Despite what you believe, Bill, the origins of the concept that all men are equal before the law is, indeed, in Judeo-Christian theology.

    As I said; the founding of America, like any modern institution of the West, relies upon concepts that originated in Christian theology. This does not demand that everyone be Christian; just that everyone acknowledge the facts of history.

    As for people before the American Founders that were either secular or that separated religion from government, let me see….

    The 17th Century British Levellers,
    The 16th century+ Polish Aurea Libertas,
    and, of course, the Constitution of the Corsican Republic of 1755.

    Arguably, you could add the Swedish Age of Liberty during the early- to mid- 18th Century, too.

    How’s that for a list of people who got together to establish Liberal government with religious tolerance before the American Founders? Heck, I even skipped the Dutch Republic because I mentioned it earlier! Indeed, the Corsicans were far enough ahead to grant suffrage to women in 1755 on principles of universal rights.

    The American Founders did not spring from the forehead of Zeus, dressed in armor. They were men who were a part of something going on all over the world. That doesn’t make it meaner or more base. Indeed, quite the opposite (as your sympathies may lie). But *they* were capable of acknowledging the debt they owed to great thinkers like St. Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle, St. Justin Martyr, Locke, etc. If they were willing to admit that Christianity has produced some truly Great Ideas, why can’t you?

  9. Anonymous

    I think our primary disagreement, at least as far as this is concerned, is in the definition of “Christian theology”. I mean it to be the Christian religion as set out in the New Testament. I believe you are conflating this with the individual theological beliefs of individual christians.

    I have stated before, I do not reject the idea that the theological ideas of those individual Christians influenced to a certain degree the Natural Rights philosophers as well as the founding fathers. These theological ideas just had very little to do with the Christian religion as such.

    I most certainly recognize the great philosophy of Aristotle, and the man who brought it back to the West. I doubt you will find a person here who doesn’t.

    “Despite what you believe, Bill, the origins of the concept that all men are equal before the law is, indeed, in Judeo-Christian theology. “

    “Remember if you please, that the man you call slave sprang from the same seed, enjoys the same daylight, breathes like you, lives like you, and dies like you.”
    -Seneca (Epistle on Slavery)

    This kind of sentiment was particularly popular among the Stoics like Epictetus, M. Aurelius, Seneca, and the like.

    The idea that atleast all citizens are equal before the LAW dates as far back as Lycurgus, perhaps even further.

  10. Marnee

    Aquinas Dad,

    The question was not whether the nation was founded on Christian versus Atheist ideals but Christian/Collectivist versus Secular/Individualist ideals. You are conflating rhetoric with fundamentals. If the Constitution does not reflect secularism and individualism and NOT Christian dogma then I must be living in a fantasy world.

    Was the Nation designed to separate religion from politics or was it to marry them, leaving the power in the hands of the church? The answer is obvious. Why do you, Aquinas Dad, continue to argue about how relatively Christian the founders were? The fact remains that they took great pains to separate the church from the state in order to eliminate all forms of tyranny, AS WELL AS self-sacrifice, from the political realm. Their reasoning was clear: man has inalienable Rights. Whether they believed these were created by God or not, they recognized them as absolute — something the church then and now does not!

    The nation, the Founders made clear, was to be secular and its laws based on reason NOT Christian dogma. And that is exactly what ended up happening. Or will you deny this?

  11. Anonymous

    Hmmm. I wonder what part of Christian theology was responsible for the Inquisition? Maybe God had not got around to devising the rights of freedom of speech and religion at that time.

  12. Rob

    I would like to ask “aquinas dad” one question: Where did the “Judeo-Christians” get there theology from? Did they come up with it themselves or did they get it from the Greek and Roman philosophers who came before them?

  13. Aquinas Dad

    You are aware, I hope, that the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, Thomism, is the official theology of the Catholic Church and, therefore, probably the most influential philosophy of all time? I hope so, for the ‘individual theologian’ you mention and his conceptualization if inalienable rights is what the Church has taught for over 600 years – including to the 1.1 billion modern Catholics.

    Likewise, the ‘individual theologian’ Grotius founded Methodism, a theology held by a huge number of English-speaking Protestants during the 18th through 20th Centuries, wielding enormous influence on American politics.Your sleight of hand in trying to differential between ‘theology’ and ‘theology’ fails.

    You seem to have wandered off course; one of the arguments of the article is that “Christian ideals” are not part of the Constitution; I am merely pointing out that ideas like equality before the law, and inalienable rights are, indeed, Christian ideals. I do not demand tearing down the wall between church and state, I merely wish to point out the truth (acknowledged by the founders) that many of the great ideas they used came from the cloister.

    Bill K.
    reducio ad queasetoris, eh? Here is a little quiz I give people who want to invoke the Inquisition a la the Holocaust. Without looking it up, can you tell me:
    1) Either the year the Inquisition began or ended?
    2) How many years it lasted?
    3) The names of more than 1 Grand Inquisitor?
    4) To whom the Inquisition was primarily responsible for investigations?

    If you can answer any one of these correctly without research, I am willing to discuss the Inquisition with you. Otherwise, you don’t know what you are talking about.

  14. Joseph Kellard

    Aquainis Dad,
    In my original post, I asked not that you or your kind come up with people prior to the Founders “that were either secular or that separated religion from government,” as you write. No, I asked that you come up with “similar, or stronger, anti-religious quotes” — as were presented in Mr. Cline’s article. The Founders, as a group of men who championed freedom, clearly challenged and condemned religion on a scale never seen before—including in 17th & 18th century England, the Dutch Republic, etc. Their particular brand of secularism clearly distinguishes the Founders from the religionists, as well as even the secularists who championed freedom, who came before them.

