Wednesday, November 18, 2009

America is Not a Christian Nation, Part 2

As I alluded to in the first post I want to expose the creationists' and history revisionists' claims that this is a “Christian nation” and that the Founders were pious Christians who wanted to favor one religion over another. This attempt to change history is one more prong in the attack by misguided Christians who want to breach the wall between church and state, as envisioned by the Founders. I believe their reasoning is thus: If it can somehow be shown that this is a country founded by Christians, which favored Christianity, then it should be allowed to have intelligent design in schools, an obviously Christian belief, as was exposed in the infamous Wedge Document

Anyone who does any reading up about the religious beliefs of the Founders is going to get a variety of answers. Some argue they were all Christians and believers; others argue that they were all nothing but Deists; while others, which is the stance I am taking, claim that there was much variety among the Founders of this country. In the following post I am going to briefly sum up the religious views of several of the major and minor founders of this country.

Thomas Jefferson:

Thomas Jefferson was most certainly not a Christian. His beliefs mostly rested upon a spectrum of Deist-Unitarianism. He highly valued and was influenced by the Enlightenment thinkers [1], and even worked to close William and Mary's divinity school and its two divinity professorships and replace them with the fields of science and law, but ended up failing this so he opened up his own university, the University of Virginia, which was “essentially a Desitic institution, with neither a religious curriculum nor a chaplain.” [2]

Jefferson also believed that no government had the authority to mandate religious conformity, which he sought to prevent with his Act for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786). [3] Even in his autobiography Jefferson recalled the time when explicitly Christian religious views were to be placed within the first amendment that Jesus Christ was the source of religious liberty, and how this 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." [4]

Thomas Jefferson's great-grandson also classified him as a “conservative Unitarian”, [5] and not any kind of Christian. Of course, I would think it strange that Jefferson would take out from the Bible all mention of Jesus' rising from the dead, not to mention all forms of miracles, or anything he felt were irrational in his own version of the New Testament, which he called the “Syllabus.” That doesn't sound very Christian to me. [6]

George Washington:

Like Jefferson, George Washington is often portrayed as a pious Christian, and this has been taking place since the 1800's. [7] However, like with Jefferson, the evidence weighs heavily against those who make such claims.

After the Revolution, Washington was never reported to have received Holy Communion, [8] and was even scolded by bishops for walking out when the time came for this service. [9]

Many use Washington's speeches as evidence of his Orthodoxy, but this is puzzling because when his speeches and letters are examined they clearly show a Deistic tendency.

Washington's letters and speeches “omit such words as ' Father,' 'Lord,' 'Redeemer,' and 'Savior.' In their place, they use such Deistic terms as 'Providence,' 'Heaven,' 'the Deity', 'the Supreme Being,' 'the Grand Architect,'” and they “refer infrequently to Christianity and rarely to Jesus Christ.” [10]

One would think a pious Christian would use more Christian language.

An even better argument regarding Washington's beliefs come from the people who knew him best. Some clergy, and even other Founders, when asked of his beliefs, stated clearly, “Sir, he was a Deist.”

Another blow to the claim that Washington was a Christian is a speech given by Bird Wilson in New York, on October of 1831. Wilson knew each of the Founders personally and of their beliefs he said, "Washington...had not been an orthodox Christian; in reality he had really been an eighteenth-century deist. Wilson cited support on this point from clergy who had known Washington and whom he himself knew. Then - in significant words - he went on to state that 'among all our presidents downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism." [11]

Another of Washington's pastors in Bishop White had this to say on the subject in 1832 in a letter responding to an inquiry about Washington's religious beliefs: “I do not believe that any degree of recollection will bring to my mind any fact which would prove General Washington to have been a believer in the Christian revelation.” [12]

Benjamin Franklin:

Benjamin Franklin was a clear Deist, though not anti-religious like fellow Deists in Thomas Paine. There appear to be no stories that depict Franklin as pious or faithful, but rather “skeptical, puckish...and irreverent.” [13] Franklin actually became a Deist at the age of 15 and by the age of 17 had read many representatives Deistic writers as Locke, Collins, and Joseph Addison. [14] He also doubted Jesus' divinity. [15]

John Adams:

John Adams was a Unitarian, in which there is no depute about. [16] Adams considered himself a Christian and a self-proclaimed “church-going animal.” [17] However, Adams' Unitarian views differed from that of Orthodox Christians. Adams did not believe that Jesus was a “demigod” but was simply a human being who God had raised to divine status because of his unique obedience and morality during his time on earth. [18] Nor did he believe in the Trinity, as was customary for Unitarians during Adams' time. [19] He also believed in the Biblical miracles and a personal God, however, he also was influenced by Christian Deism, in which reason and reflection caused him to abandon many Orthodox teachings, such as the divinity of Christ, total depravity, and predestination. He also opposed religious oppression and narrow-mindedness. [20]

James Madison:

Historians know very little about Madison's views. He wrote and said little on the subject of religion, however, there is still some information we can examine to determine as close as possible, Madison's personal beliefs. [21]

During his youth, Madison was an Orthodox Christian, however during his twenties he was influenced by Enlightenment thought through Donald Robertson, a Scots schoolmaster in King and Queen County, whom Madison “later declared a lifelong indebtedness to.” [22] These are the beliefs that stuck with him throughout the rest of his life.

