The Founders and Christianity

Apparently there are some (perhaps many) who believe that America’s Founding Fathers were evangelical Christians, and that America was founded as a Christian nation. This claim that America was founded upon Christianity, or even Christian principles, per se, is a troublesome myth. Many of the Founding Fathers and Revolutionary War leaders were Deists (notably Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, Thomas Jefferson), and held firm to the concept known as separation of church and state. This does not imply that none of the founders were evangelicals, but to make the incredible leap that this country was founded as a Christian nation is bizarre and ignores a great deal of the writings, and insults the intellect, of many Founders and Revolutionaries. This may be difficult for some of the readers out here, but in the words of Thomas Paine,

“infidelity consists not in belief, or disbelief, rather it consists of professing to believe that which you know in your heart cannot be true. . . . It is impossible to calculate the moral mischief, if I may so express it, that mental lying has produced in society. When a man has so far corrupted and prostituted the chastity of his mind, as to subscribe his professional belief to things he does not believe, he has prepared himself for the commission of every other crime. He takes up the trade of a priest for the sake of gain, and, in order to qualify himself for that trade, he begins with perjury. Can we conceive anything more destructive to morality than this? … He despises the choicest gift of God to man, the GIFT OF REASON.

From various sources:

The First Amendment – US Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”

Article VI, Section 3 – US Constitution:
“…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

John Adams (the second President of the United States)

Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli (June 7, 1797). Article 11 states:
“The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”

From a letter to Charles Cushing (October 19, 1756):
“Twenty times in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, ‘this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.'”

From a letter to Thomas Jefferson:
“I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved — the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”

Additional quotes from John Adams:
“Where do we find a precept in the Bible for Creeds, Confessions, Doctrines and Oaths, and whole carloads of trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days?”

“The Doctrine of the divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity.”

“…Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.”

Thomas Jefferson (the third President of the United States)

Jefferson’s interpretation of the first amendment in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association (January 1, 1802):
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”

From Jefferson’s biography:
“…an amendment was proposed by inserting the words, ‘Jesus Christ…the holy author of our religion,’ which was rejected ‘By a great majority in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindoo and the Infidel of every denomination.'”

Jefferson’s “The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom”:
“Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than on our opinions in physics and geometry….The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

From Thomas Jefferson’s Bible:
“The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.”

Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia:
“Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments. To make way for these free inquiry must be indulged; how can we wish others to indulge it while we refuse ourselves? But every state, says an inquisitor, has established some religion. No two, say I, have established the same. Is this a proof of the infallibility of establishments?”

Additional quotes from Thomas Jefferson:
“It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.”

“They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition of their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the alter of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”

“I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth.”

“In every country and in every age the priest has been hostile to liberty; he is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”

“Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear….Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it end in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue on the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others which it will procure for you.”

“Christianity…[has become] the most perverted system that ever shone on man….Rogueries, absurdities and untruths were perpetrated upon the teachings of Jesus by a large band of dupes and importers led by Paul, the first great corrupter of the teaching of Jesus.”

“…that our civil rights have no dependence on religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics and geometry.”

James Madison (the fourth President of the United States)

Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments:
“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise….During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.”

Additional quote from James Madison:
“Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

Benjamin Franklin

From Franklin’s autobiography, p. 66:
“My parents had given me betimes religious impressions, and I received from my infancy a pious education in the principles of Calvinism. But scarcely was I arrived at fifteen years of age, when, after having doubted in turn of different tenets, according as I found them combated in the different books that I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself.”

From Franklin’s autobiography, p. 66:
“…Some books against Deism fell into my hands….It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quote to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations, in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.”

Thomas Paine

From The Age of Reason, pp. 89:
“I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of….Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and of my own part, I disbelieve them all.”

From The Age of Reason:
“All natural institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”

From The Age of Reason:
“The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion.”

From The Age of Reason:
“What is it the Bible teaches us? — rapine, cruelty, and murder.”

From The Age of Reason:
“Loving of enemies is another dogma of feigned morality, and has beside no meaning….Those who preach the doctrine of loving their enemies are in general the greatest prosecutors, and they act consistently by so doing; for the doctrine is hypocritical, and it is natural that hypocrisy should act the reverse of what it preaches.”

From The Age of Reason:
“The Bible was established altogether by the sword, and that in the worst use of it — not to terrify but to extirpate.”

Additional quote from Thomas Paine:
“It is the duty of every true Deist to vindicate the moral justice of God against the evils of the Bible.”

Ethan Allen

From Religion of the American Enlightenment:
“Denominated a Deist, the reality of which I have never disputed, being conscious that I am no Christian.”

Of course, there are many references to devine providence in the writings of numerous other founders and their contemporaries. Also, it is true that some were devout Christians. But this in no way proves that the enlightenment philosophy was subordinated to Christian fundamentalism, Judaism, Islam, or whatever man-made religion to which one ascribes. Nor does it imply that The Founders were Christian fundamentalists creating a nation for the purpose of engaging in religious indoctrination. People can and do believe as they will, but one cannot read the above quotes, or have any knowledge of the history of western civilization, and conclude that this country was founded upon Christianity. Unless, of course, you are self-delusional. What one can say, with some degree of accuracy, is that a fair number of the individuals who were instrumental in founding America were, in fact, of the Christian faith. A quote from Patrick Henry comes to mind: “”It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.”

That Henry’s quote stands in notable contrast to the quotes of several of the other founders says more about Mr. Henry’s recognition of the faith found in the rank and file of society, than anything else. Nor should it take away from his magnificent contributions to the idea of America – a concept that is profoundly not premised upon or reliant upon Christianity.

Jesus of Nazareth was most likely a real historical figure in his time. Recent scholarly work by the likes of James Tabor continue to uncover artifacts, and through their honest inquiry present reality as it most likely was 2000 years ago. Just as John The Baptiser influenced many, he should be remembered for many of the positive messages he left (the historically accurate accounts), but not for the supernatural nonsense ascribed to him many decades after his death; supernatural accounts which take away from his positive messages far more than they can possible add. This was clearly the thinking, in my view, which prevailed with our more “enlightened” founders.

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