An Open Letter to Bill Buckingham of Dover, PA

I’m overwhelmed these days with how half of my fellow Americans are so willing to accept and proliferate factoids as facts, how they are publicly forcing the confusion of faith and science. Having a president who does just that, of course, somehow legitimizes the stupidity of doing that.
I thinking specifically of something that’s quoted at Salon.com in a disturbing piece on The New Monkey Trial. (You have to be a member to read the whole article, or you can watch a commercial first and then read it for free.)
The lengthy feature article begins with:
It was an ordinary springtime school board meeting in the bedroom community of Dover, Pa. The high school needed new biology textbooks, and the science department had recommended Kenneth Miller and Joseph Levine’s “Biology.” “It was a fantastic text,” said Carol “Casey” Brown, 57, a self-described Goldwater Republican and the board’s senior member. “It just followed our curriculum so beautifully.”
But Bill Buckingham, a new board member who’d recently become chair of the curriculum committee, had an objection. “Biology,” he said, was “laced with Darwinism.” He wanted a book that balanced theories of evolution with Christian creationism, and he was willing to turn his town into a cultural battlefield to get it.
“This country wasn’t founded on Muslim beliefs or evolution,” Buckingham, a stocky, gray-haired man who wears a red, white and blue crucifix pin on his lapel, said at the meeting. “This country was founded on Christianity, and our students should be taught as much.”

WHHOOOAA! Stop right there, Mr. Bill Buckingham!! That’s a factoid. That’s not a fact. Do your research. Oh, wait. Research. That’s like science — investigation, analysis, hypothesis… You’d rather just not be bothered with the facts because you know what you believe. Oh my, what would our Founding Fathers say to that!
Well, whether you want to believe them or not, these are the facts about the origins of our country and our system of democracy, and they had very little to do with the fundamental tenets of Christianity:
1. Let’s begin with our Library of Congress exhibit on “Religion and the Founding of the American Republic,” which states:
Although they were victims of religious persecution in Europe, the Puritans supported the Old World theory that sanctioned it, the need for uniformity of religion in the state. Once in control in New England, they sought to break “the very neck of Schism and vile opinions.” The “business” of the first settlers, a Puritan minister recalled in 1681, “was not Toleration, but [they] were professed enemies of it.” Puritans expelled dissenters from their colonies, a fate that in 1636 befell Roger Williams and in 1638 Anne Hutchinson, America’s first major female religious leader. Those who defied the Puritans by persistently returning to their jurisdictions risked capital punishment, a penalty imposed on four Quakers between 1659 and 1661.
In other words, those early righteous Christian settlers became the kind of persecutors they were running away from. Sort of what the Christian fundamentalists are have become these days, it seems to me.
2. And then, we all know what those righteous Puritans did to those poor old women — the community healers, helpers, herbalists, wise women. Rather then taking a scientific approach to investigating what was going on, those faithful Puritans decided that these women must be witches, right? Just some more persecutions by True Believers of those who wouldn’t conform to their particular faith-based boxes. But that’s another long and horrible story that too few fundamentalists really understand and/or want to believe.
3. And let’s not forget what our Christian Cavalry did to the Lakota Indians at Wounded Knee (How about having young kids learn those bloody facts when they study American history? Or are you afraid that knowing the facts would that shake their Christian beliefs?)
Read about the Massacre here:
By August of 1890, the U.S. government was fearful that the Ghost Dance was actually a war dance and, in time, the dancers would turn to rioting. By November, the War Department sent troops to occupy the Lakota camps at Pine Ridge and Rosebud, convinced that the dancers were preparing to do battle against the government. In reality, the Indians were bracing themselves to defend their rights to continue performing the sacred ceremonies. In reaction to the military encampment, the Lakotas planned various strategies to avoid confrontation with the soldiers, but the military was under orders to isolate Ghost Dance leaders from their devotees.
But because of the stupidity and ignorance of the American Cavalry:
With only their bare hands to fight back, the Indians tried to defend themselves, but the incident deteriorated further into bloody chaos, and the 350 unarmed Indians were outmatched and outnumbered by the nearly 500 U.S. soldiers.
Well, Mr. Buckingham, you might ask how to we know that’s true. And I say to you, Mr. Buckingham, that historical research is like scientific research, and the information quoted is from research done at Bowling Green University, if you want to check that out. Wounded Knee. Abu Ghraib. Ah, the righteousness of the American military! We are what we believe, aren’t we, Mr. Buckingham?
3. Now let’s get to the real meat of the matter: Our “Christian” Founding Fathers and how they came up with the idea of a participatory Democracy. (Is your school system teaching these facts?) Now, pay close attention to the following, Mr. Buckhingham. This is REALLY important:
Some people today assert that the United States government came from Christian foundations. They argue that our political system represents a Christian ideal form of government and that Jefferson, Madison, et al, had simply expressed Christian values while framing the Constitution. If this proved true, then we should have a wealth of evidence to support it, yet just the opposite proves the case.
Although, indeed, many of America’s colonial statesmen practiced Christianity, our most influential Founding Fathers broke away from traditional religious thinking. The ideas of the Great Enlightenment that began in Europe had begun to sever the chains of monarchical theocracy. These heretical European ideas spread throughout early America. Instead of relying on faith, people began to use reason and science as their guide. The humanistic philosophical writers of the Enlightenment, such as Locke, Rousseau, and Voltaire, had greatly influenced our Founding Fathers and Isaac Newton’s mechanical and mathematical foundations served as a grounding post for their scientific reasoning.
A few Christian fundamentalists attempt to convince us to return to the Christianity of early America, yet according to the historian, Robert T. Handy, “No more than 10 percent– probably less– of Americans in 1800 were members of congregations.”
The Founding Fathers, also, rarely practiced Christian orthodoxy. Although they supported the free exercise of any religion, they understood the dangers of religion. Most of them believed in deism and attended Freemasonry lodges. According to John J. Robinson, “Freemasonry had been a powerful force for religious freedom.” Freemasons took seriously the principle that men should worship according to their own conscious. Masonry welcomed anyone from any religion or non-religion, as long as they believed in a Supreme Being. Washington, Franklin, Hancock, Hamilton, Lafayette, and many others accepted Freemasonry.
The Constitution reflects our founders views of a secular government, protecting the freedom of any belief or unbelief. The historian, Robert Middlekauff, observed, “the idea that the Constitution expressed a moral view seems absurd. There were no genuine evangelicals in the Convention, and there were no heated declarations of Christian piety.”

