Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Founding Fathers and Christianity (or, stop using just another pathetic excuse to try to make me behave like you do)

Often when debating our rights to freedom of religion, I run into people who identify with conservative Christianity who want to explain to me what the founding fathers intended.  I've heard that the founding fathers never intended this to be anything other than a Christian nation.  I've heard that the founding fathers were all Christians.

Like most things, it's just people repeating what they've been told by their parents, their preachers, or their Fox News talking heads.  When you really start to read what Presidents wrote in letters, autobiographies, and speeches, you get a whole different perspective. Let me introduce you to the tip of the iceberg.

George Washington trusted others of different faiths, so much so that he allowed them to be his employees, and interact at his home, with his family.  This included Muslims.  When hiring workmen for Mount Vernon, he wrote to his agent, "If they be good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa, or Europe; they may be Mohammedans [Muslims], Jews, or Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists."

He also wrote in a letter to a Jewish community, "All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."

Thomas Jefferson could not have been more clear when he was writing to establish religious freedom for the state of Virginia:

"that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that, therefore, the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to the offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow citizens he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on the supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty"

Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions.  It tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage.  Which at once destroys all religious liberty.  Pretty powerful stuff.

James Madison was also very clear on the issue of civil rights and religion, saying "the civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext infringed." This was later incorporated into the 1st Amendment.

Were all of the founding fathers Christians?  Would they pass the test by conservative Christians today?  Did they believe in the Bible as the literal word of God?  Benjamin Franklin, though appreciative of the moral values one can learn from Christian teachings, wasn't even sure that Jesus Christ was Divine:  "As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity:   "

As it turns out, many of the Founding Fathers were Deists.  And Deists aren't even Christians, per se.  Note how this definition even lumps Islam in there with Christianity as a faith-based religion, for those who think Islam is not an actual belief system.

Deism is a religious and philosophical belief that a supreme being created the universe, and that this (and religious truth in general) can be determined using reason and observation of the natural world alone, without the need for either faith or organized religion. Many Deists reject the notion that God intervenes in human affairs, for example through miracles and revelations. These views contrast with the dependence on revelations, miracles, and faith found in many Jewish, Christian, Islamic and other theistic teachings.

Deism was a religious philosophy in common currency in colonial times, and some Founding Fathers (most notably Thomas Paine, who was an explicit proponent of it, and Benjamin Franklin, who spoke of it in his Autobiography) are identified more or less with this system. Nevertheless, several early presidents are sometimes identified as holding deist tenets, though there is no president who identified himself as a deist. Although George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Tyler, and Abraham Lincoln are often identified as having some degree of deistic beliefs,[6] most of these identifications are controversial; Washington in particular maintained a life-long pattern of church membership and attendance, and there is conflicting testimony from those who knew him.

Another example of a founding father who probably wouldn't pass the litmus test of today's conservative Christians:, John Quincy Adams left detailed statements of his beliefs, showing that he distanced himself from the branch of his church.

You see, radical right-wing conservative Christianity was never a part of the founding father's plan.  They wanted true freedom of religion and expression.  It is a more recent phenomenon that has led to conservative Christians thinking that they are somehow entitled to 1) describe themselves as the "vast majority" of Americans, even when it's clear they are not 2) pass laws regulating the behavior of everyone in the country based on their religious values and 3) use hate-based scare tactics to try to limit the civil liberties of everyone not just like them.

People who belong to this group are as free to hate as the next person.  Just stop blaming it on 9/11, or Barack Obama, or whatever, and start calling a spade a spade:  if I don't worship like you, you don't think I'm a worthy American.


  1. As to Christianity, I do not base my beliefs on what past or present man says (Yes, I believe Jesus was God and man too but you know what I mean). I base my Christian beliefs on what the bible says. Yes, Jesus was/is loving and He was/is forgiving and He was/is understanding, but do not ever confuse these with acceptance. Remember that Jesus said "Go, and sin no more." And sin is clearly defined in scripture. The bible also says "All have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God." That covers each and every one of us. There can not be sin if there is total acceptance.

    I am in no way attempting to tear down any other religion, but defining ones self as a Christian is a declaration of your belief, and your belief is in what the Holy Bible says. If you know scripture, how can the Bible be right if others are not wrong. Christ says "No one comes to the Father except through me." In your Christian beliefs, you can not be right unless others are wrong. Now, don't confuse what I am saying. I can respect others beliefs, which I do, but I do not, and as a Christian can not agree with your beliefs. It goes against the definition of Christian, follower of Christ.

    Politics and religion are closely connected. That's why they are topics that have long since been the ones no one wants to talk about. But I think you make a pretty thin argument when your political beliefs conflict with your religious beliefs. And all you have to do is crack a bible to see what the bible says. It deals with any topic you can think of.

  2. Peachy. Good even. feel like you are totally right and others are wrong. Some Christians would go so far as to say the way others practice Christianity are wrong.

    But in the United States, we are founded on many concepts, one of which is that your religious convictions cannot infringe on the rights to anyone else to believe exactly as they want to believe, or to not believe in anything at all.

