Not One Founder Was Born-Again

Our Godless Constitution

by BROOKE ALLEN

[from the February 21, 2005 issue]

It is hard to believe that George Bush has ever read the works of George Orwell, but he seems, somehow, to have grasped a few Orwellian precepts. The lesson the President has learned best–and certainly the one that has been the most useful to him–is the axiom that if you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it. One of his Administration’s current favorites is the whopper about America having been founded on Christian principles. Our nation was founded not on Christian principles but on Enlightenment ones. God only entered the picture as a very minor player, and Jesus Christ was conspicuously absent.

Our Constitution makes no mention whatever of God. The omission was too obvious to have been anything but deliberate, in spite of Alexander Hamilton’s flippant responses when asked about it: According to one account, he said that the new nation was not in need of “foreign aid”; according to another, he simply said “we forgot.” But as Hamilton’s biographer Ron Chernow points out, Hamilton never forgot anything important.

In the eighty-five essays that make up The Federalist, God is mentioned only twice (both times by Madison, who uses the word, as Gore Vidal has remarked, in the “only Heaven knows” sense). In the Declaration of Independence, He gets two brief nods: a reference to “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” and the famous line about men being “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” More blatant official references to a deity date from long after the founding period: “In God We Trust” did not appear on our coinage until the Civil War, and “under God” was introduced into the Pledge of Allegiance during the McCarthy hysteria in 1954 [see Elisabeth Sifton, “The Battle Over the Pledge,” April 5, 2004]. …

The Founding Fathers were not religious men, and they fought hard to erect, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, “a wall of separation between church and state.” John Adams opined that if they were not restrained by legal measures, Puritans–the fundamentalists of their day–would “whip and crop, and pillory and roast.” …

If we define a Christian as a person who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ, then it is safe to say that some of the key Founding Fathers were not Christians at all. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine were deists–that is, they believed in one Supreme Being but rejected revelation and all the supernatural elements of the Christian Church; the word of the Creator, they believed, could best be read in Nature. John Adams was a professed liberal Unitarian, but he, too, in his private correspondence seems more deist than Christian.

George Washington and James Madison also leaned toward deism, although neither took much interest in religious matters. Madison believed that “religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize.”

[read the whole article — it’s worth your time]

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