New Hampshire Theocracy and The Words of Lincoln

“Books serve to show a man that those original thoughts of his aren’t very new at all.” – Abraham Lincoln

There’s a bit of a religious dust-up in New Hampshire politics these days. State representative David Bates (R) recently spoke at a church Plymouth MA. I’ve seen the speech, which can be found in the New Hampshire Journal article here (or on YouTube I’m sure). While the speech doesn’t flow with lofty delivery, the content and sincerity are very good.

In the speech he makes some rather non-theocratic statements.

  • “America needs prayer”
  • “America needs to humble itself and pray; we need to turn from our wicked ways”
  • “That is the hope of America”
  • “The winds of change are beginning to blow again back in New Hampshire”
  • “Change in power in our legislature is not what my hopes are based upon. The hope of New Hampshire, and the hope of Massachusetts, and the hope of New England, and the hope of all America does not rest in the success or defeat of a political party. And I’m here to tell you today, unequivocally, as a Republican – the Republican party is not our savior.”
  • “The problem we have … is that we no longer fear God.”
  • “Righteousness exalts a nation.”
  • “We have no reason to expect blessing from God if we continue to call evil what God says is good.”
  • “Join with me, to pray now for our nation.”

Please, listen to the speech for yourself (it’s around 7 minutes long). I found nothing theocratic in it.

To this, a Democratic spokesman Harrell Kirstien carped “why does the House Republican leadership appear so intent on forcing their Bible Belt social agenda upon the people of New Hampshire?”

Now, I will say two things in defense of Mr. Kirstien – before calling him a reactionary loon.

First, I do not know what legislation Mr. Bates and other Republicans may or may not be introducing in New Hampshire. Perhaps they are introducing theocratic bills. This I would obviously oppose – I think my position on theocracies (religious or progressive) has been made very clear. The comments however appear to be a response to the church speech itself, and thus unrelated to any bills if they even exist.

Second, I will not join the common view (and plausibly correct view) that Mr. Kirstien is simply engaging in religious bigotry. I propose that perhaps, just perhaps, Mr. Kirstien is conflating his views of government with Mr. Bates’s religious views. That is, Mr. Kirstien is a Democratic spokesman, and therefore presumably a progressive. As such, it is reasonable to suspect that he believes in government solutions to all social ills, government decisions guiding the lives of the people, government presuming authority and responsibility over the lives of the citizenry. To a person with such a view (possibly) of government, it is perhaps a forgivable but errant leap to conclude that a legislator with Christian views is attempting to institute a theocracy. Why not? The progressives attempt to institute theocracy for their views at every turn, they naturally would assume the other side would do the same.

That said, Mr. Kirstien is clearly a reactionary loon and ought to at the very least keep his trap shut. He’s picked a losing issue here. Even in the not-so-evangelical northeast, labeling somebody a theocrat because they spoke at a church is a dumb idea.

OK, having dispensed with the pleasantries, I would like to quote Abraham Lincoln at length – the same quote used by Mr. Bates in his speech. Consider if president Lincoln’s remarks would run afoul of anti-theocratic activists today. Consider if it is theocracy to request that Americans do something of religious significance, or is theocracy marked by legislated behavior? Consider Lincoln’s call to prayer and humility in the hopes of reviving a nation that had been decimated by war.

——-

Whereas, the Senate of the United States, devoutly recognizing the Supreme Authority and just Government of Almighty God, in all the affairs of men and of nations, has, by a resolution, requested the President to designate and set apart a day for National prayer and humiliation.

And whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men, to own their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions, in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon; and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord.

And, insomuch as we know that, by His divine law, nations like individuals are subjected to punishments and chastisements in this world, may we not justly fear that the awful calamity of civil war, which now desolates the land, may be but a punishment, inflicted upon us, for our presumptuous sins, to the needful end of our national reformation as a whole People? We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of Heaven. We have been preserved, these many years, in peace and prosperity. We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success, we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God that made us!

It behooves us then, to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.

Now, therefore, in compliance with the request, and fully concurring in the views of the Senate, I do, by this my proclamation, designate and set apart Thursday, the 30th. day of April, 1863, as a day of national humiliation, fasting and prayer. And I do hereby request all the People to abstain, on that day, from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite, at their several places of public worship and their respective homes, in keeping the day holy to the Lord, and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

All this being done, in sincerity and truth, let us then rest humbly in the hope authorized by the Divine teachings, that the united cry of the Nation will be heard on high, and answered with blessings, no less than the pardon of our national sins, and the restoration of our now divided and suffering Country, to its former happy condition of unity and peace.

——-

Well said Mr. president, well said.

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One Response to New Hampshire Theocracy and The Words of Lincoln

  1. I feel like this misses the mark. I like the reasoned discussion, but at “reactionary loon” it seems to me to devolve from debate to the sort of raised-voice argument that stops being a useful means of convincing anyone of anything.

    At root, the issue seems to be with whether there is justifiable concern that “a legislator with Christian views is attempting to institute a theocracy.” Your argument seems to be that the only really important issue is what is legislated, that comments in front of a microphone don’t really matter much. If so, why do Kirstien’s comments deserve any more attention than those of Bates?

    You refer to Bates as having expressed “Christian views” (my emphasis). At least in the quotes above, I see nothing explicitly Christian; such comments could have also been made by a Mormon, for example… or a Muslim. (If I have missed something explicitly representative of Christian doctrine, let me know.) I wonder if, for example, President Obama had made exactly the same speech, with exactly the same words, at a mosque, if this discussion would have a different tone.

    Of course, if some of the statements in the speech are explicitly Christian, then I hope that you would as vehemently defend the explicitly Mormon, or Muslim, or Buddhist views expressed in a public forum by some other government representative.

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