Saturday, July 30, 2011
Myth #15: The Founding Fathers Were Deists/Atheists/Not Christians
This is the Fifteenth Myth in the series: 25 Myths of the U.S. Constitution.
Note: These articles later were updated and combined into my first book: 25 Myths of the United States Constitution.
By Douglas V. Gibbs
I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? -- Ben Franklin, July 28, 1787
Even the most celebrated deist, Benjamin Franklin, recognized that God sometimes involves Himself in the affairs of men. The American Revolution was a miracle, and the U.S. Constitution, as far as these men were concerned, was created with the assistance of Divine Providence.
Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, all of them were Christians:
Episcopalian/Anglican - 28
Congregationalist - 11
Presbyterian - 12
Quaker - 2
Unitarian/Universalist - 2
Catholic - 1
TOTAL - 56 - 100%
Out of the 56 signers, only two were the overtly unorthodox ”Unitarian/Universalist”: John Adams and Robert Paine (both came from a Congregationalist background). In the most traditional Christian orthodoxy, this "we all get in somehow" attitude tends not to be considered very Christian at all. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin are celebrated as being mere Deists according to the most liberal thinking, though Jefferson invoked the name of Christ quite a bit for an alleged non-believer, and Franklin seemed to Christianize more and more as he got older. So, taking those four out of the mix, just for argument's sake, and keeping the remainder as examples of the “bible-believing” Christians in the most fundamental classical sense, we still find it to be an interesting set of numbers.
By taking those four out of the list of 56 signers, we still wind up with only 7% of the signers not being orthodox Christians, or it can be said that 93% of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were orthodox bible believing Christians. To break it down further, most had seminary degrees (though that was easy enough to achieve since most universities were tied to denominations), and four of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were current or former full-time preachers. Also, many more of the signers were the sons of clergymen, as well as very active in their churches.
There are those of the anti-Founding Fathers persuasion that will, in response to this, produce many anti-religious quotes by the various Founding Fathers, and I do not deny the existence of those quotes. To understand those quotes, however, we must look at the world from the point of view of the founders. Their frame of reference when it came to "religion" was the Church of England, the established church of England.
When studying the writings of the Founding Fathers, what we come to realize is that they were indeed men of faith, but also skeptics of organized religion. In other words, they were biblical Christians who believed deeply in the Faith the Bible offered, but failed to see anything positive in the organizations of religion that man had created. Considering their view of centralized government, and the dangers of power in the hands of men, this is understandable.
In other words, the founders loved God, believed in Christ, and hated man-made religious organizations and the damage such systems could place on society, and government. They desired the leaders of the new nation to be Godly men, without the influence of an overbearing institutionalized religion. They did not want the church controlling the government, nor the government controlling the church, yet they wanted God's presence to emanate throughout the new government. The founders desired that the members of this new government would be men of God that held to Christian values and principles.
Signer John Witherspoon said:
It is the man of piety and inward principle, that we may expect to find the uncorrupted patriot, the useful citizen, and the invincible soldier. – God grant that in America true religion and civil liberty may be inseperable and that the unjust attempts to destroy the one, may in the issue tend to the support and establishment of both.
So did this nation enjoy a Christian founding?
Yes, but not in the theocratic manner some may think. Yes, most of the States were theocracies at that time, but the founders were searching for a balance where God was an instrumental part of the nation, while keeping the evils of institutionalized religion and an established church at bay.
So here are the facts. The Founding Fathers largely identified themselves as Christians. Approximately 98 percent of the colonists were Protestants, with the remaining 1.9 percent being Roman Catholics. America's colonial origins, or at least in the northern colonies, were encouraged by the desire for religious freedom. Massachusetts, with the Puritans and Pilgrims, is a great example of that. Sure, the southern colonies were more about investment and economic opportunities, but even in those colonies, the protection and promotion of Christianity was more important than many critics assume.
Early colonial laws and constitutions such as the Mayflower Compact, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, and Massachusetts Body of Liberties are filled with biblical language that, in some cases, actually incorporate biblical texts wholesale.
Early colonial constitutions and laws reveals a Christian heritage that was quite extensive. In fact, at least nine of the 13 colonies had established churches, and all required officeholders to be Christians, or, in some cases, Protestants. Quaker Pennsylvania, for instance, expected officeholders to be “such as possess faith in Jesus Christ.” Only Rhode Island seemed to practice true religious freedom at that point in the sense that became popular later after the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom in 1786 by Madison and Jefferson.
The Declaration of Independence itself lends to the Christian nature of this nation during that time period: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
The principles of this nation as founded were heavily influenced by Christian ideas and values. The Founding Fathers recognized that we are flawed (Romans 3:23 King James Version: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God), they understood that God ordained moral standards, Christianity informed the Founders’ understanding of substantive concepts such as “liberty," they believed we are created in the image of God (we are a spirit as God is a spirit), biblical teachings regarding the laws of Moses and the construction of government under Mosaic Law heavily influenced the creation of the structure of our government, and Faith led many Founders to conclude that religious liberty should be extensively protected. Many also thought that civic authorities should encourage Christianity and that it is appropriate to use religious language in the public square.
The founders believed that religious liberty is a right, and that it must be protected. This conviction was largely based upon the biblical principle that humans have a duty to worship God as their consciences dictate.
For God's Sake, Thanksgiving was created, and officially proclaimed by George Washington in 1789, for the purpose of giving thanks to God for the Blessings this nation had received.
It is clear that the founders were not largely Deists, Atheists, or non-Christians. This nation was founded as a Christian nation, but one that welcomes religious diversity, and yes, even secular thought.
-- Political Pistachio Conservative News and Commentary
Religious Affiliation of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence - Adherents
Did America Have a Christian Founding? - The Heritage Foundation
Israel and the Founding Fathers: "Structuring a New Government" The 5000 Year Leap - by W. Cleon Skousen
Full Text of Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation - Early America
The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom