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Thomas Jefferson

Founding Fathers Religion Debate and Poll

In the endless culture wars between the extreme left and the Religious Right, both misuse the words of the Founders to support their political positions. The facts are most of the Founding Fathers Were Not Christian fundamentalists or modern Humanists. Many would in fact be Unitarians or liberal (in the traditional sense of the word) Christians. They believed in God and religious liberty.

PRO 1

At the time of the adoption of the Constitution and the Amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged, not any one sect.

In this age there can be no substitute for Christianity. That was the religion of the founders of the republic, and they expected it to remain the religion of their descendants. The great vital and conservative element in our system is the doctrines and divine truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ."

 

CON 1.1

Although,  many of America's colonial statesmen practiced Christianity, our most influential Founding Fathers broke away from traditional religious thinking. The ideas of the Great Enlightenment that began in Europe had begun to sever the chains of monarchical theocracy. These heretical European ideas spread throughout early America. Instead of relying on faith, people began to use reason and science as their guide. The humanistic philosophical writers of the Enlightenment, such as Locke, Rousseau, and Voltaire, had greatly influenced our Founding Fathers. Unlike the violent atheist' French Revolution, Christianity and its traditions were a counter to Enlightenment extremism.

See the following in three parts:

 

PRO 2

President George Washington, September 17th, 1796

"It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible"

His Prayer At Valley Forge "Almighty and eternal Lord God, the great Creator of heaven and earth, and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; look down from heaven in pity and compassion upon me Thy servant, who humbly prorate myself before Thee."

"Bless O Lord the whole race of mankind, and let the world be filled with the knowledge of Thee and Thy Son, Jesus. "Of all dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens."

"To the distinguished character of a Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of a Christian."

CON 2.1

Much of the myth of Washington's alleged Christianity came from Mason Weems influential book, "Life of Washington."  Weems, a Christian minister portrayed Washington as a devote Christian, yet Washington's own diaries show that he rarely attended Church.

Washington revealed almost nothing to indicate his spiritual frame of mind, hardly a mark of a devout Christian. In his thousands of letters, the name of Jesus Christ never appears. He rarely spoke about his religion, but his Freemasonry experience points to a belief in deism. Washington's initiation occurred at the Fredericksburg Lodge on 4 November 1752, later becoming a Master mason in 1799, and remained a freemason until he died.

To the United Baptist Churches in Virginia in May, 1789, Washington said that every man "ought to be protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience."

After Washington's death, Dr. Abercrombie, a friend of his, replied to a Dr. Wilson, who had interrogated him about Washington's religion replied, "Sir, Washington was a Deist."

 

CON 2.2

When John Murray (a universalist who denied the existence of hell) was invited to become an army chaplain, the other chaplains petitioned Washington for his dismissal. Instead, Washington gave him the appointment. On his deathbed, Washington uttered no words of a religious nature and did not call for a clergyman to be in attendance.
From:George Washington and Religion by Paul F. Boller Jr.,

 

CON 3

Thomas Paine was a pamphleteer whose manifestos encouraged the faltering spirits of the country and aided materially in winning the war of Independence:
I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of...Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all." From: The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine

To Paine belongs the honor of naming our country the United States of America. He was the first to use the name in print, and it was his own creation.

 

PRO 4 Patrick Henry 

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists but by Christians, not on religion but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We shall not fight alone. God presides over the destinies of nations."

 

CON 4.1

Patrick Henry,  made a number of statements suggesting that our nation was founded on belief in God, and that it was important to acknowledge God in civic affairs, but Henry lost the battle to put religion in the Constitution. More to the point, Henry was an anti-federalist, and vigorously opposed the Constitution when Virginia discussed ratification. Quoting Henry to prove things about the constitution is like quoting the chairman of the Republican National Committee to prove things about the platform of the Democratic party.

 

PRO 5

Benjamin Franklin Address at the Constitutional Convention Thursday June 28, 1787

"I have lived, 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?

 

CON 5.1

Although Franklin received religious training, his nature forced him to rebel against the irrational tenets of his parents Christianity. His Autobiography revels his skepticism, "My parents had given me betimes religions impressions, and I received from my infancy a pious education in the principles of Calvinism. But scarcely was I arrived at fifteen years of age, when, after having doubted in turn of different tenets, according as I found them combated in the different books that I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself.

". . . Some books against Deism fell into my hands. . . It happened that they wrought an effect on my quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a through Deist."

As Ben Franklin noted in a letter to Ezra Stiles in 1790 what Deism is all about, and speaks for this writer as well:

Here is my creed. I believe in One God, the Creator of the Universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we can 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. (Salisbury, Dorothy Cleaveland. "Religion: As the Leaders of this Nation Reveal It." Daughters of the American Revolution Vol.106 (1972): page 541.)

PRO 6 President John Adams 

"The highest story of the American Revolution is this: it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity."

 

CON 6.1

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 has ever existed?"
Letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, Dec. 27, 1816

 

CON 6.2

In his, "A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" [1787-1788], John Adams wrote:

"The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity.

It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

PRO 7 President Thomas Jefferson
"The reason that Christianity is the best friend of Government is because Christianity is the only religion that changes the heart."

 

CON 7.1

Even most Christians do not consider Jefferson a Christian. In many of his letters, he denounced the superstitions of Christianity. He did not believe in spiritual souls, angels or godly miracles. Although Jefferson did admire the morality of Jesus, Jefferson did not think him divine, nor did he believe in the Trinity or the miracles of Jesus. In a letter to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787, he wrote, "Question with boldness even the existence of a god." Jefferson believed in materialism, reason, and science. He never admitted to any religion but his own. In a letter to Ezra Stiles Ely, 25 June 1819, he wrote, "You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know."

