America's Secular Origins
Far too often we hear that the founding fathers intended America to be a nation based on Christian principles. Even if that statement were true, it is an egregious argument. An idea should stand and fall on its own merit, regardless of who supported it 200 years ago. Why should we continue leading blindly when we now have the ability to open our eyes?
Nevertheless, it is unequivocally false that the founding fathers of America intended this nation to be a Christian nation. The United States was created partially as a reaction to religious oppression in Europe. It is asinine to believe that those who fought so valiantly for religious liberty would impose their own form of religious oppression upon the nation they created. Though some of the founding fathers may have been Christian themselves, they were above all secularists, as evinced by the constitution, the foundation of the United States, and various other documents.
The best evidence we have that the United States was not meant to be a Christian nation is the constitution itself. If the founding father’s intended this to be a Christian nation they left out some important things, such as any mention of Christianity or Jesus Christ in the constitution. In fact, the constitution only mentions religion twice, and in both cases it stipulates the separation of religion and government.
Some claim that the “separation of church and state” is a phrase that has been fabricated recently. This is simply not true. We see this phrase as early as 1802 when Thomas Jefferson lends us his interpretation of the establishment clause in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association by stating “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.” James Madison, the primary author of the constitution, had a similar interpretation of how the United States should be run: “The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State.”
The fact that the United States was to be a government that was divorced from religion was a given to the founding fathers. However, other nations may not have known our intent. An esoteric document known as the Treaty of Tripoli, written in the late 1700s, reveals this intent. The treaty states, “. . . the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion . . . .” The intent of the fathers is now unambiguously known.
The intent behind the establishment clause is incontrovertibly separation between church and state. Clutching to last straws, people try and cite specific examples of some founding father who said something which, with the proper twist, might be able to be seen as advocating the nation promoting Christian principles. Let’s see exactly what our founding fathers thought about such matters.
The myth that George Washington was a devout Christian probably comes from a book titled Life of Washington written by Mason Weems, a Christian minister and a contemporary of Washington. Though Weems’ book depicts Washington as a devoted Christian, evidence says otherwise. Washington’s diaries show that he rarely attended church services, hardly a sign of a devout Christian. In the thousands of his letters that have come to light, we never see a mention of Jesus Christ, and hardly ever see him mention his religion. What he does mention, however, is his affiliation with the freemasons. This strongly points to a belief in deism. On his deathbed, Washington did not call for a clergyman, nor is their any record of him saying anything religious. When Washington’s friend, Dr. Abercrombie, was questioned after Washington’s death, Abercrombie replied that Washington had been a deist. Those that claim that the founding fathers were all Christians need to acknowledge that their champion was most likely a deist.
Benjamin Franklin, undoubtedly one of the most influential men of the time and a founding father of America, reveals that he rejected Christianity and was a deist in his autobiography.
John Adams described Christianity as the “most bloody religion that has ever existed” in a letter to Van der Kamp. Adams was a Unitarian, and flatly denied the existence of hell and the idea of eternal damnation.
Thomas Jefferson frequently referred to Christian stories as superstitions in his letters. He did not believe in any miracles, souls, or other metaphysical nonsense. In a letter to Peter Car, Jefferson wrote “Question with boldness even the existence of a God.” Jefferson championed reason and science in his day and age.
Madison, who penned the constitution, as I have already mentioned, also wrote a piece called Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessment. In his work he wrote, “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.” We have already seen what Madison intended with the establishment clause, now we know what his personal opinions on Christianity were as well. Given the combination of those two, I severely doubt that he would have advocated the idea of a Christian nation.
We have seen that the constitution never insinuates anything about Christianity. In fact, its principles seem more humanist than Christian; more derived from Thomas Paine than the Bible. We have taken a brief look at the religious views of some of our founding fathers and seen that they most likely would not have desired Christianity to rule the nation, and they certainly would not have impeded medicine or science in the name of religion. We have seen various documents that elucidate the desire of the founding fathers that this nation’s government be above all secular. So when you say “I think we should model our nation off of the desires of the founding fathers,” I wholeheartedly concur. I only contend that you should first educate yourself on what these desires were. Though some of our founding fathers were undoubtedly Christian, they were champions of reason and secular government. We should continue their tradition of reason and deny the ascension of superstition.