Christian Founding Fathers?
By Bill Fairchild
"95% of the Founding Fathers were Christian!"
"The U.S.A. has always been a Christian country!"
The quotes above are typical of the media propaganda that bombarded the USA recently over the flap involving our Pledge of Allegiance, and continue being bandied about by militant Christian right-wing fanatics who want the US to surround Israel with armies so prophecy can be fulfilled and then Jesus can return, to conquer and Christianize the whole world, or to make the world safe for democracy/freedom/whatever. I found the first quote above on a Christian website. Since I knew that at least five of our Founding Fathers - John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and George Washington - were all Deists and not Christians, when I saw this quote I was moved to write a rebuttal.
Here is what I believe people really mean when they repeat slogans like these: God inspired the American Founding Fathers for His great worldwide purpose. God is blessing the USA in everything we do. God wants all humans everywhere to be equally blessed. God wants all humans to be Christian so we can all be maximally blessed. God wants the USA to spread its wonderful, democratic, God-inspired form of government all over the world so that all people can be converted to Christianity and live happily ever after. God wants the USA to rule the world so that all people can be converted to MY particular denomination of Christianity and live happily ever after. God wants everybody to believe the teachings of MY church, because MY church’s teachings are all in the Bible and that makes them good and right for everybody.
A good example of this was Raymond F. McNair’s book, published in 1976 to coincide with the U.S. bicentennial, called Ascent to Greatness: The Incredible Story of America’s Rise to World Super Power. He tried subtly to bring in Armstrong’s British-Israel teachings. I started reading this book with great zeal and hope back in those days when I was a true believer, but I had to give up after only about 30 pages because of the disgustingly large number of factual, typographical, or grammatical errors on every single page. What a pathetic, lame piece of sloppily written trash that book was.
The mantra about our Founding Fathers’ being Christian is simply another way of expressing the great ME principle: I want everybody to be just like ME. If they can’t be just like me, then I want everybody to be just like the good people in MY town. If they can’t be like that, then I want everybody to be like the people in MY state or country. I want MY high school’s football team to win. I want MY college’s basketball team to be #1. I want everybody to be just like Americans, because it is MY country. I also want everybody to belong to MY religion, because MY religion makes ME feel good so therefore it should make others feel good, too
Demagogues and their rhetoric
Power-seeking demagogues often make a sweeping, general statement that goes unchallenged, such as 95% of our Founding Fathers were Christian, because the statement is assumed to be axiomatically true by those hearing it. Sometimes people even say something very specific, like this 95% statistic, that should be quite easily proven or disproven, but no one ever bothers to verify it. Herbert W. Armstrong and his slavering, running dog lieutenants used both of these, and many other, propaganda techniques to cause us to embrace them as they raped our minds. We called our being soul-raped good and even begged for more.
To ascertain what percent of the founding fathers were Christian, we need to do two things: first, we must know who the founding fathers were; and second, we must learn which of them were Christian. Then it becomes a simple problem of mathematics. It turns out that neither of these tasks is very easy, as there can be legitimate controversy over whether any specific person was a founding father or not, and certainly there is debate over what constitutes a Christian.
Who were the Founding Fathers?
It’s a lot easier to determine who the Founding Fathers were than if they were Christians. I made up my own list of candidates for the title of genuine American Founding Father. Clearly, they had to be adults living during or shortly after the time of our American Revolutionary War. Anyone who contributed to the growing movement for independence, was a military leader, helped set up the fledgling country’s first government, or was a guiding spirit during the period immediately after the war for independence could be a Founding Father. Also, he had to have been fairly influential, either in writing, speaking, combat, or influencing others who wrote, spoke, or fought. Some were much more influential than others. All of them were adult white men of English ancestry. Many were very wealthy farmers who owned large plantations worked by hundreds of slaves, while others were merchants, tradesmen, smugglers, brewers, printers, or craftsmen.
Here is my list of the men most frequently thought of as founding fathers, alphabetized by last name, and a short summary of their backgrounds and what each did to help found the new nation:
1. John Adams; Boston intellectual, pragmatic, political philosopher, lawyer; defended the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre, participated in debates over form of government, signed Declaration; 1st U.S. Vice-President and 2nd President; Deist.