 

CON 7.2

Jefferson went so far as to produce a revised New Testament deleting all references to miracles and portraying Jesus as just a extraordinary man and a powerful moral leader. 

 

PRO 8 President John Quincy Adams
"It is no slight testimonial, both to the merit and worth of Christianity, that in all ages since its promulgation the great mass of those who have risen to eminence by their profound wisdom and integrity have recognized and reverenced Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of the living God."

 

CON 8.1

John Quincy Adams was a Unitarian.

 

PRO 9 John Jay, 1777 The first Chief Justice of the United States

"Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and the interest, of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."

 

PRO 10  James Madison

"We have staked the whole future of American civilization not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self-government, upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments." David Barton's book The Myth of Separation

 

CON 10.1

The only problem with the above is, no such quote has ever been found among any of James Madison's writings. None of the biographers of Madison, past or present have ever run across such a quote, and most if not all would love to know where this false quote originated. Apparently, David Barton did not check the work of the secondary sources he quotes.

 

CON 10.2

Called the father of the Constitution, Madison had no conventional sense of Christianity. In 1785, Madison wrote in his Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments:

"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."

"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."

 

CON 11 Ethan Allen (1737-1789) American Officer in the Revolutionary War

"I have generally been dominated a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious I am no Christian, except mere infant baptism makes me one; and as to being a Deist, I know not strictly speaking, whether I am one or not."

 

CON 12

No one disputes the faith of our Founding Fathers. To speak of unalienable Rights being endowed by a Creator certainly shows a sensitivity to our spiritual selves. What is surprising is when fundamentalist Christians think the Founding Fathers' faith had anything to do with the Bible. The faith of many of our Founding Fathers was deist, not theist. It was best expressed earlier in the Declaration of Independence, when they spoke of "the Laws of Nature" and of "Nature's God."


Selected quotes from the Ayn Rand Foundation

Thomas Paine

From The Age of Reason, pp. 8-9:
"I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of....Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and of my own part, I disbelieve them all."
 
From The Age of Reason:
"All natural institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit."
 
From The Age of Reason:
"The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion."
 
From The Age of Reason:
"What is it the Bible teaches us? rapine, cruelty, and murder."
 
From The Age of Reason:
"Loving of enemies is another dogma of feigned morality, and has beside no meaning....Those who preach the doctrine of loving their enemies are in general the greatest prosecutors, and they act consistently by so doing; for the doctrine is hypocritical, and it is natural that hypocrisy should act the reverse of what it preaches."
 
From The Age of Reason:
"The Bible was established altogether by the sword, and that in the worst use of it, not to terrify but to extirpate."
 
Additional quote from Thomas Paine:
"It is the duty of every true Deist to vindicate the moral justice of God against the evils of the Bible."
 
 
Thomas Jefferson (the third President of the United States)

Jefferson's interpretation of the first amendment in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association (January 1, 1802):
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, 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."
 
From Jefferson's biography:
...an amendment was proposed by inserting the words, "Jesus Christ...the holy author of our religion," which was rejected. By a great majority in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindoo and the Infidel of every denomination."
 
Jefferson's "The Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom:
"Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than on our opinions in physics and geometry....The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
 
From Thomas Jefferson's Bible:
"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."
 
Jefferson's Notes on Virginia:
"Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments. To make way for these free inquiry must be indulged; how can we wish others to indulge it while we refuse ourselves? But every state, says an inquisitor, has established some religion. No two, say I, have established the same. Is this a proof of the infallibility of establishments?"
 
Additional quotes from Thomas Jefferson:
"It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself."
 
"They [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition of their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the alter of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."
 
"I have examined all the known superstitions of the word, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth.";
 
"In every country and in every age the priest has been hostile to liberty; he is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own."
 
"Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear....Do not be frightened from this inquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it end in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue on the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise and in the love of others which it will procure for you."
 
"Christianity...[has become] the most perverted system that ever shone on man....Rogueries, absurdities and untruths were perpetrated upon the teachings of Jesus by a large band of dupes and importers led by Paul, the first great corrupter of the teaching of Jesus."
 
"...that our civil rights have no dependence on religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics and geometry."
 
 

James Madison (the fourth President of the United States)

Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments:
"Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise....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 laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution."
 
Additional quote from James Madison:
"Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."
 
 
Benjamin Franklin

As Ben Franklin noted in a letter to Ezra Stiles in 1790 (Salisbury, Dorothy Cleaveland. "Religion: As the Leaders of this Nation Reveal It." Daughters of the American Revolution Vol.106 (1972), page 541.) what American Deism is all about:

Here is my creed. I believe in One God, the Creator of the Universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we can 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.

From Franklin's autobiography, p. 66:
"My parents had given me betimes religious impressions, and I received from my infancy a pious education in the principles of Calvinism. But scarcely was I arrived at fifteen years of age, when, after having doubted in turn of different tenets, according as I found them combated in the different books that I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself."
 
From Franklin's autobiography, p. 66:
"...Some books against Deism fell into my hands....It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quote to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations, in short, I soon became a thorough Deist.";
 
 
Ethan Allen

From Religion of the American Enlightenment:
"Denominated a Deist, the reality of which I have never disputed, being conscious that I am no Christian."
  John Adams (the second President of the United States)

Also see John Adams Denounces Voltaire's anti-Semitism


Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli (June 7, 1797). Article 11 states:
"The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."
 
From a letter to Charles Cushing (October 19, 1756):
"Twenty times in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, "this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it."
 
From a letter to Thomas Jefferson:
"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!"
 
Additional quotes from John Adams:
"Where do we find a precept in the Bible for Creeds, Confessions, Doctrines and Oaths, and whole carloads of trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days?"
 
"The Doctrine of the divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity."
 
"...Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind."
 
 

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