This is my recent "letter to the editor" that was published in our local newspaper.  Just saving it here so that I don't lose it.

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In response to the recent assertion that America is a "Christian" nation, I recommend a deeper perusal of the subject. Many of our Founding Fathers (indeed, the most influential) were Deists who believed in a non-personal, non-intervening Creator, NOT a Christian god.

James Madison said, "During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution" and "Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom? In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the U.S. forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion."

Thomas Jefferson stated, "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."

Thomas Paine (whose writings directly influenced the Founding Fathers) asserted, "Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifiying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity."

If their intent had in any way been to ground this country in the Christian religion, it would have been reflected in the Constitution and its amendments. Included would have been references to Christianity, the Bible, and/or Jesus. There are none.

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I also included the following quote from Benjamin Franklin, which was omitted for space:

"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 quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist."

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Comments:

_Tam_
May. 12, 2008 at 10:16 AM   I really liked this journal!!  Thanks!!

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Raintree
May. 12, 2008 at 12:03 PM Thankyou!! I'll be coming back to this occasionally!

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norwe...
May. 12, 2008 at 2:53 PM

Hey You...

Just a few things...: )

While there are many who argue that the 'know' of the hearts and minds of the founding fathers inside and out, what they rarely grasp is that they ALL came from a Judeo-Christian reality, and therefore the perspective is without doubt through that prism...it can't be any other. We can never remove the impact of the environment in which our very idea of the world around us is created.

Two, your quote from Jefferson only proves that he was suggesting that the religion of Christianity would one day fall into the same catagory as we now view mythology...not that 'he would have it' that way...

Thomas Paine did much to move the country's populace toward accepting the idea of fighting the King for independence, but he is 'rarely' considered to be a 'founding father'...

 Most importantly, I think that you miss what people mean when they say we were 'founded' on Christian principles. As previously stated even those forefathers were influenced by their Christian upbringing and community, whether they 'liked it' or not...and undoubtedly may have rejected the 'hierarchy' or the 'establishment' of the church, but that does not remotely mean that they rejected the ideals or the values that stemmed from that religious influence.

When people say the country was founded on Christianity what they mean is that the very people who came for over a hundred years to settle the colonies, did so for their religious--that's Christian based--freedoms. They set about making up communities whose very foundation was their religious belief system...and those communities were fostered and grew. The founding fathers did not WIN our independence, but that was the 'people' of this country, most of whom were very much rooted in Christianity and the value system that stemmed from it. Those cannot be removed from the picture. Were there people who  were more or less fervent? Sure. Were there people who rejected religion outright? Sure. But, by and large, the colonies who settled here brought with them those Judeo-Christian values and no matter how much people try today to 'remove' any idea that it was those Christian values and beliefs that were prevalent amonst the majority of the populace it won't change it. The founding fathers did not 'found' the country...a founding is a long hard work and it is made up of many peoples...but the most of those people came here from a value system rooted in their Christian belief. That's just a fact.

 It's a misunderstanding of the issue that brings about the wrong argument...IMO

P

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veggi...
May. 12, 2008 at 4:19 PM

Damn you, Pati:  how dare you disagree with me, lol!  ;-)

My letter was in response to a local fundie who is arguing (unlike you, perhaps?) very specifically that Christian doctrine should be the basis of our governmental laws and he often uses the phrase "we are a Christian nation" to make his point.  I understand what you're saying:  yes, most of the colonists who came to America were Christian and as such, their communities reflected Christian values (but not ONLY Christian values). My point was that our Founding Fathers, who were primarily Deists, recognized a variety of belief systems and spiritual values and were wary of - in any way, shape or form -- appearing to endorse any one religion.

I originally said, "Thomas Paine (whose works greatly influenced our Founding Fathers) asserted, . . .  The paper edited my piece for space and made me look stupid in the process:  whom do I sue? ;-). 

Thomas Jefferson believed Jesus was a great Jewish teacher, but nothing more.  He rejected Christ's divinity and all revelation/mysticism associated with Christianity.  He actually cut and pasted his own Bible removing all the miracles of Jesus, leaving only what he felt was the correct moral philosophy of Jesus.  I just bought it:  it's called "Thomas Jefferson's Bible" -- a very interesting read.  I believe many of Jefferson's comments make it quite clear that he "would not have" Christian doctrine as a basis for law.  Here's what he had to say on several occasions:

 "Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law. "

 "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes."

"I concur with you strictly in your opinion of the comparative merits of atheism and demonism, and really see nothing but the latter in the being worshipped by many who think themselves Christians."

"My opinion is that there would never have been an infidel, if there had never been a priest. The artificial structures they have built on the purest of all moral systems, for the purpose of deriving from it pence and power, revolts those who think for themselves, and who read in that system only what is really there. "

I also believe Jefferson was clear in his desire that we not form (or write) our laws based on any one religion, hence his comment about the preamble for the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom:

"Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination."