James Madison was a dedicated advocate of religious freedom, and when “Virginia adopted a new constitution in 1776, he insisted that the document guarantee civil and political liberty.” He also wrote the anonymous and influential Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments which aided in defeating a bill in the Virginia House of Delegates insisting for state subsides to religious bodies. He also devoted himself to getting Jefferson's Act for Establishing Religious Freedom accepted and it's principle “enumerated in the federal Bill of Rights.” [23]

An issue that bares directly upon the issue of separation of church and state is that Madison, as time went on, “increasingly became convinced that the separation of church and state was best not only for the state but also for the churches and synagogues.” [24]

Not only his actions, but speeches as well, can be analyzed and shown that Madison highly favored the principle of the separation of church and state. He opposed executive proclamations that used religious language, though during the War of 1812 when forced to use such language he kept it as neutral and nonsectarian as possible. [25] He also believed that citizens should voluntarily support religion which caused him to fight the appointment of chaplains for Congress, as well as for the army and navy. [26]

Despite a few deathbed conversion stories that were likely spread by Bishop William Meade, who hated Deism, there is no indication that Madison converted to the Orthodoxy of his youth upon the end of his life. [27]

James Monroe:

The religious beliefs of James Monroe are even more shrouded in mystery than that of Madison. Monroe left virtually no writings at all about his personal beliefs so all we really have to go on is speculation. [28] However, it appears that Monroe may have been “the most skeptical of the early American presidents” and “seems to have been an Episcopalian of Deistic tendencies...” [29]

This could very well be correct since Monroe was a member of the Freemasons, which had close ties to Deism [30] and there is little else to go on, other than several speeches in which Monroe uses many Deistic phrases when referring to God, such as “the Grand Architect,” which is language that also comes directly from Freemasonry and not the Bible. [31]

Samuel Adams, John Jay, and Elias Boudinot:

Samuel Adams was an Orthodox Calvinist who was highly influenced by the Great Awakening, despite the popularity of Deistic thought. [32] It is unknown whether he believed in the “traditional five points of Calvinism” nor which of the two major branches of Calvinism Adams adhered to, however, he was clearly very devout. He opposed Freemasonry, led his family in grace before meals, and read to his family from the Bible, and observed the Lord's day, as well as attended church regularly on Sundays. [33]

John Jay differed from most of the other founders in both orthodoxy and religiosity. John Adams once commented that “John Jay had retired 'to study prophecies to the end of his life'” and was seen as “almost too religious” to John Adams. [34] He also felt the need to distribute Bibles “everywhere” and he seemed to believe in the literal fall of man, a literal Noah along with the worldwide flood, and in the tower of Babel. [35]

Elias Boudinot, like John Jay, was one of the most orthodox and devout founders. He was brother-in-law of a leader of the Great Awakening; throughout his life he was president of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, president of the American Bible Society, as well as a leading figure in the establishment of Princeton Theological Seminary. [36]

He also wrote books on such religious topics as a refutation of Deism, the imminent Second Coming of Jesus, along with one in which he argued that the Native Americans were descendants of the Israelites. [37]

As you can see, the majority of the founding fathers were not your average christians and believers. Most were highly influenced by the Enlightenment thinkers and Deism, though there were some very devout traditional christians. Of course, as I noted earlier, Jefferson stated in his autobiography that this was a nation created for all people, and not just christians. The very fact that the majority struck down having any mention of jesus in the founding documents is definitive proof of the secular nature of this country and the true intentions of the founders.


1. The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, by David L. Holmes, Oxford University Press, 2006; 79
2. Ibid.; 85
3. Ibid.; 86
4. Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism, by Michelle Goldberg, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2007; 32
5. The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, by David L. Holmes; 88
6. Ibid.; 83
7. Ibid.; 68-69
8. Ibid.; 62
9. Ibid.; 63-64
10. Ibid.; 65
11. Ibid.; 162
12. Ibid.; 162-163
13. Ibid.; 53
14. Ibid.; 54
15. Ibid.; 57
16. Ibid; 73
17. Ibid.; 77
18. Ibid.; 74
19. Ibid.; 73
20. Ibid.; 78
21. Ibid.; 93-94
22. Ibid.; 92
23. Ibid.; 93
24. Ibid.; 93.
25. Ibid.; 93-94
26. Ibid.; 94
27. Ibid.; 97
28. Ibid.; 107
29. Ibid.; 107
30. Ibid.; 105-106
31. Ibid.; 106
32. Ibid.; 144-145
33. Ibid.; 145-146
34. Ibid.; 154
35. Ibid.; 157
36. Ibid.; 150
37. Ibid.; 150

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