Forefathers and Their Religion
With the election upon us in only a couple of months, many Christians are beginning to pull out quotes and writings that prove that our forefathers were staunch Christians and founded this country on Christian principles that they expected everyone to follow. While this serves their message very well, it is just not true. Very simply, yes, some of our forefathers were Christians, others were part of deism (believed in one spiritual being), and some historians believe that others were atheists.
Deism made its appearance in the 18th century. It was a religious movement, promoted by certain English and continental thinkers, that attracted a following in Europe toward the end of the 17th century and gained a small but influential number of adherents in America in the late 18th century. Deism rejected the orthodox Christian view of Christ, often viewing him as nothing more that a “sublime” teacher of morality.
Deism and some strains of “liberal religion,” which stressed morality and questioned the divinity of Christ, found advocates among upper class Americans, conspicuous among whom were Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin, but supporters of these views were never more than “a minority within a minority” and were submerged by evangelicalism in the 19th century.
A reference to what Benjamin Franklin (who is mis-represented by Christians, a lot) believed is pulled from here:
Mr. Butler, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences at Yale University, is the author of Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People (Harvard University Press, 1990). This interview was conducted by HNN editor Rick Shenkman for The Learning Channel series, “Myth America,” which aired several years ago…[Interviewer:] Let’s go through some of [the Founding Fathers]… Benjamin Franklin?
[Jon Butler:] Benjamin Franklin was even less religious than Washington and Jefferson. Franklin was an egotist. Franklin was someone who believed far more in himself than he could possibly have believed have believed in the divinity of Christ, which he didn’t. He believed in such things as the transmigration of souls. That is that human, that humans came into being in another existence and he may have had occult beliefs. He was a Mason who was deeply interested in Masonic secrets and there are some signs that Franklin believed in the mysteries of Occultism though he never really wrote much about it and never really said much about it. Franklin is another writer whom you can read all you want to read in the many published volumes of Franklin’s writings and read very little about religion.
…The principal Founding Fathers–Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin–were in fact deeply suspicious of a European pattern of governmental involvement in religion. They were deeply concerned about an involvement in religion because they saw government as corrupting religion. Ministers who were paid by the state and paid by the government didn’t pay any attention to their parishes. They didn’t care about their parishioners. They could have, they sold their parishes. They sold their jobs and brought in a hireling to do it and they wandered off to live somewhere else and they didn’t need to pay attention to their parishioners because the parishioners weren’t paying them. The state was paying them.
The above also references some other forefathers. I have read in other places that Benjamin Franklin and other forefathers (like Thomas Jefferson) thought that the Christian Bible provided a good moral compass, which is why they thought it was good for the country, but that they didn’t necessarily believe in Jesus as a Deity.
I know that I will continue to get e-mails from people who think that the entire Constitution and country is built on a foundation of strong Christian faith, but that is just not the case. It is not to say that there was not a respect of the religion, and some of the good items that come out of it, but they were not staunch believers either.
The quote from George Washington that I now see floating around is:
“The blessed Religion revealed in the word of God will remain an eternal and awful monument to prove that the best Institution may be abused by human depravity; and that they may even, in some instances be made subservient to the vilest purposes. Should, hereafter, those incited by the lust of power and prompted by the Supineness or venality of their Constituents, overleap the known barriers of this Constitution and violate the unalienable rights of humanity: it will only serve to shew, that no compact among men (however provident in its construction and sacred in its ratification) can be pronounced everlasting an inviolable, and if I may so express myself, that no Wall of words, that no mound of parchm[en]t can be so formed as to stand against the sweeping torrent of boundless ambition on the side, aided by the sapping current of corrupted morals on the other.”
If you read here you will see that this was in a draft of his inagural address, which he ultimately cut out. Also pointed out on the site above, is that this was the only reference he made of the Bible in any kind of public way.
My ultimate point here is this… I was raised, as were many others, to believe that the forefathers were practically as important as Jesus himself. That they represented strong Christians who wanted this country to run completely on Christian ideals. As I grew up, got an education and started to peel myself away from the Christian Church, I began realizing that this was just a bunch of nonsense. Yes, some had strong Christian faith, yes, many thought the morals spelled out in the religion were good… but, no, not all of them wanted a country that ran on the principles of the Christain Bible through and through.
There is a reason that religion (any religion), for the most part, is actually left out of the Constitution. Besides saying they could make no laws concerning religion, nor could they prohibit the free exercise of religion (notice they don’t call out WHICH religion), they really don’t mention it much. They didn’t feel it belonged in there, so much so that they actually got much heat from people to put something in there.
Curious how you feel about this topic.