I don't doubt that many people, including Christians, helped found this country.  But the question is "What did the writers of our U.S. Constitution intend with regard to religion and government?"  It is upon the basis of that document that our government operates.  And they made it very clear that no one religion should be endorsed by our goverment: that's why there is no reference to Jesus, the Bible or Christianity in the Constitution or its amendments.  The only spiritual reference to be found is in the Declaration of Independence which says "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," a very clear Deist reference.  The best case to be made is that our Founding Fathers intended to base our laws on Deism and even that claim falls flat under scrutiny.

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sherriet
May. 12, 2008 at 5:45 PM Nicely put.

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norwe...
May. 12, 2008 at 6:01 PM

LOL : ) Thought you'd appreciate a good back and forth on the issue. : )

My point is that I think often times people confuse the two issues: Christian founding vesus Christian Nation...One acknowledges the influence of peoples coming from Judeo-Christian value and belief systems on the ultimate direction of our independent country and the 'mindset' of the peoples within that nation, and the other suggests a 'theocracy' which, you are correct, they were most adamantly opposed to, for good reason. The people of the country felt very strongly that the freedom to have their own communities and beliefs, free from government interference, mandate, or control was paramount. That very influence in the governments of the countries they fled speaks to that.

I would also suggest that any 'works' on any of the founding fathers that do not include ALL of their writings for the reader to draw their own conclusions from is not the type of book that will necessarily bring about a greater understanding of the historical person. In other words, I could, were I so inclined, find as many comments by Jefferson, Franklin, Madison...etc to support my argument that they were influenced by their Christian upbringing in terms of how they viewed the world, their fellow man, AND the type of country they wanted here, but if I ONLY put those in the book, I give you a false impression of the people, and instead seek to ONLY support a pre-determined outcome.

 George Washington in his first inaugural said, "True religion affords to government its surest support."

He also said, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensible supports."

John Adams: "We have no government aremed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through the net. Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

John Adams: "Religion and Virtue are the only Foundations, not only of Republicanism and of all free Government, but of social felicity under all Governments and in all Combinations of human society."

John Adams, four years before the Declaration was penned: "[...] the right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of Man to alienate this gift, and voluntarily become a slave."

Samuel Adams: "Religion and good morals are the only solid foundations of public liberty and happiness."

Alexander Hamilton: "The politician who loves liberty sees...a gulph that may swallow up the liberty to which he is devoted. He knows that morality overthrown (and morality MUST fall without religion) the terrors of despotism can alone curb the impetuous passions of man, and confine him within the bonds of social duty."

Thomas Jefferson:"Reading, reflection, and time have convinced me that the interests of society require the observation of those moral precepts...in which all religions agree."

Franklin: "the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth--that God governs in the Affairs of Men."

Elias Bondinot: "Our country should be preserved frm the dreadful evil of becoming enemies of the religion of the Gospel, which I have no doubt, but would be the introduction of the dissolution of government and the bonds of civil society."

Gov. Morris: "Religion is the only solid Base of morals and Morals are the only possible Support of free governments."

Benjamin Rush: "The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments."

 Not to mention that the first universities of our nation were ALL built by Christian communities with the express intent of ensuring that the people learned the doctrines of the church along with their education to make sure they remained a moral lot...Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown...all started in Christian communities.

For instance, even post the War of Independence, their 'experience' of Christianity as was practiced within the countries that they left DID influence their perspective on whether or not they wanted government in their new country to be involved at all with their religion. You make a mistake though, if you think that what they shunned was the 'values' of that religion or whether or not they wanted men--who ran government and business owners-- to be 'Godly' peoples taught, brought up, in those same principles that the founders were raised. What they wanted to ensure is that the persecution for religious belief would never be a threat to the people and they understood first hand that it is when the government and religion 'marry' as one in the power seat that BOTH become corrupt.

And, it had no more to do with some--I believe the 'provable' number of founding fathers being Deists is much smaller than you seem to accept--of the founders being Deists than any other religion, but sprang from their knowledge of the problem of government and religion they were all too aware of...not WHICH religion.

 Certainly, if you have a person in your community who is suggesting that this country ever advocated the government and the religion be 'together' in the power seat...that is incorrect. However, we are a government BY the people nation, and even today more than 80% of the currentl population identifies itself as Christian...so, I suppose it is all perspective or more like semantics that causes much of the argument. We have ALWAYS been about religious freedom, and keeping the government OUT of religious issues...but, given that we are a nation governed BY the people, and we have always BEEN a majority Christian populace, I suppose some would CALL that a Christian nation, but I think it best to say, we were founded on Christian values by people who came largely from Judeo-Christian experience and persecution, seeking the freedom from government control over personal freedom to believe as we wished.

In any case, there is nothing remotely historical that should keep a religious person from participating or lobbying or promoting his or her ideals...any more than any other individual..It seems to me that that is always what the argument is about.