2. Samuel Adams; entered Harvard at age 14, Boston lawyer, clerk, brewer, bold, fiery orator, Massachusetts Governor.
3. Aaron Burr; politician, adventurer, ambitious, fought in the War; Vice-President.
4. Benjamin Franklin; dropped out of school after 2 years; Philadelphia inventor, publisher, author, ambassador to England and France, Deist; playful and flirtatious even in old age; founded a public library, police force, and fire department; helped write Declaration (Jefferson supposedly said Franklin would have written it all himself except that he would have included too many jokes).
5. Nathan Hale; well-educated, religious, tall, handsome, athletic, courageous; teacher, then officer in Colonial army; hanged by British as a spy at age 21; his body was left hanging for several days, then buried in an unmarked grave; there is an impressive statue of him in the CIA’s lobby with his memorable quote engraved on it that he only regretted having one life to lose for his country.
6. Alexander Hamilton; lawyer; co-author of Federalist Papers, U.S. Secretary of Treasury; believed in strong central government and weak states.
7. John Hancock; Boston smuggler, wealthy merchant; signed Declaration, president of Continental Congress, Governor of Massachusetts; helped to finance the Revolution.
8. Patrick Henry; Virginia lawyer, politician, fiery orator, statesman; opposed the Constitution, wrote Anti-Federalist Papers arguing against the Federalist Papers.
9. John Jay; judge, statesman, co-author of Federalist Papers; Continental Congress; diplomat; 1st Supreme Court Chief Justice; Governor of New York
10. Thomas Jefferson; Virginia scientist, farmer, statesman (in that order, according to himself); lawyer, politician, intellectual, political thinker and theoretician, prodigious letter writer, author of Declaration of Independence at age 33, ambassador to France, 1st US Secretary of State and 3rd President, plantation and slave owner, self-taught violinist, archeologist, botanist, surveyor, tall and awkward, inventor, architect, poor public speaker, founder of University of Virginia; Deist; believed in weak central government and strong states; bought the Louisiana Purchase from Napoleon while President; said his three greatest accomplishments in life were writing the Declaration of Independence, writing the Statutes of the state of Virginia, and founding the University of Virginia; possibly the most brilliant and accomplished man ever born on a farm; died heavily in debt.
11. James Madison; Virginia lawyer, politician, political theorist, protégé of and 8 years younger than Jefferson, main author of US Constitution, co-author and chief promoter of the Bill of Rights, co-author of Federalist Papers, kept minutes during Constitutional Convention, US Secretary of State and 4th President; regarded by many historians as the Founding Father; small stature, weak speaking voice; out-argued the fiery orator Patrick Henry to win passage of Statute of Religious Freedom in Virginia; at age 32 was regarded as the ablest member of the Continental Congress; President during War of 1812, and last U.S. President to lead troops into battle.
12. George Mason; wealthy Virginia planter, businessman, judge, politician, author of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights (model for Jefferson’s Declaration and Madison’s Bill of Rights); attended Constitutional Convention, but refused to sign, and his arguments against signing led to adoption of Bill of Rights; he concluded that the new government was destined to become either a monarchy or fall into the hands of a corrupt, oppressive aristocracy.
13. James Monroe; Virginia lawyer, fought in Colonial army, politician, anti-Federalist, U.S. Senator, diplomat, helped negotiate Louisiana Purchase, 5th President; his western hemisphere foreign policy became known as Monroe Doctrine.
14. Thomas Paine; born in England, moved to Philadelphia in 1774 at age 37, publisher, criticized American slavery, fiery pamphleteer, sold ½ million copies of pamphlet Common Sense urging Colonials to separate from England, Deist, fought in Colonial army, defended French Revolution in pamphlets, taken prisoner in Paris during French Revolution; wrote against Federalists and religious superstition; major author, free thinker, critical thinker.
15. Paul Revere; Boston goldsmith/silversmith, engraver, illustrator, dentist; one of three men to warn on 18-19 APR 1775 of British attempt to confiscate gunpowder and weapons in Lexington and Concord, Mass.; had obscure part in Revolution but became folk hero due to Longfellow poem; businessman, importer, owned an ironworks and copperworks, provided copper sheeting for U.S.S. Constitution’s hull.
16. George Washington; Virginia plantation and slave-owner, gentleman, surveyor, politician, attended Continental Congress; elected Commander-in-Chief of Continental Army; largest land-owner and wealthiest man in North America; argued for Constitution to replace Articles of Confederation; unanimously elected 1st U.S. President by Electoral College; nominal member of Anglican Church but believed in Deism; turned down an offer to be King and resisted the opportunity to appoint himself dictator.
