“Mingling religion with politics should be disavowed and reprobated by every inhabitant of America.”
—Thomas Paine, Common Sense
“Mingling religion with politics should be disavowed and reprobated by every inhabitant of America.”
—Thomas Paine, Common Sense
It was August 28th, and the National Mall was packed from the Lincoln Memorial all the way to the Washington monument. There were hundreds of thousands of people there. Teeming multitudes stretched for about a quarter mile on either side of the long reflecting pool. It was the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have a Dream” speech, and the American right-wing was honouring his memory with a “Rally to Restore Honour” designed to show opposition to an eloquent black leader suspected of being a socialist.
Only in a country where cognitive dissonance is the national pastime could anything like this ever take place. Officially, the rally was “non-political,” but as I stood in the midst of the throng, the crowd bristled on every side with furiously anti-government slogans. I was surrounded by people dressed in shirts bearing images of old glory or the tattered scroll of America’s Declaration of Independence. Their chests and hats were bedecked with buttons announcing “I LOVE MY GUN!” and “JESUS LIVES!” Directly in front of me, a cluster of intense looking men in combat fatigues were holding aloft large placards advertising the website ChristianNationNow.com, and another gang of fanatics a few rows to the right was brandishing an enormous “ONE NATION UNDER GOD” sign with righteous abandon.
It was a hot day, and I fanned myself with a complimentary plastic fan I had picked up at an AmericaWillSurvive.org booth nearby. It was decorated with flaming red letters proclaiming “IN GOD WE TRUST,” and bore a prominent “Made in China” sticker on the handle. In my other hand I held a thick sheaf of leaflets and glossy magazines that I had gathered during my walk through the crowd. I flipped through the titles: “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are Getting Ready to Ride Again!” exhorted one. Beneath it was a thin magazine entitled “Last Generation: To Prepare you for the Final Conflict between Good and Evil, Vol. 16, No. 6.”
Hundreds of thousands of people with similar buttons, banners and pamphlets stretched as far as the eye could see in every direction.
The rally had been organized by Glenn Beck, one of modern America’s most popular media personalities. Beck is a Mormon political pundit who works for Fox News. He has his own eponymous radio and TV programs, and a listening audience equivalent to nearly half the population of Canada tunes into his frequency every weekday.
A few months earlier, he had announced to the nation that God had personally spoken to him, commanding him to gather the American people in Washington and deliver a holy message. The decision to have the rally on the exact day and location of Martin Luther King Jr.’s most famous speech, according to Beck, had been completely random. He later declared the “coincidence” to have been a miracle. His message of fundamentalist nationalist militarism shared so much with King’s message of 1963 that the Lord ensured they happened on the same day.
Suddenly the crowd exploded with shrieks and cheers. Applause roared in my ears from every point of the compass. “Have they already started the ceremonies?” I wondered for a moment, stretching my neck to get a view of one of the huge screens that had been set up around the reflecting pool. Then I realized what they were so excited about. A flock of geese was flying over the water.
I could not understand exactly why that would work Beck’s fans into such a spontaneous frenzy of emotion until a few moments later, when I overheard a middle-aged woman next to me sigh in exaltation and utter the words: “Another miracle!”
Beck himself later publicly called the geese “a miracle.” He said that he had been trying unsuccessfully for months to get approval for a military flyover. What the president refused, God provided.
Geese, that is. God provided geese.
Beck is a recovering alcoholic, ex-porn addict and past drug abuser with acute attention deficit disorder, whose mother committed suicide when he was thirteen. He has no post-secondary education, and believes that a global Illuminati controls the world through the Federal Reserve Bank and Council of Foreign Relations.
All these qualities, along with his extremely biased and miserably unprofessional presentation of the news, turned out to be just what Fox News was looking for. So they gave him his own radio show, and it hit #1 right after 9/11. Then Beck got into the Republican Party’s good graces even more by drumming up support for the invasion of Iraq with “Rally for America” events across the country. At the time when I ran into his fan club in DC, he was second only to Rush Limbaugh as the official moral compass of America, and was pulling in well over thirty million dollars a year.
