U.S. NOT FOUNDED ON CHRISTIAN VALUES AND HERE'S THE PROOF
George Washington and Religion
Washington gives us little in his writings to indicate his personal religious beliefs. As noted by Franklin Steiner in "The Religious Beliefs Of Our Presidents" (1936), Washington commented on sermons only twice. In his writings, he never referred to "Jesus Christ." He attended church rarely, and did not take communion - though Martha did, requiring the family carriage to return back to the church to get her later.
When trying to arrange for workmen in 1784 at Mount Vernon, Washington made clear that he would accept "Mohometans, Jews or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists." Washington wrote Lafayette in 1787, "Being no bigot myself, I am disposed to indulge the professors of Christianity in the church that road to heaven which to them shall seem the most direct, plainest, easiest and least liable to exception."
Clear evidence of his personal theology is lacking, even on his deathbed when he died a "death of civility" without expressions of Christian hope. His failure to document beliefs in conventional dogma, such as a life after death, is a clue that he may not qualify as a conventional Christian. Instead, Washington may be closer to a "warm deist" than a standard Anglican in colonial Virginia.
He was complimentary to all groups and attended Quaker, German Reformed, and Roman Catholic services. In a world where religious differences often led to war, Washington was quite conscious of religious prejudice. However, he joked about it rather than exacerbated it. Washington once noted that he was unlikely to be affected by the German Reformed service he attended, because he did not understand a word of what was spoken.
Washington was an inclusive, "big tent" political leader seeking support from the large numbers of Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Quakers in Virginia, and even more groups on a national level. He did not enhance his standing in some areas by advocating support for a particular theology, and certainly did not identify "wedge issues" based on religious differences. Instead, in late 1775, Washington banned the Protestant celebration of the Pope's Day (a traditional mocking of the Catholic leader) by the Continental Army. He deplored the sectarian strife in Ireland, and wished the debate over Patrick Henry's General Assessment bill would "die an easy death."
Washington was not anti-religion. Washington was not uninterested in religion. He was a military commander who struggled to motivate raw troops in the French and Indian War. He recognized that recruiting the militia in the western part of Virginia required accommodating the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, Baptists, and Dutch Reformed members in officially-Anglican Virginia. He was aware that religious beliefs were a fundamental part of the lives of his peers and of his soldiers. He knew that a moral basis for the American Revolution and the creation of a new society would motivate Americans to support his initiatives - and he knew that he would receive more support if he avoided discriminating against specific religious beliefs.
In the Revolutionary War, Washington supported troops selecting their own chaplains (such as the Universalist John Murray) while trying to avoid the development of factions within the army. Religion offered him moral leverage to instill discipline, reduce theft, deter desertion, and minimize other rambunctious behaviors that upset local residents. It was logical for Washington to invoke the name of the Divine, but it may have been motivated more by a desire for improving life on earth rather than dealing with life after death.
Wahington understood the distinction between morality and religion, and between toleration of differences and full religious liberty. Washington's replies to messages from Jews and Swedenborgians showed he was not merely accepting the differences of religion, tolerating those who had not chosen the correct path. Instead, he endorsed what Jefferson would later define as a "wall of separation between church and state."
Washington used generic terms with his public requests for divine assistance, to the extent that his personal denomination must be classified as "unknown." That vagueness has not stopped Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Unitarian Universalists from claiming him as a member, and has invited others to identity him as a Deist. Washington was a man dedicated to creating national unity, not an exclusionist seeking to identify and select those with correct beliefs for reward in this life or the next. It would have been inconsistent for him to seek to blend the westerners and the Tidewater residents, the Yankees from the north and the slave-owning planters from the South, into one national union - while at the same time supporting narrow religious tests for officeholders, or advocating the superiority of one religious sect over another.
The obelisk we call the Washington Monument is clad in white limestone. When illuminated at night, it glows white. It stands out from the dark background because of the artificial light we project on it; there is no natural light coming from the stone. If we projected a colored light, we'd see the tall Washington Monument as an object glowing with color. Similarly, many writers project onto Washington's life a set of religious beliefs - and see a reflection of what they project.