    I submit that the Founders place in history is not distinguished merely by their secularism and call for separation of church and state, but rather by the intensity and depth to which they questioned and even excoriated religion. To my knowledge, there’s no precedent for it, at least not among a group of men who championed political freedom. Mr. Cline’s article, was well as other quotes presented in this forum, clearly shows this.

  15. Anonymous

    Aquinas dad,

    “Your sleight of hand in trying to differential between ‘theology’ and ‘theology’ fails.”

    There was no slight of hand, I have stated what I meant by Christianity from the outset. If you don’t agree with my definition explain why; don’t debase yourself by making false claims.

    It was only after Aristotle was mixed with Christianity that the west emerged from the dark ages. It was ancient Greek and Roman philosophy which laid the foundation for the Enlightenment, NOT the teachings of Jesus Christ (which is the essence of Christianity).

    What was good in Aquinus was Aristotle not New Testament Christianity.

  16. Anonymous

    Aquinas Dad wrote: “Without looking it up, can you tell me:
    1) Either the year the Inquisition began or ended?
    2) How many years it lasted?
    3) The names of more than 1 Grand Inquisitor?
    4) To whom the Inquisition was primarily responsible for investigations?
    If you can answer any one of these correctly without research, I am willing to discuss the Inquisition with you. Otherwise, you don’t know what you are talking about.”

    This is Bill B., not Bill K., replying; but if I may contribute, just off the top of my head:

    There were, of course, many Inquisitions, not one. Individual bishops were long empowered to investigate unbelief. The first official organization occurred under Pope Innocent III and the Fourth Lateran Council, around 1215 (same council that proclaimed transubstantiation as a dogma); the Dominican Order, zealous to uphold the worth of every individual in their own holy way (by burning dissenters at the stake), took over from the bishops wherever they could.

    As is well known, the Spanish and Venetian Inquisitions were independent of the Vatican. They did, of course, get their moral sanction from exactly the same source: “he who believes not shall be damned” (Jesus Christ).

    More than one Grand Inquisitor? Presumably you intend to embarrass those of us who’ve heard only of Torquemada. Well, my historical interests always centered around Italy, not Spain. There was Peter Martyr, responsible for the death of many heretics in Lombardy, till he was ambushed on the road by relatives of his victims and murdered. (Or may I say executed?) Your Catholic Church made him a saint. In the mid-1500s Capranica impressed Catholic theology on the good people of Rome by piously burning a lot of them (as well as censoring books, another freedom-loving activity for which the Church is famous). In Florence (my specialty), the Catholic Church was quite weak; I know of no individual given the title of Grand Inquisitor; but among the bishops involved around 1400 were Onofrio Visdomini and Jacopo Palladini. About the only persons they burned at the stake were the “Fraticelli,” the Franciscan heretics who said the Church should live in poverty, as Christ did. It’s not recorded whether the Fraticelli agreed with your view that Christianity attributes worth to every individual. You may read an eye-witness account of the burning of one of them in Dr. Gene Brucker’s scholarly collection of documents, “The Society of Renaissance Florence.”

    In 1600 there was the inquisitor Cardinal Bellarmine, who had philospher Giordano Bruno burned at the stake. Bruno retorted to his Catholic judges: “It is with greater fear that you come to pass sentence, than I come to be sentenced.” Odd how Bruno failed to appreciate the Church’s stance on liberty.

    The year the Inquisition ended? That’s a trick question. It never did. Around 1900 the Holy Office of the Inquisition was renamed to the Congregation for Something Or Other; you’ve got me, there (you said “without looking it up”). But you can see their large office building in aerial shots of the Vatican, just to the south of St. Peter’s basilica.

    I don’t know the date of the last burning. Around 1800, as I recall. But the Church still regularly practiced torture in the mid 1800s, in the Papal State (the only territory the pope still ruled). Again, the Church seems to have somehow mysteriously missed the (allegedly Christian) idea of individual rights.

    But isn’t all this beside the point?

    Jesus Christ, founder of your religion, advocated burning people in hell eternally, for the crime of thinking. God’s going to roast me like mutton in hell — but don’t I have rights?

    Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine would say yes. Your God says no.

  17. Anonymous

    Aquinas Dad’s insistence that anyone who brings up the Inquisition as proof of the Church’s coercive posture submit themselves to his laundry list of questions is obnoxious and patronizing. Do I need to recall from memory the name of the Inquisitor who put Galileo under house arrest for publishing his astronomical discoveries before I may cite that the church rejected empirical evidence in the name of protecting its mystical world-view? Hardly.

    Aquinas Dad is simply trying to invoke historical minutia in order to ignore facts that disprove his claimed position. Bill Bucko is absolutely right; none of Aquinas Dad’s objections change the material fact that the Christian creed damns non-believers to hell and the American political system does not.

  18. Rob

    It’s the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which was run by Joseph Ratzinger before he became the present pope, Benedict XVI.

  19. Anonymous

    Bill Bucko and Jack Galt have demonstrated that the Inquistion(s) were not an aberration of Christian doctrine but an integral part of it.

    Like most religions Christianity is not primarily concerned with life on this earth but with a nebulous “afterlife”. This single fact should disqualify Christianity as inspiration for the founding of the United States, the one country on earth that is most concerned with this one and only life.

    The history of Christianity is rife with those that have denigrated reason and peddled faith from Tertullian, to Augustine, to Martin Luther, to Kant. Again, these men are not deviations from the norm. Aquinas, to the extent that he saw the necessity for reason, was the rare exception. A philosophy dominated by irrationality will not found a country like the United States but will provide the justification for a country like the Soviet Union.

