We the People Trumps I am the Lord Thy God

I stood on the National Mall for the first time in my life a few days ago. I was struck by something: the complete absence of a giant white cross. Instead, looking at the monument of the Father of our Country, George Washington, the first President of the United States of America, I see a giant white Pagan obelisk thrusting into the clear blue heavens, more in line with something honoring Pharaoh than Christ.

I traversed the length of the mall toward the Lincoln Memorial, the second greatest president only after Washington himself. If Washington presided over the creation of the Union, it was Abraham Lincoln who presided over its preservation. As I stood atop the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gazed east toward the Washington Monument, I realized that that memorial remained a Pagan obelisk; it did not become a cross from that side either. Yet on Easter Sunday, thousands gathered on the steps of Lincoln’s secular shrine and gazed east toward that Pagan obelisk to honor a God that has really, nothing to do with either, a sort of religious rape of the secular.

Behind them, inscribed on the wall, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which honors not the will of God but the wishes of man:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The ground at Gettysburg is, significantly, consecrated by man – not by Lincoln and his listeners, because as he says, that was above their “power to add or detract” and not by God – but by the men who died there, on that ground, who so “nobly advanced” the cause for which they fought. The Nation may be, he admits at the end, almost in passing, “under God” but it is not God and it is not prayers that have won the honors but mortal man and his willingness to shed his own blood in a cause greater than himself, a cause that was not, in Lincoln’s mind, that of God but very secular –  the preservation of the Union.

The Lincoln Memorial is a grand, secular shrine, not a House of God but a House of Man, for men, a house of memories in honor of the man who saved the Union the thirteen original colonies had agreed upon by signing and ratifying the very secular Constitution.

Moses went up a mountain and came down with a Hittite vassal treaty. George Washington presided over a group of mortal men who gathered together and did not receive from God but created with their own hands and out of their own minds, a unique document in history: the U.S. Constitution. It looks nothing like a Hittite vassal treaty. It looks like no other document in world history. It is not something the Jewish high priests would have recognized; there is no curses and blessings formula in our Constitution, a feature found in any vassal treaty, including that between God and the Israelites (what will happen if the terms of the treaty are or are not followed. See Deut. 28).[1]  If the Constitution is a covenant, it is a secular covenant, a covenant, as Lincoln reminds us, “of the people, by the people, for the people.”

Power derives from the mandate of the people, not from God, who has no part of the process and no vote, and no mention. The Republicans insisting that the Constitution is derived from the Ten Commandments is like insisting that that great white Pagan obelisk is instead a big white Christian cross. You can say it’s a cross all you want, but it’s always going to remain what it is: a giant white Pagan obelisk, a symbol out of Egypt, not a symbol of Moses. The Constitution is like that too: there is no mention of Moses or his Ten Commandments or of his God or that God’s supposed will. It begins not with “I am the Lord thy God” but with “We the People” and that is the most significant preamble in the history of the world: We the People.

It is the People who mandate; not God, not Kings, not Popes, but the People. And standing there on the steps of Lincoln’s secular shrine myself, and staring off toward Washington’s obelisk, I saw through the National Mall a tenuous link with the Founding Fathers, a sort of timeline of their will, a secular capital to govern a secular nation comprised of very religious people, who recognized that to have their rights of belief, that everyone in that “We the People” had to have their rights of belief respected as well. There was to be no more Catholics, no more Jews, no more Protestants: only Americans, united not through loyalty to their respective doctrines, but to the idea of the Constitution itself and their inalienable rights as human beings.

And Lincoln didn’t differentiate between blacks and whites, or Christians and atheists or Pagans and Jews but said, significantly, again without mention of God, “Allow all the governed an equal voice in the government, and that, and only that, is self government.”

Words every Republican who claims to stand with Lincoln, and all who stand against tyranny, would do well to remember.

Photographs by Hrafnkell Haraldsson

[1] George Mendenhall  “Covenant Forms in Israelite Tradition” The Biblical Archaeologist 17 (1954), 58-60.

17 Replies to “We the People Trumps I am the Lord Thy God”

  1. It’s curious, too, that the Washingtom Monument replicates what was probably the first device people ever made to measure off equal days: the standing menhir or pillar or probably (in the beginning) simply a staff sunk into the ground, that could measure the period from noon to noon. It makes you wonder how much time remains to us as a nation, and whether our noon has passed forever.