Christians are part of the voting populace. It is likely that some vote on their moral compass and on social issues or for social control over issues that they feel strongly about on moral grounds. I'm a Christian but a Republican/libertarian and in politics try to keep my focus on everyone's freedom, even of those whose religion or moral compass may be other than mine...it's all FAIR as we are a government of the people...right?

P

 

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veggi...
May. 17, 2008 at 7:55 AM Here's your back and forth, Pati! ;-)

I agree with you that we are not a nation devoid of religion (indeed, historically and demographically, our citizenry is predominantly Christian), but my point was that our Founding Fathers fully intended that no ONE religion would be endorsed over another in government affairs or public policy.

I do not deny, either, that the likes of Jefferson, Franklin and Madison were influenced by their Christian upbringing, in ways both negative and positive. However, to support your claim that quotes can be taken out of context and in an unbiased manner, I constantly see fundies doing this. Yes, Jefferson made plenty of positive references to Jesus. Yes, Washington had good things to say about religion. What they fail to mention is CONTEXT: Jefferson believed that Jesus was a great Jewish teacher with the best moral code of all time, but nothing more. Not a divine son of God, not anyone who could perform miracles. He cut and pasted his own bible (Thomas Jefferson's Bible) because he found so much Christian dogma and revelation to be abhorrent.

To argue against separation of church and state, many hold up George Washington as a Christian. What they fail to mention is that although he was Presbyterian, his views were decidely Deist in nature. He never took communion (he actually waited outside the sanctuary while Mrs. Washington took hers) and the rector of his own church noted that "Washington is a Deist." Likewise, Ashbel Green, a Presbyterian minister, said ". . . while [George] Washington was very deferential to religion and its ceremonies, like nearly all the founders of the Republic, he was not a Christian, but a Deist."

Most of the quotes you provided refer to religion, morality and God, not Jesus, the Bible or Christianity. Adams and Hamilton, I give you, were more influenced by Christianity, but keep in mind that Adams rejected orthodox Christian dogma as well as the Trinity (he was Unitarian). Again, my point is not that our nation should be without religion, only that our Founding Fathers did not intend for Christianity (or any other religion) to be soley endorsed (see Jefferson's quote re: Virginia Act for Religious Freedom above).

Another important fact to keep in mind is that Enlightenment philosophy was heavily inspired by Deist ideals and played a major role in creating the principle of separation of church and state. Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Cornelius Harnett (admitted Deists), as well as Hugh Williamson and Governor Morris, were members of Christian denominations yet their political speeches and correspondence show distinct deistic influence. James Madison, Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen espoused a natural god, not one of organized religion.

Enlightenment philosophy also directly influenced the tone of the U.S. Constitution. Of the 55 delegates in attendance at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Washington, Madison and Morris are considered to be the most influential (in that particular order). Morris was given the task of putting all the Convention's resolutions and decisions into polished form. He wrote the final draft of the Constitution, as well.

I would agree with you that the Founders were more focused upon the problems inherent in mixing religion with government (and not so much on choosing one religion -- Deism vs. Christianity, for instance), but the argument (regarding Deism) is mainly put forth simply to counter the erroneous assumption that our Founding Fathers (solely) endorsed Christianity. Quite obviously, several of them were either admitted Deists or had strong Deist leanings, often taking great issue with Christian dogmas and creeds (and not so much the teachings of Jesus or his moral codes).

Also, it was not uncommon for unbelievers to serve as vestryman in the dominant church if they wanted to be "men of influence." As Bishop William Meade put it, "Even Mr. Jefferson and [George] Wythe, who did not conceal their disbelief in Christianity, took their parts in the duties of vestrymen, the one at Williamsburg, the other at Albermarle; for they wished to be men of influence."

There are many values and morals common Christianity and Deism. They are by no means mutually exclusive. The problem, as I see it, is that many people twist the fact that our Founders were both moral and spiritual people, mistakenly assuming that this "proves" they were Christian or intended Christianity to be the basis for public policy. Belief in God does not = Christianity and to model our government on such an erroneous premise does great disservice to the ideals of our Founding Fathers.

Yes, the Founding Fathers wanted to ensure that persecution for religious belief would never be a threat to the people and keep government out of people's religious affairs. But it's a two-sided coin, one that cannot be separated from itself. If government is to stay out of people's religious affairs, it is contradictory to assume that religion can meddle in governmental affairs or public policy. Once any ONE religion becomes the inspiration for public policy, our government has inherently "stuck it's nose" into some citizens' religious affairs by simple virtue of the fact that "their" religion is not the one endorsed by our government. It's a catch-22. You can't have freedom of religion without freedom from religion. It's a double-edged sword that you can't negotiate around without cutting yourself.

Alright, I'm done. Tag. You're it, Pati. LOL . . . .

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