Monday, July 03, 2006

Liberty Desecrated

"Where liberty dwells,
there is my country."

-- Benjamin Franklin

Lady Liberty stands in New York Harbor to both welcome the travelers, the visitors and the homeward bound, and to show forth to all the world what we believe in. She's called "Liberty Enlightening the World", and her torch shines forth as a beacon to those arriving, and those still journeying, promising them hope. She's crowned with a diadem of seven spikes, representing the seven oceans of the world, across which her pilgrims travel to reach her, and she carries a plaque with the date July 4, 1776 written on it - the date when our Republic took its first full breath of life. Below her is a pediment with the invitation - nay, the command - "Bring me your tired, your poor..."

Liberty stands, stern and unyielding, the guardian of what we in this country have always held most dear.

But now...

A church in Memphis Tennessee - with the attractive name of World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church - has turned the Lady into a Jesus freak.

Into a travesty.

She holds, not a torch to light the darkness, but a cross. Her crown is emblazoned with the name Jehovah. She carries the Ten Commandments, and beneath her there they are again.

And she's crying.

Well she might be, poor Liberty, dragooned into the service of a religiosity that no longer knows what it means, that confuses patriotism with religion, and seeks to show that America belongs to Jesus. This evil twin of Liberty doesn't want to welcome, but to dominate. And although Jesus echoed some of her concerns, it's clear that many of his followers don't.

Liberty is much older than Jesus. A statue was erected to her on the Aventine hill during the Second Punic War, which was more than two centuries before he was born.

Christian liberty, so called, is not the same thing. It is, according to Bible studies, called "the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:21) but consists of being free from spiritual burdens:
There's only one of those things that deserves the name of 'liberty', and that's freedom from slavery - and the Bible's pretty clear that slavery exists and is a good thing, and for that matter, though in Corinthians Paul says "we" are "children of the free woman and not of the slave", in Philemon he sends Onesimus back to his owner, and he frequently admonishes slaves to be obedient to their masters. Slaves could be Christians, and Christians could own slaves: it just wasn't a deal-breaker for Paul even though he constantly harped on being "born free". But even then, he didn't mean liberty. For the early Church, freedom wasn't liberty.

After all, Jesus is Lord - and that is a political term. Lord = "one having power and authority over others : a ruler by hereditary right or preeminence to whom service and obedience are due," or "a master of servants" ("lord." Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. (3 Jul. 2006). It's the Kingdom of Heaven, after all, not the Republic of Heaven. God is "King of Kings" and "Lord of Lords" and Jesus is the "Prince" of Peace...

Christians are always told to yield to those set in authority over them - only worshipping false gods is forbidden them. Occasionally some rebellious sect rises up (think of the Puritans) but even they set someone up in authority over the people to replace the one they overthrow. Political liberty is simply not a Christian concept.

It's an American concept though - nurtured by the great thinkers of the Enlightenment and transformed from a radical idea into a political reality by the Founders, liberty is, in fact, the quintessential American concept. It's inseparable from that other great American concept: the separation of Church and State. Liberty doesn't care what god you worship, as long as you accept Her. And establishing one church over another puts some people over others, and that's not good for Church or State.

As Thomas Jefferson wrote to the Baptists of Danbury (who were a religious minority in Connecticut and who had written to him to complain that in their state, the religious liberties they enjoyed were not seen as immutable rights, but as privileges granted by the legislature - as "favors granted.") :
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and state.
Take another look at the travesty in Memphis. There's no separation there: she's ready to beat other religions over the head with that cross, and to shove her tablet of religious laws into the face of anyone who dares to disagree. She's draped in Christianity.

She might as well continue to wear that veil to hide her shame.

Church members said the mixture of the statue and Christian symbols represent "America belonging to God through Jesus Christ."

George Washington The Treaty of Tripoli, January 4, 1797, approved by President John Adams and Secretary of State Timothy Pickering and ratified by the Senate, gives them the lie direct:
The United States is in no sense founded upon the Christian doctrine.
There's no denying most Americans are Christians. But that's beside the point - well and truly beside the point. The point is that America is a "nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal." Christians may choose to subordinate themselves in a servant/Lord / ruled/ruler relationship with their god, just as Muslims submit to theirs, but Americans are free. "We the people" are our own rulers.

