March 5, 2013
Mike Harman: Godless Democrats are in good company

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Thank you for printing Clairmont Smith's letter Feb. 19, blasting away at godless Democrats. I was beginning to wonder if anyone could get my blood pressure back up to normal.

I don't think godless Democrats are all of a piece, as Smith would have you believe. I assume most Americans, like me, bristle when others start telling us what kind of religion to embrace, if any. It seems to me that some key figures in America's past, like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, had some problems with the Christian Bible and worked hard to ensure religious freedom when the Constitution and Bill of Rights were written.

Some of us godless Democrats are quite interested in learning about the various religious teachings, because we want to understand what purpose religion serves, and where people like Smith get their ideas. And, in keeping with tradition, it looks like they're making it up as they go.

Why not take a look at what some great Americans thought? Let's consider Paine, whom many credit with stirring the revolutionary fervor to the tipping point: "I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish Church, by the Roman Church, by the Greek Church, by the Turkish Church, by the Protestant Church, nor by any Church that I know of. My own mind is my own Church," he wrote in "The Age of Reason."

Jefferson was known to be cautious of investment in any organized religious code. "The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute inquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine," he wrote in a letter to John Adams in 1814.

Later on, Mark Twain got in his licks in his autobiography: "In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing."

Will Rogers: "There is no argument in the world that carries the hatred that a religious belief does. The more learned a man is the less consideration he has for another man's belief."

Frederick Douglass, an American slave who escaped, wrote his autobiography at age 27 and went on to become a friend of Abraham Lincoln and recruited thousands of black men into the Union Army. "I assert most unhesitatingly, that the religion of the South is a mere covering for the most horrid crimes -- a justifier of the most appalling barbarity, a sanctifier of the most hateful frauds, and a dark shelter under which the darkest, foulest, grossest, and most infernal deeds of slaveholders find the strongest protection. Were I to be again reduced to the chains of slavery, next to that enslavement, I should regard being the slave of a religious master the greatest calamity that could befall me ... I ... hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land," he wrote in "After the Escape."

Let's not leave out John F. Kennedy, a Democrat who was a Catholic, but famously said, "I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me."

Smith couldn't help but refer to Ann Coulter in his defamation of godless Democrats, which makes me suspect that he is in fact a handler of serpents. She has been known to bite anyone within spitting range. He has apparently been bitten hard.

Harman is retired and lives in St. Albans.

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