Bill Maher - New Rule: Tea Baggers & Founding Fathers

I always become suspicious when someone, conservative or liberal, tries to make a point by appealing back to the Founding Fathers. Part of it just has to do with consistency: since they were fallible humans, they were right about some things and wrong about others, so appealing back to them doesn't help us one iota in figuring out whether the particular belief appealed to belonged to one category or the other.

Also, and I can't believe how much this point is always overlooked, the Founding Fathers did NOT agree on everything, so while it might be easy to find one founding father who agrees with your particular position, it's equally easy to find another who disagrees, so we're still not a step closer to solving the dispute. And even if a majority of them did agree on something, that only tells us they agreed, not whether they were right, which ought to be the real point of discussion.

Ultimately, appealing to our forefathers is an easy way to abdicate personal responsibility for our own choices by placing that burden on a bunch of dead white males who can no longer defend their position. It is also a sentimental appeal meant to go straight for the emotional patriotic jugular instead of focusing on the merits of the idea discussed. It is also a lazy strategy deployed in order to save oneself the burden of having to think for oneself...

And finally, it is also a dishonest strategy, since most people tend to project unto the Founding Fathers their own beliefs (just like the religious do with the Bible when it comes to their moral beliefs), while conveniently ignoring all evidence to the contrary (see Confirmation Bias).



Of course, while I agree with the spirit, the point could have been better made if Maher had gotten all of his facts straight:

  • Paine was a deist, not an atheist (his problem was with religion, not with god)
  • While some of the Founding Fathers espoused some elitism (Hamilton, for instance), other did not (Jefferson)
  • John Adams was a Unitarian, and believed Christianity to be the wisest of all religions
  • Jefferson did edit the Bible to get rid of all it superstitious nonsense, but he did consider Jesus to be an excellent moral teacher, so even he didn't consider the book to be complete bullshit
But you get the point...
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