Merging Liberty with Christianity is not merely (merely, I say!) crappy civics, it's crappy theology. But this Memphis horror isn't Liberty. Liberty welcomes all, not just the elect.

Here's what the Lady who stands in New York Harbor says to the world:
The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Let's not change that message for the narrow-minded, religious dogma exemplified by the Travesty in Memphis.

Lady Liberty, Goddess of America: long may you lift your lamp against the darkness.

[amended 5 July to correct which president approved the Treaty of Tripoli]

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At 6:30 PM, July 03, 2006 Anonymous Skeptyk had this to say...

Thanks for finding this, although it depresses me. I found you via a link from Pharyngula at Science Blogs. I'll be back again to see what you are thinking.

Be well

At 7:21 PM, July 03, 2006 Anonymous James Randi had this to say...

Well stated, and much needed. We writhe now under the yoke of "faith-based" thinking and decisions, and that candle in the dark has, as Carl Sagan warned us, begun to gutter. And yes, the demons are stirring. This desecration of Liberty is one of those demons...

At 9:27 PM, July 03, 2006 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

Typo: "the wretched refuse of *your* teeming shore"

At 9:34 PM, July 03, 2006 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

Yes - thanks! Typo fixed.

At 10:56 PM, July 03, 2006 Blogger Jason had this to say...

Inscription on the Liberty Bell: "Proclaim Liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof."

Leviticus 25:10 (KJV): "[P]roclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof."

Not sure where you guys are getting your ideas about the Founding Fathers' ideas about liberty, but it certainly isn't from history. That being said, making a replica of the Statue of Liberty look like that is just as wrong.

At 11:11 PM, July 03, 2006 Blogger Jason had this to say...

And since you obviously love Jefferson quotes so much, here's another:

"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever."

Also, you are using the quote from the Treaty of Tripoli as a half-truth/half-lie. Yes, that phrase appeared in the first version of the treaty, but only in the English version. Additionally, when the treaty was renegotiated years later, that phrase was dropped completely. Hardly a worthy argument for your side.

At 11:34 PM, July 03, 2006 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

I wondered about that Jefferson quote since he wasn't a very religious fellow. So a quick search found evidence that your quote is ephemeral at best

At 11:58 PM, July 03, 2006 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

Jason, your Jefferson quote is spurious. It's a conflation of several of works, taken out of context.

The first phrase in Jefferson's 1774 publication to the English king, A Summary View of the Rights of British America.

"This, sire, is the advice of your great American council, on the observance of which may perhaps depend your felicity and future fame, and the preservation of that harmony which alone can continue both to Great Britain and America the reciprocal advantages of their connection. It is neither our wish, nor our interest, to separate from her. We are willing, on our part, to sacrifice every thing which reason can ask to the restoration of that tranquillity for which all must wish. On their part, let them be ready to establish union and a generous plan. Let them name their terms, but let them be just. Accept of every commercial preference it is in our power to give for such things as we can raise for their use, or they make for ours. But let them not think to exclude us from going to other markets to dispose of those commodities which they cannot use, or to supply those wants which they cannot supply. Still less let it be proposed that our properties within our own territories shall be taxed or regulated by any power on earth but our own. The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time; the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them. This, sire, is our last, our determined resolution; and that you will be pleased to interpose with that efficacy which your earnest endeavours may ensure to procure redress of these our great grievances, to quiet the minds of your subjects in British America, against any apprehensions of future encroachment, to establish fraternal love and harmony through the whole empire, and that these may continue to the latest ages of time, is the fervent prayer of all British America!"

[Source of Document:

University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center Jefferson, Thomas, 1743-1826. A Summary View of the Rights of British America, p. 122, Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library]

Notice that yanking it out of context creates a different reading than Jefferson's original meaning, where a metaphorical reading of "God" is as likely as a religious one.

Excerpt From: Notes on the State of Virginia by Thomas Jefferson

. . .The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals undepraved by such circumstances. And with what execrations should the statesman be loaded who, permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots and these into enemies, destroys the morals of the one part and the amor patriae of the other. For if a slave can have a country in this world, it must be any other in preference to that in which he is born to live and labor for another: in which he must lock up the faculties of his nature, contribute as far as depends on his individual endeavors to the evanishment of the human race or entail his own miserable condition on the endless generations proceeding from him. With the morals of the people, their industry is also destroyed. For in a warm climate, no man will labor for himself who can make another labor for him. This is so true that, of the proprietors of slaves, a very small proportion are ever seen to labor. And 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 the gift of god? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice can not sleep forever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference!"

