The Texas SBOE Erred: Why Jefferson is Important in World History
The fiasco over some TX SBOE decisions, including the alleged deletion of Thomas Jefferson from the world history curriculum, has garnered national attention by the left, the right and everybody in between. To be sure, it’s become a hot issue in the media and the blogosphere largely because the exclusion of Jefferson as a significant world philosopher has upset folks on the left as well as the right. But to be perfectly clear neither the left nor the right exhibits much respect for our founding principles as both Republicans and Democrats have consistently trampled the notion of small constitutional governance. Today, a vicious and vile statism has seized absolutist powers over a nation once cloaked in liberty. Accordingly, neither Republicans nor Democrats have any credibility whatsoever on the issue. But this is about Thomas Jefferson and not how the freest and most prosperous folks ever to grace human universe ended up making history for also being perhaps the first people in all of human history to actually vote away their liberty and worship the Golden Calf known as government.
Jefferson is indeed an important figure in world history for several reasons, starting with his fervent belief that:
“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…”
These immortal words are among the most recognized phrases in the human lexicon – they are eternal, they are uttered internationally by peoples everywhere and they have become the battle cry for humans seeking to shed totalitarian slavery. Jefferson, as well as other American founding fathers, was a pioneer in the theory that we have natural rights that emanate from God and that no ruler or person(s) can usurp these God given “natural” rights. To do so does in fact constitute tyranny and oppression.
The American Revolution was a cataclysmic historical event that reverberated around the world and those who made it happen are indeed worthy of recognition. The only goal of American Revolutionaries was to devise a form of government that was the least susceptible to abuse of government power. It’s why America is a Republic that was supposed to have a Federal government with severely limited powers.
To excise Jefferson as an important and influential figure in world history is insane. His famous words have been echoed around the globe as a message to other folks that human liberty is indeed possible because it’s a natural God given right that should never subservient to the whims of rulers/kings or even theocrats for that matter. To be a citizen with recognized rights versus a mere subject with limited rights was a milestone in human history and to a large extent, Jefferson was a driving force behind the foundation of our constitutional liberties as set forth in the Declaration of Independence and later codified into law by the Constitution that enshrined the principles of our Republic.
So precisely what has so many folks upset with the SBOE?
According to the Austin American Statesman “PolitFact”, SBOE member Cynthia Dunbar:
“made a motion at the board's March 11 meeting to change the proposed standard, substituting "writings" for "Enlightenment ideas" and removing Jefferson from the suggested list. In Jefferson's place, she added Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and Sir William Blackstone — respectively, a Roman Catholic priest and saint; a Protestant theologian; and an English jurist who wrote that the doctrines of common law are based on God's word.
Dunbar, defending the amendment, said: "It does take out (the) reference to Thomas Jefferson. But the reason is not that I don't think his ideas were important. It's just that this is a list of political philosophers from which the Founding Fathers based their ideologies and their principles."
That a Catholic priest, a Protestant theologian and an English jurist, who believed that laws are based on God’s word, are now the defining characteristics of “enlightenment ideas” (a term expunged by Dunbar and replaced with “writings”) is indeed a gross mischaracterization. What right has Dunbar to assume that Aquinas, Calvin and Blackstone were in fact the primary philosophical influences of our founders?
Apparently, the term “enlightenment” is disturbing to many SBOE members because it holds the potential to invoke secularism. As a Catholic who has her own issues with the Catholic Church, I view enlightenment as the shedding of absolutist papal theocratic rule and the healthy emergence of various Protestant sects that were enormously vitalizing and purifying to Christianity.
But by far the biggest issue with the SBOE and the issue that I believe has greatly upset observers is its rather overt suggestion that theocracy is preferable to secularism. As one who is knowledgeable of the historic ravages of theocracy within the Catholic Church and its barbaric inquisitions, I am convinced that secular laws are far preferable to theocratic laws. However, secularism itself doesn’t necessarily imply the absence of God but it merely infers that no mans theology shall ever be forcibly imposed on another. In Texas we have the infamous Larry Kilgore whose website used to include Old Testament laws that would be imposed if he was elected. Kilgore called for the death penalty for adultery and homosexuality. To advocate for Biblical law is indeed dangerous as well as offensive to Americans of all political and religious stripes.
I submit that many Americans greatly fear the potential of imposing Biblical law and that they also believe that some would do it in a heartbeat if they had such powers. By marginalizing the importance of secular civil and criminal laws upon Western Civilization, is it possible that the Texas SBOE is openly advocating for Biblical law? It’s a valid question as well as a valid concern.
It has been said that John Calvin “preached the doctrine of absolute obedience and nonresistance to duly constituted government, regardless of how that government might be”. Of course, this fully endorses Romans 13, one of the most debated verses in the Bible because it mandates “let every soul be subject to the sovereign authorities. For there is no power which is not from God; and those who are in authority are ordained by God”. Is the Texas SBOE interjecting John Calvin as a worthy world philosopher because of his stern warning that civil powers emanate from God? More to the point, if this were 1776 I submit that Republicans would be loyalists and not the wondrous Revolutionaries who directly violated Romans 13 as well as the John Calvin doctrine of absolute obedience to the almighty state and its rulers.
But ultimately, it was reactionary Calvinists themselves who rejected rigid Calvinist doctrine and these are some of the folks who fled Europe and its religious oppression to settle in America. It’s certainly no mere coincidence that they opted for religious freedom and forged a more secular system of law and justice to avoid the horrors of religiously induced genocide, oppression and theocracy. Protestants earned their title because they “protested” against injustice and were willing to wage revolutions against government and theological tyranny. It is precisely this defiance of autocratic rule that defines the folks who came to codify the meaning of “natural God given right” into a system of governance.
In the interest of practical reality most folks have heard of Thomas Jefferson but few have heard of Aquinas, Calvin and Blackstone. To assert that philosophically they are more important than Jefferson is worse than a stretch, it could be construed as theological indoctrination. Granted, Aquinas, Calvin and Blackstone are enormously important figures if one is a serious student of theology but to teach that they are the critical philosophers behind the creation of America is simply not accurate because America was birthed by revolutionaries, reactionaries and even theological dissidents. Of course, the most radical revolutionary ever to exist was Jesus.
Finally, I believe that the TX SBOE needs extricate itself from this volatile issue and just agree to keep Thomas Jefferson in the world history curriculum. Otherwise, the ability of true constitutional conservatives to get elected to the SBOE will be impaired and education in Texas will suffer as the battle is focused solely on religious/theological issues. Such an absurdity is non-productive, viscerally alienating and does nothing to improve education in Texas.
The growth of government power and absolute statism under Republicans is a profound moral flaw of the modern day Republican Party – a party that is vastly alienated from the vision of our founding fathers and a party that routinely tramples the Constitution and our founding principles. In summary, I would like to add that it’s OKAY to admit you erred but it’s not OKAY to sheath yourself in arrogance to defend that which cannot be defended historically, morally, philosophically or theologically.
Finally, the TX SBOE just didn’t excise Jefferson from the curriculum. They literally became historical revisionists on many other highly relevant issues including “Students will learn about the contributions of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority…”
Reference: http://mises.org/daily/4162 “Religious Radicalism and Absolutist Moderation in 16th-Century France”