The people broke into another ebullient roar as the disembodied voice of Beck began wafting out of speakers set at intervals along the length of the park.
“It is Americans that will solve the world’s problems yet again!” the voice declared with passion. “Look around you! Where is the next George Washington? Where is the next Thomas Jefferson? They are here! They are standing among us!”
I glanced around at the overweight religious fundamentalists that surrounded me on all sides. Buttons and shirts depicting the portraits of Washington, Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were everywhere, superimposed over text declaring “Right Wing Radicals.”
“They are here, among us!” announced the voice. “In our children!”
The crowd thundered in enthusiastic agreement.
I wondered how many of the people that were cheering knew what “The Age of Reason” was, and how every one of the founding fathers of their nation had been a part of it. Probably not many. Their version of the past was unadulterated mythology.
The era that the men who signed the Declaration of Independence lived in is known to historians as the Enlightenment. It was a secularizing movement that emphasized freethinking, and attacked all religious dogma. Washington, Jefferson and Franklin were all key representatives of this school of thought.
It is a matter of historical record that George Washington almost never went to mass, and when he did always refused to kneel for prayer and walked out before taking Holy Communion. After his death, his pastor, James Abercrombie, declared emphatically that Washington had been a Deist.
What did “Deist” mean in the mid-1700s? It meant belief in a supreme being all right, but it also meant a rejection of the divinity of Christ, the revealed nature of the Bible, the efficacy of prayer, and the doctrine of transubstantiation. Despite the fact that this was almost certainly Washington’s personal creed, American religious groups since the foundation of the republic have worked hard to fabricate a huge mythology about the first president’s Christianity. They painted fictitious images him of praying before battle, then invented a story that he created the “so help me God” section of the president’s inaugural oath, and even attempted to publish forged prayer books that he supposedly wrote. The campaign to make Washington out to be a believer in Christ’s divinity has been ongoing for nearly 240 years, and nothing beyond the most tenuous scraps of supportive evidence have ever been uncovered.
Thomas Jefferson, meanwhile, was so staunch and outspoken in his attacks on the church that only clinically delusional fundamentalists could ever claim him to have shared their faith. Ringing condemnations of the Christian faith reverberate throughout his letters, and even the most Christ-hungry investigations of his prodigious writings have failed to come up with a single reference to Jesus as the son of God. As soon as Jefferson came to power, he created the “wall of separation between church and state,” specifically to distance his government from the religious establishment.
The Tea Party has made Jefferson the key icon of their movement, since he advocated “small government.” Unfortunately, he opposed absolutely everything else they stand for.
Benjamin Franklin was another irreligious freethinker and ridiculed contemporary Christian religion for most of his life. At age nineteen, he wrote and self published a book denying the immortality of the soul, entitled “A Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity, Pleasure and Pain.” He was also a friend of British religious satirist Francis Dashwood, who created the Hellfire Club, a fake ecclesiastical institution explicitly created to mock organized religion. Dashwood and Franklin even rewrote the Book of Common Prayer specifically to ridicule church services.
Not exactly a Tea Party poster child for devout abstinence and the sanctity of marriage, Franklin never formally married Deborah Read, his partner of forty-four years who bore several of his children. Franklin’s only son to survive beyond infancy, Francis Folger, was illegitimate, as was his son’s only son, William Temple, and his grandson’s only son, Theodore.
“Right wing radicals” indeed.
The rationalist movement that prevailed among America’s founders faded out shortly after the foundation of the republic however, with a massive revival of apocalyptic religious sentiment in the 1830s called the “Second Great Awakening,” and it could be argued without too much effort that the nation has yet to recover.
