English: A Portrait of Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I haven’t blogged in a while. I guess my muse had left me. I generally blog only when I’m inspired, such as when common internet religious memes start coming from family members and friends. Rather than respond with pithy or snarky one-liners, I prefer to do a little more of a thoughtful response.
So I have this kindly relative. When I say “kindly,” I’m reminded of the line from Frank Burns in the television show M*A*S*H, “it’s nice to be nice to the nice.” In that scene, Frank was gushing in front of a pretty girl. I think it goes without saying that people tend to be nice to people that they WANT to be nice to, usually people they think are like themselves. It’s classic in-group/out-group behavior. My relative is all for the in group, and all against the out group. Not unlike most people, I suspect.
My kindly relative reposted a complaint about Pepsi issuing their soda in cans displaying the Pledge of Allegiance without the words “under God.” Her comment was that we need to stop worrying about offending the minority (I assume atheists and secularists) and put more God into government.
Usually, people who say such things also argue that we are returning to our roots when we put God into government. So, this is what I am addressing today.
She’s had this bee her bonnet for a long time: how atheists are ruining the country. Having been an atheist my whole life, I take exception to this.
I distinctly remember her complaining, at a family gathering about thirty years ago, about how the local public school had to abandon their “Christmas” concert in favor of a “winter” concert, “because of the atheists.” Her rhetorical question followed: “Didn’t we come to this country for religious freedom?”
I also remember the pregnant pause after that statement. It was wrong on several levels. Those of us who knew better decided to just let it slide.
Now, she wasn’t trying to offend me. She didn’t know I was an atheist. I’m not sure I knew I was an atheist (around that time, I thought it was more humble and intellectually honest to consider myself an agnostic, before I knew what the terms meant; but in any event, I didn’t tell anyone for obvious reasons).
She is not to blame for holding these beliefs. Her view of the world and our country in particular is based on her childhood indoctrination. She was taught to believe that the United States was formed as a Christian nation. She was taught that the Puritans came to America to seek religious freedom. Therefore, we are a Christian nation.
This version of history glosses over some unfortunate aspects of the Puritan story. I think it is more accurate to say that the Puritans, while they were oppressed in England, left Europe (after experiencing a period of religious freedom in Holland), not so much to avoid persecution as to form a new society in which they could dictate how everyone should live and worship. The Puritans were not tolerant of other religious views. Remember, too, that they were the group that engaged in the Salem witch trials. Yes, they killed people for a wholly fictitious crime: witchcraft. The Puritans were the American Taliban of the 1600s. They were religiously delusional, and extremely intolerant.
Fast forward 150 years to the US Constitution – the document which established our government, not the Declaration of Independence — which makes NOT ONE MENTION of God. By then, the Puritans had calmed down into Congregationalists in the Northeast. Quakers were in Pennsylvania. Catholics settled in Maryland. Baptists, Methodists, and others were in the South and scattered elsewhere. The last thing they wanted was a government that endorsed religion, for fear the Catholics or some other nefarious group would take over and impose their rules on everyone else.
But that alone doesn’t explain the lack of God in the Constitution. The main reason appears to be that the Founders — or at least the key ones — were not Christians, or at least the kind of Christians we think of today. We know that Thomas Jefferson was a deist (one who believes in a creator, but not necessarily the Christian God; who believes in the moral teachings of Jesus, but not his divinity), who considered himself an Epicurean. George Washington either was one or was very tolerant. James Madison, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin were deists. Thomas Paine was a flaming deist.
Doubt me? Consider their own words:
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
Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.
-Thomas Jefferson, letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787
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.
-Thomas Jefferson, Autobiography, in reference to the Virginia Act for Religious Freedom
History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.
-Thomas Jefferson to Alexander von Humboldt, Dec. 6, 1813.
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
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
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
Priests…dread the advance of science as witches do the approach of daylight and scowl on the fatal harbinger announcing the subversions of the duperies on which they live.
-Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Correa de Serra, April 11, 1820
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
May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. 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)
(All quotations from http://www.nobeliefs.com/jefferson.htm.)
George Washington (Photo credit: Joye~)
If they are good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa or Europe; they may be Mahometans, Jews, Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists…. [George Washington, to Tench Tighman, March 24, 1784, when asked what type of workman to get for Mount Vernon, from The Washington papers edited by Saul Padover]
(Quotation from http://atheism.about.com/library/quotes/bl_q_GWashington.htm.)
