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Forum, Jan. 10: The Founders Were Real Readers


Wednesday, January 09, 2019
The Founders Were Real Readers

In response to W.B. Fisk Sr.’s recent Forum letter (“The U.S. Was Founded on Christian Beliefs,” Jan. 3): Some of the founders were deists. Some were Christian. A lot of them were on the fence, neither refuting nor believing in an intervening supreme being.

Asserting that the Bible was the only reading material available to the founders is perplexing. Congress purchased 6,500 books from Thomas Jefferson’s library in 1815. Not only did Jefferson have the Bible, his decades-old collection contained thousands of books by philosophers, theologians, playwrights, scientists and barristers on cosmology, agriculture, mathematics, medicine, religion, admiralty law, music, satire, poetry and other subjects. Jefferson also possessed a Koran, which has been used to swear in members of Congress.

Another founder, George Washington, possessed at least 1,200 titles on philosophy, military history, travel, agriculture, gardening and others. James Madison, known as the “father of the Constitution,” had a library that rivaled Jefferson’s. Madison attributed his push for checks and balances and political reform to his careful study of several books given to him by Jefferson, along with others he acquired over the years.

I can’t imagine how many scrolls, books, pamphlets and other reading materials were published up to the 1700s and were available to those blessed with literacy. Historians contend we have at least 10,000 years of human writing and maybe 40,000 years of pictures and symbols.

Levar Cole

Chelsea

A Genius Often Dishonored

In her letter, Eugenia Parrish misses, perhaps, the difference between religious displays on private property and the subtle coercion cast over a community when civic institutions sponsor such displays (“Now No Religion is Welcome,” Dec. 28). There’s nothing wrong, for example, with the city of Lebanon decorating Colburn Park with festive lights; though many may associate them with Christmas, they are nevertheless a secular celebration of the winter holiday season. But a Nativity scene would be unacceptable.

As another correspondent wrote recently — and as I did last year — this is not a Christian nation. And despite the undoubted desire of our Founding Fathers to stick a finger in King George’s eye by ensuring there would be no established church in this new nation of ours, to include in our foundational document the principle of the separation of church and state, and ensure that no religious test could be part of civic life, was the essential genius of our nationhood.

It’s often dishonored, which is why it must be retaught to every new generation in an unending battle to uphold our secular ideals. It is human nature to seek something to worship, and from that all hell always breaks loose.

The beautiful churches of Europe that Parrish admires were built by people with very ugly histories of slaughtering those who thought differently from themselves. Our own New England is stained with the blood of innocents, because communities fleeing persecution in Europe were more than happy to persecute anyone who didn’t conform to their own strictures.

“Secular” is not a dirty word, and “humanist values” are not the fruit of the devil. These concepts protect us against the crimes perpetrated by “faith,” whatever that faith may happen to be. That some people may make of atheism a doctrinaire creed itself doesn’t invalidate their argument against public sponsorship of religious displays.

Sarah Crysl Akhtar

Lebanon

Gun Laws Should Be National

Let me respond to Alan Tanenbaum’s Forum letter (“Gun Control Is Nothing but a Liberal Fantasy,” Dec. 18) with a personal anecdote. At the time of the horrendous Parkland, Fla., school massacre, I was a client at a northern New Brunswick hunting lodge, run by the same family for four generations. This is an establishment, obviously, dependent on people with guns. As we hunters watched the TV in horror, the lodge owner’s wife asked, “Why do Americans need such weapons?”

I asked her husband whether his country’s strict gun laws felt like impingements on his freedom. He answered, “Yes, somewhat.” Then he added, “But better that than this,” he said, pointing at the screen.

Like Canada’s, our gun laws should be national, not state-by-state or local. Then maybe our homicide and suicide rates, and our mass shootings, would sink to the levels of our northern neighbor’s, which doesn’t strike this gun owner as a bad thing at all.

Sydney Lea

Newbury, Vt.

Praise When Praise Is Due

Yesterday I did something I never thought I’d do. I wrote a sincere letter of thanks to President Donald Trump for his intention to pull our troops out of Syria and reduce our troops by half in Afghanistan.

Now I know the military, Israel and former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are having a cow about this logical move toward a greater degree of peace in the Middle East. For 18 years we have fed an illogical and hungry war machine until finally, I hope, we are beginning to see how that impoverishes us on so many levels. That Trump should be the one to make this positive move is yet another irony of American life in these unpredictable times, yet if we go back to his campaign promises to get us out of the Middle East, he is right on track.

I would urge all of you who agree with me to email the president and thank him for this latest move toward peace. We spend so much time angry about the wall, his immigration policies and so much else we don’t agree with, we forget to praise when praise is due. Praise and agreement in this case encourages more movement in peaceful directions, even though those in the Deep State disagree.

Patricia Greene

Canaan