A boy scout came on stage and led the crowd in the pledge of allegiance, then a chorus sang the Star Spangled Banner, lingering, it seemed to me, particularly lovingly on the bit describing “the rockets’ red glare and bombs bursting in air.”
The applause was deafening.
Then Glenn Beck appeared. His pudgy figure, dressed in a blue dress shirt and purple tie, bounced down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The crowd exploded into another tumult of cheers.
“The reflecting pool holds about 200,000 people,” he announced into a microphone. “This field back here holds about 300,000. They are not only full here, they’re full in that field, they’re full behind me, and they are now across the street approaching the Washington Monument!”
The crowd erupted into applause once again.
“Something beyond imagining is happening!” Beck shouted into his microphone. “America today begins to turn back to God!”
Another paroxysm of hurrahs and hand clapping.
“Tell it like it is!” howled a man beside me.
“Yee-haw!” shouted another, pumping his fist.
“5,000 years ago,” Beck continued, “God’s chosen people were led out of darkness by a man with a stick talking to a burning bush! Man first began to recognize God and God’s Law! The chosen people listened to the Lord! At the same time those things were happening on this land another group of people were gathered here and they too were listening to God! They didn’t want to come to this land, they just did because they felt that was what God was telling them to do. And with malice towards none they got into their boats and they came. God’s chosen people: The Native Americans…” He paused for a second. “…and the Pilgrims.”
Most of the audience probably did not realize that Beck was overtly referring to Native Americans as a lost tribe of Jews. The majority of the people who listen to his broadcasts do not even realize that he is Mormon, and even if they did, would not know enough about his faith to recognize the reference. Only members of the Church of Latter Day Saints would make the connection.
A Native American couple in tribal clothing had moved to stand on the steps behind Beck, who turned and introduced them as direct descendants of the Indians that had greeted the first pilgrims off the Mayflower. Then he introduced a white-haired pastor who he claimed was a direct descendant of those pilgrims.
The pastor looked like a man with a purpose as he took the microphone to lead the assembled multitudes in prayer.
“Lord God!” shouted the holy man in a stentorian voice. “Sovereign almighty! Ruler of the Nations! King of Kings and Lord of Lords! The holy one! The righteous one! You are the king of the Earth! All nations belong to you! You were the one addressed in the 1606 charter that opened English settlement to these shores. It was you that was addressed, that the gospel of Jesus Christ should be the central focus of every settlement. It was you our forefathers knelt to, erecting a wooden cross on the sandy shores of Virginia…”
Well, you couldn’t argue with that, I thought.
If you got into a time machine and zipped back to the time of the Pilgrims, you could assure yourself that there is nothing more historically American than religious zealotry. Unfortunately for those that base their theocratic wet dream on the first colonists, it is unquestionable that no modern person outside of a straightjacket would ever want to live in a 17th century Pilgrim society.
The Pilgrims were Puritans, which is another word for Calvinists, quite possibly the most fanatically religious group in the whole checkered history of Christendom. They left Europe when the Inquisition was at its full fury because things weren’t fundamentalist enough. Calvinists believed God chose only an extremely select few to go to heaven, and absolutely everybody else was destined to burn in hell for all eternity. Even for those exceedingly few souls that the Merciful One had seen fit to whimsically grant the transient possibility of salvation, the Lord required them to obey a superhumanly rigid moral code that anyone not in a coma was almost guaranteed to break.
John Calvin, the founding father of the Puritan worldview, established his unique slant on Christianity in sixteenth-century Switzerland. Basing his moral code on a literal interpretation of Jesus’ admonition that laughter can cause eternal damnation (Luke 6:25), he set up a religious dystopia worthy of the Taliban that prohibited everything fun: dance, gambling, drinking, theatre, parties, joking, and even fashionable clothes. Calvin’s reign of terror tortured, hanged and decapitated people for minor crimes like swearing at one’s parents (as per Leviticus 20:9) and scientific investigation, burning natural philosophers on pyres of their own books.
The Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony followed in Calvin’s austere footsteps and organized a religious police state. William Bradford proclaimed in the Mayflower Compact of 1620 that the colony was “undertaken, for the glorie of God, and advancements of the Christian faith,” and any immoral behaviour was punishable by having your ears cut off or tongue perforated with a hot iron. Women who allowed themselves to be kissed before marriage were heavily fined, and missing church was punishable by death. The duties of every Puritan were to hate oneself, repent of imagined crimes, expect eternal damnation, and then praise God for your afflictions.
Just the sort of lifestyle America should stand for!
Shortly after the Puritans had left their homeland in search of religious freedom, their religion took over England. A Calvinist named Oliver Cromwell deposed the monarch and declared himself “Lord Protector for Life.” He led genocides against Catholics in Ireland and Scotland, and ruled England with an iron fist through “godly governors,” his term for religious police who persecuted all perceived “societal immorality.” Cromwell was so opposed to a good time that he even banned the celebration of Christmas and replaced it with days of fasting. When he died, his despised corpse was dug up, hung, and then beheaded by the people of London. His head was displayed on a pike for twenty-four years outside Westminster Hall, and the English citizens who had been given the world’s first real shot at republican rule, rushed right back into monarchic government for more than 150 years.
Religious fundamentalism may have been essential to the Pilgrim fathers, but few could ever seriously recommend embracing their doctrines today.
The preacher’s voice had increased in volume as he was wrapping up, until he seemed to be screaming into the microphone. “In Christ’s name, and for the advance of Your kingdom, we once again say: may You, God, bless America!” he bellowed. “May we be one nation under God!”
The screens showed pictures of vast landscapes of white people praying with the pastor, draped in American flags, wearing old glory shirts and red, white and blue hats.
Beck moved again to centre stage and began talking about his children’s Bible studies, using the story of David and Goliath as segway into a discussion of the American military.
The U.S. Army was David, of course. Not Goliath.
“What is it today that America truly believes in?” Beck asked the crowd. “We have very little trust in most of our institutions… But there is one thing that is still at the top of the list of things that America trusts: our military!”
“Damn right!” growled a middle-aged man beside me, as the crowd erupted in another frenzy of applause.
Then the speaker introduced several guest speakers. First a colonel who had founded a non profit group to pay for the education of children of dead Special Operations soldiers. After that, the mother of a veteran came to talk of how her son died in another airplane accident far from the presence of enemy troops in Iraq.
Tears rolled down the cheeks of several of my neighbours. The rally could have gone on to discuss the case of Pat Tillman, the American NFL hero who joined the army after 9/11 and died in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. The Bush administration famously announced that Tillman had died “in the line of devastating enemy fire” to inspire patriotism and surge the war effort. It was later learned that, similar to around one-quarter of American war casualties, Tillman was killed by friendly fire. There were no enemy combatants involved and the football player died from three American bullets to the head. The military top brass ordered all other members of his unit to lie to the family of the deceased at the funeral, and the army deceived the nation for years before the truth finally came out in 2007.
Even though an angry documentary entitled The Tillman Story was being shown in theatres across the nation at the exact time of Beck’s “Rally to Restore Honour,” the speakers pointedly left Tillman out of their “America trusts the military above all else” spiel.
Beck then he called on Sarah Palin to speak to the crowd. By now, I had moved to a position very close to the Lincoln Memorial, and could see her quite clearly. She had her hair up and was dressed in a white jacket and tight knee length dress. She was glowing and pretty as she bounced down the steps.
For a brief moment in time, Sarah Palin was probably the second most famous American alive today: a creationist beauty queen whose political campaign had been blessed in her Pentecostal Church by a witchdoctor. Before rising to political office, Palin’s family supported the Alaska Independence Party, a radical group which was attempting to secede from the union, and now she is bent on becoming the President of the United States.