[Source of Information

American Studies at the University of Virginia website Notes on The State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson ]

This is Jefferson talking about slavery and the inevitable bloody revolt of slaves ... not the foundation of the nation on Jesus.

Did Jefferson ever use the word "God"? Of course he did. I'm not arguing that he was atheist. But he did not intend this country to "belong to Jesus."

And any revision "years later" of the Treaty of Tripoli has no bearing on what Washington believed when he signed it.

At 12:02 AM, July 04, 2006 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

The Liberty Bell was cast in 1751. It was apparently intended to celebrate the 50-year-anniversary of Pennsylvania (hence the quote referring to the Jubilee), and was not part of the Founders' thoughts about the problem of Church and State.

At 2:04 AM, July 04, 2006 Anonymous Jon H had this to say...

"And any revision "years later" of the Treaty of Tripoli has no bearing on what Washington believed when he signed it."

Also, the revision may have been due to the Tripoli side, rather than a change of heart on the American side.

Perhaps the foreign party to the treaty had become accustomed to dealing peaceably with non-Muslim nations. Or perhaps our behavior in the years since the original treaty led them to not require that assurance to be part of the treaty.

At 2:42 AM, July 04, 2006 Anonymous Jon H had this to say...

Anyone who claims the US was founded as a Christian nation doesn't know their history.

Today, for the most part we lump all the denominations together, so it sounds reasonable to make such a claim.

But that was not the case in 1776.

An Anglican was likely to consider a Baptist to be a radical, and possibly dangerous. The Baptist, no doubt, would hold a low opinion of the Anglican church - especially if he were English and had lived as a second-class citizen due to not being Anglican. Neither would think much of Unitarian beliefs, or the Roman Catholic church. And any denomination would be unlikely to consider other denominations to be genuinely Christian.

If the Founders had tried to declare, in law, that America was a Christian nation, that would probably not suffice. The question would arise, what was meant by Christian? You would have had to be more specific than that, and name a particular denomination.

Clearly, if the Founders had intended to declare American a Christian nation, they would have done so. Nothing would have stopped them.

Yet we find no references to Christ in the Constitution. The Preamble says:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

If Christ were to appear in the Constitution, there would be two most likely places it would appear. First, in the Preamble, before the text gets into the blah details of government organization. Second, in the First Amendment, which deals with religion.

Nowhere in the Preamble do we see anything about religion. We even see "secure the blessings of liberty", not "secure the blessings of Christ" or "secure the blessings of God" or anything similar.

And of course the First Amendment has no declaration of Christian Nationhood.

So, basically, America is in no way established as a Christian nation except as an artifact of demographics.

What makes America America is not the religion of our citizens, but our Constitution. If all Americans converted to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, and Wicca tomorrow, America as an institution would not change at all so long as the Constitution was still respected.

On the other hand, a bunch of Christians who ignore and defy the Constitution risk weakening the very foundations of our nation which were constructed by far smarter men with far better intentions.

At 7:31 PM, July 04, 2006 Blogger the amazing kim had this to say...

It's an American concept though - nurtured by the great thinkers of the Enlightenment and transformed from a radical idea into a political reality by the Founders, liberty is, in fact, the quintessential American concept.

Forgive me if I get this wrong - my American history isn't all that great - but I can't help thinking the French did it first.

At 8:43 PM, July 04, 2006 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

That poem always makes me cry. Thanks for posting it.

Duke York

At 8:45 PM, July 04, 2006 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

Yes, among others, the French did do it before we did. That's who I meant by "the great thinkers of the Englightenment".

When I say "It's an American concept" I don't mean we invented it. I mean it's American as opposed to things that aren't American - by which, let me add, I don't mean "unamerican". I mean it's the concept America was founded on.

And when I say it's "the quintessential American concept" I don't mean that it's quintessentialLY American. I mean it defines America, not originates from us: it's at the core of America, not American at its core.

We didn't invent it. I'd like to think we perfected it, but we haven't, not yet. We're working on it.

I hope.

At 9:05 AM, July 05, 2006 Blogger Barry Leiba had this to say...

In case anyone's interested, here's a link to yesterday's New York Times article about the statue desecration.

