McNaughton Fine Art to visit Mr McNaughton’s website
Jon McNaughton is a Utah based painter whose work is of a religious nature, his work ranges from the spiritual landscape, thru Mormon iconography to what I can best describe a pseudo-religious political propaganda.
I must preface this entry by stating quite clearly that it is Mr McNaughton’s right to produce work of any nature he wishes, I do not seek in way to curtail his freedom of expression or his religious freedom, I merely offer Mr McNaughton’s painting One Nation Under God as an examination of how a belief system appears to have a led Mr McNaughton in the area of religious political propaganda and distorted the history of the foundation of the United States and the nature of its constitution.
One Nation Under God
I’ve annotated Jon McNaughton’s One Nation Under God for the purpose of demonstration.
One could argue that all religious art is in some respect political propaganda, the Michael Angelo’s Sistine Chapel, Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper, Raphael’s Madonna and Child were all commissioned for the purpose of bring the viewer nearer to god by illustration and thus endorsing the power and the majesty of the church. From the Renaissance until the 20th century monarchs, politicians and religious leaders have been aware of the power of art, it feeds its message straight into the visual cortex, it can inspire, fill with awe or tell a narrative tale, helping shape opinions and grant prestige, art is indeed powerful.
My concern with Mr McNaughton’s painting One Nation Under God is that conveys a religious symbolism to the greatest triumph of secularism, the United States was not founded to be a Christian nation although it was primarily populated by Christians at the time of the War of Independence and its subsequent establishment. The founding fathers of the United States with great deliberation set out to create a secular nation free from the religious bigotry and the sectarianism which had plagued Europe since the reformation. The deliberate absence of an established church and clear division between the secular state and all churches is the simple reality of the constitutional settlement. To create a painting wherein Jesus triumphant stands holding the constitution surrounded by the founding fathers either kneeling in supplication or standing in adoration is to send a message that a Christian god inspired this most earthly of documents. This is a clear attempt by Mr McNaughton propagate the myth of a Christian United States, a United States endorsed by the Christian god, maybe even mandated by the Christian god. This is a message that many conservatives in the United States are all to willing to not only accept but to attempt to legislate for.
To quote from Mr McNaughton’s website:
“These men and women were passionately religious and saw the hand of God all around them. To God they gave Thanks for His Hand in the founding of this great nation. To Him, according to their own testimony, they turned for wisdom and strength when life and liberty hung in the balance. Certainly the debate on separation of church and state will continue. But no one can dispute how our Founding Fathers and Patriots felt about God. The record is clear!”
That would be true if it wasn’t for the facts, to claim that any of these men were in any way passionately religious is untrue or that the founding fathers of the United States (1-7) were Christians is to stretch a point to breaking, they were all Deists with exception of John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, Adams was raised Unitarian, but didn’t practise the faith or attended church and made many statements which can only be seen in an anti-religious light, Hamilton, was Anglican but again didn’t attend church or publicly practise his faith. Deism is an Enlightenment idea pretty non-existent today, the deism of the founding fathers was from a time before Darwin and knowledge of the utter vastness of the universe, deism holds that there was a god that was responsible for the universe and for life, a creator, a great architect of the universe, however, this god was in a sense unknowable, he (it) may or may not pay mind to human affairs and may or may not answer prayer or supplications, that was of know matter becasue they knew that god was not concerned with their nation building. These were indeed men of the Enlightenment, devotees of John Locke, Cabaret Voltaire, Baruch Spinoza and Jean Jacques Rousseau, religion was of little or no consequence to them. Perhaps the best way of relating deism to contemporary thinking is to see the deist as a secularist that doesn’t profess any belief or disbelief, they are neither religious or atheist, they believe that freedom of belief is a human right and they take no stance on the truth of any spiritual position. In a sense deism was something of an abdication of position, they took the view that there simply wasn’t any evidence for the existence of an interventionist god, however without another rational explanation of the universe, atheism seemed also to be something of an act of faith, deism served has an explanation of the universe. Deism in this sense is not a faith in the way that theism (Christianity, Judaism or Islam) is a faith, deism is more of a logical belief based upon the evidence that existed at the time. These great men really didn’t worship god in the way that a self-proclaimed Christian worships god, they weren’t religious, perhaps the rather contemporary statement on reads on profiles these days may have suited them best, “spiritual, but not religious”.