  20. Aquinas Dad

    You seem to be forgetting that just as many Founding Fathers were also religious; cherry picking quotes from cherry-picked members of such a large, diverse group (as I mentioned before) is hardly being historically ‘just’, as it were. By careful selection of quotes from some of those involved in the Corsican Republic and Dutch Republic I am confident that you could make similarly shallow arguments that they were equally ‘super-anti-religionists’.

    OK, I’ll be more blunt – of course it is impossible to refute your personal definition of what Christian theology “really” is. If you insist that your personal definition of what Christianity “really” is is the only valid one, than you auto-magically win any argument on the topic. This is a very transparent attempt to use a strawman. By rejecting Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, etc. theologies as ‘inauthentic’ you are able to claim pretty much anything you want. I am relying upon what actual Christians actually teach and claim to believe to determine, you know – what they teach and claim to believe. Seems simpler, to me.

    So, as I said – your attempt to define what Christianity “really” is (according to you), regardless of what Christians think, is a sleight of hand, not an argument.

    Further – OK, Thomism incorporates Aristotlean ethics. So what? So does Objectivism. This seems to indicate (since Thomism is the dominant Christian theology) that Christianity seems, well, compatible with the concept of individual rights, doesn’t it? If Christianity is so very incompatible with individual rights (as some here seem to claim) why has Thomism and its derivatives, and all of its attention on inherent individual rights, been so strongly embraced by so very many Christians as Natural Law?

    Jack Galt,
    Yeah, the list is *meant* to be insulting and patronizing. Just as the terms ‘Inquisition’ or ‘Crusades’ when tossed into a discussion of religion is meant to be some sort of moral anathema that should make Christians (especially Catholics) cower in fear of their moral superiors. Its akin to being in a debate over the relative merits of affirmative action and having the words ‘slavery’ and ‘Selma’ used as arguments, not references to history. The invocation of the Inquisition as a bludgeon is almost a corollary of Godwin’s Law!

    Once more, folks, I am mightily amused about how very, very quickly my statement that individual rights are, indeed, Christian values descended into a screaming fest of “Christianity is evil! I hate it! Its wrong!” blah, blah, blah.

  21. Joseph Kellard

    Aquainis Dad,

    I’m aware that there were Founding Fathers who were religious. As I wrote before here, in this respect they were *no different* from their predecessors. Once again, what distinguishes the Founding Fathers – the most significant Founders, such as Jefferson, and the intellectuals, such as Jefferson, Adams and Thomas Paine – is that they, for the first time in history as a mass political group, seriously questioned and even condemned religion and its practitioners on a scale not seen before. This is their historical significance on this topic of secular- vs. religious-based government.

    So, there’s no “careful selection” or “cherry picking” on my part—but instead a lot of context dropping on yours. I’m placing the Founders in a full historical context, and taking into account what is *essentially* important about them: everyone was essentially religious before them; few or none were as secular and anti-religious as they were—not as a mass political group.

    You write: “By careful selection of quotes from some of those involved in the Corsican Republic and Dutch Republic I am confident that you could make similarly shallow arguments that they were equally ‘super-anti-religionists’.”

    But I challenge you to come up with those writings and quotes. I’ve not yet come across them; perhaps you can. Do your homework; I’ve already done mine.

  22. Aquinas Dad

    Bill B., not Bill K.,
    Actually, St. Peter of Verona was killed by a paid assassin, not a ‘relative’ as you claim. And a fair number of the heretics killed in that period were Cathars that perished in the street battles then not uncommon in the cities of northern Italy between Albigensians and Catholics.

    As for the ‘Capranica’ you mention, I assume you mean either Domenico Capranica or Angelo Capranica (since ‘Capranica’ is a small town/commune). Angelo is mainly remembered as a patron of some famous singers and Domenico as the founder of a college and a diplomat. Neither were ever Inquisitors nor are they written about as burning people at the stake.

    Onofrio Visdomini was removed as bishop of Florence, an action that seems to have really upset the people of Florence; Jacopo Palladini was also a clergyman seemingly well-liked by the lay people around him. Just like the Cardinals Capranica, neither was ever an Inquisitor.

    Never mind that the Fraticelli and Bruno, all of whom were ordained as monks or priests in the Catholic Church, had voluntarily placed themselves in the position that disagreement with Dogma was a crime for them.

    So…. you failed the quiz. The Spanish Inquisition had 49 Grand Inquisitors and the Spanish Inquisition (which was under the legal umbras of the Spanish Government) lasted from 1478 to 1834. All Inquisition activities per se ended by 1861 when there was no longer a secular power that required the use of Inquisitors.

    And for all the talk of torture here, I hope you are aware that torture was also commonly used by such societies as, say, the Roman Republic and Empire and the City-State of Athens. If you want to claim that the use of torture invalidates claims to an adherence to individual rights, then please exclude Roman and Greek philosophers from your list of people who advocated such rights. Further, Torture was common throughout Europe during the lives of, for example, Locke and his peers.

    Adjust your quotations as needed.

  23. Anonymous

    Aquinas Dad,
    By your definition of Christianity any theological belief by any Christian automatically qualifies it as part of the Christian religion.

    Just as Islam is a set of beliefs and practices based on the Quran and Hadith, Christianity is a set of beliefs and practices based on the Bible, particularly the New Testament. Similarly, Objectivism is the philosophic ideas of Ayn Rand, and only Ayn Rand. What an Objectivist claims is only Objectivist to the extent it conforms with Ayn Rand’s philosophy.

    What you are doing is usurping the work of non-Christian ideas into Christianity, such as Aristotle’s, simply because some men who happened to be Christian believed they were in accordance with Christianity, regardless of the truth.

