The Godless Constitution – A Review

In Walking in Darkness at Noonday I have quoted extensively from two books which I think of as the “Twin Tomes of Taint and Twaddle”:  The Godless Constitution (Kramnick and Moore) and America Declares Independence (Dershowitz). I have offered a considerable amount of refutation of the arguments of both of these icons of liberal apologetics within the pages of my book. However, since I made the charge that The Godless Constitution is “unscholarly, sloppy, and tendentious” (Walking in Darkness at Noonday, pg.75), a closer look at that supposed scholarly work is in order.

When I first picked up their book I had not intended to do anything more with Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore’s The Godless Constitution than to draw from it the salient arguments of the atheist/secularist Left vis a vie the Constitution and, particularly, their defense of the doctrine of the separation of church and state.

However, as I read, I felt a strong need, for my own purposes, to take note of the clever devices offered by the authors to prove that Jefferson, Madison, et al. were really Leftist secularists – like Kramnick and Moore – and that these Founders really wanted all religion expunged from the public sector. Though the Declaration of Independence declares that governments are instituted among men for the express purpose of securing the unalienable rights endowed upon them by their Creator, we are to believe that the Founders intended that our government be utterly devoid of the taint of religious influence or expression. The historical record has to be selectively wrested in order to arrive at such a conclusion. But that is the conclusion The Godless Constitution would have us reach.

The Fountains of Truth

For me, Daniel Webster best captures the reverence that is due the United States Constitution and those who were the vessels of God in bringing it forth for the ultimate benefit of all mankind:

“Truly…these founders and fathers of the Constitution were great men…All that reading and learning could do; all that talent and intelligence could do; and, what perhaps is still more, all that long experience in difficult and troubled times and a deep and intimate knowledge of the condition of the country could do, conspired to fit them for the great business of forming a general but limited government…I love to linger around these original fountains, and to drink deep of their waters. I love to imbibe, in as full measure as I may, the spirit of those who laid the foundations of the government, and so wisely and skillfully balanced and adjusted its bearings and proportions.” (Daniel Webster, The Works of Daniel Webster, Vol. I, pg. 203-204. As quoted in The Elders of Israel and the Constitution)

Unfortunately, not all men are as respectful and reverent of these things as was Daniel Webster. For many, the principle of a “general but limited government” is an obstacle to an agenda that is not at all compatible with the Constitution. Propelled, as I believe they are, by an eternal enmity toward God, they have been working for generations to pollute the original fountains, to demean those who laid the foundations of the government, to destroy the balance, the bearings and the proportions of the Constitution, and, in doing these things, to set aside the original intent of the Framers and create an America in their own benighted image.

When I saw an op-ed in the Hartford Courant by Gary Levvis, a professor at the University of Connecticut, entitled “Under God Under Scrutiny,” wherein Mr. Levvis argued that the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance violate the Constitution, I tracked down his e-mail address and wrote to him. He recommended that I read, among other books, The Godless Constitution, by Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore.

A little background on the authors: Isaac Kramnick is a long time professor at Cornell, an author, and twice served as chair of the Department of Government. R. Laurence Moore is, as of this writing, the Howard A. Newman Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is also the chair and director of undergraduate studies for the American Studies department and an author.

To get right to the point, I was surprised to find the book to be intellectually sloppy, unscholarly, tendentious, and even hollow. Worse, the authors are often embarrassingly, demonstrably, factually inaccurate. For example, on page 34 we read:

“When Benjamin Franklin, who presided over the Constitutional Convention,…”

Is it possible that the two esteemed scholars from Cornell would not know that the Constitutional Convention was presided over by George Washington, not Benjamin Franklin? One would naturally expect more of a book authored by two such distinguished scholars, both renown for their work in the area of American political studies.

That having been said, the arguments and representations of Kramnick and Moore are the arguments of the atheist/secularist Left which have had a profoundly corrosive effect on our culture as they have become the universally embraced and rarely questioned stuff of politically correct historical interpretation. These arguments and representations are cunning, but false, and need to be met and understood.

Trust Us

As for my charge that the work is intellectually sloppy and unscholarly, in a section titled “A note on Sources,” the authors write:

“Because we have intended the book to reach a general audience, and because the material we have cited is for the most part familiar to historians and political scientists, we have dispensed with the usual scholarly apparatus of footnotes.” (The Godless Constitution, pg. 179)

I don’t mean to be overly sensitive, but to me that reads something like this:

“To those of you who are among the educated and knowledgeable – the scholarly, you will not require footnotes because you already know whereof we speak. To you schlubs out there, the unscholarly, you of the general audience, you wouldn’t know what to do with a footnote anyway. But because we are the elite scholars and you are the schlubs, we expect that you will just trust us.”