George Washington on many occasions refused to be drawn on Christianity, he always claimed that it was a personal matter and not open for public discussion, privately he wasn’t so reticent, in his letter to Sir Edward Newenham, June 22, 1792 he wrote “Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause” and “Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society”. Washington believed with much conviction that a secular society based upon a secular constitution was the only way to prevent the religious violence and wars that had plagued Europe for the last three centuries. Washington argued against a chaplaincy being created for the fledgling United States military on the grounds that each denomination would require a chaplain and if one soldier or sailor belonged to faith that was remote and it wasn’t possible to provide a chaplian then that might constitute a denial of religious freedom, however, privately he agreed with Thomas Jefferson that religion and the presence of chaplains was a threat to the good order and discipline of the troops, their fear was that soldiers may start fighting amongst themselves rather than fighting an enemy. Washington also always fought on the side of education and science against Christian zealots that wished the government to play no part in such things, addressing congress January 8th 1790 “There is nothing which can better deserve our patronage than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”.
Thomas Jefferson was even less religious and more strident in his views, admiring the atheism of the French Revolution, Jefferson had wanted to see a more pluralist constitution informed by the writings of his friend Thomas Paine and The Social Contract of Jean Jacques Rousseau. Jefferson feared that great wealth and great poverty would lead social breakdown, Jefferson warned that the concentration of wealth would lead to a corrupted government and that the people lose their franchise to elect their political leaders due to the corrupting influence of those that could afford to buy patronage. Without doubt Thomas Jefferson was not a religious man writing in Notes on the State of Virginia “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.” could there be a more complete secularist argument? Jefferson in principle believed that which was not prohibited by law was a matter between a man and his conscience (or his god) and that whether one man believes something or a million it would make no difference, the state should take no position.
Abraham Lincoln despite growing up in a religious family never joined a church and always claimed that he acted out humanism not from a prescribed Christian morality, Lincoln was probably a deist but that hasn’t stopped both Christians and atheists trying to claim him for their own. I could go on at great length and produce literally hundreds of quotations of the views of the founding fathers to show they were indeed secularists and were intent on and indeed succeeded in framing a secular constitution. It is possible to be a Christian and believe in a secular society, many Christians did and still do, they didn’t just want freedom to practise their religion but also desired that freedom others of different faiths. This is the great triumph of the birth of the United States, that mankind for the first time in its history manage to create a just settlement without recourse to a god or gods. With the United States not recognising any faith but respecting and protecting all beliefs we have for the first time a society based upon mankind’s rights and responsibilities, the US constitution and its amendments were framed to prevent endorsement of religion of any kind, so that the United States cannot be a Christian country, this is the only way the framers of the constitution could envisage the maintenance of religious freedom.
The United States is the most religious nation of all the worlds developed nations, it has the highest church attendances, the largest proportion of people who declare a belief in God, contrast that with western Europe where many nations such as my own the United Kingdom have established churches, church attendances are at present, less than 8% of population attend a church for anything other than weddings and funerals and less than 4% regularly attend, over 30% of the population are atheists or agnostic. Most of western Europe is similar in its relationship with religion, even southern European Catholic nations: Spain, Portugal and Italy have small church attendances, Christianity will be albeit gone from Europe within fifty years if the current rate of decline continues. I would argue that it is the nature of a totally secular nation that has kept religion alive in the United States, forced prayer in school probably turns more children away from religion than just about anything, whereas in the United States the absence of prayer from schools means that children get to choose along with their families whether to participate or not. The sheer diversity of faiths in the United States is a testament to a secular constitution, perhaps if one wishes to destroy faith then easiest way to do so is to get the state to endorse that faith. If the Christian Conservatives in the United States ever get their way and actually get the nation declared a “Christian Nation” then within weeks every denomination will be claiming that they are the only true Christian faith, within months they’ll be arming themselves and probably within a year there will be serious blood shed, secularism is the greatest defense against religious intolerance. To return to Thomas Jefferson it was the Congregationalists of Danbury Connecticut that Baptists of Danbury Connecticut feared and felt persecuted by not the secularists.
In attempting to paint the Christian figure of Jesus into the foundation of the United States , you claim sanction from god for the United States, something which the founding fathers would have been disgusted by. Really Christians should be more outraged by this than anyone to claim god for earthly minion is surely blasphemous?