The American Vision: A Biblical Worldview Ministry

Hijacking the Declaration

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It’s been said that you can tell a book by its cover. You can also tell a book by those who endorse it. Consider Alan Dershowitz’s Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking our Declaration of Independence.[1] The book is endorsed by at least two high-profile published atheists (Steven Pinker and Sam Harris), the president of the ACLU (Nadine Strossen, who speaks to atheist groups and may be an atheist herself), an anti-Christian and self-avowed atheistic Congressman (Pete Stark, D-CA), and the Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (Barry W. Lynn) who rarely has anything good to say about religion and the public square and whose organization takes the atheist position in court battles.

Their endorsement of Blasphemy and its defense of the Declaration of Independence over against its Christian interpreters made me laugh out loud. How can any of these critics denounce the “Christian Right” and its use of the Declaration when the Declaration asserts that our “inalienable rights” are an endowment from the Creator? 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Dershowitz and his atheistic supporters are hypocrites. Their attack should be on the Declaration itself since it not only grounds our nation’s most fundamental rights in a Creator, but it also acknowledges that this Creator is “the Supreme Judge of the world.”

In his chapter titled “The Christian Right’s Strategy,” Dershowitz attacks “serious scholars” who argue that the Declaration includes Christian elements.

Anson Phelps Stoke [sic], author of a three-volume study of church and state in America, published in 1950, argues that Christian values “permeate” the Declaration of Independence. “The ideal of the Declaration is of course a definitely Christian one,” especially when “considered along with the references to the Deity.” He believes the Declaration is based on “fundamental Christian teachings,” including “our duties toward God.”[2]

Stokes was not a part of the Christian Right since it didn’t exist in 1950. So it seems that Dershowitz’s Christian conspiracy theory is just like so many other conspiracy theories—contrived to obscure the truth. If a non-Christian like Stokes believed the “Declaration may be accepted as evidence that the founders of the country . . . were sympathetic with the fundamental theistic belief and with the moral and social teachings of the Gospels,”[3] then it seems that Christian Right defenders of the Declaration can’t be too far off the mark if they believe something similar.

Dershowitz admits that “it would be wrong to conclude that the Declaration of Independence supports the entire agenda of those who would remove all references to God from public pronouncements. Although that would be my strong personal preference, I cannot find support for it in the history or text of the Declaration.”[4] So what would be Dershowitz’s substitute for the God-language of the Declaration and countless other official government documents that mention God and Jesus Christ? For Dershowitz, Nature is our god. “Ultimately all scientific, empirical, or logical arguments for God’s existence must fail under the accepted rules of science, empiricism, and logic. The only plausible argument for God is an unscientific, antiempirical, and illogical reliance on blind (deaf and dumb) faith—precisely the sort of faith Jefferson rejected.”[5]

Dershowitz’s dilemma is that he has no way to account for science, logic, and morality given his materialistic assumptions. At least Jefferson had enough sense to recognize he needed a god, even if it was a god of his own invention, to make his worldview work. Dershowitz, writing in his book Shouting Fire, admits that “the diverse components of nature” cannot “be translated into morality, legality, or rights.”[6] Without God as the grantor of rights, as the Declaration declares, Mr. Dershowitz has no way to account for rights and certainly no way to legitimately secure them. 

Footnotes:
[1] Alan Dershowitz, Blasphemy: How the Religious Right is Hijacking our Declaration of Independence (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2007).
[2]
Dershowitz, Blasphemy, 85.
[3]
Anson Phelps Stokes and Leo Pfeffer, Church and State in the United States, rev. one-volume ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), 85.
[4]
Dershowitz, Blasphemy, 70.
[5] Dershowitz, Blasphemy, 39.
[6]
Alan Dershowitz, Shouting Fire: Civil Liberties in a Turbulent Age (Boston: Little, Brown, 2002), 11. Quoted in Dershowitz, Blasphemy, 37.
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