Mason Locke Weems manufactured stories to establish Washington as a pious Christian, a man who suceeded in part because he prayed for God's blessing. Weems was a parson, and his inaccuracies (including the moralistic "I can not tell a lie" tale about cutting down a cherry tree) have shaped the perspective of Washington for two centuries now. Many modern writers still repeat second-hand information of questionable reliability to describe Washington as a traditional Protestant. The individuals who describe Washington's life as one marked by prayer and steady attendance at church are often advocates of a religious perspective, proselytizing the perspective of a particular denomination or at least trying to shape American society so more people attend church regularly.
At times, they cite the generic proclamations issued as a public leader to portray Washington (or even Jefferson!) as a mainstream Christian, and to define the United States as a Christian Nation. Some of those who emphasize the personal faith - or faithlessness - of elected officials use it as a partisan issue. The Moral Majority led by Rev. Jerry Falwell was clearly allied with the Republican Party, and both Jimmy Carter and Pat Robertson used religion as part of his campaign for the presidency.
In modern America, many religious leaders consider personal salvation to be fundamental to the strength/survival of American society. The debate about the morality of elected officials has been intense since the realization that Lyndon Johnson lied about the status of war in Vietnam and subsequent Presidents have demonstrated publicly their own lapses, particularly Presidents Nixon and Clinton.
Those who attempt to project a religious theology upon Washington often seek to connect theological beliefs with civic benefits, assuming morality is based on religion. In contrast,
It spite of Christian right attempts to rewrite history to make Jefferson into a Christian, little about his philosophy resembles that of Christianity. Although Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence wrote of the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God, there exists nothing in the Declaration about Christianity.
Although Jefferson believed in a Creator, his concept of it resembled that of the god of deism (the term "Nature's God" used by deists of the time). With his scientific bent, Jefferson sought to organize his thoughts on religion. He rejected the superstitions and mysticism of Christianity and even went so far as to edit the gospels, removing the miracles and mysticism of Jesus (see The Jefferson Bible) leaving only what he deemed the correct moral philosophy of Jesus.
Distortions of history occur in the minds of many Christians whenever they see the word "God" embossed in statue or memorial concrete. For example, those who visit the Jefferson Memorial in Washington will read Jefferson's words engraved: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every from of tyranny over the mind of man." When they see the word "God" many Christians see this as "proof" of his Christianity without thinking that "God" can have many definitions ranging from nature to supernatural. Yet how many of them realize that this passage aimed at attacking the tyranny of the Christian clergy of Philadelphia, or that Jefferson's God was not the personal god of Christianity? Those memorial words came from a letter written to Benjamin Rush in 1800 in response to Rush's warning about the Philadelphia clergy attacking Jefferson (Jefferson was seen as an infidel by his enemies during his election for President). The complete statement reads as follows:
"The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me. . ."
Jefferson aimed at laissez-faire liberalism in the name of individual freedom, He felt that any form of government control, not only of religion, but of individual mercantilism consisted of tyranny. He thought that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry.
If anything can clear of the misconceptions of Jeffersonian history, it can come best from the author himself. Although Jefferson had a complex view of religion, too vast for this presentation, the following quotes provide a glimpse of how Thomas Jefferson viewed the corruptions of Christianity and religion
Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity.
-Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, 1782
The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, January 24, 1814
Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814
People should do some research into the history of the United States founding fathers before making such claims as to it "christian" birth....
In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Horatio G. Spafford, March 17, 1814
If we did a good act merely from love of God and a belief that it is pleasing to Him, whence arises the morality of the Atheist? ...Their virtue, then, must have had some other foundation than the love of God.
-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Thomas Law, June 13, 1814
You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Ezra Stiles Ely, June 25, 1819
As you say of yourself, I too am an Epicurian. I consider the genuine (not the imputed) doctrines of Epicurus as containing everything rational in moral philosophy which Greece and Rome have left us.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, Oct. 31, 1819
Among the sayings and discourses imputed to him [Jesus] by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence; and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Short, April 13, 1820
To talk of immaterial existences is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, god, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no god, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise: but I believe I am supported in my creed of materialism by Locke, Tracy, and Stewart. At what age of the Christian church this heresy of immaterialism, this masked atheism, crept in, I do not know. But heresy it certainly is.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, Aug. 15, 1820
Man once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without rudder, is the sport of every wind.