At 9:18 AM, July 05, 2006 Blogger bigdumbchimp had this to say...

Great post. I too came here via Pharyngula and will be returning.

At 3:08 PM, July 05, 2006 Blogger Taco Jack had this to say...

It was John Adams who signed the treaty in 1797, not Washington.

The relevant passage:


As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

At 3:37 PM, July 05, 2006 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

Taco Jack, thanks for the correction. I had the wrong year in my head for some reason - should have checked it! Post has been amended.

At 12:28 AM, July 06, 2006 Anonymous Jesus had this to say...

Wow. Sorry I wasted time reading your blog. I was hoping for some facts or some fact-based report about this defaced Lady Liberty. All I found was some hate-based rhetoric and severe misunderstanding of grace and the foundational beliefs of the followers of Jesus.

Get a life.

At 11:06 AM, July 06, 2006 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

This article is the funniest and most small-minded thing I've read in a long time. Weak support and high school level argument construction.

Great stuff, very entertaining.

Burn the art because you disagree! Liberals=the new facists!

At 3:10 PM, July 06, 2006 Anonymous Gordon Schumacher had this to say...

As the last verse of Allanah Mac Croi (written by a good friend of ours) puts it:

And I hear it told, there's a lady in the harbour
Tall, strong, and stately, she stands by the sea
To bid us good welcome to the land of our future
Allanah Mac Croi

At 1:02 PM, July 10, 2006 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

I do not know in what way I am more offened at the sight of this trasfty of Liberty. As a Jew, As a New Yorker or as an American. The Statue was a gift from a French Archeidiect who wanted to give America something that shoulded it's gift to Freedom. The Statue took ten years more then he expected to be completed but it was done by 1886 does this preacher know that. Oh yeah and what ever happened to that I shall not make idols of God's images.

At 11:35 PM, July 14, 2006 Blogger decrepitoldfool had this to say...

"Merging Liberty with Christianity is not merely (merely, I say!) crappy civics, it's crappy theology."

Yes. My first thought when i saw that abomination was that they understood neither what it means to be American or what it means to be Christian.

Anonymous: "Burn the art because you disagree! Liberals=the new facists!"

I don't recall any attempt to censor the church or its statue. Criticism does not equal censorship. There is nothing illiberal about criticising a work of art; quite the opposite. It is simply a payment into the marketplace of ideas.

At 11:38 AM, September 27, 2006 Blogger Johonet had this to say...

Has anyone seen Stephen Dinan's article on "Lady Liberty." It is a fine piece and shows why we should promote the image of the Statue of Liberty. The link to the article is below.

At 2:47 PM, April 28, 2007 Blogger Cara had this to say...

I'm a Christian but I COMPLETELY agree with you. I'm sorry, on behalf of all those who shove doctrine down everyone's throat. They've got it all wrong. You cannot legislate morality.

And anyway, I feel like this "work of art" is plagiarism. It's another cheap attempt to be relevent to culture that ends up just being a bad knock-off of someone else's amazing idea.

And hey, all you Christians need to stop being name-calling and condescending!! It's a complete contradiction to who you say you are.

At 1:05 PM, August 15, 2007 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

The statue is symbolic of freedom which America stands for,I don't understand why anyone would be mad at this church for displaying a clean, meaningful, patriotic, work of art. It's their right to do so. If you want to spend your time on something more deserving of critisim then why dont you attack the PORN industry for their filthy displays that depict women as being loose whores and men as being over sexed cave men. At least this church is being clean. And Cara, if you are a Cristian then you will find that to preach the gospel and share doctorine is a command to be followed, the gospel is good news but you have sold out and made it appear to be something to be destained. Lee J.

At 1:24 PM, August 15, 2007 Blogger The Ridger, FCD had this to say...

Lee, I love your non sequitur about the porn industry. Nice totally random thing to complain about, there. As to the substance of your comment: people who treat the USA as if it were Iran - a country with a Christian government - scare me. This is a SECULAR country, and claiming the government belongs to Jesus would be wrong if every single person in the country belonged to your church. The Founders knew the danger - to the government AND to religion - of conflating the two. I'm sorry you don't.

At 12:19 AM, February 17, 2010 Anonymous Anonymous had this to say...

I am reading this article second time today, you have to be more careful with content leakers. If I will fount it again I will send you a link


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