Last week, on Fox News, Bill O'Reilly and Sarah Palin expounded on their conviction that "America is a Christian nation." Palin -- who Steve Benen of Washington Monthly called "the former half term governor" -- claimed that those who wrote the Constitution were "quite clear that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the 10 commandments. It's pretty simple."
Her formulation is, indeed, pretty simple. The problem is that it is simply not true. Consider what three of the founding fathers -- all of whom eventually became president -- wrote about Christianity:
Thomas Jefferson: "I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature. The greatest enemies of Jesus are the doctrines and creeds of the church."
James Madison: During almost fifteen centuries, the legal establishment known as Christianity has been on trial and what have been the fruits, more or less, in all places? These are the fruits: pride, indolence, ignorance and arrogance in the clergy. Ignorance and arrogance and servility in the laity, and in both clergy and laity superstition, bigotry and persecution."
John Adams: Nowhere in the gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines and whole carloads of other foolish trumpery that we find Christianity encumbered with.
None of these men raised any objection to the teachings of Christ. But experience had led them to distrust his followers. And, while they insisted that there should be no state church -- no theocracy in the United States -- they specifically made room for freedom of religion. They were emphatic, however, in their belief that religious freedom could only exist as long as the nation's affairs were free from the entrenchment of any religion.
Many on the right believe that what the United States needs is a dose of "that old time religion." It is a disposition which many in the Harper government share. It rears its head most noticeably in the government's tough on crime agenda. As Jeffrey Simpson wrote last week in The Globe and Mail, ". . . this is also a government that has scorned the expert advice of every criminologist, judge and lawyers group in Canada, even as they say how ineffective, useless and even dangerously counterproductive are most of the Conservatives' 'tough on crime' proposals." For, like the Palinites, the Harperites see themselves as the righteous. And righteousness, they believe, is fact-free -- because it is self evident.
We are free to disagree. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously said, we are all entitled to our own opinion; but we are not entitled to our own facts. What is most annoying with modern Conservatism is its insistence that facts can and should be ignored. How else can one explain the success of the "former half term governor," or a Canadian prime minister who claims to be an economist?