    And therefore, our laws cannot be based on your assertion or philosophical belief that you are right. And that is the way that it is supposed to be and was intended by the founding fathers.

    Be right. Be happy. But just don't try to force everyone else to live by a religious text they may not believe in.

  3. You have a great point. Some Christians DO point the finger at other Christians as being wrong. If you read my first comment again, though, I was making only a religious argument and not political. I DO NOT think religion of any kind should infringe on the rights of others but it can and should infringe on my own rights. I have the right to do a lot of things that my faith does not allow me to do and condemns me when I do do them.

    I never said anything about laws based on faith/religion. I would invite anyone to read my comment on your article and then your response. They do not go together, at all. The tactic of making an argument based upon something never said does not work on me.

    I would never force anyone to live by a text that they do not believe in. But I do wish people would live by a text that they DO believe in.

  4. Perhaps I misunderstood what you meant in your last paragraph of your comment. It seems like we have finally found an area where agreed.

    I am curious: What is your position on laws such as Proposition 8 in California? There is no basis for limiting the civil rights of homosexual people, except that some people feel that it is against their religious values.

  5. Prop 8 is extremely interesting from a lot of different views. Here in lies the problem. You have heard the argument of "What is the definition of marriage?" That's not as easy to answer as you might think. Let me get a little creative with this one. If a man and a woman (if you will allow me to use male/female for this one)who did not know each other, were on a deserted island, they became close, fell in love and said "I want to be married to you" and both agreed, I believe in the eyes of God they could/would be married. When they returned home, to the United States, they would have to become married legally to take advantage of any benefits provided for married couples in our country. How do you like that for a non-answer.

  6. I'm not even sure how to respond to that. I guess I agree it is a non-answer.

  7. AA, following your argument to its logical conclusion, lets make it two women, both of whom are lesbians, on that deserted island. If we are talking about US law, how one views God's perspective becomes irrelevant. When they return home, they also would have to be married legally to take advantage of any benefits provided for married couples in our country. The only difference is that Prop 8 imposes a restriction on these rights based on religion.

  8. I would like to be able to rely more on the separation of church and state that we are supposed to have in the US. Just because a certain segment of Christians (and misc other religions) *believe* that homosexuality is "wrong," that doesn't mean it is. Just because they "believe" that it does not fit the definition of marriage, that doesn't mean it actually doesn't. It just means that some people who may or may not be of that same religious faith believe "it" differently. Not all interpretations of the Bible are the same.

    To state that there "IS" an absolute right and "IS" an absolute wrong for all of humanity based on one religion is wildly presumptive.

    And so who wins? Doesn't each belief, regardless of popularity, have its own merit, based on the fact that it IS someone's religious belief?

    If it were my religious belief that I should be able to have a same-sex marriage, and I truly believed it was not against the will of God, and I truly believed that it would be a union blessed and in His honor, then is it not completely hypocritical of the United States government to disallow this? Isn't it favoritism to courtsey to the most popular, more conservative interpretation of Christianity? Where is the religious freedom for those people who believe this way?

    Regardless of what it says in the Bible, regardless of how many people intrepret it to restrict homosexual anything, it doesn't actually mean it is true. It is your BELIEF that it is true. You may believe it wholeheartedly, but the bounds of your belief exist personally between you and God. You may act on your beliefs, and speak out against homosexual marriage, for example, but the religion in your head and your heart exist there, and not among other people just because it is your true reality. Applying your religious beliefs to others and having the expectations that they should meet them just because you do is egomaniacal.

  9. http://reversingthehandbasket.blogspot.com/2010/03/sanctity-of-marriage-and-using-jesus-to.html

  10. I agree with you, Kate. I have several beliefs that do not agree with most people I know. However, I think it would be hypocritical of me, if I tried to impose my beliefs on them. My religious freedom ends at the tip of your nose.

  11. A perfect example of religious conservatives trying to impose their religious beliefs on others is a bill that was passed (and vetoed) in Florida that would have required women seeking an abortion to pay for an ultrasound and listen to a doctor describe the fetus before they make their choice, and for victims of incest or rape, they would have to fill out some papers stating that they qualify for an exemption.

    Why was this law considered? The religious right felt that forcing a woman to see and hear about the fetus would reduce the amount of abortions. They didn't care that it placed government in between a doctor and their patient (an argument made by the right against the health care bill). All they cared about was imposing their religious beliefs.

    I was surprised that the governor vetoed the bill but agreed with his statement that it was not the government's place or business. It surprises me that conservatives love to preach the constitution but don't mind instituting double standards when it comes to their faith...

  12. They are trying to pass a similar legislative gem in Missouri. Here is my outburst when I found out about it:

  13. on the new legislation where women are emotionally tortured before making what i can only assume is one of the hardest decisions a woman would ever have to make, maybe we should have a social "mixer" of sorts between soldiers of different countries before they go into battle and try to kill each other...actually, that doesn't sound like a bad idea.

  14. also...thanks, skygirl, for running down all the info in this blog...must have been a big job. i'll be sharing on facebook.