November 20, 2013

#GnuAtheists try to score antihistorical point off of Lincoln

Photo via Wikipedia
Gnu Atheists are trying to score some cheap points, and make Abraham Lincoln into a crypto-atheist or something, by claiming he didn't say "under God" as part of the Gettysburg Address.

Wrong. Completely wrong, as the Constitution  Center makes clear and anybody who actually knows much about the Gettysburg Address knows. (I knew all of this before a friend sent me both that link and CFI's link to Hemant Mehta's riffing on this issue, as started by the Freedom from Religion Foundation here.

Folks, the version he spoke at Gettysburg had "under God." Why he added them, we're not sure. But he did. It was not something he added after he spoke. So, Hemant, your whole analysis falls apart. That includes the idea that it was a dig at the Confederate Constitution, a fundraising ploy, or anything similar.

Yes, manuscripts of the speech that were written out after he spoke had "under God" in them. That's because he said them at Gettysburg. Sometimes, instead of conflating statistical and causal correlation, people just get the wrong cause cited.

Such analysis, to score cheap Gnu Atheist points, manifests a clearly shallow of Lincoln at best and plain misunderstanding at worst. Thank doorknobs Mehta just teaches math at whatever high school he is at and not history. He added on to a cheap point-scoring attempt from FFRF.

Freedom from Religion Foundation is even worse, even though it backhandedly accepts . Anybody who knows Lincoln knows he did NOT "ad lib" in public speeches, despite its stupid claim. Also, in making that claim, FFRF also demonstrates some degree of ignorance of the chain of custody and related issues on all the different manuscripts of the speech.

And, FFRF gets worse yet, here:
Lincoln routinely punctuated his eloquent addresses with deistic references to “Divine Providence,” in which he firmly believed. But it’s doubtful most U.S. citizens realize Lincoln was strongly rationalist and not a Christian. Among other words also inscribed at the Lincoln Memorial is an excerpt of Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address. While full of conventional references to the “Almighty,” Lincoln slyly observed of the North and the South: "Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.”
Wow. No, Lincoln wasn't making a sly dig, again. Such idea cheapens the whole thrust of what he actually said.

Like the last paragraph:
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
No "strong rationalist" wrote that. Rather, a man of deep, complex, but religiously-oriented philosophizing did.

First, Lincoln was not a fully conventional Christian, but let's not make him into some crypto-atheist, or a "strong rationalist." His religious beliefs could best be described as a more deistic version of Calvinistic determinism; see Wikipedia for a good, in-depth insight on his religious beliefs and their evolution. It includes this 1846 quote:
That I am not a member of any Christian church is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular.... I do not think I could myself be brought to support a man for office whom I knew to be an open enemy of, or scoffer at, religion
His "doctrine of necessity" was about fatalism, not rationalism, as much as anything. And, if anything, again, albeit not in a conventional Christian sense, but Lincoln became more religious as the Civil War ground on.

Anybody promoting stupidity like this, or that the Gettysburg Address was supposedly, in original form, a dig at the Confederacy, should read Lincoln's nuanced thoughts on religion as expressed in his Second Inaugural Address, and not as run through a Gnu Atheist filter.

FFRF was trying to score totally untrue cheap points. Mehta, who fortunately is a high school math teacher, and not a history teacher, added on, or piled on. Then Fidalgo went one worse by uncritically (Center for INQUIRY??? the name of the organization) posting Mehta's link.

And, at least one commenter on Mehta's post is about at the level of the Pharyngulac followers of P.Z. Myers. Said person gets the old appeal to authority fallacy wrong, first. And, that's not the first time I've seen a Gnu do that when confronted with actual facts from an expert. The actual fallacy is falsely appealing to an authority outside his or her area of expertise.

It also infuriates me personally. Between having a graduate religious degree, an undergraduate minor in history, graduate classes in religious history, a reader of multiple Gettysburg books, including one just about the address, I consider myself a semi-expert on the different strands intersecting here: Presidential history, Civil War history, Lincoln history, religious history in America and more.

And, considering we had an original wrong, compounded by a second one, then lazily passed on from there, I consider this to be intellectually lazy as part of the points-scoring.

Update, Nov. 21: It's gettting worse. Bob Aldrich, who retweeted FFRF's tweet about its post, and whom I thus Tweeted back in reply, today said:
According to Lincoln scholars Abe read the first hand written version without under god
I retweeted, specifically saying that the AP reported, at the time of the speech, he said "under god," and thus, it doesn't matter what version of the speech he used. And, I also noted specifically that he didn't "ad lib."

Aldrich, who is at @SactoBob, also says:
Later versions had under god added. But 1st version did not. Fact!
Irrelevant. The thrust of the FFRF piece was to first, try to make Lincoln into someone he did not, and second, to do so by implying motives for his use of "under god" that simply aren't true.

The fact is that Lincoln used the two words. The fact is that he did so in part out of a growing religiosity. FFRF et al want to elide around the first fact and, to be blunt, lie about the second one.

We're probably going to enter David Barton territory at some point, if we haven't, arguably, done so already.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It sounds like all he said in the second address was that he had no religion, and condemns no-one
who has...But only condemns those who dislike religious people...