-Thomas Jefferson to James Smith, 1822.
I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823
And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerve in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.
-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823
It is between fifty and sixty years since I read it [the Apocalypse], and I then considered it merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to General Alexander Smyth, Jan. 17, 1825
All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Roger C. Weightman, June 24, 1826 (in the last letter he penned)
Presidents Adams and the Religious Right
In 2000 the Columbus Dispatch published a letter that exemplifies the Religious Right's attempts to rewrite early U.S. history.
The letter said Presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams were "born-again Christians who accepted the Bible as the word of God."
America's second and sixth presidents were thus made to look as though they would support the Religious Right if they were alive today.
Both of them, however, would have had little regard for the Religious Right. And the Religious Right would have had little use for them.
Liberal religious beliefs
John Adams's biographer and the editor of his Works, his grandson Charles Francis Adams, wrote that "with the independent spirit which in early life had driven him from the ministry, [Adams rejected] the prominent doctrines of Calvinism, the trinity, the atonement and election. . . ."
Moreover, church-state scholar Greg Hamilton says John Adams criticized the notion of Christ's divinity as an "awful blasphemy."
Likewise, James Haught's book 2000 Years of Disbelief describes John Adams as "another non-Christian president of the United States." Haught explains that Adams was a "Deist who rejected the divinity of Christ."
It's hard to imagine clearer proof that Adams did not view the Bible as the inerrant word of God. In fact, these views alone would have earned Adams harsh denunciations from the Religious Right. In their eyes, he would have been anathema.
Haught also says Adams once told a friend that he saw in the clergy the "pretended sanctity of some absolute dunces." And if he thought those guys were idiotic hypocrites, one can imagine what he would say about some of the Religious Right's televangelists.
Franklin Steiner's book The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents relates that John Adams was a Unitarian. Adams "believed that all good men are Christians regardless of their theological belief," writes Steiner. That is a liberal religious position if there ever was one, and it couldn't be more inconsistent with the views of the Religious Right.
Steiner further reports that John Adams's son, President John Quincy Adams, was an "outspoken" Unitarian. As a result, the younger Adams's Unitarianism was "common knowledge," says Steiner.
John Quincy Adams had the strong respect for reason and individual judgment that characterizes Unitarianism - but is often lacking in the Religious Right.
He wrote: "When I observe into what inconsistent absurdities those persons run who make speculative, metaphysical religion a matter of importance, I am fully determined never to puzzle myself in the mazes of religious discussion, [and] to content myself with practicing the dictates of God and reason so far as I can judge for myself. . . ."
Strong supporters of church-state separation
Besides having major problems with the religious beliefs of both Adamses, the Religious Right would loathe their views on church-state separation.
In 1788 John Adams said in regard to the nation's founding: "The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature. . . . [In] the formation of the American governments . . . it will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of heaven. . . . These governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses."
As president, John Adams approved the "Treaty with Tripoli" and presented it to the U.S. Senate in 1797. It contains the statement that "the government of the United States of America is not founded in any sense on the Christian religion. . . . "
At that time, the Senate was comprised of many persons who had participated at the Constitutional Convention or the state conventions that ratified the Constitution. Those senators had firsthand knowledge of the founding of the U.S., and they unanimously approved the treaty.
Moreover, John Adams wrote in 1812: "Nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion."
As a member of the Massachusetts constitutional conventions of 1820 and 1779, John Adams fought strenuously to disestablish the state religion. Although his efforts failed, the goal was achieved seven years after his death. In a statewide referendum in 1833, Massachusetts voters chose disestablishment by a 10-1 margin.
While serving in Congress after his term as president, John Quincy Adams opposed attempts to make Sunday a mandatory day of rest.
He considered such efforts divisive and said: "There are in this country, as in all others, a certain proportion of restless and turbulent spirits - poor, unoccupied, ambitious - who must always have something to quarrel about with their neighbors. These people are the authors of religious revivals."
No early presidents supported fundamentalism
Actually, it's hard to find any early presidents who would have fit in with the Religious Right.