Further, Washington was remembered by Bishop White to have attended Episcopal services about a dozen times per year, not taking communion, never kneeling in prayer, and never expressing an opinion on religion. In all of his published writings, he never mentions Jesus Christ. He refers to “Providence,” as a simile for destiny or fate.
James Madison, Hamilton’s major collaborator, later President of the United States and “Father of the Constitution” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“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.” — James Madison, “A Memorial and Remonstrance”, 1785
“Experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has 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.” — James Madison, “A Memorial and Remonstrance”, 1785
Franklin (notice no mention of Trinitarianism or Jesus’ divinity):
“You desire to know something of my religion. It is the first time I have been questioned upon it. But I cannot take your curiosity amiss, and shall endeavour in a few words to gratify it. Here is my creed. I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by His providence. That He ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render Him is doing good to His other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental principles of all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them.
Portrait of Benjamin Franklin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“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 corrupt changes, and I have, with most of the present Dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the Truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequence, as probably it has, of making his doctrines more respected and better observed; especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in His government of the world with any particular marks of His displeasure.
“I shall only add, respecting myself, that, having experienced the goodness of that Being in conducting me prosperously through a long life, I have no doubt of its continuance in the next, without the smallest conceit of meriting it… I confide that you will not expose me to criticism and censure by publishing any part of this communication to you. I have ever let others enjoy their religious sentiments, without reflecting on them for those that appeared to me unsupportable and even absurd. All sects here, and we have a great variety, have experienced my good will in assisting them with subscriptions for building their new places of worship; and, as I never opposed any of their doctrines, I hope to go out of the world in peace with them all.”
[Benjamin Franklin, letter to Ezra Stiles, President of Yale, shortly before his death; from "Benjamin Franklin" by Carl Van Doren, the October, 1938 Viking Press edition pages 777-778 Also see Alice J. Hall, "Philosopher of Dissent: Benj. Franklin," National Geographic, Vol. 148, No. 1, July, 1975, p. 94]
“If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Romish church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. These found it wrong in the Bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here [England]and in New England”
[Benjamin Franklin, "Toleration", in Works, Vol. ii., p. 112]
(All Franklin quotations from http://articles.exchristian.net/2002/03/ben-franklin-quotes.php.)
Oil painting of John Adams by John Trumbull. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
“As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?” — John Adams, letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, Dec. 27, 1816
“I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved–the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!” — John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson
“What havoc has been made of books through every century of the Christian era? Where are fifty gospels, condemned as spurious by the bull of Pope Gelasius? Where are the forty wagon-loads of Hebrew manuscripts burned in France, by order of another pope, because suspected of heresy? Remember the ‘index expurgatorius’, the inquisition, the stake, the axe, the halter and the guillotine.” — John Adams, letter to John Taylor
“The priesthood have, in all ancient nations, nearly monopolized learning. And ever since the Reformation, when or where has existed a Protestant or dissenting sect who would tolerate A FREE INQUIRY? The blackest billingsgate, the most ungentlemanly insolence, the most yahooish brutality, is patiently endured, countenanced, propagated, and applauded. But touch a solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will find you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your eyes and hand, and fly into your face and eyes.” — John Adams, letter to John Taylor
Thomas Paine (lengthy, but well worth reading):
Portrait of Thomas Paine by Matthew Pratt, 1785–1795 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Every person, of whatever religious denomination he may be, is a DEIST in the first article of his Creed. Deism, from the Latin word Deus, God, is the belief of a God, and this belief is the first article of every man’s creed.
It is on this article, universally consented to by all mankind, that the Deist builds his church, and here he rests. Whenever we step aside from this article, by mixing it with articles of human invention, we wander into a labyrinth of uncertainty and fable, and become exposed to every kind of imposition by pretenders to revelation.
The Persian shows the Zend-Avesta of Zoroaster, the lawgiver of Persia, and calls it the divine law; the Bramin shows the Shaster, revealed, he says, by God to Brama, and given to him out of a cloud; the Jew shows what he calls the law of Moses, given, he says, by God, on the Mount Sinai; the Christian shows a collection of books and epistles, written by nobody knows who, and called the New Testament; and the Mahometan shows the Koran, given, he says, by God to Mahomet: each of these calls itself revealed religion, and the only true Word of God, and this the followers of each profess to believe from the habit of education, and each believes the others are imposed upon.