As for this schlub, I don’t trust them.

We don’t have to read very far in The Godless Constitution before we begin finding statements made by the authors that cry out for the “scholarly apparatus of footnotes.”

It is my theory that the one thing that consistently characterizes the people of the Left, all that they do and all that they stand for, is their unflagging enmity towards God. Consequently, we will always find them engaged in the deconstruction and extirpation of all things that pertain to or derive from God. Hence, we learn in The Godless Constitution that the people of America were not really all that religious – tradition and long cherished national mythology to the contrary notwithstanding:

“It is no surprise, then, that Americans in the era of the Revolution were a distinctly unchurched people. The highest estimates for the late eighteenth century make only about 10-15 percent of the population church members. The proportion varied from locale to locale, but Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, the French visitor to America, had ample evidence to justify his observation that ‘religious indifference is imperceptibly disseminated from one end of the continent to the other.’ Churches would have been almost completely empty had it not been for women who were there largely because they could not participate in the political business of the Continental Congress and other secular arenas of public disputation” (The Godless Constitution, pg. 17).

This paragraph is part of a chapter called, “Is America a Christian Nation?” The entire chapter is intended to bring down a few pegs the perception of we modern Americans that the Founding generation was a religious, and more particularly, very much a Christian people. Note that the 10-15 percent church membership figure is characterized as an “estimate.” Of course we can’t follow up on that allegation, or who made it because, the authors having dispensed with the “scholarly apparatus of footnotes,” there is no documentation.

As for Mr. St. John de Crevecoeur, he was much more than a “French visitor.” Perhaps Kramnick and Moore have confused Hector St. John de Crevecoeur with Alexis de Tocqueville, who was, indeed, a “French visitor.” But Mr. St. John de Crevecoeur became an American and fell in love with the life of being an American farmer. When we view the words quoted by Kramnick and Moore in context, we get a very different impression of what he was saying when he used the phrase “religious indifference.” By virtue of assembling a paragraph stating that the vast majority of Americans were “unchurched” with a statement by a Frenchman that “religious indifference is imperceptibly disseminated from one end of the continent to the other,” the implication is cleverly made by Kramnick and Moore that early Americans were irreligious and indifferent to the Creator whom Jefferson had credited with endowing them with their unalienable rights. But that is not at all what Mr. St. John de Crevecoeur was suggesting. Here Mr. St. John de Crevecoeur notes that Americans are indifferent to differences in national origin:

“What then is the American, this new man? He is either an European, or the descendant of an European, hence that strange mixture of blood, which you will find in no other country. I could point out to you a family whose grandfather was an Englishman, whose wife was Dutch, whose son married a French woman, and whose present four sons have now four wives of different nations. He is an American, who leaving behind him all his ancient prejudices and manners, receives new ones from the new mode of life he has embraced, the new government he obeys, and the new rank he holds. He becomes an American by being received in the broad lap of our great Alma Mater. Here individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men…” (Letters From an American Farmer, Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Letter III)

The American indifference to national origins and their “ancient prejudices and manners” is also seen to extend to religious differences:

“A very perceptible indifference even in the first generation, will become apparent; and it may happen that the daughter of the Catholic will marry the son of the seceder, and settle by themselves at a distance from their parents. What religious education will they give their children? A very imperfect one. If there happens to be in the neighbourhood any place of worship, we will suppose a Quaker’s meeting; rather than not shew their fine clothes, they will go to it, and some of them may perhaps attach themselves to that society. Others will remain in a perfect state of indifference; the children of these zealous parents will not be able to tell what their religious principles are, and their grandchildren still less. The neighborhood of a place of worship generally leads them to it, and the action of going thither, is the strongest evidence they can give of their attachment to any sect. The Quakers are the only people who retain a fondness for their own mode of worship; for be they ever so far separated from each other, they hold a sort of communion with the society, and seldom depart from its rules, at least in this country. Thus all sects are mixed as well as all nations; thus religious indifference is imperceptibly disseminated from one end of the continent to the other; which is at present one of the strongest characteristics of the Americans. Where this will reach no one can tell, perhaps it may leave a vacuum fit to receive other systems. Persecution, religious pride, the love of contradiction, are the food of what the world commonly calls religion. These motives have ceased here: zeal in Europe is confined; here it evaporates in the great distance it has to travel; there it is a grain of powder inclosed, here it burns away in the open air, and consumes without effect.” (Letters From an American Farmer, Hector St. John de Crevecoeur, Letter III)

