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


G-d Unmighty said...

What an uninformed, revisionist, cherry picking, liar you are. How do you think your g-d thinks of you given those facts? I doubt you care as you probably don't truly believe in "him" anyways. I love how you omit things such as the Treaty of Tripoli's excerpts on the matter and how Jefferson compiled a bible which removed all miracles and ended with Jesus's burial. Of course you won't allow this comment to be displayed but I want YOU to know that your malicious reinterpretation of history has not gone unnoticed. Consider yourself lucky there is no hell waiting for you after you die. You make me sick.

Douglas V. Gibbs said...

I am fully aware of the Treaty of Tripoli's excerpts and Jefferson's Bible. In fact, I own a copy of Jefferson's Bible. There is a quote in my copy of that book from Jefferson of him professing to be a Christian, not a deist. Also, those examples you bring up do not show that the founders were not Christians, but instead serve as evidence that they were Christians who loved Christ, but abhorred man-made religion. Thank you for you comment.

Anonymous said...

I counted 62 members instead of 56 in your breakdown. Is there an error?

an american said...

Most of the founding fathers in fact hated religion and didn't believe in Jesus. They might have believed in a God. But they were in no way Christian. They were men with morals and believed people had the right to live and worship who they choose. Many times they have been saying that they weren't Christian. This article is full of ignorance.

Douglas V. Gibbs said...

"An American," your comment is full of ignorance. Organized religion was definitely a problem to many of the founders. When your frame of reference is the Church of England, that is understandable. But, nearly all of them did believe in Jesus. Jefferson, for example, who someone like you would claim was a deist, wrote in a letter to Mr. Charles Thompson, "I am a REAL CHRISTIAN, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus." If you go on to read the letter, he even calls himself more of a Christian than many folks that call themselves Christian, and even preachers, because to him Jesus was more important than religion. The problem with organized religion is the church often becomes more important than Christ, and that is not what Jesus intended.

Anonymous said...

Is Myth #15 supposed to be your entire write-up?

Unknown said...

Almost all of the founding fathers were Christian and ALL of the rest were deists. Not one atheist in their numbers. Of the two deists one was Benjamin Franklin who felt Christian morality and the bible belonged in schools and the other Thomas Jefferson defined himself as a Christian deist and attended church regularly during his Presidency, at the Capital building. The revisionism nonsense are the atheists quote mining the founding fathers to turn them into Christian hating atheists.

A Good Point said...

Er, why do you not recognize the Treaty of Tripoli?

Douglas V. Gibbs said...

The Treaty of Tripoli was written by John Adams, the same person who is quoted as saying, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." If the language in the Treaty of Tripoli is taken at face value, then we have a contradiction. Therefore, we have to dig deeper to figure out why it was written in the manner it was written, in order to take it into proper context. The language in the treaty reads: "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 of tranquility, of Mussulmen, and as the United States never entered into 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 two countries."

Finish reading at http://politicalpistachio.blogspot.com/2015/09/do-you-not-recognize-treaty-of-tripoli.html

Unknown said...

1. The Treaty of Tripoli

Article 11 was added by Joel Barlow. (Interestingly enough is not in the Arabic version)

But if you read the whole comment you see that there is more than just "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 Musselmen, — and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan 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."

The Muslim were at war with everyone that was Christian. We were telling Tripoli that we were not fighting them as a "Christian" nation. By law Nationally, we are not demanding everyone be a Christian. Religion was left up to the States. And every State was a christian state. If you have 5000 states and all of them are christian, then you have a christian nation.

No one who says we are a christian nation is trying to say you must be Christian to live here. Liberals twist and turn everything to make it sound like that is what we want. That is a lie.

They also think Christians want us to keep the Old Testament law, which is also not true.

Anonymous said...

This article is a flat out lie. Several of the founding fathers not only spoke ill of religion but also of Christianity and the bible. You are grossly misrepresenting the facts. I suggest if there are any readers on here that aren't already brainwashed fundamentalist Christians to look up some of the many quotes by the founding fathers people like Thomas Payne, Abraham Lincoln, and several others. If need be I can provide quotes and websites.

Douglas V. Gibbs said...

Fascinating, Cajun Atheist, that you use Thomas Payne and Abraham Lincoln. Cherry Picking, aren't you? Payne grew up a Christian and then decided to turn away from it. He joined the French Revolution, and then on his death bed indicated he regretted his departure earlier in his life from the Faith. Lincoln, though he claimed to be a man of faith, was a statist who plunged us into an unnecessary war to further centralize the federal government. I am surprised you didn't drag Alexander Hamilton into this. Anyway, as I stated in the post, the founders had a problem with man-made religion, but not the principles of the Christian Faith. They were Christians, even the ones that rejected the dogma of man-made religion.

Unknown said...

I am not a history buff nor do I have a background in religion. Can a religion be anything but man-made?

Douglas V. Gibbs said...

Religion is man-made, but Faith in Christ is God-made. . . a principle many of the Founding Fathers held. With a point of reference like the British mandate regarding the Church of England, one can hardly blame them. My own personal belief regarding religion mirrors theirs. I am not a fan of "religion," but I am a Christian and believe in the original intent of the church of Christianity as provided by God. I do believe we are a Christian nation based on our foundation and the fundamental makeup of our country, but I do not believe we are (or should be) a Christian nation in the way that Muslim countries are. We are not, nor should we ever be, a theocracy.

Anonymous said...

Douglas V. Gibbs - Do you have any further articles/books that you could recommend on this topic? I would also like to hear about this from the liberal/atheist perspective, if possible. Thanks! - Mary

Douglas V. Gibbs said...

a good source, aside from my own writings, would be Church and State by David Barton, as well as Danbury Baptist Association's letter to Thomas Jefferson, October 7,
1801: http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/dba_jefferson.html

Jefferson’s Final Letter to the Danbury Baptists, January 1, 1802:

Joseph Andrews, A Guide for Learning and Teaching The Declaration of
Independence and The U.S. Constitution - Learning from the Original Texts Using Classical Learning Methods of the Founders; San Marcos: The Center for Teaching the Constitution (2010).

Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner, The Founder’s Constitution –
Volume Five - Amendments I-XII; Indianapolis: Liberty Fund (1987).

The Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress declared on October 14, 1774, U.S. History dot org: http://www.ushistory.org/Declaration/related/decres.htm

Thomas Jefferson, The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom, 1786: http://religiousfreedom.lib.virginia.edu/sacred/vaact.html

Not a bully said...

Beautifully stated G-d Unmighty

Douglas V. Gibbs said...

regarding the Treaty of Tripoli: http://politicalpistachio.blogspot.com/2015/09/do-you-not-recognize-treaty-of-tripoli.html

As for the Jefferson Bible: https://politicalpistachio.blogspot.com/2012/04/jefferson-bible-on-my-desk.html