But when the divine gift of reason begins to expand itself in the mind and calls man to reflection, he then reads and contemplates God and His works, and not in the books pretending to be revelation. The creation is the Bible of the true believer in God. Everything in this vast volume inspires him with sublime ideas of the Creator. The little and paltry, and often obscene, tales of the Bible sink into wretchedness when put in comparison with this mighty work.
The Deist needs none of those tricks and shows called miracles to confirm his faith, for what can be a greater miracle than the creation itself, and his own existence?
There is a happiness in Deism, when rightly understood, that is not to be found in any other system of religion. All other systems have something in them that either shock our reason, or are repugnant to it, and man, if he thinks at all, must stifle his reason in order to force himself to believe them.
But in Deism our reason and our belief become happily united. The wonderful structure of the universe, and everything we behold in the system of the creation, prove to us, far better than books can do, the existence of a God, and at the same time proclaim His attributes.
It is by the exercise of our reason that we are enabled to contemplate God in His works, and imitate Him in His ways. When we see His care and goodness extended over all His creatures, it teaches us our duty toward each other, while it calls forth our gratitude to Him. It is by forgetting God in His works, and running after the books of pretended revelation, that man has wandered from the straight path of duty and happiness, and become by turns the victim of doubt and the dupe of delusion.
Except in the first article in the Christian creed, that of believing in God, there is not an article in it but fills the mind with doubt as to the truth of it, the instant man begins to think. Now every article in a creed that is necessary to the happiness and salvation of man, ought to be as evident to the reason and comprehension of man as the first article is, for God has not given us reason for the purpose of confounding us, but that we should use it for our own happiness and His glory.
The truth of the first article is proved by God Himself, and is universal; for the creation is of itself demonstration of the existence of a Creator. But the second article, that of God’s begetting a son, is not proved in like manner, and stands on no other authority than that of a tale.
Certain books in what is called the New Testament tell us that Joseph dreamed that the angel told him so, (Matthew i, 20): “And behold the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph, in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.”
The evidence upon this article bears no comparison with the evidence upon the first article, and therefore is not entitled to the same credit, and ought not to be made an article in a creed, because the evidence of it is defective, and what evidence there is, is doubtful and suspicious. We do not believe the first article on the authority of books, whether called Bibles or Korans, nor yet on the visionary authority of dreams, but on the authority of God’s own visible works in the creation.
The nations who never heard of such books, nor of such people as Jews, Christians, or Mahometans, believe the existence of a God as fully as we do, because it is self-evident. The work of man’s hands is a proof of the existence of man as fully as his personal appearance would be.
When we see a watch, we have as positive evidence of the existence of a watchmaker, as if we saw him; and in like manner the creation is evidence to our reason and our senses of the existence of a Creator. But there is nothing in the works of God that is evidence that He begat a son, nor anything in the system of creation that corroborates such an idea, and, therefore, we are not authorized in believing it.
What truth there may be in the story that Mary, before she was married to Joseph, was kept by one of the Roman soldiers, and was with child by him, I leave to be settled between the Jews and Christians. The story however has probability on its side, for her husband Joseph suspected and was jealous of her, and was going to put her away. “Joseph, her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a public example, was going to put her away, privately.” (Matt. i, 19).
I have already said that “whenever we step aside from the first article (that of believing in God), we wander into a labyrinth of uncertainty,” and here is evidence of the justness of the remark, for it is impossible for us to decide who was Jesus Christ’s father.
But presumption can assume anything, and therefore it makes Joseph’s dream to be of equal anthority with the existence of God, and to help it on calls it revelation. It is impossible for the mind of man in its serious moments, however it may have been entangled by education, or beset by priestcraft, not to stand still and doubt upon the truth of this article and of its creed.
But this is not all. The second article of the Christian creed having brought the son of Mary into the world (and this Mary, according to the chronological tables, was a girl of only fifteen years of age when this son was born), the next article goes on to account for his being begotten, which was, that when he grew a man he should be put to death, to expiate, they say, the sin that Adam brought into the world by eating an apple or some kind of forbidden fruit.