  24. Aquinas Dad


  25. Aquinas Dad

    Sorry – had some trouble posting.

    Are you actually reading what I wrote, or just repeating yourself? Thomism is the actual, official theology of the Catholic Church; as in, all Catholic Theologians must defer to it. This isn’t just a few guys slamming beers in the dorm, this is centuries of all scholars in a field and all members of the oldest continuous human corporate enterprise ever all saying “this is what we believe and the framework for answering new questions”. Methodism is, similarly, the official core belief of the Methodists. Lutheran theology is the basis of the Lutheran church.

    Your attempt to deflect from what Christians actually believe, teach, promulgate, etc. and instead say ‘no, see, this is what they really believe’ is no different than people who point to 3-4 suras in the Qu’Ran and say “Oh, no! Islam is a religion of peace!” while ignoring 20 other suras and centuries of Sunni and Shi’a theology.

    Of course, I can’t stop you. So – go ahead; keep telling us Christians what we *really* believe, keep defining theology for a religion you don’t ascribe to, and then keep telling all your peers how no Christian values (as you define them, naturally) made it into the Constitution.

    And don’t be surprised when people start ignoring you, either.

  26. Anonymous

    Aquinas dad wrote:

    “disagreement with Dogma was a crime for them”

    Let that sink in, everybody.

    A crime.

    Aquinas dad did specify that his opponent had to reply from memory. I may have been wrong about the name Capranica; I stand by everything else I wrote. I’m most familiar with Domenico Capranica, under the pontificate of Nicholas V; there were often several cardinals from the same family, over several decades: there were several Torquemadas, Borgias, Orsinis, Colonnas, Capranicas, Carvajals, Farnese, etc. I knew the mid-1500s inquisitor was from one of the major families, without remembering which.

    The name is less important than what he did, wouldn’t you say?

    I could walk across my living room and look it up in my copies of Ludwig von Pastor’s “History of the Popes, Drawn from the Secret Archives of the Vatican,” or in Ferdinand Gregorovius’s “History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages.”

    But I’m afraid Aquinas dad’s not allowed to. His Church put Gregorovius’s books on the Index of Forbidden Books.

    Now — for a change of pace:

    Here are some quotes from the 19th century unbeliever, Bob Ingersoll, on bigotry and persecution:

    “But why should I expect kindness from a Christian? Can a minister be expected to treat with fairness a man whom his God intends to damn? If a good God is going to burn an infidel forever, in the world to come, surely a Christian should have the right to persecute him a little here.”
    [�What Can You Believe in the Bible?�, p. 43]

    “If God is going to have the supreme happiness of burning them forever, certainly he ought not to begrudge to us the joy of burning them for an hour or two.”
    [�Intellectual Development,� in Selected Speeches, p. 118]

    “According to the New Testament, nobody could be saved unless he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ … They also believed that they had a right to defend themselves and their children from �heretics� … If we have the right to kill people who are simply trying to kill the bodies of our children, of course we have the right to kill them when they are endeavoring to assassinate, not simply their bodies, but their souls. It was in this way Christians reasoned. If the Testament is right, their reasoning was correct.”
    [�What Can You Believe in the Bible?�, p. 65]

    “There can be but little liberty on earth while men worship a tyrant in heaven.”
    [from �Humanist Credo�]

    “The truth is, our government is not founded upon the rights of gods, but upon the rights of men. Our Constitution was framed, not to declare and uphold the deity of Christ, but the sacredness of humanity. Ours is the first government made by the people and for the people. It is the only nation with which the gods have had nothing to do.”
    [�The Enemies of Individuality and Mental Freedom,� p. 11]

    (Those interested may find a compilation of many more Ingersoll quotes at:

  27. Aquinas Dad

    Bill Bucko,
    Yeah – people who take a perpetual oath to uphold the laws of a group (in this case, the Church) that then violate those laws have broken a contract. Aren’t there any Libertarians or Objectivists in the room?

    So… your answers were ‘wrong, but accurate’, eh? You are ‘most familiar’ with Domenico Capranica but thought he was an inquisitor rather than a well-loved scholar? How familiar is ‘most familiar’?

    “There were several cardinals from the Torquemada family”??!! There was ONE Cardinal de Torquemada; Juan Cardinal de Torquemada, uncle of Tomas de Torquemada. Let me repeat that – ONE. There were 2 Capranicas (brothers, even), 2 Carvajals, 2 Borgias 9although there were a fair number of Borgia bishops), three Collonas, etc.

    Hardly ‘several from each family’.

    More critically, since you named 4 people (maybe 5) and got the reason for and manner of death wrong on the first one (whose manner of death was critical to your point) and got the duties of all the others wrong (and it was their duties that are oh, so critical to your point) the answer of ‘well, i got the names and jobs wrong, but there really were people who really did the stuff I claim, really!’ doesn’t wash. I mean, seriouslly – if *I* tried the dodge of ‘I got the names and stuff wrong but I am really right’ you would consider yourself to have proven me a fraud, right? at least I am only demanding, say, accurate information, names, duties, and dates.

    The Index Librorum Prohibitorum hasn’t been published or enforced in more than 40 years. Also, as a theologian I would have full access to them, anyway – as could any Catholic in history who asked for and received permission from their spiritual director. So you are behind the times and inaccurate, anyway.

    And then… a bunch of quotes from a guy you agree with. Very convincing. How many quotes from people *I* agree with equal a rational argument?

    So, let me sum up. The author argues that Christian principles aren’t part of the founding of America. I point out that the founders were an eclectic bunch and some principles of the founders that are part of America do, indeed, overlap some Christian principle and that even Jefferson seems to have had a few impulses (at least) to the idea of society being a thing in and of itself.