Also included on the site linked to above are quotes from various Founding Fathers distancing themselves from the restrictions of faith-based government, such as this quote from James Madison:
Called the father of the Constitution, Madison had no conventional sense of Christianity. In 1785, Madison wrote in his Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments:
“During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.”
“What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.”

4. And, finally, Mr. Buckingham, did you know that the Founding Fathers met with the leaders of the Iroquois Six Nations so that they could pick their brains about how their proven “participatory democracy” was set up and practiced?
On June 11, 1776 while the question of independence was being debated, the visiting Iroquois chiefs were formally invited into the meeting hall of the Continental Congress. There a speech was delivered, in which they were addressed as “Brothers” and told of the delegates’ wish that the “friendship” between them would “continue as long as the sun shall shine” and the “waters run.” The speech also expressed the hope that the new Americans and the Iroquois act “as one people, and have but one heart.”[18] After this speech, an Onondaga chief requested permission to give Hancock an Indian name. The Congress graciously consented, and so the president was renamed “Karanduawn, or the Great Tree.” With the Iroquois chiefs inside the halls of Congress on the eve of American Independence, the impact of Iroquois ideas on the founders is unmistakable. History is indebted to Charles Thomson, an adopted Delaware, whose knowledge of and respect for American Indians is reflected in the attention that he gave to this ceremony in the records of the Continental Congress.[19]
So, Mr. Buckingham, if you want to refine your school’s curricula, how about starting with revising the American history course so that your students learn the truth about their country’s history and the intentions of our Founding Fathers to avoid just the kind of misinformed pressure that you’re putting on your school district to teach the faith-based Creationism as if it were a proven fact.
When I taught eighth grade English back in the seventies, I taught a unit on Mythology, in which I included the “creation” stories from as many different cultures as I could identify. We compared and contrasted the stories, and, I have to admit, the kids began asking questions. They asked me if I believed in god and I told them that it was my private business whether I did our not and had nothing to do with what we were learning about in class. If they had questions about their own family’s religious beliefs, they would need to go back to their families and ministers/priests/rabbis and talk to them about it.
Education should teach kids to question, to research, to investigate, to analyze, to hypothesize, to look for evidence, to compare evidences, to confer with experts, to question, question, question. And then reach logical conclusions. That’s the way to avoid getting sucked in by Saddams and Al Qaedas, by cults and conmen. Somewhere in their learning journeys, if they decide to say “Well, there are still things I believe in that I can’t prove,” that’s fine, too. But they will understand the difference between fact and faith. And there is a big — although not incompatible — difference.
The Founders of this country understood the importance of distinguishing fact from faith. If it were possible, I’m sure they’d be spinning in their graves today, Mr. Buckingham, furious about how people like you are trying to turn their democratic hopes and ideals into drivel and dung.

1 thought on “An Open Letter to Bill Buckingham of Dover, PA

  1. Hate to be “that guy” but your article contains multiple typographical errors that could easily be addressed using a simple technique called “proofreading”. I agree with you, and enjoyed this article. I’m just suggesting that it would come across as more credible if the backspace key were employed.

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