These are the most famous ones I could think of. Some others who signed the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, or Constitution and who were also influential in their writings and thinking were Josiah Bartlett, Carter Braxton, Samuel Chase, Elbridge Gerry, Richard Henry Lee, Gouverneur Morris, and Benjamin Rush. There are two men who even managed to sign all three foundational documents. There were other great men who came along just a little too late for the Revolution but were very influential in the early 1800s, such as John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, Andrew Jackson, and Daniel Webster.
Some of these men are revered as founding fathers because they signed the Declaration of Independence, and that is all that is commonly known about them (e.g., Hancock). Others were fiery orators (Sam Adams, Patrick Henry) and stirred up large crowds to the fever pitch necessary to take up arms in treason against their king. Others were philosophers and could write brilliant essays explaining things logically (Madison, Hamilton, Paine), but were poor public speakers (Madison, Jefferson). Others were very good at organizing the new government (Madison). Some did very little at the time but are considered as hallowed ancestors now due to having attained folk hero status (Revere). Then there were a few others, like Ethan Allen (leader of the Green Mountain Boys in Vermont) and Francis Marion (the Swamp Fox in South Carolina, whose exploits were the basis for the movie The Patriot starring Mel Gibson), whose main contribution was a brilliant military leader during the war.
Of all of these men who might rightly be considered Founding Fathers, two men stand out in a class by themselves - Jefferson and Madison. Jefferson single-handedly wrote the Declaration of Independence, which lays the theoretical basis for the revolution and is now a brilliant exposition of human liberty as well as being an immortal masterpiece of literature. Madison wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which became the legal basis for the entire new country. Besides the Constitution and its first 10 amendments, Madison also wrote or co-wrote two other very important documents: (1) he, Hamilton, and Jay wrote a series of 85 essays called The Federalist Papers which were published in daily newspapers and which explained in depth every idea contained in the new proposed Constitution, why that part of the Constitution was necessary, what the problem was that it was meant to solve, and were designed to convince the masses to support the Constitution (Madison wrote 29 of the 85 Federalist Papers, Hamilton wrote 51, and John Jay wrote the other 5); (2) during the Constitutional Convention, when representatives from each state were arguing over what should and should not be in the Constitution, he wrote the minutes of all the proceedings. As a result of Madison’s work, we can now, 200 years after the fact, see what each word or phrase meant to the men who had assembled to ratify the Constitution.
It seems to me, therefore, that of all the men who might be Founding Fathers, the only two who really count are Jefferson and Madison, as the United States is founded almost entirely on the writings and beliefs of these two men. Jefferson’s Declaration is held aloft as our national ideal, and certain key phrases are quoted from it as if reciting a prayer (e.g., “all men are created equal”). Madison’s Constitution is equally revered and studied now as the ideal foundation for human law.
Many of the Founding Fathers wrote letters to each other, and they influenced one another’s thinking; e.g., George Mason lived in Virginia and wrote Virginia’s Declaration of Rights, which in turn influenced Madison when he wrote the national Bill of Rights. Jefferson was eight years older than Madison, and Jefferson’s thinking undoubtedly influenced Madison a great deal after they became friends and leaders in the Revolution. These men read widely, as there was no television in their day and they all had a keen desire to educate themselves. They learned Latin and Greek in what we would call grade school, and they could read classical Latin and Greek writings by Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, et al., in their original languages or in English translations. Jefferson entered the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg at age 16, where he made such an impression on the Governor of Virginia that he invited Jefferson to dine in his home once a week, where Jefferson really became educated through their intellectual conversations.
The Founders studied history, lived during the historical era we now call The Enlightenment, and read all of the writings being produced by the great writers of the Enlightenment era, such as Hobbes, Locke, Newton, Rousseau, Voltaire, et al. Jefferson said that Sir Isaac Newton’s scientific work Principia Mathematica was the book he loved the most, and he could read it in Newton’s original Latin if he needed to. There was a growing spirit of independence, self-reliance, decentralization of power, distrust of hereditary royal rulers, rebellion against religious intolerance and hierarchy, and desire for personal liberty all over Europe, which had begun with the Renaissance. About 100 years before the American Revolution, the King of England (Charles I) had even been arrested, tried, and executed. Jefferson was a great admirer of Cromwell, who had led the anti-Charles forces in England, because of Cromwell’s love of liberty. (Unfortunately, Cromwell loved liberty for England but not for Ireland, so today the Irish have a much lower opinion of Cromwell than did Jefferson.)
