AGENDAS: Those Who Deny The Role Of The Judea/Christian Ethic In The Founding Of America

There are people who deny the role that the Judea/Christian faith played in the founding of this nation.  No matter how often you present them with the evidence, they deny it.  If you show them what the founders said about it; what the people in the next generation of our government said about it; even if you show them what the Courts had to say about it, they will reject the evidence and insist that this nation is secular, was founded secular and was always intended to be secular.  Sadly, these people are lost: they do not understand and have even renounced the use of reason.  Still, their assertions must be refuted, and so it is – once again – I find myself doing my part to make the Truth of history known.

I do not want to do more of the talking than necessary.  The founders have already covered this.  So, in this post, I will merely try to serve as a narrator/moderator so that the founders can do the speaking.

We start with the assumption that our founders believed our rights come from God:

“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever.”

–Thomas Jefferson, [Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (Philadelphia: Matthew Carey, 1794), Query XVIII, p. 237.]

Then we go to the founders’ assertion that our rights can only be preserved by maintaining a moral society:

“(T)he foundation of our national policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality; …the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained…” 

–George Washington

The founders also asserted that the only way to secure morality is through religion, and that the Christian religion presents the best, purest moral law known and even likely to be known to man – and that the Revolution was affected because the people embraced the Christian religion:

“Religion, as well as reason, confirms the soundness of those principles on which our government has been founded and its rights asserted.”

–P. H. Wendover

“There are three points of doctrine the belief of which forms the foundation of all morality. The first is the existence of God; the second is the immortality of the human soul; and the third is a future state of rewards and punishments. Suppose it possible for a man to disbelieve either of these three articles of faith and that man will have no conscience, he will have no other law than that of the tiger or the shark. The laws of man may bind him in chains or may put him to death, but they never can make him wise, virtuous, or happy.”

— John Quincy Adams

(Source: John Quincy Adams, Letters of John Quincy Adams to His Son on the Bible and Its Teachings (Auburn: James M. Alden, 1850), pp. 22-23.)

“The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations … This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.”

–John Adams

“Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other. The divine law, as discovered by reason and the moral sense, forms an essential part of both.”

— James Wilson, Signer of the Constitution

” Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure…are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.”

Charles Carroll, signer of the Declaration of Indepedence [Source: To James McHenry on November 4, 1800.]

“As to Jesus of Nazareth … I think the system of Morals and his Religion, as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw or is likely to see;…”

–Benjamin Franklin

“I concur with the author in considering the moral precepts of Jesus as more pure, correct, and sublime than those of ancient philosophers.”

–Thomas Jefferson, (Source: Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Albert Bergh, editor (Washington, D. C.: Thomas Jefferson Memorial Assoc., 1904), Vol. X, pp. 376-377. In a letter to Edward Dowse on April 19, 1803.)

The founders did not believe that religion should be divorced from government.  Instead, they believed good government was dependent upon sound and active religion.  They even said it was in the best interest of government to have this sound and healthy connection to religion, and for the very reason(s) already cited:

“Indeed, the right of a society or government to [participate] in matters of religion will hardly be contested by any persons who believe that piety, religion, and morality are intimately connected with the well being of the state and indispensable to the administrations of civil justice. The promulgation of the great doctrines of religion—the being, and attributes, and providence of one Almighty God; the responsibility to Him for all our actions, founded upon moral accountability; a future state of rewards and punishments; the cultivation of all the personal, social, and benevolent virtues—these never can be a matter of indifference in any well-ordered community. It is, indeed, difficult to conceive how any civilized society can well exist without them.”

–Joseph Story, Supreme Court Justice

(Source: Joseph Story, A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1847), p. 260, §442.)

“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We’ve staked the future of all our political institutions upon our capacity…to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

–James Madison, [1778 to the General Assembly of the State of Virginia]

The founders believed God actively worked through them to help the American Revolution succeed:

“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?”

–Benjamin Franklin

“It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it [the Constitution] a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.”

