A Small Comment Skirmish on Waukesha Patch

Occasionally, because I may be clinically insane, I post a comment or two on Waukesha Patch just to see what will happen.  And sometimes people respond.  And then I respond… and they respond… you get the picture.

Recently, on a comment exchange on a Patch article about the horrific Waukesha School Board member, Karin Rajnicek, who was slapped by the Waukesha School Board for appearing in a partisan political ad and misrepresenting herself, one of the conservative commenters posted the following:

Now I don’t want to go into the whole debate here (it’s proven rather pointless attempting to instruct conservatives on the structure and function of civil society, but I digress), but whenever I see a Thomas Jefferson quote, a little warning flag goes up that says “I’ll bet he got that wrong!”

Many conservatives love to quote the FoundingFathers™ to support their positions without quite comprehending who these guys actually were.  These guys were revolutionaries.  They weren’t Ronald Reagan. They were Che Guevara!  They had more in common with Mao, Lenin and Fighting Bob than they ever had with Gingrich, Palin, Perry or, for heaven’s sake, Herman Cain.  These guys were seeking to overturn the established order of things, not defend it.

They weren’t the tidy, sanitized-for-your-protection historical figures we think of today.  History and historians have done a lot of work cleaning them up, scrubbing their reputations and taking the rough edges off their revolutionary zeal (although Paine simply refuses to clean up!) so that they can inhabit the rarified (and sterile) air of the Olympian heights of American Democracy.  There they stand, marble statues, safe and unthreatening to the current established order of things.

But they were anything but unthreatening.  Just ask King George!  They were out to change the course of history and would have paid a heavy price if they failed.  As Benjamin Franklin is rumored to have said, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately!”  This was not a game for conservatives.

Despite the shared revolutionary fervor, they were certainly not a homogeneous group.  Politically, we can divide them into two broad camps: Federalists and anti-Federalists.  The Federalists, best represented by Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, preached an aristocratic representative quasi-monarchical form of government.  They feared the “mob.”

But that was not Jefferson.  Jefferson, an anti-Federalist sympathizer, believed in an Agrarian Democracy and feared the emergence of a monarchy in America with a Federalist President as a new King.  Didn’t we just get rid of a king, he wondered?  He was much more aligned with Thomas Paine than he was with John Adams, though he and Adams remained lifelong friends despite their bitter political differences.  So, like most liberals, I tend to gravitate more toward the Jeffersonian / Paineian side of the revolutionary era political spectrum.

All of this is, of course, a broad oversimplification, but it serves a purpose.  When “Doc” quoted Jefferson, it got me thinking.  When folks on the right quote him (or Paine for that matter), they invariably get the context wrong and they often get the quote itself wrong.  Doc got both wrong.  So I embarked on a corrective exercise.

Now you may say that the variance in the quote is minor, but in reality, it’s huge. What is spun by the right as a Jeffersonian cry to childish libertarian tax avoidance is really an appeal to religious tolerance and freedom.  And it represents a commitment by Jefferson (reinforced in so many of his writings) to a broad, civil society not predicated on any faith or creed.  I think it’s worth reading the whole of what Jefferson wrote to ensure religious liberty in Virginia and, ultimately, for all Americans.  Like so much of Jefferson’s writing, it resonates with modern sensibilities despite a separation of more than 230 years.  You want to know what Jefferson thought about religion?  Well here you go.

An Act for establishing religious Freedom.

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;

That all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and therefore are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do,

That the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time;

That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical;

That even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind;

That our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry,

That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right,

That it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;

That though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way;

That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own;

That it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order;

And finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them:

Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.


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24 thoughts on “A Small Comment Skirmish on Waukesha Patch

  1. Great blog, and good to see others that take the time to right the wrongs of the right. It’s amazing how so many have become wordsmiths like fox news.

    1. Thanks! Personally, I didn’t think anyone would read this post. I wrote it for myself more than anything. But I’m glad you liked it. And thank the real inspiration, Thomas Jefferson.

  2. You, sir, and Mr Jefferson, have come to the crux of the matter, which is, and I will quote my King here, “But who do you say that I am?”

    Full context: Mark 8:27-33 ” Now Jesus and his disciples set out for the villages of Caesarea Philipi: Along the way he asked his disciples, ” Who do people say that I am?” 28 They said in reply, ” John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter said to him in reply, ” You are the Messiah.” 30 Then he warned them not to tell anyone about him. 31 He began to teach that the Son of Man must suffer greatly and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and rise after three days. 32 He spoke this openly. Then Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33 At this he turned around and, looking at the disciples, rebuked Peter and said, ” Get thee behind me Satan. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do.”

