Newt Gingrich is so given to rhetorical hyperbole that you’re tempted just to quote it, roll your eyes, and move on. A case in point is this remark from Saturday’s Mormon-deprived Thanksgiving Family Forum in Des Moines:
The degree to which the left is prepared to impose intolerance and to drive out of existence traditional religion is a mortal threat to our civilization and deserves to be taken head on and described as what it is which is the use of government to repress the American people against their own values.
But it’s worth recognizing that this is not just random red meat tossed into an evangelical barbecue pit. It’s part of a kulturkämpfliche weltanshauung that the card-carrying historian expects will see him all the way to the leadership of the Judeo-Christian World.
Asked by moderator Bob Vander Plaats for a single value to instill into the American public, Gingrich launched into a riff on the Declaration of Independence’s declaration that we are “endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights”:
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…secular, a term that comes actually from the Latin seculare, meaning century, and it basically says, “Life is very limited, so
you might as well get the most you can now.” A belief in God is the precise
opposite. It’s a belief that we are all part of an eternity, and that eternity
stretches behind us and ahead of us. And therefore we have to measure what we
do within the framework of God’s greater plan. A country which has been now,
since 1963, relentlessly in the courts driving God out of public life shouldn’t
be surprised at all the problems we have because we’ve in fact attempted to
create a secular country, which I think is frankly a nightmare. So I think the
first step is (this is not sectarian; it’s not Protestant, Catholic, Jewish;
this is a factual historic statement): Our founding document, which is the base
of our government, says, “We are endowed by our Creator…” and therefore we have
responsibilities as citizens to that Creator, and if we simply have a system
that reasserts that and educates that and tries to live up to that then we will
be a dramatically better country and other policies follow from it.”
There’s a lot that’s dubious here, beginning with the philological fact that what we mean by secular derives from the medieval use of the Latin saeculum, i.e. the world outside the monastery. The factual historic reality is that the framers of the Constitution, a fair number of whom believed in God, very much intended to set up their novus ordo seclorum on secular lines–sans religious tests for office or religious establishments–much to the consternation of many religious folk at home and abroad. Quelle nightmare!
For that matter, how does it follow that declaring human beings to have been created with certain unalienable rights implies that we as citizens have responsibilities to the Creator, whoever that may be? No Creator makes an appearance in the constitutionally mandated oath of office that Gingrich hopes to take in 2013. And how exactly does having a “system” that reasserts and educates and tries to live up to such a divine obligation square with the First Amendment?
But the real focus of Newt’s exercise is the malignant force that for nearly half a century has been relentlessly driving God out of the public square. What is it? Later in the Forum, he specified: “What you have today is an outgrowth of the French
Revolution…The French Revolution was an anti-clerical, anti-God
rejection of the larger world in favor of secularism.” In a word, it’s latter-day Jacobins who, in the Gingrichian world view, control academe, the media, the courts, etc.
This is actually pretty malignant stuff, reminiscent of the ugly political campaigns waged in 1796 and 1800 by the Federalists against that notorious Jacobin and alleged atheist who drafted the very founding document that mentions those Creator-endowed unalienable rights–Thomas Jefferson. Of course, Gingrich has never been an ideologue but rather, as George Will quipped the other day, a “rental politician” with a gift of gab. So he doesn’t believe a word he says. The problem is, other people do.