But though this is the creed of the Church of Rome, from whence the Protestants borrowed it, it is a creed which that Church has manufactured of itself, for it is not contained in nor derived from, the book called the New Testament.
The four books called the Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, which give, or pretend to give, the birth, sayings, life, preaching, and death of Jesus Christ, make no mention of what is called the fall of man; nor is the name of Adam to be found in any of those books, which it certainly would be if the writers of them believed that Jesus was begotten, born, and died for the purpose of redeeming mankind from the sin which Adam had brought into the world. Jesus never speaks of Adam himself, of the garden of Eden, nor of what is called the fall of man.
But the Church of Rome having set up its new religion, which it called Christianity [but which in truth is Athanasianism/Constantinism], and invented the creed which it named the Apostles’s Creed, in which it calls Jesus the only son of God, conceived by the Holy Ghost, and born of the Virgin Mary; things of which it is impossible that man or woman can have any idea, and consequently no belief but in words; and for which there is no authority but the idle story of Joseph’s dream in the first chapter of Matthew, which any designing imposter or foolish fanatic might make.
It then manufactured the allegories in the book of Genesis into fact, and the allegorical tree of life and the tree of knowledge into real trees, contrary to the belief of the first Christians, and for which there is not the least authority in any of the books of the New Testament; for in none of them is there any mention made of such place as the Garden of Eden, nor of anything that is said to have happened there.
But the Church of Rome could not erect the person called Jesus into a Savior of the world without making the allegories in the book of Genesis into fact, though the New Testament, as before observed, gives no authority for it. All at once the allegorical tree of knowledge became, according to the Church, a real tree, the fruit of it real fruit, and the eating of it sinful.
As priestcraft was always the enemy of knowledge, because priestcraft supports itself by keeping people in delusion and ignorance, it was consistent with its policy to make the acquisition of knowledge a real sin.
The Church of Rome having done this, it then brings forward Jesus the son of Mary as suffering death to redeem mankind from sin, which Adam, it says, had brought into the world by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge. But as it is impossible for reason to believe such a story, because it can see no reason for it, nor have any evidence of it, the Church then tells us we must not regard our reason, but must believe, as it were, and that through thick and thin, as if God had given man reason like a plaything, or a rattle, on purpose to make fun of him.
Reason is the forbidden tree of priestcraft, and may serve to explain the allegory of the forbidden tree of knowledge, for we may reasonably suppose the allegory had some meaning and application at the time it was invented. It was the practice of the Eastern nations to convey their meaning by allegory, and relate it in the manner of fact. Jesus followed the same method, yet nobody ever supposed the allegory or parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the Prodigal Son, the ten Virgins, etc., were facts.
Why then should the tree of knowledge, which is far more romantic in idea than the parables in the New Testament are, be supposed to be a real tree? The answer to this is, because the Church could not make its new-fangled system, which it called Christianity, hold together without it. To have made Christ to die on account of an allegorical tree would have been too barefaced a fable.
But the account, as it is given of Jesus in the New Testament, even visionary as it is, does not support the creed of the Church that he died for the redemption of the world. According to that account he was crucified and buried on the Friday, and rose again in good health on the Sunday morning, for we do not hear that he was sick. This cannot be called dying, and is rather making fun of death than suffering it.
There are thousands of men and women also, who if they could know they should come back again in good health in about thirty-six hours, would prefer such kind of death for the sake of the experiment, and to know what the other side of the grave was. Why then should that which would be only a voyage of curious amusement to us, be magnified into merit and suffering in him? If a God, he could not suffer death, for immortality cannot die, and as a man his death could be no more than the death of any other person.
The belief of the redemption of Jesus Christ is altogether an invention of the Church of Rome, not the doctrine of the New Testament. What the writers of the New Testament attempted to prove by the story of Jesus is the resurrection of the same body from the grave, which was the belief of the Pharisees, in opposition to the Sadducees (a sect of Jews) who denied it.
Paul, who was brought up a Pharisee, labors hard at this for it was the creed of his own Pharisaical Church: I Corinthians xv is full of supposed cases and assertions about the resurrection of the same body, but there is not a word in it about redemption. This chapter makes part of the funeral service of the Episcopal Church. The dogma of the redemption is the fable of priestcraft invented since the time the New Testament was compiled, and the agreeable delusion of it suited with the depravity of immoral livers. When men are taught to ascribe all their crimes and vices to the temptations of the devil, and to believe that Jesus, by his death, rubs all off, and pays their passage to heaven gratis, they become as careless in morals as a spendthrift would be of money, were he told that his father had engaged to pay off all his scores.
