Atheist Monument Gets Facts, History Wrong

Patrick Frye

The Atheist monument in Florida is intended to confront the Bible's Ten Commandments, but, oddly enough, the atheist monument twists history and facts to make their point.

As previously reported by The Inquisitr, various atheist groups are now planning on building at least 50 other atheist monuments throughout the United States.

The atheist monument was built as a "a monument to secularism and the separation of church and state" according to American Atheists. As such, the atheist monument is in the form of a large, functional bench, featuring quotes from Madalyn Murray O'Hair and US founding fathers Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson as well as an excerpt from the Treaty of Tripoli signed by President John Adams.

One of the largest sections lists the Biblical punishments for breaking the Ten Commandments, which only seems to serve one purpose.Father Jonathan Morris called the atheist monument "silly" and "disrespectful," arguing that the atheist monument is being erected simply as an attack on other religions:

"Why do we have a Ten Commandments there at a federal courthouse? Because of the tradition of law and justice and truth being based also on religious revelation, revelation of what God's will is for us and how we behave. [The atheist monument is] a Christian protest monument, they're protesting the fact that the Ten Commandments are there."

The 1787 quote from Thomas Jefferson on reason and god's existence is interesting:

"Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear."

Even the writers of the New Testament declared that, if their testimony was not based in reasonable fact, then people were wasting their time. But what the atheist monument fails to note is that Thomas Jefferson's opinions on such matters evolved during his lifetime. By 1821, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in it’s advances towards rational Christianity."

While not an atheist, Thomas Jefferson was certainly either a deist or at most a very liberal Christian who probably would have disagreed on many matters with the recent Christian protesters at the atheist monument. Speaking against the doctrines of the trinity and the virgin birth, Thomas Jefferson would say, "To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed, opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he wished any one to be." In 1816, Thomas Jefferson proclaimed, "I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus."

Similarly, John Adams was a Unitarian and rejected the concept of the trinity. The quote on the atheist monument showcases his wariness for an established religion in government:

"It will never be pretended that any person employed in that service (writing the Constitution) had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of Heaven."

Still, John Adams believed in the "general Principles of Christianity" and claimed they were a uniting and morally guiding force in the public life of the American people:

"Suppose a nation in some distant Region should take the Bible for their only law Book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited! Every member would be obliged in conscience, to temperance, frugality, and industry; to justice, kindness, and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love, and reverence toward Almighty God ... What a Eutopia, what a Paradise would this region be."

In the context of the building of the atheist monument, the quote from Benjamin Franklin seems intended to convey the idea that Christianity is a "bad" religion:

“When religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, ’tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”

But the atheist monument takes Benjamin Franklin out of context. Weeks before his death, Benjamin Franklin had this to say about the Bible:

"As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see." But, like the other Founding Fathers listed so far, Benjamin Franklin questioned many doctrines.

Reading around on the internet, I noticed a Catholic website that tore into the Madalyn Murray O’Hair quote on the atheist monument. They note that atheists talking about building hospitals is especially ironic because the first hospital in the Americas was part of a church. Never mind that hospitals started as Christian care that slowly separated into the hospitals we know them as now. Because of the way the atheist monument twists history and facts, they say the atheist monument would be more accurate if it read: “An atheist believes that $22,000 monuments to atheism should be built in all 50 states instead of a hospital.”

To be fair, it should be noted that the first stand alone hospital in the United States was built by Benjamin Franklin himself. It's symbol was the "Good Samaritan" from the Bible, although the concept of a hospital separate from a church was new one borrowed from the French. This is what Benjamin Franklin had to say about the Pennsylvania Hospital:

"It would be a neglect of that justice which is due to the physicians and surgeons of this hospital, not to acknowledge that their care and skill, and their punctual and regular attendance, under the Divine Blessing, has been a principal means of advancing this charity to the flourishing state in which we have now the pleasure to view it. Relying on the continuance of the Favour of Heaven, upon the future endeavors of all who may be concerned in the management of the institution, for its further advancement, we close this account with the abstract of a sermon, preached before the Governors..."

A cornerstone inscription at the Pennsylvania Hospital read, "This building, by the bounty of the Government and of many private persons, was piously founded, for the relief of the sick and miserable. May the God of mercies bless the undertaking!"

Other interesting facts about the atheist monument include:

"A quote on the monument says 'An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death.' Awkward: atheists Jack Kevorkian (Dr. Death) and Derek Humphry (founder of the Hemlock Society) would disagree."

The last major issue on the atheist monument is the Treaty of Tripoli, which reads:

"As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

This is a very complicated subject, so I'll skip to the highlights. The historical background begins with the First Amendment, where the Founders clearly wrote there shall be no establishment of religion at the national or Federal level government. What people forget is that the various states and local governments of the time actually had established religions, although they were all various Christian denominations. So the statement is true based upon the historical context of the time. The federal government was not found on the Christian religion, but the states were. It was not until the passing of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868 that this state of affairs changed.

During this time Muslim pirates from Tripoli were targeting ships owned by Christians. This "war on pirates" was draining away the new nation's resources and Congress was wanting to quickly resolve the matter. The famous phrase "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion," does not exist at all in the Arabic version of the Treaty of Tripoli. This is very odd because the English version passed by Congress was translated by Joel Barlow, a noted religious skeptic.

Considering it took two years to write the document in the first place, Congress probably would have barely noticed Article 11. Any delay in ratifying the Treaty of Tripoli would have caused more death and destruction so renegotiating at that point was unthinkable. Still, the wording of Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli remained for eight years until the treaty was renegotiated and Article 11 was dropped.

As a comparison, the Treaty of Paris of 1783, as negotiated by Ben Franklin, John Adams, and others, is the Treaty by which Britain recognized the independence of the United States. The Treaty of Paris begins with the words, "In the Name of the most holy and undivided Trinity... ," While obviously neither man personally believed that phrase since they were Unitarians it's interesting a founding document of the United States would begin this way.

Despite any factual errors or historical revisions by the atheist monument, Christian groups complaining about the atheist monument should also consider how it came to be built in the first place. While it's true that out-of-state liberal groups forced the issue, Community Men’s Fellowship, which built the Ten Commandments monument, was told by county officials to remove it. But they refused, saying, “We have prayerfully considered your request and have determined that we will not comply with the County’s order.” So, ironically, Christians caused the atheist monument to be built in the first place.

What do you think about the atheist monument?