In addition to the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Federalist Papers, and minutes of the Convention, Jefferson and Madison wrote hundreds of letters which have survived, and many of which are posted on the Internet. They expressed their beliefs just as eloquently in their private letters as they did in their great public documents. Jefferson and John Adams wrote letters to each other continually for the last 14 years of both of their lives, and, amazingly enough, they both died on the same day, July 4 1826, on the exact 50th anniversary of the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence and what has taken root in the American psyche as our real national birthday. Jefferson was 83 and Adams was 91 when they died. Adams’ last words before dying were “Jefferson still survives”, although Jefferson, unknown to Adams, had died just a few hours before. Each man wanted desperately to live until the 50th anniversary of their monumental rebellion, and they did.
Was the USA founded on God’s 10 Commandments?
Here is an example of a quote from James Madison which shows conclusively that the USA is a Christian country: “To preserve the Republic, it is in the hands of the people. We have staked the entire future of the American civilization not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”
Pretty convincing, isn’t it? Unfortunately, it’s completely bogus. Read http://www.secularhumanism.org/columns/history/madison.htm for a detailed essay on the history and falsity of this quote. Madison never said or wrote this, NOR DID ANYONE ELSE in Revolutionary times. The bottom line is that someone invented this quote, it spread among the community of true believers whose belief systems it strengthened and legitimized, and has now become an urban legend. The earliest known copy of this quote is from a book published in 1939. There is no surviving document from anyone at the time of Madison with this quote in it, or which expresses any sentiment remotely similar to it.
Another urban legend quote is this one from George Washington: “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” I came across this one in the early 1980s when I was still a loyal true follower of Armstrong’s cult belief system, and used it in a sermonette “proving” that we should all read our Bibles more. No one had ever given me any clue that maybe I shouldn’t always believe everything I read in a reference book (this one is even in Halley’s Bible Handbook). The problem, I think, is our natural human tendency to accept something new if it coincides with what we already believe or want to believe. We don’t naturally think critically. We don’t ask ourselves if a new idea we hear or read is true in and of itself. If it sounds true and reinforces what we already believe, then we will be prone to accept it as true and tell it to others as if it were true. The secular humanism website mentioned above also discusses the bogusness of this quote falsely attributed to General/President George Washington.
Another negative piece of mental baggage from years in Herbvert’s cult that makes it difficult for us now to think critically is that we were all subjected to years of sloppily prepared sermonettes and sermons. Here is how we evolved into doing it: first you come up with a good idea that you want to share with others. (So far, so good.) Then you research your idea. (Still good.) You look up quotes from famous people or experts that support your position. (Hmm, how do I know all the quotes are valid? Uh-oh, don’t have enough time to research each one meticulously, nobody will ever know, so I’ll just use them all. Nobody will challenge me, anyway. After all, we’re all in the Church!) You skip over any real quotes that you might encounter from the same famous people which argue against your wonderful central point. (BAD IDEA!) Then you package it all up with a little humor, put in an introduction, think up a stirring conclusion, remember all your Spokesman Club training and - Voilà! There is your message for the week. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. And you will probably be misleading others and strengthening your own wrong beliefs. The worst result will be that you will be reinforcing your own and others’ desire to stay in the cult for yet another week, and to come back seven days later for another weekly dose of mind-raping, wallet-emptying, brain-washing, personality warping, and behavior modification.
The alleged quote of Madison’s about the 10 Commandments is even being used shamelessly now by religious and political “leaders” just as that old windbag con-man Herbie and all the rest of us church leaders used to do. U.S. Representative Dannemeyer read this fake “quote” of Madison’s into the Congressional Record on 07 October, 1992 as if it were true, thus lending GREAT credence to this lie. Rush Limbaugh cited Madison’s bogus quote ca. 1994. Pat Robertson’s Regent University put a full-page ad in U.S. News & World Report in their April 9, 2001 magazine featuring this same urban legend of a false quote.
What’s wrong with faith-based quotes, whether bogus or not?