    Now you are down to insisting that Christians are mean people who want to kill everyone not like them; that jeff has a tighter grasp of “real” Christian theology than Christian theologians; and that sometime, somewhere, a Catholic was really, really bad – making Catholicism really, really bad, too.

    Is this really what passes for argumentation amongst Objectivists? Because, if it is, I am terribly disappointed.

  28. Anonymous

    aquinas dad said:

    I point out that the founders were an eclectic bunch and some principles of the founders that are part of America do, indeed, overlap some Christian principle and that even Jefferson seems to have had a few impulses (at least) to the idea of society being a thing in and of itself.

    Christianity is the belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie — who is three entities rolled into one and who is his own father — can make you live forever, provided you tell him telepathically that you accept him as your master, so that he can remove from your soul an evil force that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magic tree.

    Now, if “Christian principles” also include, as you repeatedly claim, the concepts of individual rights and equality before the law, then I submit that “Christian principles” can evidently be stretched to include anything. Of course, such stretching is a logical feature of any faith-based belief system.

    Nonetheless, you’ve provided no evidence that any feature of the U.S. Constitution is based on a “Christian principle” — you’ve only suggested some sort of vague “overlap” between the beliefs of the founders and “Christian principles”.

    Such an overlap is generally NOT what is claimed by those who claim that America is a “Christian Nation”. Rather, their claim is that Christianity is an essential feature of America — that the nation could not have been founded without Christianity. No one has presented any evidence to support that notion.

  29. Anonymous

    Right at the outset, I pointed out (correctly) that there was not just one Inquisition, but a number of different ones.

    Yet Aquinas dad repeatedly equivocates: demanding a single date for “the end” of “the Inquisition” (as though there were just one !), totally ignoring the actions of Pope Innocent III and the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215; switching his attention to the Spanish Inquisition, as though it were the only one; then castigating me for forgetting the family name of the inquisitor in Rome in the mid-1500s and, in a flagrant falsehood, claiming I said it was Domenico Capranica (I said nothing of the sort, being well aware that the saintly Domenico–who wore a spiked belt of penance under his clothes–lived during the pontificate of Nicholas V, 1447-1455); then offering 1861 as an ending date (for which Inquisition, he does not specify! again, he seems to assume there was only one!), and totally ignoring the easily confirmable fact that the Santa Uffizia or Holy Office of the Inquisition, the one centered in Rome, was renamed (not abolished) in 1908 to the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office, and later to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith–so it still exists!

    You’d think any Catholic would be pleased that an atheist like me, off the top of his head, would remember so much, so accurately. (Onofrio Visdomini, after all, was hardly a well-known figure. And contrary to what my opponent implies, any bishop could conduct an inquisition. The Florentines burned down the regular local headquarters of the Inquisition at some unknown date around 1380, bless ’em!). Aquinas dad, your criticisms are churlish. I failed nothing.

    But why should we be upset at equivocation and lack of gratitude, from one who actually considers victims like Giordano Bruno to be criminals?

    Given such shenanigans, I plan to ignore Aquinas dad, from now on. Paraphrasing Aristotle, he may even burn me at the stake, “as long as it’s in my absence.”

  30. Apollo

    “ideas like equality before the law, and inalienable rights are, indeed, Christian ideals.”

    Can you tell me where I can find these ideas in the Bible?

    Or how theologians abstracted these ideas from the bible?

  31. Aquinas Dad

    Yes – fairly easily, even. In ‘broad brush’ terms the story of King David and the story of Job are key to the idea of equality.

    David was, obviously, King of the Hebrews. Great power, influence, etc. He did the things a good, religious king should do publicly. But he still broke moral laws and was punished as any other man would be. Position and power, therefore, mean that you are not judged differently.

    The Book of Job is, in the end, a very long explanation that poverty is not punishment nor wealth a reward for your nature; rich men are not ‘better’ than the poor, nor are the sick being ‘punished’. The long dialogs in Job are a long description of how the weak and poor are to be considered just as good as the healthy and rich.

    Deuteronomy and Leviticus have many discussions of law that draw a distinction between the privileges of some groups versus the rights common to all people that cannot be taken away. 1 Corinthians has a discussion of rights, although it is more indirect, and implies they are part of a person’s nature. The case for rights being inherent is much more explicit in Romans.kiwnr

  32. Aquinas Dad

    Bill B,
    When did the last Inquisition end (as I have explained, meaning when was the last court of Inquisition ended)? 1861. Any decent reference work on the Inquisition as a whole describes this. The Office of the Inquisition had its name changed not as a PR move, but because the Inquisitional courts no longer meet – now they perform the duties left to them in a world where blasphemy is no longer a civil crime. The Inquisition was an aspect of the Church’s former secular power/secular governments’ laws about religion.

    Here is a direct quote from you, Bill B;

    “In the mid-1500s Capranica impressed Catholic theology on the good people of Rome by piously burning a lot of them”

    Since you claim to know that the only two Cardinals Capranica were alive a century before, why did you write this? More critically, who is it that you were “really” referring to? This isn’t a snide harping, this is a serious set of questions: you claim to be talking about things that really happened – prove it! Your original statements were made as if you were stating facts. You were not. If you wish to continue to appeal to history, you need to provide names and dates so that your claims can be checked. So far you keep making big errors. For example, Onofrio Visdomini is a pretty obscure guy – but you got the details of his life wrong! He wasn’t some scary dude that terrified the locals, he was a popular bishop sacked by the pope for his politics – and the locals wanted to keep him! I would love it if you were, actually, accurate!