Religiously “zealous parents” are characterized by Mr. St. John de Crevecoeur as being “in a perfect state of indifference.” I think it is clear that the term “religious indifference,” like their indifference to national origin, is meant to convey an unwillingness on the part of the average early American to embrace the old world “persecution, religious pride, (and) love of contradiction” over religious differences, but certainly not indifference to God as Kramnick and Moore imply. In this same letter Mr. St. John de Crevecoeur notes that “gratitude to God” is one of the defining characteristics of the American man. And these men are scholars? The reader can judge for himself if Kramnick and Moore quoted Mr. St. John de Crevecoeur faithfully.

But then we come to the piece de resistance in the Kramnick and Moore quote. We learn that America in the late Eighteenth Century was teeming with frontier feminists who wanted to have it all – the house, the car, the kids, the career – but were the victims of glass ceilings erected by their conservative, patriarchal men folk. Just like today. And so, “largely because they could not participate in the political business of the Continental Congress and other secular arenas of public disputation,” they went to church for lack of anything more substantive to do.

What a marvelous insight. Women in Revolutionary America were as jaded and jejune as are Leftists today! In fact, the women of Revolutionary America must have been liberals. And imagine if women had been involved “in the political business of the Continental Congress and other secular arenas of public disputation,” why then (and this is the point Kramnick and Moore hope to establish), virtually no one would have been a member of a church.

Upon this basis of “fact,” and within the same paragraph, rests [wrests?] the inevitable, the unavoidable, the irrefutable conclusion:

“So much, then, for the claim of the television evangelist D. James Kennedy, who cited the small American Jewish population of 1776 as proof that the United States was intended to be ‘a Christian nation.’”

So much, then for scholarship. This is what I mean when I charge the authors of The Godless Constitution with intellectual sloppiness.

That an allegation as outrageous as that regarding the women of revolutionary America can be palmed off as fact by so-called scholars with no documentation is a testament to the contempt elites harbor for the schlubs of the “general audience.”

–  to be continued –


About John C. Greene

I am a rapidly aging businessman in Connecticut and author of Walking in Darkness at Noonday; married since 1975 to Kyong Sook; three children, long time empty-nester. I have been a convert member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for over half my life. While a member of a rock band in LA in the mid-1970s I became fascinated with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's story of solitary bravery in the face of political imprisonment, his exile from his homeland, and his book "Gulag Archipelago." The book had a profound impact on me as it made me realize that there is a vast difference between the land Solzhenitsyn was born to and the land where I was so fortunate to have been born. That was the beginning of my interest in liberty, correct principles of government, and the peculiarly LDS doctrine we call the agency of man.
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4 Responses to The Godless Constitution – A Review

  1. Kathleen Jones says:

    Congratulations John. I am truly looking forward to reading the book. Your comments indicate how thoroughly you have researched and considered this topic and I so appreciate your efforts. Thank you for this timely message. Wishing you much success.

  2. joanne malcarne says:

    Congratulations, John
    We have ordered a hard and soft copy of your book.
    Can’t wait to read it and share it with others.
    Well done,
    Joanne & John Malcarne

  3. jen says:

    I’m just now researching claims from the inspiring movie, Monumental. Yes, I’m behind the times. This book review is helpful. I also read that “The Godless Constitution” does include a bibliography, but still, footnotes would have added accountability, if not honesty. I’m commenting to add that the term leftist is muddled in such contexts because one can be for the working man in economic policy without being godless. It’s Satan’s ploy to confuse us by combining working man’s rights to godless nationalistic systems. The church-going god-honoring capitalist aside, the ungodly capitalist brings oppression as much as anyone else unless God’s justice is written in our federal and state laws regulating certain business practices.

    • I’m glad it was helpful to you. Yes, “The Godless Constitution” does include a bibliography. But I think if the authors had any respect for their readers, they would have included footnotes. Is there a presumption in your comment that to be a leftist is to be a champion of the working man? How did you happen to find this review? You’re the first to comment on it in a long time.

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