Beck has referred to Palin as “the modern George Washington,” a humble, honest citizen forced into the spotlight for the good of the country. According to a Rasmussen Reports poll taken the day after the 2008 election, 91% of Republicans had a favourable view of Sarah taking office.
“Thank you so much! Aren’t you all just so proud to be an American?” she burst out in her shrill voice as she arrived at the podium, and the teeming multitude burst into chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” The people were bellowing on all sides, waving flags and pumping their fists.
She went on to discuss the nearby monuments to Washington and Lincoln, and praised their exceptional accomplishments. “These giants,” she gushed, “who are linked by a rock solid foundation of faith in the one true God!”
On the giant screen behind Palin, an image of the seated form of Abraham Lincoln sat against a red background emblazoned with the words “Restoring Honour.” The Great Emancipator’s dour expression seemed unamused by the charade before him.
Unfortunately for Mrs. Palin, President Lincoln never joined any church, was never baptised, never took communion, and never did anything to make any historian believe he was ever a Christian. It is absolutely certain that he did not believe in original sin, or the efficacy of prayer, or the divinity of Christ, or the authority of the Bible, or anything else equated with the faith.
According to the most respected biography of the man, Lincoln: The True Story of a Great Life, written by the president’s lifetime best friend and business partner William Herndon, in 1835 Lincoln wrote a book that delivered a scathing attack on Christianity, mocking contradictions in the Bible and ridiculing Jesus as an illegitimate child. His friend Samuel Hill, in the interests of Lincoln’s future political career, forbade him to publish it, then seized the manuscript and consigned it to the flames to prevent its appearing in public.
Here’s a brief testimonial from the man who knew Lincoln better than all others: “From what I know of Mr. Lincoln, and from what I have heard and verily believe, I can say, first, that he did not believe in a special creation, his idea being that all creation was an evolution under law; secondly, that he did not believe that the Bible was a special revelation from God, as the Christian world contends; thirdly, he did not believe in miracles as understood by Christians; fourthly, he believed in universal inspiration and miracles under law; fifthly, be did not believe that Jesus was the Christ, the son of God, as the Christian church contends; sixthly, he believed that all things, both matter and mind, were governed by laws, universal, absolute, and eternal.”
The next most revered biography of Lincoln came in 1872, from the pen of a devout Christian named Ward Lamon, who had been the president’s long-time bodyguard, law partner and close personal friend. Lamon led Lincoln’s funeral procession in Washington, and his book scandalized believers by affirming ad nauseam that the dead president was in no way a Christian. Here’s another quick quote: “Mr. Lincoln was never a member of any church, nor did he believe in the divinity of Christ, or the inspiration of the Scriptures in the sense understood by Evangelical Christians.”
The only person truly close to the president to ever claim that he was a Christian was his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, and that was only after she had gone unequivocally insane. Mary was mentally disturbed for most of her life and spent her last years in and out of sanatoriums. Those who argue for Lincoln’s faith always rely on testimony she gave from the asylum, and reject her earlier, more clearheaded declarations to the contrary.
Religious leaders continued to push the myth for almost thirty years, until the scholar John E. Remsburg put any remaining claims of Lincoln’s supposed Christianity to bed for good in an 1893 book entitled Was Lincoln a Christian? This was a more than three-hundred-page exhaustive analysis of the testimony of one hundred friends and family members of the president. The interviews with former law partners, judges, generals and doctors overflow with terms like “unbeliever,” “pagan,” “freethinker,” “sceptic,” and “infidel.” Interestingly, they do not usually employ these terms in any pejorative sense, since many of the educated people close to Lincoln were non-religious themselves. Back in Lincoln’s day, non-theism may have been nearly as common among American intellectuals as it is today. There is overwhelming evidence that his opponent in the 1860 election, Stephen Douglass, also lived and died an unbeliever.
Imagine two professed atheists competing for the office of President of the United States today! According to a Gallup Poll taken in the lead-up to the 2008 election, 53% of the American population would refuse to vote for an atheist, even if they considered him well qualified. Compare this to only 43% who would refuse to vote for a homosexual, and the 38% who would reject a Muslim candidate.