    Bill B, you have failed everything. You got names wrong, numbers wrong, facts wrong – all while claiming to know so much about the topic! After your claim that St. Peter of Verona was killed by enraged relatives of his victims when he was actually a *preacher* who had ordered the deaths of *zero* people and was killed by *paid assassins* in one of the most famous crimes of that period of Italian history I gotta’ admit – when you mention a burned office in Florence around 1380, I won’t give it *any* weight until you cite a source! Top that off with the claim that there were “several” Cardinals each of the families Torquemada, Borgia, Capranica, etc. and I must conclude that your knowledge of the Catholic Church in Italy in the Middle Ages is rather limited.

    And, just to keep rising this horse, for any guy to claim to know a fair amount about Italy in the period under discussion and to not know that blasphemy, heresy, and schism were at that time actual civil crimes and that when they were committed by ordained people like Bruno the penalties were more severe…. Well, I don’t know what to say. You can *disagree* with those laws and even think them *unjust*, but they were, in fact, the law. The Fraticelli and Bruno were all aware of the laws of their own time, were all tried and given multiple chances to avoid death sentences – and they all refused them. I do not claim their sentences were just, my *point* is that you cannot attempt to condemn officers of the law (the bishops who presided at the trials of these men were officers of the law just as much as a modern cop) for investigating crimes and enforcing the law. Attempting to do so is revisionism and creates a distorted view of history.

  33. Apollo

    “The facts show that some founders were very successful in placing their own Christian principles into the Constitution; at the same time, other founders were as successful in placing their own non-Christian philosophies onto the Constitution. “

    Are you saying that many of the fonding fathers incorporate equality before the law, and inalienable rights because of the bible? And not becuase of the influence of the Enlightmment?
    Why wasn’t this done before the enlightment, during the midevil era, when Christianity was at its more powerful and influential?

    Why did it happen specifically after the enlightment? Why did it need an Aristotilian influence to get it going?

    I would say the reason those specific ideas were put into the consitution were not because of the bible, but because of the influence of the Enlightment. It had more to do with respect for reason and freedom than faith and god.

  34. Anonymous

    I wonder what Job’s sons and daughters (killed just so God could score a debating point against Satan) would say about the equal rights of the weak.

    Or the 70,000 people God casually slaughtered, to punish David for “numbering his people” (i.e. conducting a census). (I Chronicles 21)

    I wonder what slaves thought about the Bible as inspiration for the equal rights of all:

    “And if a man smite his servant, or his maid, with a rod, and he die under his hand; he shall be surely punished. Notwithstanding, if he continue a day or two, he shall not be punished: for he is his money.” (Exodus 21)

    I.e. kill your slave with God’s blessing, as long as you make it a long-drawn-out process.

    Not surprisingly, God is in the Constitution: the Confederate Constitution, which starts by “invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God”.

  35. Anonymous

    Fellow atheists, the study of history has many rewards. Some of the things you’ll find are amusing. Others are shocking.

    At the same time, you have to weigh the evidence on any particular point.

    For instance, it’s well attested in a number of histories based on contemporary sources that wily, irrascible Pope Eugenius IV, in the year 1434, was pelted with garbage by the Romans, and fled from the city in a boat down the Tiber. When they could no longer reach him with garbage, the Romans shot arrows at him.

    On the other hand, one alleged incident I found only in a single, non-scholarly source, a collection of anecdotes (with no documentation). It’s said that, shortly after the Fourth Lateran Council proclaimed transubstantiation to be a dogma (i.e. Jesus Christ is actually, physically present in a consecrated piece of bread), the rumor spread that Jews were stealing hosts and pounding nails through them (crucifying Christ all over again!), whereupon mobs ran out and slaughtered thousands of Jews, all across Europe … We do have much evidence that Catholics murdered Jews, in various pogroms through the centuries. However, I have yet to come across evidence to back up this particular claim. I’ve found other interesting tidbits: for instance, the early Renaissance artist Uccello executed a whole series of nasty, anti-semitic paintings showing Jews stealing hosts and feeding them to frogs or toads, in a blasphemous ritual.

    For some events, we have surviving eyewitness accounts, usually in diaries or court records. The Florentine archives are particularly rich. Thus you can read, in Dr Gene Brucker’s “The Society of Renaissance Florence,” actual eyewitness accounts of the burning of a Fraticelli heretic, in the late 1300s. On a more positive note, in the same volume (pp. 252-253) you may read how an angry mob rescued another man, Lorenzo Puccini, who was being carried off by the Inquisition: “Let’s stone those buggering friars and the police!”

    Other events are more obscure.

    I’ve found only two references to the attack on the Inquisition’s building. Marvin Becker, in “Church and State in Florence on the Eve of the Renaissance (1343-1382)” (in “Speculum,” XXXVII No. 4, Oct. 1962, p. 523) says “the building that housed the Court of the Inquisition was destroyed” around the time of the so-called War of the Eight Saints (1375). On the other hand, Richard Trexler, in “The Spiritual Power: Republican Florence under Interdict,” p. 40n, says it was the Inquisition’s prison, and that the event may have occurred earlier, in the 1340s. Both scholars agree, along with others, that the city of Florence passed laws enabling communal officials to declare the pope’s interdicts and excommunications null and void, and to grant redress to anyone wronged by the ecclesiastical courts.

    The destruction of the Inquisition’s building is not the sort of event you’d expect an armchair historian to know (the kind of person, for instance, who demands that others answer him from memory, without consulting any references, while he himself is free to look up anyone he wants in the “Hierarchia Catholica Medii Aevii” — or, if he’s lazy, online, since pious folks have copied the list of bishops to the Italian-language version of Wikipedia).

