Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Was the United States Founded as a Christian Nation?

Many people in the United States have the misconception that our country was founded as a Christian nation. Even the Nobel Prize-winning scholar Sarah Palin fell for it:

[Video only shows up only after the jump for some reason]



The assertion that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation is demonstrably very untrue -- in fact, the truth is actually much the opposite. The country was founded based on 1) Religious freedom of citizens regardless of what they believe and 2) Separation of religion and government.


I’m going to give you some evidence straight from the Founding Fathers’ mouths, but first I want to point out two things that seem to convince people that American was founded as a Christian nation: “In God We Trust” on our paper money and “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance. How couldn’t you believe, based on those two references to God, that America wasn’t founded as a Christian nation? Well, quite easily, actually, since neither of those references existed until the mid 1950s.

Here's the original Pledge of Allegiance:

"I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands, one nation indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

Both additions were heavily influenced by the Cold War more than anything else. The commies were seen as heathens, so the U.S. government decided to add these words as differentiating factors, separating us from the communists.

So, no more using those things as a basis for saying that our country was founded as a Christian nation. (Yeah right, like history is going to stop you.)

Finally, looking to the Founding Fathers of our nation themselves should serve as a pretty good indication of which principles they’d choose to found it based on. To be clear, the Founders were not atheists. Most of the Founders were Deists, which is to say they thought the universe had a creator, but that he does not concern himself with the daily lives of humans and does not directly communicate with humans, either by revelation or by sacred books. They spoke often of God, (nature's god or the god of nature), but this was not the God of The Bible.

Here’s just a small sampling of what they have to say about religion (I truly had to sift through a lot of anti-religious quotes):

Thomas Jefferson:

"I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature."

"I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology."

"Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the Common Law."


Benjamin Franklin:

"Lighthouses are more helpful than churches."

"The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."

"I looked around for God's judgments, but saw no signs of them."

"In the affairs of the world, men are saved, not by faith, but by the lack of it."


John Adams:

"This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it."

"God is an essence that we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there will never be any liberal science in the world."

"Have you considered that system of holy lies and pious frauds that has raged and triumphed for 1,500 years?"

This next one is particularly damning:

"The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion ... " -- Treaty of Tripoli, signed by John Adams


Thomas Paine:

"All national 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."

"The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion."


James Madison:

"Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise."

"The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries."


Now, pro-religion quotes from other Founding Fathers certainly can be found. This blog entry isn't trying to prove that not a single person who had a hand in founding this country was religious, nor is it trying to prove that not a single person who helped this country become a reality had their heart set on making it a Christian nation. This blog entry is meant to show that regardless of whether there were Christian Founding Fathers who wanted the U.S. to be founded as a Christian nation -- it wasn't. I think the history lesson above is enough to prove that case.

-- The Atheist Apologist --

***UPDATE***

For the sake of fairness and full disclosure, here are some links that to resources that work to disprove my point (thank you to those who sent these to me):
  • Religion and the Congress of the Confederation -- This seems to have a wealth of information regarding early U.S. religiosity with regard to the founding of the nation.
  • Why America is One Nation Under God -- This is self-explanatory. It gives a lot of examples involving the same people I quote above taking contrary stances.
  • Why We're Not "One Nation Under God" -- I found this particularly useful article on Slate.com. Interestingly, despite its main point being that the U.S. is not a Christian nation, at one point it mentions that "Benjamin Franklin proposed during the Constitutional Convention that the founders begin each day of their labors with a prayer to God for guidance, his suggestion was defeated." Seems irreconcilable with Franklin's quotes above, but I suppose that's the danger of pre-Internet history (and quotations) ... it's hard to know what's based on reality and what was made up after the fact -- including some of my quotes above, unfortunately, depending on where they originated.
  • The Federalist Papers No. 2 -- In this writing, "Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people; a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion ... " These were influential at the time, and this seems to indicate that it was expected that everyone would have the same religion. But then again, they also say we'd speak the same language, and even though we mostly do, our nation has no official language.

17 comments:

  1. You say that John Adams says the following:

    "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it."

    But that isn't the whole quote, and as a matter of fact totally out of context. Here is the full quote in context:


    John Adams, Letter to Thomas Jefferson (19 April 1817).
    On May 19, 2011, in John Adams, by admin
    128
    Share
    Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!” But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean Hell.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Another one of your Adam's quote is out of context and it says:

    "God is an essence that we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there will never be any liberal science in the world."


    The full context is as follows talks about the blaspheme being all the attacks on Newton and Herschell and they were being spit upon by the jews as being the blapsheme not religion itself.:

    The Europeans are all deeply tainted with prejudices, both ecclesiastical and temporal, which they can never get rid of. They are all infected with episcopal and presbyterian creeds, and confessions of faith. They all believe that great Principle which has produced this boundless universe, Newton’s universe and Herschell’s universe, came down to this little ball, to be spit upon by Jews. And until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world. Letter to Thomas Jefferson (22 January 1825).

    ReplyDelete
  3. Jefferson never said this quote, it is false and thus a lie. Evidence can be found on the Official Monticello website: http://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/superstition-christianity-quotation


    "I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology."

    Superstition of Christianity (Quotation)

    Quotation: "I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology."

    Variations: "I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth."

    Sources consulted: (searching on the words "superstitions," "fables," and "mythology")

    Papers of Thomas Jefferson Digital Edition
    Thomas Jefferson Retirement Papers
    Ford Edition
    Lipscomb-Bergh Edition (via Google Books)
    Earliest known appearance in print:

    Earliest known appearance in print, attributed to Jefferson:

    Status: We have not found this quotation in any of Jefferson's known writings.

    ReplyDelete
  4. So far all I see is you enjoy spreading fake history. Also please quote, when you do, Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli Properly:

    As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

    This actually changes the meaning which now says that we are not a Christian nation that has entered into hostilities with you. Unlike the Christian nations of Europe we were not at war with them and thus we agreed that hostilities would seize. It has nothing to do with proclaiming us a a non-christian nation. There is no comma but a semi-colon in the original document which changes the meaning.

    ReplyDelete

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