It is a doctrine not only dangerous to morals in this world, but to our happiness in the next world, because it holds out such a cheap, easy, and lazy way of getting to heaven, as has a tendency to induce men to hug the delusion of it to their own injury.
But there are times when men have serious thoughts, and it is at such times, when they begin to think, that they begin to doubt the truth of the Christian religion; and well they may, for it is too fanciful and too full of conjecture, inconsistency, improbability and irrationality, to afford consolation to the thoughtful man. His reason revolts against his creed. He sees that none of its articles are proved, or can be proved.
He may believe that such a person as is called Jesus (for Christ was not his name) was born and grew to be a man, because it is no more than a natural and probable case. But who is to prove he is the son of God, that he was begotten by the Holy Ghost? Of these things there can be no proof; and that which admits not of proof, and is against the laws of probability and the order of nature, which God Himself has established, is not an object for belief. God has not given man reason to embarrass him, but to prevent his being imposed upon.
He may believe that Jesus was crucified, because many others were crucified, but who is to prove he was crucified for the sins of the world? This article has no evidence, not even in the New Testament; and if it had, where is the proof that the New Testament, in relating things neither probable nor provable, is to be believed as true?
When an article in a creed does not admit of proof nor of probability, the salvo is to call it revelation; but this is only putting one difficulty in the place of another, for it is as impossible to prove a thing to be revelation as it is to prove that Mary was gotten with child by the Holy Ghost.
Here it is that the religion of Deism is superior to the Christian Religion. It is free from all those invented and torturing articles that shock our reason or injure our humanity, and with which the Christian religion abounds. Its creed is pure, and sublimely simple. It believes in God, and there it rests.
It honors reason as the choicest gift of God to man, and the faculty by which he is enabled to contemplate the power, wisdom and goodness of the Creator displayed in the creation; and reposing itself on His protection, both here and hereafter, it avoids all presumptuous beliefs, and rejects, as the fabulous inventions of men, all books pretending to revelation.
-Thomas Paine, “Of The Religion Of Deism Compared With The Christian Religion”
Perhaps, while these gentlemen were the main Founders, they did not represent the mood of the government in general. Well, consider the Treaty of Tripoli. Muslim pirates from North Africa were plaguing our merchant vessels. Since they preyed on Christian merchant trade in particular, we wanted them to know we weren’t Christians. So, in 1796 we struck a treaty with them, which the Senate confirmed in 1797, by a UNANIMOUS vote. Article 11 of the treaty begins:
“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion….”
Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that the country wasn’t predominantly Christian. It does tend to confirm, however, that the early leaders of the country did not want it to have a state religion. We call that a “wall of separation between church and State.” Jefferson coined that in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptist Association.
Without a doubt, the society of that time was largely religious, and Christian. But our Founders were hostile to organized religion. They had heretical, individualized beliefs. And they clearly wanted to avoid any combination of religion and government.
But now we have this sentiment that we need more God in our government, and less concern for the sensibilities of minorities. That is an uneducated, intolerant, and unwise position. If it is advanced, it should be done on its own merits, and not by revising history to put these awful views into the mouths of our Founders.
The person who advances this view is speaking from a position of privilege. She thinks she is in the majority. She may be right (but we are all minorities in one way or another). The complaint appears to be that, since we live in a democracy, the majority should be allowed to rule, and the minority should shut up.
This is a mistaken notion. Contrary to popular belief, we do not live in democracy in the United States. We live in a republic. A republic is a type of democracy, but with a major difference.
In a democracy, sovereignty originates in the whole of the electorate. In a republic, sovereignty originates in the individual. The Founders spoke of the natural, inalienable rights of the individual. The practical importance of this difference is this: in a republic, we protect the rights of the minority. This is perhaps the best thought the Founders had, because any truly democratic society is extremely fragile; when a minority is oppressed and thinks it is disenfranchised, it stops participating in the democratic process and instead seeks to overthrow the government and establish its own state (much like conservatives threaten every time they lose an election).
Oh, and I think it goes without saying that respecting the rights of minorities is a very MORAL thing to do, regardless of who you think your god is.