    The building, by the way, probably would have been at the Franciscan church of Santa Croce, since the Tuscan Inquisition at that time was in the hands of the Franciscans. (I knew that, thirty years ago; but there’s been so much water under the bridge that I’d forgotten it. Remember, some fellow or other asked me to answer strictly from memory.) Local bishops, however, could certainly be involved if they wanted to! One bishop, at least, was involved a little too intimately for his liking. Bishop Jacopo Palladini himself, around 1410, was investigated by the Inquisition because the holy Franciscans were suspicious of a theological writing of his. Again, the sort of fact you wouldn’t expect an armchair historian to know.

  36. Anonymous

    When Christians assert that Christianity influenced the Founders what they actually mean is that God influenced the Founders through the vehicle of Christianity.

    Of course, Christianity cannot claim any supernatural justification because God does not exist. When this supernatural element is removed Christianity is just another mediocre philosophy with a little bit of good and a whole lot of the bad and ugly.

    The good part, the Aristotelian veneer, was cultivated and amplified in the Enlightment but the vast underlaying altruistic swamp was never really drained. The miasma from this swamp plagues us to this day.

    To assert that God is the source of man’s rights whether this was supposedly revealed through the Bible or divine revelation or ex cathedra prouncements explains nothing. The net result is that these rights are built on a phantasm.

    Only Ayn Rand has fully anchored man’s rights in reality.

  37. Aquinas Dad

    Bill Bucko,
    Poor fellow – is your pride injured? I did not insist that you make all of your historical claims from memory – just the answers to specific, rather simple, questions. You volunteered the erroneous info about ‘several’ Cardinals Torquemada, etc. if you own a copy of the historical lists of cardinals in any language and are, indeed, more than an armchair historian of Italian history I am, well, shocked that you claim there were “several” Cardinals Borgia. You named the Cardinal(s) Capranica to the wrong century and wrong actions, not I, and then went on to claim that you are ‘most familiar’ with Domenico Cardinal Capranica… after I mentioned he was not alive at the time you claimed he was burning heretics. You are the one who claimed St. Peter of Verona was killed not by paid assassins but by relatives of ‘those he had had burned’ (a paraphrase) all while demanding praise for you extensive knowledge of Italian history in the period.
    Since I asked someone else to talk about the Inquisition from memory and you admitted you don’t know much about the Inquisition – well, i would have said “OK, Bill B didn’t make any claims about the Inquisition. big deal”. But since you went on to make egregious errors about something you claim to be well-versed in, I can confidently conclude that your errors are your own fault, not mine.

    I can also conclude, safely, that you are not the expert in Medieval Italian history that you claim to be. The statement ‘my errors could have been spotted by anyone with access to the internet’ is not, alas, in your favor. And any armchair historian knows all sorts of trivia about their pet topics, don’t they? You take your War of Eight Saints and I’ll take my Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, shall we?

    Face it, Bill B. – you tried to show off and messed up, big time. Since falling into that initial, shallow, hole you have been quite busy digging.

  38. Aquinas Dad

    Bill K.,
    So your answer is now ‘nuh-uh, you’re wrong!’?

  39. Anonymous

    My position has been clear from the start. These attempts to show the United States was founded on Christian principals is meant to smuggle in the notion that the United States should be declared a Christian nation.

    Christianity is not able to champion human rights because the presumed source of these rights is a figment of the imagination, i.e. God. God hands down these rights as gifts without explanation. What are rights and why are they necessary for human existence in a social context? Christianity provides no such answers. Without the concept of rights being anchored in reality all sorts of bogus rights are floated in Christian doctrine such as the “right to freedom from hunger”, the “right to a living wage”, the “right to education”, the “right to life” of a fetus, etc.

    This argument about rights and their validation is not just an academic exercise. Bad rights drive out good rights. For this nation to be declared officially Christian is but a step or two away from a Moslem Iran.

  40. Aquinas Dad

    Bill K.,
    It seems your grasp of reading comprehension is a feeble and Bill B.’s on Church history.

    Let me quote me from this thread,

    “As I said; the founding of America, like any modern institution of the West, relies upon concepts that originated in Christian theology. This does not demand that everyone be Christian…”


    “I do not demand tearing down the wall between church and state, I merely wish to point out the truth (acknowledged by the founders) that many of the great ideas they used came from the cloister.”

    To me, that seems clear. As a member of a group historically discriminated against for the beliefs of its members, I *like* the separation of church and state in America. But such a separation does not mean that, somehow, the values that under gird the secular nation of America cannot overlap with the value that are held by Christians. As i said here, earlier – to insist that American values *cannot* be Christian values at all is as foolish as the claim that American values are *exclusively* Christian values.

    Further, Bill K., your statement that Christianity does not address the questions

    “What are rights and why are they necessary for human existence in a social context?”

    reveals that your sheer ignorance of millennia of thought in Catholic theology is *astounding*. *I*, benighted Catholic that I am, know that Rand once said she could only recommend three philosophers “Aristotle, Aquinas, and Ayn”! I am surprised that Rand found Aquinas’ discussion of rights, their nature and origins, etc. important and yet you do not!

  41. Anonymous

    Aquinas Dad

    Apparently I am not the only one suffering from lack of “reading comprehension”. Earlier in this thread I gave Aquinas his due:

    “The history of Christianity is rife with those that have denigrated reason and peddled faith from Tertullian, to Augustine, to Martin Luther, to Kant. Again, these men are not deviations from the norm. Aquinas, to the extent that he saw the necessity for reason, was the rare exception.”