In 21st century America, a white heterosexual male with two purple hearts, three Ph.D.’s, four Nobel Prizes and an IQ of 240 would be defeated by a potted plant if he ever publicly admitted to not worshipping a supernatural being.
Incidentally, the current Tea Party movement resembles nothing so much as the now defunct but aptly named Know Nothing Party, which arose in America right around the time of Lincoln’s presidency. The Know Nothings were anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic (read “Muslim”), and opposed to Lincoln’s plans to reform the economic basis of the country. In the 1850s, with the rise of opportunity in the California gold rush and wars in Holland, China and the Crimea, immigrants were flooding the country and the “Native Americans” (meaning the whites who had been there for at least a generation) were up in arms over the loss of jobs. In 1855, Lincoln wrote to his friend James Speed that, were the Know-Nothing Party to ever take control of the country, “I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty—to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure and without the base alloy of hypocrisy.”
Palin had moved on now from the great presidents to the great American military: “a force for good in this country,” ever stalwart, ready to sacrifice to “restrain evil and protect God-given liberty.”
“U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A!” the crowd chanted again in a emotional catharsis worthy of a Nuremberg Rally. I noticed that a large wooden cross with an American flag attached to it had appeared in the crowd, bobbing above the heads of another cluster of zealots.
I had seen a bit of the sacrifice Palin was mentioning in the homeless shelters I had stayed at, I mused, since nearly one-third of all homeless men in America are war veterans.
“Say what you want to say about me,” Palin said, smiling aggressively into the camera like a cougar about to pounce, “but I raised a combat vet! And you can’t take that away from me!”
As I listened to Palin use the fact that her son had been sent to fight in an unjustified war to score political points with her audience, several Martin Luther King Jr. quotations leapt to mind. I recalled how he had declared during the conflict in Vietnam that America had “committed more war crimes than any nation in the world!” and was “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today!”
The Republican President Eisenhower, if he were still alive, would probably have a few choice words for Sister Sarah too, I thought. As the Supreme Allied Commander of the Second World War, he had known better than anyone what combat was about, and as president had made his feelings clear regarding the burgeoning American military-industrial-complex: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. (…) The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some fifty miles of concrete pavement. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. (…) This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”
Can you picture an incumbent American president giving a speech like that today? He would be impeached! And Eisenhower was one of the most devout men to ever sit in the Oval Office—he came from a family of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Then Glenn Beck took centre stage again and told the history of the Purple Heart, explaining how in 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the medal for soldiers wounded in action. Then he moved on to propose a new “medal of merit,” to be given out by civilians like himself for achievements in faith, hope and charity.
The giant screens cut to a woman sitting in the crowd holding a Bible up to the camera, then faded back to the red hued image of Abraham Lincoln. Beck disappeared offstage, and another recording of his disembodied voice wafted once again out of the speakers, discussing the importance of faith in America’s history.
“Our faith has driven us to become the greatest people the world has ever known,” the voice announced, as the screens displayed a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. “But now it seems, as darkness begins to grow again, that faith is in short supply.” MLK Jr. was replaced by a picture of the founding fathers gathered around the constitution. “We must restore the faith that once guided us!”
Then a man came to the rostrum to give out a medal for “faith.” He was an Evangelist Native American Indian Chief named Nigiel Bigpond from the Yuchi tribe of Oklahoma. With a thick southern drawl, Bigpond announced that he was the fourth generation in his family to be a pastor. He told how his grandfather had served in the Second World War and his father had served in Vietnam.
“So I’m proud of the military warriors in Christ!” he thundered.
The screens cut to the crowd once again. A giant medieval-looking checkered flag bedecked with crosses was waved at the camera.
