Conservative American commentator Dennis Praeger has a column from April 2013, “The Bible vs. Heart,” in which he makes a number of claims regarding the use of the Bible as a moral compass, remarking:
I offer the single most politically incorrect statement a modern American — indeed a modern Westerner, period — can make: I first look to the Bible for moral guidance and for wisdom.
I say this even though I am not a Christian (I am a Jew, and a non-Orthodox one at that). And I say this even though I attended an Ivy League graduate school (Columbia), where I learned nothing about the Bible there except that it was irrelevant, outdated and frequently immoral.
I say this because there is nothing — not any religious or secular body of work — that comes close to the Bible in forming the moral bases of Western civilization and therefore of nearly all moral progress in the world.
It was this book that guided every one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, including those described as “deists.” It is the book pthat formed the foundational values of every major American university. It is the book from which every morally great American from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to the Rev. (yes, “the Reverend,” almost always omitted today in favor of his secular credential, “Dr.”) Martin Luther King, Jr., got his values.…
I don’t have time to refute his entire article, but I will comment on the above remarks.
Praeger is struck by sentimentalism, not rationalism or logic. As he acknowledges was taught to him, and properly so, the Bible is FULL of horrors and atrocities, bigotry, hatred and violence. Except for the relatively few pleasant tidbits, anyone inspired by such endless brutality has mental problems.
Praeger’s contentions about the moral bases from the Bible are unfounded in reality. It is the AMERICAN CONSTITUTION that has made us as civilized as we are. The Founding Fathers were NOT Bible-fanatics for the most part. They were ardent students of the CLASSICAL civilizations, especially Greek and Roman. They studied many ancient texts, and the Bible was just one of them. Founding Fathers like Jefferson actually read these ancient texts in the original Greek and Latin, and I suggest that Praeger do the same if he wishes to be mentioned in the same breath with the Founding Fathers.
Thomas Jefferson, Freethinker and Mythicist?
Thomas Jefferson was a deist, not a bibliolater. He was also a skeptic, as not only was he friendly with but he also translated the book of Count Volney, in whose French work was posited the thesis that Jesus is a mythical figure. See my article here:
So, Jefferson hung around with several people, including Napoleon and Paine, who questioned Jesus’s existence. Jefferson was such a non-bibliolater that he had no problem “defacing” the “sacred” text by taking a razor blade to it and removing what he considered to be bogus claims of miracles and supernatural events. In his later years, allegedly, he had a letter exchange with Paine in which they discussed Jesus as a mythical figure.
So, no, Mr. Praeger, the Founding Fathers as a whole were not simpleminded and uncritical Bible-thumpers. Nor was their god in exact line with the monstrous deity in the Bible. They were not single-mindedly biased in favor of the Jewish traditions, including its laws, as they also incorporated the best of cultures from around the world, not only in Greece and Italy, but also among the Native Americans.
Thomas Jefferson’s Constitution, written with the help of others, reflects a very cultured mind, steeped in the literature and ideas of a farflung region of the world, not just a 260-mile strip of land in the Levant.
— Religion and History (@AcharyaS) January 10, 2014