    Ayn Rand venerated Aquinas as a champion of reason and a advocate of Aristotle. From the Letters of Ayn Rand this is her homage to him in a letter to a priest:

    “I have the impression that you are a follower of Thomas Aquinas, whose position, in essence, is that since reason is a gift of God, man must use it. I regard this as the best of all the attempts to reconcile reason and religion—but it is only an attempt, which cannot succeed. It may work in a limited way in a given individual’s life, but it cannot be validated philosophically. However, I regard Aquinas as the greatest philosopher next to Aristotle, in the purely philosophical, not theological, aspects of his work.”

    But there was also this criticism of Aquinas in a letter to Isabel Patterson:

    “But before you proceed to tell me how Descartes, Voltaire, the “humanists,” the “scientists,” etc. destroyed individualism, destroyed the dignity of man and prepared the way for the totalitarian state—explain to me how Thomas Aquinas, the greatest philosopher ever to accept and defend the conception of God, advocated the Inquisition and the burning of heretics for the good of society? “

    In Rand’s entire oeuvre I have not found an single explicit reference to Aquinas’s theory of rights.

    Rand’s theory of individual rights is far too vast a subject to do justice to here but this excerpt from Atlas Shrugged should suffice to distinguish Rand’s version of rights from those of Catholicism:

    “You who’ve lost the concept of a right, you who swing in impotent evasiveness between the claim that rights are a gift of God, a supernatural gift to be taken on faith, or the claim that rights are a gift of society, to be broken at its arbitrary whim—the source of man’s rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A—and Man is Man. Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival. If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational. Any group, any gang, any nation that attempts to negate man’s rights, is wrong, which means: is evil, which means: is anti-life.”

  42. Aquinas Dad

    Bill K.,
    Once more – your narrow-mindedness astounds me. You make this bald claim,

    “What are rights and why are they necessary for human existence in a social context? Christianity provides no such answers.”

    but when discussing Aquinas you admit that Ayn Rand (whom you appear to see as a prodigious thinker and philosopher) considered Aquinas the second-greatest philosopher in history all you can say about his stance on human rights is,

    “In Rand’s entire oeuvre I have not found an single explicit reference to Aquinas’s theory of rights.”

    This tells me that you

    A) Dismiss the Christian position on human rights, their origins and their nature, despite being *totally ignorant* of the 2,000 years of scholarship Christians have put into this subject!

    B) Have not read Aquinas’ actual work yourself but, rather, rely upon Rand, etc., to tell you about it… despite Rand calling him the second-greatest philosopher in history.

    Your puerile statement about ‘Christianity not discussing the nature of rights or their place in society’ and then admitting that your ignorance of the massive work in these areas is because *Rand doesn’t mention it* would be akin to me saying ‘Objectivists never talk about virtues and I know this ‘cuz the Pope never mentioned them’.

  43. Marnee

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  44. Marnee

    Being considered a great philosopher DOES NOT MEAN that she considered his theory on rights, if he had any such thing, correct. This also does not mean that there is support for individual rights within the framework of Christian dogma. There is, however, Aquinas attempt to reconcile faith with reason. If I am not mistaken, Rand made it clear in an essay or two that he did fail at doing this. She does make a distinction between being objectively correct and being a great philosopher — making progress toward a philosophy of reason. That is why she respected him.

    Also, it is incorrect to compare the common notion of human rights with individual rights. Human rights are not entirely rights. They are rules, many of which impose a duty on others and when in the context of government are evoked to lend legitimacy to socialist programs. It is obvious how consistent welfare and its premises are to alms-giving. It is not at all similar to the premises of Individual Rights.

    Look to the EU’s Constitution for an example on human rights in context.

    At any rate, the obvious incoherency and inconsistency inherent in Christian teachings cannot be used as a rational basis for Individual Rights. One would have to rationalize it all, not to mention ignore many central tenets, to the point where it would not be recognizable as Christianity if not for the use of the word God on occasion. Hey that is kinda starting to sound like the U.S. Constitution….

  45. Aquinas Dad

    So, if Rand considered Aquinas’ theories on rights incorrect, you wouldn’t bother to read them? Sounds more like a cult that a dedication to rationality.
    More critically, Christianity has, indeed, considered the natural origins of rights and how to justify and explain rights without appeal to God (my personal discipline, systematic theology, is focused on discussing philosophy and theology without appeals to the supernatural). Bill K. claimed that Christianity makes no such examination. My point is that any person with an even minimal exposure to Christian theology (i.e., reading the Catholic Catechism or the text of any one of scores of prominent theologians) would *know* that this statement is an egregious error.
    You say “This also does not mean that there is support for individual rights within the framework of Christian dogma. “
    How would you know? Have you read the Summa? Heck, how thorough is your knowledge of *narrative* theology, let alone systematics?
    You also say “he obvious incoherency and inconsistency inherent in Christian teachings cannot be used as a rational basis for Individual Rights.”
    Again – how would *you* know?

    This strikes me like the young eart creationists that claim “the laws of thermodynamics means evolution is not true!!!!!111one!”
    All *they* are doing is revealing their ignorance of physics. All *you* are doing is revealing your ignorance of something you claim to refute.

    Like I said above – if this is what passes for logical argument amongst Objectivists, I am terribly disappointed. Admissions if ignorance and strawman attacks are doing nothing for your credibility.kpztvsh

  46. Anonymous

    The more I look into Aquinas the more I wonder what Ayn Rand saw in him. She must have sifted through an awful lot of chaff to get a few grains of wheat. In so many ways Aquinas was just not right.

    Rand revered Aristotle so much that any philosopher that helped with with his rehabilitation, regardless of his other views, must have been deemed worthy of respect.

  47. Aquinas Dad

    Bill K.,
    I suppose that makes us even, since I find Rand’s circular definitions and nebulous epistemology (not to mention her failure to reply coherently to the is-ought problem in a coherent way) terribly off-putting.

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