“I too have a dream,” Bigpond continued. “That all the tribes of American Indians come out of the reservations to give honour to God! That all our people come to know Jesus as our Lord and saviour!”
I looked around, doubting that there was a single Native American in the entire audience. The camera cut to a cheering crowd of white faces. Except for an exceedingly few black people, I had long ago observed the audience was almost aseptically white. A bit odd in a city like Washington, D.C., which is nearly 60% African-American. And even odder at a rally supposedly celebrating a black leader.
As I began working my way out of the densely packed crowd, Beck came out again to give his closing speech. His dramatic voice boomed through the speakers, recalling one more time the names Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and King, and reaffirming that the followers of the Tea Party were their modern incarnations. I saw him choking back tears of emotion on the giant screens as he quoted the entire Gettysburg Address and applied it to modern America.
“Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure! We are met on a great battle-field of that war!”
He was shouting at the top of his lungs, and everybody in the crowd knew exactly what he was getting at. He admonished the crowd to give ten percent of their salaries to their churches. He exclaimed that “God was the answer,” and roared once again that the principles of America needed to be taught from the pulpit.
It was all very impressively packaged. The Republican Party had been organizing this for a long time.
After the rally had ended, I spent nearly an hour plunging through unending crowds of sweating tourists towards the greatest monument to the human race ever conceived: the Library of Congress.
The huge reading room in the Jefferson Building was astonishingly empty, in spite of the capital’s massive influx of Tea Partiers. I filled out some slips of paper with the books I wanted to look at, along with the number of the desk I would be sitting at, and gave it to the librarian. She set it on a conveyor belt that rolled slowly out of sight, telling me that it takes approximately one hour for the workers to send up a book from the archives. The stores beneath the building are vast, she said, and nearly every book ever published is there in at least facsimile form.
I sat down to do some writing, and after about forty-five minutes, the librarian came by and dropped off two tomes that I had been planning to read for years: Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason and Thomas Jefferson’s The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.
I picked up the first book and skimmed a few chapters. Paine was the “Philosophical Father of the American Revolution,” and wrote the famous pamphlet entitled Common Sense, which galvanized popular sentiment against the British. Glenn Beck had recently published a book with the exact same title, making himself out to be the modern Paine. Too bad Beck never read anything else by him. The Age of Reason was written only a little later, and is a scathing condemnation of Christianity, roaring that churches were “human inventions set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.” President Jefferson famously scandalized the religious sentiments of his country when he invited Paine to come and spend two whole weeks with him in the White House in 1803, after he had published this book.
I put down Paine and picked up the other work.
Thomas Jefferson, the most commonly cited historical figure among Tea Party activists, personally rewrote the entire New Testament to reject the divinity of Christ. He cut out all the miracles and left only the moral teachings. Just as with his desire to outlaw slavery in the Declaration of Independence, which was blocked by popular sentiment, Jefferson was a man light years ahead of the times. The manuscript Jefferson put together is commonly referred to as The Jefferson Bible, and was composed by him while he was serving as president. It is composed of edited clippings from all four gospels in Greek, Latin, French and English Bibles, laid side by side on the page. It was, of course, not published until well after his death.
I opened the extremely rare work and turned the hard, unbending pages with care. I skimmed the text for a while, then skipped to the final verse: “There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.”
The end. No resurrection, no Magi, no transmuted wine, no raising of Lazarus, no faith healing, none of it.
As I closed the book, I looked around at all the empty chairs. This was a Saturday, and the capital was bursting with visitors. I stayed there the whole day reading, but only saw the barest trickle of people come in to read.
 It is interesting to note that the most indisputably Christian of the founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton, is never discussed by the Tea Party. Hamilton was immensely eloquent, created the basis for the modern American Army and even founded the acutely Tea Party sounding “Christian Constitutional Society.” You would think that the religious right would be quoting him constantly. Why don’t they? Because he was a lifelong supporter of strong central government and the Tea Party doesn’t want to accept the authority of the current president.