This and other bogus quotes, and some quotes that are not bogus, are used to perpetuate and strengthen a growing fanatical movement in the US in which true believers think that the US was founded under divine inspiration to be a haven for religious freedom as well as political liberty, that we have a sacred God-given DUTY to use our freedom to try to help the rest of the world, and that therefore we must send our military abroad to eliminate any evil non-Christian dictator that our president tells us needs to have his regime changed. Jerry Falwell even claimed recently on 60 Minutes that there are now 70 million of these myth-accepting true believers. Many of these people actively support the political state of Israel, travel to Israel, hold their Feasts of Tabernacles there, and are pressuring the US government to do anything necessary to help start the great final war of Armageddon so that the baby Jesus can come back and kick some serious ass all over the world until everybody lives in peace with his devout Christian neighbor. Anyone who doesn’t want to worship the baby Jesus after he is ruling the earth will be forced to bow at the knees and/or get burned up in the Lake of Fire, thank you very much and good afternoon. And that includes all Israeli Jews, who must be accepting all this political support from America’s true Christian believers with just a little reluctance.
There may be excellent reasons why we should support our national leaders and sail off to another overseas military adventure, but religious fervor based on myths and bogus quotes is not one of them. I really don’t want to see the USA suffer any more terrorist attacks, but I am equally loathe to base any discussion of a life- or nation-threatening situation on faith, myths, superstitions, urban legends, bogus quotes, subterfuge, or mind manipulation of any kind.
What did Jefferson believe regarding religion?
Jefferson definitely wrote all of the following quotes pertaining to God, religion, the Bible, Christianity, morality, prayer, and/or the clergy, most of which are from letters he wrote:
“The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time…” (1774)
“… necessary for one people to … assume … the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them…; … firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence…” (1776; Declaration of Independence)
“… liberties are the gift of God…; I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.” (1782)
“The tax … [speaking of a proposed tax for education] is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.” (1786)
“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there is one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.” (1787)
“… the result of our [revolutionary and political] experiment will be that men may be trusted to govern themselves without a master. Could the contrary of this be proved, I should conclude either that there is no God, or that He is a malevolent being.” (1787)
“By a declaration of rights, I mean one which shall stipulate freedom of religion… fetters against doing evil which no honest government should decline.” (1788)
“The precept is wise which directs us to try all things, and hold fast that which is good.” (1788) [referring to a First Thessalonians verse which Herbie made us all learn; Jefferson had read and studied all of the Bible, and rejected much of it; he even wrote his own Bible that left out all the impossible mythology]
“Christianity will be the ruin of America…” (ca. 1792)
“I am for freedom of religion, and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.” (1799)
“… I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man… (speaking especially of religious tyranny, as is evident from the rest of this letter written in 1800)
“The clergy… have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.” (1800)
“The Christian religion, when divested of the rags in which they [the clergy] have enveloped it, and brought to the original purity and simplicity of its benevolent institutor, is a religion of all others most friendly to liberty, science, and the freest expansion of the human mind.” (1801; speaking of the core principles of Christianity, as found in the Sermon on the Mount and the Golden Rule, neither of which is unique to Christianity, as opposed to all the ritual, ceremony, pomp, dogma, deception, and self-righteousness found in large organized “Christian” denominations)
“Believing that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God… 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.” (1802; letter to the Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut; this is the origin of the famous phrase “wall of separation” which is not found in the Constitution)
“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling in religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises.” (1808)
“Because religious belief, or non-belief, is such an important part of every person’s life, freedom of religion affects every individual. … Erecting the ‘wall of separation between church and state,’ therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society. … the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason, and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.” (1808; letter to Baptists in Virginia)
“Truth and reason are eternal. They have prevailed. And they will eternally prevail; however, in times and places they may be overborne for a while by violence, military, civil, or ecclesiastical.” (1810; letter to Reverend Samuel Knox)
“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.” (1813)
“Religion is a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved. … a matter between every man and his Maker, in which no other, and far less the public, had a right to intermeddle.” (1813)
“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 [the despot’s] in return for protection to his own [the priest’s].” (1814)
“God has formed us moral agents… that we may promote the happiness of those with whom He has placed us in society, by acting honestly towards all, benevolently to those who fall within our way, respecting sacredly their rights… Our particular principles of religion are a subject of accountability to God alone.” (1814)
“This loathsome combination of Church and State.” (1815)
“Government as well as religion has furnished its schism, its persecutions and its devices for fattening idleness on the earnings of the people.” (1815) [Can any of us ex-WCGers think of any religious leaders we may have had who enjoyed FATTENING IDLENESS ON OUR EARNINGS?]
“A government regulating itself by what is wise and just for the many, uninfluenced by the local and selfish views of the few who direct their affairs… I offer sincere prayers.” (1816) [Whenever we read “government” or “tyranny” from men like Jefferson, we should immediately think “Church”, and when we read a word like “tyrant” or “despot” we should think “Pastor General”.]
