With state voters getting a clear picture of his anti-education platform, Republican state school superintendent candidate Ryan Walters has resorted to another big GOP lie to try to rally supporters to his cause.
How can you tell if Republicans are lying? They’re opening their mouths to claim massive voter fraud, to claim that Donald Trump the Loser won the 2020 election, to claim that rising prices are the fault of the government and not their gouge-flating corporate cronies, to claim that the climate catastrophe already wreaking havoc in the world does not exist and to claim that Americans would be better off without Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid since their fat-cat backers would be that much richer.
Yeah, pretty much. If they’re lips are moving, Republicans are lying.
So, here comes Walters – already tied directly to the misspending of emergency education funds – to try to provide a lying foundation to support the edifice of GOP lies.
Andy Weber of KOCO-TV passed on a story from the Tulsa World where Walters told a group of Republicans that, if elected state superintendent, he would force Oklahoma teachers to undergo “patriotic education” courses offered by conservative Christian Hillsdale College of Michigan.
No, it’s not enough for Walters (and Kevin Stitt) to try to hijack state education money to fund indoctrinating religious schools. He wants public schools to be centers of indoctrination as well.
In the past, on Twitter, he has explained this “true history” of this country’s founding as “this country was founded on Judeo-Christian values. (Students) need to know about the constitution. They need to be inspired by heroes like George Washington.”
We would not be free without George Washington. When he retired from public life after winning our independence (and not using his army to declare himself king), Washington observed: “The foundation of our empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epocha when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined than at any former period.”
A deist, as were most of his fellow founders, Washington viewed church attendance as a community-building experience. In Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic, Matthew Stewart – marshalling evidence throughout – concludes “Washington’s God functions chiefly as a synonym for what the ancients called variously ‘chance,’ ‘fate,’ and ‘fortune,’ and what Spinoza’s successors conceived as the soul of infinite nature.”
Spinoza flat out equates God and Nature; for him, they are synonyms. He was often condemned as an atheist by later thinkers who stole his ideas without credit. Many of these writers influenced our founders, whose critics equated deism with atheism and condemned them accordingly.
Stewart points out that John Randolph, “an alcoholic aristocrat” with a late-life conversion assessed Virginia during the Revolution as “the most ungodly country on the face of the earth…The last was a (nation-founding) generation of free thinkers, disciples of Hume & Voltaire and Bolingbroke, and there are very few persons … of our years who have not received their first impressions from the same die.”
Prior to the Revolution, the most celebrated colonist was Benjamin Franklin, who gave us credibility abroad while inspiring us at home. His philosophical pal Joseph Priestly characterized him as “an unbeliever in Christianity.” Furthermore, Priestly added, Franklin’s actions encouraged free thinking in others.
One of Franklin’s many achievements was his encouragement of Thomas Paine, lately arrived from England, to fan the embers of revolution into a guiding light toward freedom. Paine was such an avowed atheist that historians began work shortly after independence to gloss over his contribution to independence.
But, Paine’s Common Sense and The American Crisis (“These are the times that try men’s souls:” ) gave voice to the patriot cause. His words helped unify the colonies.
And he was a busy man. He followed up his work in the American Revolution as an advocate and defender of the French Revolution in The Rights of Man. Promoting intellectual as well as political freedom, Paine followed that with The Age of Reason, an unrelenting attack on every kind of religion, organized or not – with the caveat that others “have the same right to their belief as I have to mine.”
Prior to that he stated his own creed:
“I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life.
“I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.
“But, lest it should be supposed that I believe in many other things in addition to these, I shall, in the progress of this work, declare the things I do not believe, and my reasons for not believing them.
“I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church.
“All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”
The American republic would likely not exist without Tom Paine. That is what he thought of Walters’ Judaeo-Christian tradition.
His medicine was too strong for many – and lambasting George Washington did little to boost his popularity – so Paine was shunted off toward obscurity. (A devout Samuel Adams suffered the same fate because of his overly democratic leanings.)
Our other great revolutionary thinker, and third president, Thomas Jefferson was so devout that he took his knife to the New Testament to create his own version, which Erin Blakemore of history.com explains “was focused only on Jesus, but none of his mystical works. It didn’t include major scenes like the resurrection or ascension to heaven, or miracles like turning water into wine or walking on water. Instead, Jefferson’s Bible focused on Jesus as a man of morals, a teacher whose truths were expressed without the help of miracles or the supernatural powers of God.”
Blakemore also documents that:
“During his political career, Jefferson’s religious views—or lack thereof—drew fire from his fellow colonists and citizens. The Federalists charged him with atheism and rebellion against Christianity during the vicious 1800 election. Among them was Theodore Dwight, a journalist who claimed that Jefferson’s election would shoo in the end of Christianity itself. ‘Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced, the air will be rent with the cries of distress, the soil will be soaked with blood, the nation black with crimes.’”
Walters and his ilk don’t want to teach these truths about our founders. They cherry pick random remarks from Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and others out of context to try to paint them to be as narrow-minded and superstition-ridden as they are themselves.
But, when you’re trying to gut public school funding with a feed-the-rich voucher system that, as a corollary would devastate rural Oklahoma, and if you’re advocating refusing federal education money to the tune of ten percent of the local school budget, I guess lying about our founders seems to be the best course of action.
After all, he is a Republican.
(Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party.)