Steiner says Benjamin Harrison, who became president in 1889, was the first president who was unquestionably a communicant in an orthodox church when elected.
Some clergymen bemoaned the lack of orthodox religious beliefs held by the early presidents.
In a sermon reported in the newspapers, Episcopal minister Bird Wilson of Albany, New York, complained in 1831: "Among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism."
Today's Religious Right is attempting to avoid that problem.
To advance their theocratic agenda, they are spreading bogus history to mislead people into thinking the U.S. government was founded on and can therefore promote
Even most Christians do not consider Jefferson a Christian. In many of his letters, he denounced the superstitions of Christianity. He did not believe in spiritual souls, angels or godly miracles. Although Jefferson did admire the morality of Jesus, Jefferson did not think him divine, nor did he believe in the Trinity or the miracles of Jesus. In a letter to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787, he wrote, "Question with boldness even the existence of a god."
Jefferson believed in materialism, reason, and science. He never admitted to any religion but his own. In a letter to Ezra Stiles Ely, 25 June 1819, he wrote, "You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know."
Called the father of the Constitution, Madison had no conventional sense of Christianity. In 1785, Madison wrote in his Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments:
"During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."
"What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not."
The U.S. Constitution
The most convincing evidence that our government did not ground itself upon Christianity comes from the very document that defines it-- the United States Constitution.
If indeed our Framers had aimed to found a Christian republic, it would seem highly unlikely that they would have forgotten to leave out their Christian intentions in the Supreme law of the land. In fact, nowhere in the Constitution do we have a single mention of Christianity, God, Jesus, or any Supreme Being. There occurs only two references to religion and they both use exclusionary wording. The 1st Amendment's says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . ." and in Article VI, Section 3, ". . . no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
Thomas Jefferson interpreted the 1st Amendment in his famous letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in January 1, 1802:
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State."
Some Religious activists try to extricate the concept of separation between church and State by claiming that those words do not occur in the Constitution. Indeed they do not, but neither does it exactly say "freedom of religion," yet the First Amendment implies both.
As Thomas Jefferson wrote in his Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom:
"Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion 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."
James Madison, perhaps the greatest supporter for separation of church and State, and whom many refer to as the father of the Constitution, also held similar views which he expressed in his letter to Edward Livingston, 10 July 1822:
"And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."
Today, if ever our government needed proof that the separation of church and State works to ensure the freedom of religion, one only need to look at the plethora of Churches, temples, and shrines that exist in the cities and towns throughout the United States. Only a secular government, divorced from religion could possibly allow such tolerant diversity.
The Declaration of Independence
Many Christians who think of America as founded upon Christianity usually present the Declaration as "proof." The reason appears obvious: the document mentions God. However, the God in the Declaration does not describe Christianity's God. It describes "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." This nature's view of God agrees with deist philosophy but any attempt to use the Declaration as a support for Christianity will fail for this reason alone.
Article XI from the Treaty of Tripoli
More significantly, the Declaration does not represent the law of the land as it came before the Constitution. The Declaration aimed at announcing their separation from Great Britain and listed the various grievances with the "thirteen united States of America." The grievances against Great Britain no longer hold, and we have more than thirteen states. Today, the Declaration represents an important historical document about rebellious intentions against Great Britain at a time before the formation of our independent government. Although the Declaration may have influential power, it may inspire the lofty thoughts of poets, and judges may mention it in their summations, it holds no legal power today. Our presidents, judges and policemen must take an oath to uphold the Constitution, but never to the Declaration of Independence.
Of course the Declaration depicts a great political document, as it aimed at a future government upheld by citizens instead of a religious monarchy. It observed that all men "are created equal" meaning that we all come inborn with the abilities of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men." The Declaration says nothing about our rights secured by Christianity, nor does it imply anything about a Christian foundation.
The Framers derived an independent government out of Enlightenment thinking against the grievances caused by Great Britain. Our Founders paid little heed to political beliefs about Christianity. The 1st Amendment stands as the bulkhead against an establishment of religion and at the same time insures the free expression of any belief. The Treaty of Tripoli, an instrument of the Constitution, clearly stated our non-Christian foundation. We inherited common law from Great Britain wh