–James Madison

In fact, the founders saw this nation as being intimately connected to God and the Christian faith:

“From the day of the Declaration…they (the American people) were bound by the laws of God, which they all, and by the laws of The Gospel, which they nearly all, acknowledge as the rules of their conduct.”

–John Quincy Adams

“Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth? That it laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity”?

–John Quincy Adams, [–1837, at the age of 69, when he delivered a Fourth of July speech at Newburyport, Massachusetts.]

“The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.

–John Adams

(Thomas Jefferson, The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Washington D. C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XIII, p. 292-294. In a letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson on June 28, 1813.)

Finally, you have to ask yourself: “Would the men who wrote these words ever conceive of a government that was intentionally divorced from all religious influences?”  If you say yes, then you need to explain this:

“We have this day restored the Sovereign to Whom all men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and from the rising to the setting of the sun, let His kingdom come.”

Samuel Adams

“The highest glory of the American Revolution was this; it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.

John Quincy Adams from July 4, 1821

[NOTE: Before any of you who wish to re-write history start to accuse me of ‘cherry-picking’ my quotes, STOP!  It is you who do that, because you have to.  I have restrained myself in the citations I used.  I could write a book filled with words much to the effect as those I used here – because they exist in abundance!  But those few words that you have twisted to support your assertions that the founders wanted a secular government are just that – few.  You have to look far and wide to find them, and even then, you often have to twist them to make them suit your purpose.  Jefferson’s use of the term ‘separation of Church and State’ is a perfect example.  He was making the same argument I make here, not the one you have bastardized his words to make.  The point is this: posts like this are easy to write – because they are the truth.  It is why there are so many citations I or others can use, all asserting the same sentiments.  The Truth will not be destroyed…but those who seek to twist, change and abolish it will be.]

13 thoughts on “AGENDAS: Those Who Deny The Role Of The Judea/Christian Ethic In The Founding Of America

  1. Stringing together a series of contextless quotations is not history. You realize, I trust, that others string together similar series of quotations by founders, including some in your list, expressing contrary opinions about religion and particularly about the relationship of religion and government.

    Take care, too, in quoting the founders, particularly about religion, as fakes abound, including the notorious “staked” one you attribute to James Madison; it’s fake.

    While the religious views of various founders are subjects of some uncertainty and controversy, it is safe to say that many founders were Christian of one sort or another and held views such as you note regarding religion. In assessing the nature of our government, though, care should be taken to distinguish between society and government and not to make too much of various founders’ individual religious beliefs. Their individual beliefs, while informative, are largely beside the point.

    The critical inquiry is what the founders intended with respect to the relationship of government and religion. Whatever their personal religious beliefs, the founders drafted a Constitution that establishes a secular government and separates it from religion. In the Constitution, the founders did not simply say in so many words that there should be separation of church and state; rather, they actually separated them by them by (1) establishing a secular government on the power of “We the people” (not a deity), (2) according that government limited, enumerated powers, (3) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (4) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (5), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. Given the norms of the day (by which governments generally were grounded in some appeal to god(s)), the founders’ avoidance of any expression in the Constitution suggesting that the government is somehow based on any religious belief was quite a remarkable and plainly intentional choice. They later buttressed this separation of government and religion with the First Amendment, which affirmatively constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions. The basic principle, thus, rests on much more than just the First Amendment.

    The founders’ separation of church and state in the Constitution is entirely consistent with the fact that some founders professed their religiosity and even their desire that Christianity remain the dominant religious influence in American society. Why? Because religious people who would like to see their religion flourish in society may well believe that separating religion and government will serve that end and, thus, in founding a government they may well intend to keep it separate from religion. It is entirely possible for thoroughly religious folk to found a secular government and keep it separate from religion. That, indeed, is just what the founders did.

    It is instructive to recall that the Constitution’s separation of church and state reflected, at the federal level, a “disestablishment” political movement then sweeping the country. That political movement succeeded in disestablishing all state religions by the 1830s. (Side note: A political reaction to that movement gave us the term “antidisestablishmentarianism,” which amused some of us as kids.) It is worth noting, as well, that this disestablishment movement was linked to another movement, the Great Awakening. The people of the time saw separation of church and state as a boon, not a burden, to religion.

