AND THE TEN COMMANDMENTS
Thomas Jefferson said, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." His contention was that the cornerstone of our democracy rests on the foundation of an educated electorate. If Jefferson is correct, we need to be concerned about maintaining our freedoms-especially the freedom of religion, because we aren't very well informed concerning religion and our country.
Chief Justice Roy Moore is waging his holy crusade in the defense of keeping the Judaeo-Christian tradition alive and well in Alabama and America. Moore's moral jihad raises two essential questions. First, was America founded on the Judaeo-Christian faith? And secondly, should Christianity be the de facto religion of the republic?
As for the first question: were the early Founding Fathers Christians and did they want America founded on Christianity? This penultimate question begs the ultimate historical question, why did the early English colonist come to the New World? Some came for economic gain, and others came to escape religious persecution from a country that mixed the state with the church. You would think that our Founding Fathers would be naturally a little leery of replicating that conflict-creating that troublesome mixture here in America.
It is true that most if not all the Founding Fathers believed in God. However, most present-day Christians would find those beliefs incompatible with mainline Christianity. The rest of the population weren't true believers either; less than 10% of the population attended church regularly in 1776.
Most of the early political thinkers of the revolution were deists. Deism was a philosophical system based largely on the philosophy of John Locke. Deists believed that they could get to God through reason and not revelation. They also believed that God created the universe and then let it alone and to be run by natural law. Their concept was very much a kin to Aristotle's Unmoved Mover.
Ben Franklin totally rejected the Book of Revelation and believed that God could be reached by reason. He and the rest of the deists admired Christ for his ministry of service and other virtues but not because of his divinity. In Franklin's autobiography, he wrote, "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." Franklin's autobiography, page 66
Thomas Paine wrote, "It is the duty of every true Deist to vindicate the moral justice of God against the evils of the Bible." From his The Age of Reason, Paine add, "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...It is the duty of every true Deist to vindicate the moral justice of God against the evils of the Bible."
Jefferson had nominal ties to Christianity. However, there were parts of the New Testament that he couldn't accept. He thought that Christ was on the right rational path, but Jefferson did not accept miracles and other supernatural events in the Bible-especially the resurrection. Jefferson's solution to the offensiveness of this material was to delete it. Jefferson merely rewrote the New Testament leaving out what he considered irrational stories. Jefferson wrote to John Adams with this irreligious prediction, "The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his hater, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823
John Adams, who was a Unitarian, didn't mince words about Christianity either. The incarnation of Christ was considered by Adams as an "awful Blasphemy." Letter to Jefferson Adams also wrote, "The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion." From the Treaty of Tripoli--article 11
George Washington, who swore on the Bible at his inauguration, only occasionally went to church, and there is no record of him ever taking communion. Some accounts indicate that when he did go and communion was served, he left church early.
James Madison reflecting on Congress paying for chaplains wrote, "Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together." Letter to E. Livingston in 1822
Whether we agree or disagree with the sentiments of many of the Founding Fathers about religion, it is clear that they didn't found a Christian nation. For the most part, their mention of God wasn't the God typically worshipped in churches throughout America. It was in fact a philosophical God based upon reason rather than revelation.
The second question that needs to be addressed is should Christianity be the official or semi-official religion of the republic? Even if some of the Founding Fathers were nominally Christians, that seems to be enough for the strict constructionists like Judge Roy Moore, et al to conclude that they founded a Christian nation. Strict constructionists assert that we should go back to what was written in the Constitution and what its framers thought. The fallacy of that position is most Christian don't accept most of the Founding Fathers' theology or philosophy. In addition, if we employed that viewpoint, slavery and second-class citizenship for women would be accepted today since the Constitution permitted both forms of discrimination. Many of them were either slave owners or supportive of slavery and all of them were sexists when it came to women voting, holding property, and the general rights for women.
In addition to the faulty reasoning of the strict constructionists, America is a very different country than it was in 1776. At the time of the founding of our nation, most Americans were of British descent. America isn't that today. There is no other nation as ethnically, racially, or religiously diverse as is America. This isn't the time to impose upon our nation the mistaken notion that we once were and still should be a Christian nation.
Roy Moore, his band of true believers, and all the rest of us need to give heed to Jefferson's warning: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." It is indeed a strange irony that the religious right within Christianity and the religious right within Islam both want theocracies. At least, the Islamists state their intentions up front.