“We do not claim these [natural rights like life or liberty] under the charters of kings or legislators, but under the King of Kings.” (1817)
“It is a happy truth that man is capable of self-government, and only rendered otherwise by the moral degradation designedly superinduced on him by the wicked acts of his tyrant.” (1817)
“Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him [Jesus] by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence, and others, again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I separate, therefore, the dross; restore to him the former and leave the latter to the stupidity of some, the roguery of others of his disciples.
Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and first corruptor of the doctrines of Jesus. … It is surely time for men to think for themselves, and to throw off the authority of names so artificially magnified.” (1820)
“The truth is, that the greatest enemies of the doctrine of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them to the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And 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.” (1823)
“I believe that justice is instinct and innate, that the moral sense is as much a part of our constitution as that of feeling, seeing, or hearing; as a wise Creator must have seen to be necessary in an animal destined to live in society.” (1823)
“The Creator has made the earth for the living, not for the dead.” (1824)
“I consider ethics, as well as religion, as supplements to law in the government of man.” (1824)
I found many other quotes on the Internet attributed to Jefferson which showed his disdain for organized, despotic religions founded on fables or myths, but, as there were no dates given with them or any other way to verify their accuracy quickly, I have not included them here.
What may we safely conclude about Jefferson’s personal religious belief system from all of the previous quotes? He believed in a benevolent divine providence of some kind that created us and gave us certain gifts, such as life and human reason, and designed all natural law so that our greatest human happiness can be attained by our living in a peaceful, enlightened self-interest with one another; that our religious beliefs should be kept private; that we should not meddle in one another’s religious beliefs; and that we should avoid, at all costs, having some other human being tell us what to believe.
What did Madison believe about religion?
Madison was a strong believer in the separation of church and state. Privately he may indeed have been a very religious man, but publicly he, like Jefferson, wanted no part of any religious tyranny. Speaking of the separation of church and state, he wrote of “not joining together what God has put asunder.” What a delicious play on Biblical words! From this one quote we might conclude that Madison believed that God had played a role in the foundation of the USA, but the quote also shows that Madison, at least jokingly, claimed that if God had anything at all to do with the founding of the U.S.A. then even God believes in the separation of church and state. Jefferson, on the other hand, was a strong believer in the separation of church and EVERYTHING, and not just church and state; he spoke out very strongly against organized and wrong religion, even if church and state were totally separate, and condemned bogus religions that were founded on silly myths and superstitions. Madison, on the other hand, confined his angry pen to religious tyranny and may have been more tolerant than Jefferson of privately held religious stupidity.
Here are more real quotes from Madison:
“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 the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. Enquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest lustre; those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy. … What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. … we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, “that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. … Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment [of a particular religion as the official state religion], may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever? (1785; in an argument in Virginia’s General Assembly against proposed legislation to require a three-pence tax for support of religious education, in arguing his case Madison had to out-argue the greatest orator of the day, Patrick Henry, and he successfully out-argued Henry and the legislature did not approve the proposed tax)
“There is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it, would be a most flagrant usurpation. … I have warmly supported religious freedom.” (1788)
“Having ever regarded the freedom of religious opinions and worship as equally belonging to every sect, …” (1818, in a letter to a Jewish leader)
“… the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, and the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the Church from the State.” (1819)
“The experience of the United States is a happy disproof of the error so long rooted in the unenlightened minds of well-meaning Christians, as well as in the corrupt hearts of persecuting usurpers, that without legal incorporation of religious and civil polity, neither could be supported. A mutual independence is found most friendly to practical Religion, to social harmony, and to political prosperity.” (1821)
“I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together. … We are teaching the world the great truth that Govts. do better without Kings & Nobles than with them. The merit will be doubled by the other lesson that Religion flourishes in greater purity, without than with the aid of Govt.” (1822)
“In the Papal System, Government and Religion are in a manner consolidated, & that is found to be the worst of Govts.” (1822)
“Prior to the Revolution, the Episcopal Church was established by law in this State. On the Declaration of independence it was left with all other sects, to a self-support. And no doubt exists that there is much more of religion among now than there ever was before the change; and particularly in the Sect which enjoyed the legal patronage. This proves rather more than, that the law is not necessary to the support of religion. (1823)
As an aside, Madison wrote just as passionately for the right of all citizens to keep and bear arms as he did for the separation of church and state. The general feeling of the Founding Fathers was that the real purpose of the revolution and the new Constitution was not to create a better government, but rather to provide a new and better way for people to be protected from their own government, which is why they, and we today, should all be armed. The nature of human governments will never change, since the nature of individual humans will never change; and that is that any virtuous government will slowly become more and more corrupt and tyrannical over time, whether it is a civil or a religious hierarchy. (How mightily can we ex-Worldwide Church of Goders testify as to the latter?) And among the forms of tyranny against which we may occasionally need to take arms is religious tyranny, especially when it is in bed with political powermongers.