    This sentiment was recorded by a famous observer of the American experiment: “On my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention. . . . I questioned the members of all the different sects. . . . I found that they differed upon matters of detail alone, and that they all attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country mainly to the separation of church and state. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America, I did not meet a single individual, of the clergy or the laity, who was not of the same opinion on this point.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835).

    I agree with your overarching thesis that the founders would not establish a government that is inherently at odds with their religious convictions, which were largely Christian in nature. Moreover, given the republican nature of our government, I think it is only natural and expected that the laws enacted by our government–in both the founders’ time and today–largely reflect Christianity’s dominant influence in our society.

    That said, there is no reason to suppose that Christianity or theism is an inherent aspect of our constitutional government. Indeed, any such claim is antithetical to the constitutional principle against government establishment of religion. By founding a secular government and assuring it would remain separate, in some measure at least, from religion, the founders basically established government neutrality in matters of religion, allowing individuals to freely choose and exercise their religions and thus allowing Christianity (and other religions) to flourish or founder as they will. As noted above, it is to be expected that the values and views of the people, shaped in part by their religions, will be reflected in the laws adopted by their government. There is nothing in the Constitution that requires or calls for this; it is simply a natural outgrowth of the people’s expression of political will in a republican government. To the extent that the people’s values and views change over time, it is to be expected that those changes will come to be reflected in the laws adopted by their government. There is nothing in the Constitution to prevent this; indeed, just the opposite–the Constitution establishes a government designed to be responsive to the political will of the people. It is conceivable, therefore, that if Christianity’s influence in our society wanes relative to other influences, that may lead to changes in our laws. Nothing in the Constitution would prevent that–and moreover the establishment clause would preclude Christians from using the government to somehow “lock in” (aka establish) Christianity in an effort to stave off such an eventuality.

    1. The quotes I provide generally include their own context. And the fact that I have so many saying the same thing and you have so very little in your favor is also evidence. The simple fact of the matter here is that I am stating the truth, Doug — you are stating a wish.

    2. Oh, and about the Madison quote. Yes, I know people say it is fake, but it is not so much fake as un-confirmed. THEY ARE NOT THE SAME THING! This quote is attributed to a speech. The text of that speech — as far as I was able to find out — has been lost to history. That is NOT enough to claim he did not say it.

      HOWEVER, Madison has been proven to have said many other things that are very similar in their meaning and context. He said he found the model for the 3 branches of our government in Isaiah. He also said that no HONEST person could look at the American Revolution and NOT see the active hand of God — the God of Abraham. So it is more likely Madison DID say words to this effect than he did not.

    1. Mike,

      Not just me: the founders said it too. They specifically warned us that, if we allow too many among us like Doug, here, we WOULD lose our liberty. Sadly, the truth in their warnings is all around us.

    2. Well, if that is the upshot of his commentary, then perhaps we’ve found common ground. My impression, though, is that Joe thinks not just that, but also that the government should somehow be infused or joined with religion (Christianity) and enlisted in efforts to promote Christianity among the people and maintain Christianity’s influence in society. Joe?

      1. Doug,

        That is because you suffer from a trait common to most people who hold your opinions: you do not listen to what others actually say! You see and hear only what you want.

        I have repeatedly explained what I mean by the founders NOT wanting a secular government, and you have repeatedly ignored me. So, once again. They did not mean to set up a system such as that which had dominated Europe, where the government and CHURCH were intertwined. However, they did not want a government totally devoid of any religious influence. They pointedly said that leads to tyranny. What they wanted, what they said is the ONLY way to maintain a free and self-governing society, is for government to be influenced by the natural, organic influences of a religious people. In other words, our faith would carry on into our service in government so that no laws would be required to keep us from corruption and tyranny because we would already have such controls internalized due to our faith. Furthermore, the founders said that the Christian faith was the one best suited to this purpose.

