SP Extra: The Aitken Bible
I don’t know why I do it but I can’t help getting sucked into a debate with a conservative. It’s simultaneously frustrating and fascinating. Frustrating because the conservative never waivers from their position or admits that they are wrong despite the overwhelming amount of evidence against their position and fascinating because they never waiver from their position despite the overwhelming amount of evidence against their position.
I ran into this problem the other day when I was arguing with an old army buddy about how this nation was founded on Christian values. It started with a share of a story about the 10 Commandments monument being removed from the state capital in Oklahoma. Someone commented on how sad it was and of course, I had to be a smart ass so I commented “I know, such a waste of tax payer money in litigation and removal in what is a clear violation of the establishment clause.” I was promptly told that I have no moral compass and that I would be prayed for. Now, I did a podcast that critically examined religious claims for over two years and during that time, I learned a thing or two about religion so this person was in for a world of hurt trying to defend their position against me. However, I didn’t want to make this about religion but about politics and the constitution. Finally my friend jumped in and started quoting founding fathers and other David Barton type resources about the founding of this country. I started quoting from the founding fathers as well on how we weren’t founded as a Christian nation and the Supreme Court decisions that has backed up this notion throughout the years. My friend claims to adhere to the constitution and I asked, where in the constitution does it say we are a Christian nation or even Jesus? Of course he didn’t have an answer because it’s obviously not there but one thing I noticed was his reliance on acts of Congress and some of the things they have done to try and rewrite history and one such example he used was the Congressional Bible or what is commonly referred to as the Aitken Bible which will be our topic of discussion in the episode of Skeptical Politics!
I like to make sure things are put within their proper context and I think this is a key component of skeptical thinking. So many times we get ourselves in trouble by taking things out of context and this is used a lot in politics. To understand the Aitken Bible, you have to understand the context that it was created. While the America’s were under British rule, they were forbidden from printing the bible. The British government wanted to control the flow of information and the cost was too great to print a bible locally. As an atheist, I could care less if the people of the America’s had a bible but within historical context, it was a very important book. A book that helped to keep up the morale of the colonist but when we declared our independence from Britain, England cut off the supply of bibles, a form of psychological warfare.
The Committee on Commerce reported to the Continental Congress that the need for a bible was so important that “…the use of the Bible is so universal, and its importance so great, that the committee refer the above to the consideration of Congress, and if Congress shall not think it expedient to order the importation of types and paper, your committee recommend that Congress will order the Committee of Commerce to import 20,000 Bibles from Holland, Scotland, or elsewhere, into the different ports of the states in the Union.” The Committee was asking Congress to order them to order bibles from other countries. This proved difficult and an ambitious printer started the process of printing an American English Bible. Robert Aitken went to the Congressional Committee and petition Congress to print HIS bible. Aitken approached Congress with these request. First, he wanted the government to print and publish the Bible to prevent errors. He felt it was the government’s reasonability to protect Christianity and the citizenry from “spurious and erroneous Editions of Divine Revelation.” Because of this, Aitken wanted Congress to inspect the Bible and recommend the one he nearly completed. Second, he wanted the Bible printed under the Authority of Congress and third, he wanted Congress to make him the official Bible printer.
What is interesting, is that Aitken seemed to think that Congress should regulate the Bible. Imagine a world if that were true. I asked this of my friend, what version of Christianity should government endorse? I jokingly said I’m partial to Mormonism. Now Congress did not grant all of Aitken’s request. Aitken was not appointed the official Bible printer. Congress instead, turned the Bible over to the chaplains to check the accuracy of the Bible. They gave it the thumbs up and recommended Aitken’s printing as an accurate version. Aitken continued to print his Bible at his own expense. Congress did not print nor did it pay for the printing, they merely certified the accuracy of its contents, or at least their chaplains did.
This is an interesting story in that Congress commemorated this artistic and religious document but the most important thing is what Congress DID NOT do. Congress did not purchase the Bible’s from Aitken, they did not pay Aitken to print the Bible, they did not make Aitken the official printer and they did not distribute the Bible in any way. I wasn’t in anyway an endorsement of Christianity. As a matter of fact, Aitken printed these Bible’s at a lost. All of this is well documented and easily verified but the myth still persist on the religious right and is used as a justification to claim that our nation was founded on Christian principles and that we were and are a Christian nation but when examined closely and skeptically, the myth unravels and the truth is reveled.