Were the other Founding Fathers Christians?
George Washington was a nominal member of the Anglican Church, but he was a Deist at heart. Thomas Paine was a shameless and raging Deist, who calumniated against the Bible in his essay “The Age of Reason.” Ben Franklin was another Deist, but yet he chided Paine for condemning all religions so forcefully in his “The Age of Reason.” Many of the men we revere as Founding Fathers were Deists, but many were also devout Episcopalians. The one belief system they all had in common was a burning desire for LIBERTY. You might even say their common religion was the LOVE OF FREEDOM.
Speaking of intolerant religious zeal and American Episcopalians, read Michener’s novel “Hawaii” or watch the movie “Hawaii” (starring Max von Sydow and Julie Andrews and based on Michener’s novel) to get a good idea of what it was like to be an Episcopalian in the early days of the USA. And then you may understand why it was a very GOOD idea not to let these Episcopalian control-freaks have power over the whole country as the established state religion equivalent of British Anglicanism. Perbert and his minions must have watched this movie many times, taking notes in how best to browbeat or abuse their congregations spiritually.
Who are Christians, anyway?
Theologians have wrestled with this conundrum for centuries. In order to tell if someone is a Christian, we must first know the definition of a Christian. Do we mean someone who, like Leo Tolstoy, wrote of literally living by the Sermon on the Mount; i.e., loving your enemies, turning your cheek when slapped, forgiving others, etc.? Or do we mean someone who belongs to an organized, mainstream Christian denomination? Or do we mean someone who simply says he is a Christian? Does a wannabe Christian have to live and think like the Christ of the Bible, or does he only need to pay lip service to Jesus’ ideals? We find all these types today, and no doubt all those types existed in the British American colonies in the 1770s. If we define a Christian very narrowly as someone who tries to live exactly like the Christ in the Bible, then there have been almost NO Christians in all history.
To learn what our Founding Fathers believed, about all we can do now is read what these men wrote 200 or more years ago, or what others wrote that they said. But many of these men were patriots first in their lives and then later became politicians. Today we should all know how to tell when a politician is lying: his lips are moving. So we can’t just go by what they wrote. How about looking at how they lived, and what others wrote about how they lived? That’s probably the best gauge. After all, we’re supposed to be able to know them by their fruits. But morals then were much different from now; e.g., religious schooling was required; Christmas was illegal in the super-righteous, Puritanical Massachusetts (from 1659 to 1681); in 1692, 24 people died during the witch trial hysteria in Salem, Massachusetts; people were publicly humiliated by being locked in stocks; slavery was part and parcel of everyday life; and all British holidays, religious or not, were revoked after the Revolution.
In order to understand what their religious beliefs might have been, we must consider what kind of background they had when growing up, what education they received, what they were taught in the schools they attended, what they heard in sermons, and especially what recent historical events had influenced their thinking. When all of this is considered, it is quite devastating to see how far our nation has gone downhill from the standards of excellence in Colonial schools. Anyone who wanted to attend Harvard College in Colonial times was expected to learn enough Latin and Greek to be able to read classical texts in both those languages, which languages Jefferson started mastering when he was about 6 years old.
It also becomes apparent that it would have been very difficult not to be at least a lip-service Christian in those times. There were 13 different colonies in the new world that belonged to England, the people who lived and ruled in those colonies were all English subjects, they lived by the laws imposed on them by the English Parliament and the whims of King George III, and back in England the officially established religion was that of the Church of England, also called Anglicanism, which became known in the USA as Episcopalianism. Some of the American colonies were founded as havens of religious freedom for non-Anglicans; e.g., the colony of Maryland was settled primarily by Roman Catholics, Pennsylvania became a haven for Quakers, and Rhode Island was a place of safety for colonists wishing to escape the rigidly enforced Puritanism in neighboring Massachusetts. Lutherans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Waldensians, and many others were migrating from Europe to the 13 colonies in British America. The religion of choice was definitely Episcopalianism for those who wished to belong to the upper crust. When Jefferson founded the University of Virginia late in his life, it was the first institution of higher learning ever in history not to have been founded as primarily a school of divinity.