    ” It is thy very energy of thought / that keeps thee from thy God.”
    ~ John Henry Cardinal Newman ~
    ( Convert from Church of England to the Holy Roman Catholic Church )

    Mark Paul John Ephriam “Doc” Kimble
    ( Recovering Anti-Catholic )

    1. Ok… You know that Jefferson created his own bible, right? He cut out all the supernatural bits and turned Jesus into a philosopher rather than some mystical magical figure. He called it The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth.

      The Jefferson Bible, or The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth as it is formally titled, was Thomas Jefferson’s effort to extract the doctrine of Jesus by removing sections of the New Testament containing supernatural aspects as well as perceived misinterpretations he believed had been added by the Four Evangelists. (from Wikipedia)

      Jefferson was a Deist, not a Christian.

  3. ‘So, like most liberals, I tend to gravitate more toward the Jeffersonian / Paineian side of the revolutionary era political spectrum.’

    Any similarity between you and Jefferson is wholly in your mind. Jefferson was a man of principles while you, well we all know what you are.

    1. Yes, I’m a guy who doesn’t hide behind the anonymity of a blog comment.

      So what part of the post do you dispute? I’m curious.

    2. Jim, you’re clearly a pretty bitter guy. Please stop taking your personal grievances with life and projecting them onto others via wild character judgments.

  4. Yes, great post, Phil.

    …whenever I see a Thomas Jefferson quote, a little warning flag goes up that says “I’ll bet he got that wrong!”

    You and I think alike there.

    I would only posit, though, that the group of founders generally was co-opted by conservative forces by the time it came to write the new constitution (the same conservative forces that originally wanted nothing to do with declaring independence from the Crown, the same conservatives that saw to it that Paine would play no role in Official Founding and that Jefferson would be sent to France during said writing, and the same conservatives that had to be corrected vis-a-vis the bill of rights).

    1. Agreed on principle, but Jefferson in particular continued to write aggressively against the Federalists through the years. I maintain that there was still a strong division among the founders as to the role and scope of government and the power of central control.

  5. You wrote, “What is spun by the right as a Jeffersonian cry to childish libertarian tax avoidance is really an appeal to religious tolerance and freedom.”

    Thomas Jefferson wrote, ” To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

    All men are double-minded at times; only one man was never double-minded, ever, and that man called himself Son of Man, Truth Personified, and he had this to say about taxes, ” Therefore render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and unto God, that which is God’s.” Mark 12:17

    Man may cut and condemn, choose and refuse, compel and condone, but the words as spoken haven’t changed, not a jot or tittle. As men wax worse and worse, and fall deeper into darkness, this only serves to make the Light of the World brighter.

    The words of the great British essayist Hillaire Belloc are appropriate for this discussion:

    ” We sit by and watch the barbarian, we tolerate him; in the long stretches of peace we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence; his comic inversion of our old certainties and fixed creeds refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond; and on those faces there is no smile.”

    In ” Sapientiae Christianae”, Pope Leo XII admonished the faithful that,

    ” To recoil before an enemy, or to keep silence when from all sides such clamors are raised up against truth, is the part of a man either devoid of character or who entertains doubt as to the truth of what he professes to believe.
    In both cases such modes of behavior is base and is insulting to God, and both are incompatible to the salvation of mankind. This kind of conduct is profitable only to the enemies of the faith, for nothing emboldens the wicked so greatly as the lack of courage on the part of the good.”

    I have mentioned previously that the two things that separate man from beast are 1) conscience and 2) speech. Words can be used to confuse consciences, for the purpose of gaining power in this world over others. But those who are truly free are those whose consciences are slaves to the Almighty God and King, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.

    Mankind will never build a utopia on earth unless and until all men’s consciences are Perfectly Contrite. Until that day arrives, all human persons would do well to renew our minds daily with prayer and works of mercy, and put our complete faith in the one King who cannot lie …or be lied to.

    God’s Kingdom is not of this world.

    1. That people find it necessary to quote a text, written by nameless humans, that is at least four translations removed from its original form as a definitive statement of fact befuddles me.

      And then to compound that by trying to interpret the original writings of a man very well known to history to fit his premise absolutely confounds me.

      Yet that keeps no one from stepping into that void.

    2. Doc, I love you, but when you start from a faulty premise you build your argument on sand. The Jefferson quote you cite is incorrect for the reasons I’ve stated above in the post. Simply repeating your mistake will not make it right.

      Thomas Jefferson wrote, ” To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.”

      is incorrect. It was incorrect, it is incorrect and no matter now many times you scribble it here or on Patch or in your personal journal it will still be incorrect.

      Everything else that follows in your post is irrelevant. Move on to something else.

      And Doc, what Jefferson wrote was designed to keep people like you from dictating terms of faith to people like me. I’m not a Christian, I’m an Atheist and in Jefferson’s world, we’re equals.