  2. Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of a religion… It’s the First words in the First Amendment to our Constitution.
    Our founding fathers wanted to make sure that our laws were “For the People”, and made by elected representatives “of the People”.
    The GOP would have us think otherwise, but the truth is there for all to see, all we have to do is…LOOK!

  3. …”You can say it’s a cross all you want, but it’s always going to remain what it is: a giant white Pagan obelisk, a symbol out of Egypt, not a symbol of Moses…”

    Help me out; what is “this” a top of the morman temples? They have no crosses on the top of any of their fortress (yes fortress–they don’t look like any thing resembling a built by the rest of the christian-types, but, like castles that need a moat).


  4. It is certainly true that if a God gave us the Constitution of the United States, It’s sure not the same God of Israel. That God wasn’t Into equal rights

  5. Great Hraf – It never fails to amuse how the GOP loves to attribute this country’s founding to god as if there are no historical records or written Constitution for all to read. It really goes to the notion that conservatives cannot assign anything good to human beings unless Republicans elevated them to god-status (Reagan).

  6. I have no knowledge of their iconography; to the casual eye, it looks like a wingless Gabriel blowing the Last Trumpet on top of a colossal phallus.

  7. ROFLMAO!!! Your comment brought to mind the importance of phallic symbols in neolithic and early bronze age Europe. I HAD to go look!

    I was struck by the resemblance of most of their temples to stepped pyramids and other ancient structures (such as Mesopotamian architecture), but with Gabriel and his trumpet on the top-most point.

    Well, IMO, whatever floats their boat.

  8. One thing I learned after I discovered the truth about my heritage and ancestry – that the “Founding Fathers” had a comparable document far closer to home than the ancient Greeks… the “Great Peace” of the Iroquois and there is evidence that they were very well acquainted with it.

    Considering that most of the tribes were democratic in nature and many had representative forms of government, it would make sense that the ideas would rub off. (Caucus is a Native American word meaning the same thing for instance.) My own tribe’s political structure would be best described as “representative government by elders”, and voting and consensus was very important.

  9. I hope that the best is yet to come, but worry that if we don’t defeat the Republicans and bring this country to fulfilling its promise (as compared to the reality), we may be in the twilight.

    I don’t want to live out the rest of my life in a theocratic dictatorship. I want a LIFE, not just continuing existence.

    I think that can be achieved if we can defeat them and roll back the terrible things they’ve done – and push forward towards real freedom.

  10. None of it “matches”; you see a just the phallic symbol on the roofs of most of their common temples, but only the “Gabriel thing” on their “important” temples (trust me, I live in an area close to where there are temples on every single corner; no Gab).

    What strikes me the most is, no crosses, anywhere.
    And, very few, if any, windows. They don’t seem to wear any “symbols” like a cross or a Star of David.

    But, I digress; Hraf is right…”only Americans, united not through loyalty to their respective doctrines, but to the idea of the Constitution itself and their inalienable rights as human beings”…not so much with sects and cult as they do pledge “loyalty” to their leader and doctrine.
    We have a problem, Houston even if it is a small minority, it is still a few million people.

  11. This article strikes me as just as mean spirited as what one hears from the right. A narrow,small hearted anti-religious outlook may or may not trump a narrow small hearted religious outlook – but over time I don’t think either will be helpful to the democratic process. Bad article, as far as I’m concerned, not in keeping with your usual level of quality.

  12. My outlook is far from anti-religious. I’m a polytheist; I believe in more gods than most anybody I know. What it is, is a pro-Constitution outlook, a secular outlook, which isn’t anti-religious at all, whatever conservatives claim.

  13. Hraf, you made an interesting point I’d not heard before and it strikes me as being important (and I found it rather enlightening) – that the 10 commandments brought down by Moses were in the form of a Hittite treaty.

    I had never thought of that before, but the parallels are there.

  14. Ack… I forgot to mention (but was thinking it) – the Great Peace has always been said to be brought to the people by the Peacemaker… some say it was Jesus, others say a prophet from the people.

    So you could say in a way it WAS religiously inspired, just not by the form of Christianity in vogue then and now.

  15. can’t say for sure but years ago i used to have a Mormon girl freind..i was told that the abscence of the cross, was that they believed that a cross was a “graven image”

  16. I did not know that about a document somehow i thought such things were verbal history – its remarkable how much our language is affected as well..
    – how awesome.. thank you for educating me further..

  17. On the contrary – i found the article to be very open minded and not anti-religious in the least. he simply points out that these iconic symbols are NOT in the least religious in spite of the gop/teaparty assertions that everything in the govt is ‘god’ centered. – its a Very well written article.

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