Rationalists of East Tennessee Newsletter

August,  2009



I’ve been on Facebook lately, arguing that the U.S. isn‘t a Christian Nation with an old friend from high school. I found we were talking past one another because we were addressing the question differently. Researching the topic further led me to an article by Michael Lind in Salon.com called “America is not a Christian Nation”. In it, Lind identifies four different Christian Nation arguments. I’ll summarize them here in case you find yourself in a similar debate and wish to save time by first settling on exactly what you’re debating.


The first argument is “anthropological”; the U.S. population is mostly Christians. Well fine, that’s true but it isn’t saying much. Does it mean Americans should all be Christians?


The second argument is that the constitution is Christian in character. That’s an easy one to rebuke because the constitution contains no reference to gods and there’s the pesky bit about no religious tests. The third argument is that the Lockean natural rights theory on which our special governmental rests is supported by Christian theology. The short rebut is that the bible contains no references to ‘natural rights’ or ‘social contract’. Rather, those ideas came from the Greeks in 500 B.C.


The fourth version of the Christian Nation argument Lind reports is that our founders intended for the Christian churches to turn out moral citizens. The most common supporting quote supplied is George Washington’s farewell address:


"Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them."


By “Religion,” one can assume Washington meant the Christian religion (but maybe not). I’ll leave you to research more on your own but my quick answer is this: Several of the founders weren’t Christian. Jefferson wrote his own version of the New Testament, which had Jesus as just a man, not a deity. Others like Adams and Madison were Unitarians or leaned that way. While many founding fathers were Christian, Christianity per se was not the agreed upon religion that underlined the morality of all our founders.



Roundtable   - Media-ocrity

Sunday, August 2nd, 10:30 - 12:30, Pellissippi State, Goins Bldg., Cafeteria Annex

Discussant: Ralph Isler


I. F. Stone always told journalism students never to forget that "All governments lie". Journalism is the only profession specifically protected by the constitution, and it is supposed to provide information for the public that leads to checks and balances on power. But many reporters seem to see themselves as part of the establishment, preserving the existing order and their own insider perquisites. In fact Dick Cheney's public relations assistant once commented that Meet the Press with Tim Russert was the ideal format for Cheney to control the administration's message. The integrity of the media should be a major concern for all who want transparency in government and other social institutions. How much of what the media presents is fact, infotainment, or outright propaganda? This roundtable is an opportunity for everyone to present his thoughts on the subject.



Skeptic Book Club

Discussion Leader: Margaret Klein
Sunday, August 9th, 4:00 to 6:00pm, Barnes and Noble Booksellers, 8029 Kingston Pike.


“The Art and Politics of Science” by Harold Varmus If you decide to buy the book, please consider clicking on the book on the RET homepage and buying it from Amazon. RET gets money from any products purchased after going through our website first.



Philosophy Sunday
 Ř“ The End of the Universe

Sunday, August 16, 10:30 - 12:30, Pellissippi State, Goins Bldg., Cafeteria Annex
Discussant: Soren P. Sorensen, Department of Physics at UT

"Today we have a fairly detailed picture of the childhood of the universe in the form of the Big Bang theory. But what will happen with the universe once it reaches a more mature age and what will be the ultimate end of it? In this talk, I will discuss some of the possible scenarios for the end of the universe based on our current scientific knowledge.”