      1. And Doc, what Jefferson wrote was designed to keep people like you from dictating terms of faith to people like me. I’m not a Christian, I’m an Atheist and in Jefferson’s world, we’re equals.

        Which shouldn’t be inconsistent with Doc’s adherence to “Therefore render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and unto God, that which is God’s.” (whatd’ya know!? Doc says that a translator says that Mark says that Jesus advocated for separation of church and state!)

        But I’m getting the drift that Doc doesn’t see that., unless I’m reading him incorrectly.

  6. Well, I can see I’m among atheists here, so let me state for the record that I believe we all have gods, and that everyone of any age has had a god. Whatever we do most, and think most about, is a god. Some gods are false, and some are angels leading to God. I believe angels inspired the Prophets of the Old Testament. You atheists don’t. Your choice. But a bad one, which it is my moral duty to point out to you how bad it is, and how bad it can be.

    If any of you atheists ever need an exorcist, you know where you can find one. Those false gods can be very demanding, and once they’ve got you in hell, there’s no turning around. And suicide isn’t allowed there. Hope you’ll take that under consideration the next time you’re tempted to blithely dismiss your only Savior.

    1. Well, I can’t speak for anyone else, but I certainly am. Born and raised. I believe in human reason and science. But science isn’t a religion, it’s kind of the anti-religion because contained within the creed of science is the moral imperative to disprove what is believed to be true through testing. Unlike religion which relies on an unknowable “black box” (god, angels, flying spagetti monsters, whatever), science tells us that anything can be known given enough time, energy and thought.

      So good luck with that whole savior thing… Let me know how it turns out. Me? I’m food for the worms. And I’ll be you are too.

    2. Why do professed Christians keep quoting the Old Testament at us? Didn’t Christ proclaim a new covenant between God and All Men. Shouldn’t we be throwing away the eye for an eye in replace it with do unto others?

      1. ” Do unto others…” is a virtue not just of Christians, Pagans before Christ knew well that this was a natural law, and some followed it quite religiously. It’s not an accident of history that Jesus taught this concept; before his incarnation he taught it to the angels, and the angels taught it to men. When the Second Person of the Trinity became man, he didn’t change his teachings, he expanded on them.

        1. ummm…I believe you are testifying about facts not in evidence…my position still stands…for a Christian the convenants of the OT have been replaced by the covenant of the NT…your other folklore not withstanding.

          1. Explain Heb 13:8 for me then, oh wise one.

            Hint: ” Replacement Theology” is a heresy, and it causes arguments that divide Christians

            Hint: ” Sola Scriptura” is a heresy, and it causes arguments that divides Christians.

            Inquisition, Crusades, Whore of Babylon….in three, two….one…

  7. Flying Spaghetti Monster invoked and noted. No, Phil, that’s a demon. Wake up. You’re being deceived….by an eternal being that you think doesn’t exist. His name is Satan.

    1. Nope. He doesn’t exist either except in the minds of the men who want to control you. It’s all make-believe. The FSM is just as reasonable as anything your church can cook up. I’ll stick with reason and science, thanks. Just like Jefferson.

  8. Men have tried to control me all my life, Phil. Men like you. I’ve resisted as best I know how, and am, in fact , doing that at this precise moment. But, like “Luke” in “Cool Hand Luke” said, ” Yeah, well, it’s just a bunch of guys making a bunch of rules.”

    If men like you, Phil, were to try to get me to do something I felt was morally wrong, based on what the One who does, hopefully, control my mind advises me is morally wrong, then just watch what happens next. You will see the most stubborn refusenic you’ll ever want to see.

    As I reminded you before, I share the blood of Patriots who fought in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War ( “June” Kimble, 14th Tenn Volunteers, with Lee from the beginning to end…Stars and Bars Forever), the Alamo ( Geo Kimble, of ” The Immmortal 32″), WWII (both parents), and Viet Nam ( yours truly). I am a convert from Paganism to Catholicism, and a firm believer in Papal Infallibility on matters pertaining to faith and morals. I don’t know how not to fight for what I think is right; my bloodline won’t allow it, and my conscience is my God’s property and no one else’s.

    Control, Phil? Why do you think they call Population Control ” Population Control”?

    1. For a Christian you are quoting the wrong Luke…but from my experience with Catholicism, I now understand your fascination with the OT over the NT and Satan and demons.

  9. Phil,

    Good stuff. I agree about Paine , he didnt clean up so well which is why he doesnt get his due amongst the Founders in the revolution for dummies versions. It also drove me insane, and completely underwrote the ridiculousness of the tea parties, by trying to brand thomas Paine as a “tea party” revolutionary. http://bloggingblue.com/2010/08/08/i-rest-my-case/

    While Jefferson/Adams were friends at the end of their lives, they made up because I do not think they got along very well Adams was pres and Jefferson was VP.

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