        Now, hard as it may be for you to do, try to put this in your head and keep it there. This is what I believe the founders intended, and it is mostly because this is what they said they were trying to do.

        But one thing before I leave this discussion. The founders — not me, THE FOUNDERS — had no problem with the federal government spending money to further the Christian religion. In fact, Jefferson was among the first to authorize such expenditures. You see, whether the founders differed was not so much over the Christian faith, but what they called sects and we call denominations. They embraced Christianity and said they would have had no part of a government that was devoid of its influence. They just didn’t want any 1 denomination established as the official religion of the nation. Again, THEIR WORDS — not mine. But then, why should what the founders have to say about what they believed and why matter any more than what I say about what I believe when we have those such as you to tell us what we think and believe and what we shouldn’t based on your personal desires?

  2. Joe,

    I merely responded to Mike’s suggestion that you meant merely to say as go the people so goes the government. As I suspected, you aim for more than that.

    Excuse me if I’m having trouble getting your views straight, but you seem to waffle somewhat. While arguing that the founders “did not mean to set up a system such as that which had dominated Europe, where the government and CHURCH were intertwined,” you nonetheless seem to want it both ways, maintaining that “[t]he founders — not me, THE FOUNDERS — had no problem with the federal government spending money to further the Christian religion.” You exclude Madison, I gather, since he certainly had a problem with the government spending money for that purpose. He objected, as you may recall, to Virginia proposing a three cent tax to support the clergy. During his presidency, Madison also vetoed two bills on the ground that they were contrary to the establishment clause. While some in Congress expressed surprise that the Constitution prohibited Congress from incorporating a church in the town of Alexandria in the District of Columbia or granting land to a church in the Mississippi Territory, Congress upheld both vetoes. He pocket vetoed a third bill that would have exempted from import duties plates to print Bibles. With respect to Jefferson, I gather that you allude to the treaty with the Kaskaskia tribe. Jefferson signed over forty treaties with various Indian nations. Only the one with the Kaskaskia said anything about religion; in it, the U.S. traded various items, including $300 to help the tribe (whose members were largely Catholic) erect a church and $100 per year for seven years to support a priest, in exchange for nearly 9 million acres of land. That’s it. You see the difference, I trust, between entering into a treaty with a sovereign nation providing what it asks in trade and, well, any other government action, e.g., passing a law, with the aim of promoting religion.

    The notion that the First Amendment should only prevent government from supporting one Christian sect over another does not square with the amendment’s language or evidence of the founders’ intent. First, note no mention in the text of “Christianity” or “sect” or anything of the sort. That should ring a bell with the show-me-the-words-separation-of-church-and-state crowd. Second, note that the word “religion” is uttered once–setting the scope of both the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. If the text is read so that the term “religion” means only a “national Christian sect” or the like (thus limiting the scope of the establishment clause as you suppose), violence is done to the free expression clause, which then would merely constrain Congress from making a law prohibiting the free exercise “thereof”–i.e., a national Christian sect–and leave it free to interfere with the exercise of any and all other religious beliefs. Silly.
    While the founders were, no doubt, confronted with the need to address competition and conflict between a variety of sects (largely but not exclusively Christian) and some (but hardly all) founders were motivated by that perceived need to support separation of church and state, it is a non sequitur to suppose therefore that they intended merely to stop the government from favoring one “sect” (however defined), but leave it free to favor some (also undefined) grouping of sects (e.g., “generic” Christianity or perhaps monotheism, or theism, or deism, or some such).

    Any such interpretation, moreover, would raise so many problems that I tire at the thought of listing them. For instance, where and how would one distinguish sects or groups of sects? Christianity comprises dozens or even hundreds of sects depending on how one draws the lines. And why stop with Christianity since there are other monotheistic religions? Would it be okay for the government to support Islam as long as it refrained from choosing the Sunni or Shiite sect? And even if one wished to stop with Christianity, how does one draw the line around that? For instance, some question whether Mormonism is a “Christian” sect.

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