What if 90% of the Founding Fathers were right-handed? Does that mean that it is all right to discriminate against left-handedness 200 years later? What if 98% of our Founding Fathers were merchants or had some other non-farming occupation? Does that mean merchants can lord it over farmers now? What if 100% of our Founding Fathers were white, prosperous, well-educated men of English ancestry who accepted the practice of human slavery? Would that justify our allowing slavery today? In fact, all three of these hypothetical questions were true.
Just because a vast majority of our Founding Fathers had any given attribute we might randomly pick does not necessarily mean they cared anything about that attribute, nor that they wanted their descendants hundreds of years later to have that attribute. What is most important about what our Founding Fathers did is that they created a new country in which religious freedom was to be rigorously enforced as part of the national rule of law. Religious freedom means the freedom to have any religion you want, or to have no religion at all. In the face of our institutionalized and legally enforced national religious freedom, saying that the U.S. is a Christian country is an absurd statement. Even if 100% of the founding fathers were Christian and 100% of our people today were Christian, we would still have religious freedom in the USA enforced by law. All Americans could be Christian in their personal religious beliefs, but according to all our laws those beliefs must be kept completely separate from our political arena, and that includes how our government acts in our name in its foreign policy. Any attempt to influence the American federal government along any religious lines is a gross perversion of our Constitution and the life-blood and very spirit of our Founding Fathers.
Five of the 16 men on my list were Deists, so that means only 70% of the Founding Fathers I listed were Christian, or at least were non-Deist. Today it is difficult to know what were the private beliefs of people who lived and died 200 years ago, but probably one half, or 50%, of the most influential Founding Fathers, and 100% of the first three Presidents, were NOT Christian. Why don’t right-wing Christians put this last statistic on their websites? Certainly many of the Founding Fathers were Christians, but the figure of 95% is clearly a gross exaggeration.
But what is most important today is that which has survived in our form of government, and which was most influenced by Jefferson and Madison. The beliefs of these two men, as well as those of all the Founding Fathers, are very important and worthy of study, but what is most remarkable of all is that there was a revolution in thinking which finally allowed men to rebel against their dictatorial government and create a new form of government in North America which the Framers tried mightily, in all of their well-educated genius, to organize in such a way as to maximize personal liberty, including religious liberty.
It is equally remarkable that today Christian fanatics think that the very God who they say was responsible for creating this nation as a haven for religious liberty also wants to set up a kingdom where there will be no religious liberty, and these Christian fanatics are eager to provoke others to fight and die for their God’s religious intolerance. If God did indeed inspire the founding of the USA, then why did he cause the Founding Fathers to be so fierce about separating church and state? What a perfect opportunity was wasted to get more people into his true church - start up a young country with religious fervor, give that country huge financial blessings, make it the strongest nation ever in history, let it rule the world, and - Voilà! The Kingdom of God is here! Does anybody see anything wrong with this picture? How many other times has someone tried to set up what he thought was the kingdom of God on earth and what was the result? How about Karl Marx’s ideas on Communism? Lenin’s ideas on a Bolshevik state founded on Marx’s theories? Hitler’s 3rd Reich, which was to last 1,000 years? The Roman Catholic Church? Herbert W. Armstrong and his Wonderful World Tomorrow? Jim Jones? New World Order?
Two final quotes from Thomas Jefferson: “The people of every country are the only safe guardians of their own rights, and are the only instruments which can be used for their destruction. And certainly they would never consent to be so used were they not deceived. To avoid this they should be instructed to a certain degree.” (letter written in 1809) How many of us have ever had any such instruction? I would like to think that this Painful Truth website is helping to instruct people in how they can avoid being deceived into destroying themselves. And his second final quote: “I have never been able to conceive how any rational being could propose happiness to himself from the exercise of power over others.” (1811) Why didn’t we send that one up to the minister on the stage in some weekly Bible study?
Having considered the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers of the USA, I now realize that an even more fundamental and important question is “Were the Founding Fathers of Christianity itself even Christians?” That question should be considered deeply by every person who calls himself a Christian. For anyone interested, a good starting point is The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold, by Acharya S.
15 NOV 02
Founding Fathers Would Howl If Called Christian
Christian Founding Fathers? Some Quotes.
Christian Founding Fathers?
Other references: The Christian Nation Myth by Farrell Till
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