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Christianity and 
Our Founding Fathers

The Separation of Church and State
Page One          Page Two          Page Three          Page Four 

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The Founding Fathers 

Were not Pious Christians **1

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They Weren't Atheists Either 

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"The early presidents and patriots were generally Deists or Unitarians, believing in some form of impersonal Providence but rejecting the divinity of Jesus and the absurdities of the Old and New testaments." **1

"Leaders of the Christian ultra- right are trying to rewrite the history of the United States as part of their campaign to force their religion onto others..   They attempt to depict the founding fathers as pious Christians who wanted the United States to be a Christian nation, with laws that favored Christians and Christianity."

"They argue that those who framed the Constitution endorsed present-day fundamentalist Christian values .   This is patently untrue.   There is no  evidence to support such a claim.   In fact, as you can see by the supporting documentation offered below, the evidence points very strongly in a very different direction."

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Thomas Paine was a pamphleteer whose manifestos encouraged the faltering spirits of the country and aided materially in winning the war of Independence.   This freethinker and author of several books, influenced more early Americans than any other writer.   He held Deist beliefs.   He wrote in his famous The Age of Reason: 

  "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."

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"Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity."

From: The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, pp. 8,9 (Republished 1984, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY)

Deist: "A deist is one who believes in the existence of a God or supreme being but rejects the beliefs and doctrines put fourth by the "revealed" religions."   A more complete definition of Deism.

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George Washington, the first president of the United States, never declared himself a Christian according to contemporary reports or in any of his voluminous correspondence.   Washington Championed the cause of freedom from religious intolerance and compulsion.   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., pp. 16, 87, 88, 108, 113, 121, 127 (1963, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, TX)

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John Adams, the country's second president, was drawn to the study of law but faced pressure from his father to become a clergyman.   He wrote that he found among the lawyers "noble and gallant achievements," but among the clergy, the "pretended sanctity of some absolute dunces."   Late in life he wrote: "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!"

It was during Adam's administration that the Senate ratified the " Treaty of Peace and Friendship,"**  which states in Article XI that "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."

** (This treaty is also know as "The Treaty of Tripoli,") See Additional details below:   Treaty of Peace and Friendship.

From: The Character of John Adams by Peter Shaw, pp. 17 (1976, North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC) Quoting a letter by JA to Charles Cushing Oct 19, 1756, and John Adams, A Biography in his Own Words, edited by James Peabody, p. 403 (1973, Newsweek, New York NY) Quoting letter by JA to Jefferson April 19, 1817, and in reference to the treaty, Thomas Jefferson, Passionate Pilgrim by Alf Mapp Jr., pp. 311 (1991, Madison Books, Lanham, MD) quoting letter by TJ to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, June, 1814.

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Thomas Jefferson, third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, said: "I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian."   He referred to the Revelation of St. John as "the ravings of a maniac" and wrote:  "The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ levelled to every understanding and too plain to need explanation, saw, in the mysticisms of Plato, materials with which they might build up an artificial system which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power, and pre-eminence.   The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them: and for this obvious reason that nonsense can never be explained." 

From:  Thomas Jefferson, an Intimate History by Fawn M. Brodie, p. 453 (1974, W.W) Norton and Co. Inc. New York, NY) Quoting a letter by TJ to Alexander Smyth Jan 17, 1825, and Thomas Jefferson, Passionate Pilgrim by Alf Mapp Jr., pp. 246 (1991, Madison Books, Lanham, MD) quoting letter by TJ to John Adams, July 5, 1814.

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"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."

From: Thomas Jefferson (letter to J. Adams April 11,1823)

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Thomas Jefferson's comment on the First Amendment to the Constitution:

"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: Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in January 1, 1802:

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James Madison, fourth president and father of the Constitution, was not religious in any conventional sense. 

  "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 the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution." 

From: The Madisons by Virginia Moore, P. 43 (1979, McGraw-Hill Co. New York, NY) quoting a letter by JM to William Bradford April 1, 1774, and James Madison, A Biography in his Own Words, edited by Joseph Gardner, p. 93, (1974, Newsweek, New York, NY) Quoting Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments by JM, June 1785.

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Every new and successful example, therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.

From: A letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822

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Ethan Allen, whose capture of Fort Ticonderoga while commanding the Green Mountain Boys helped inspire Congress and the country to pursue the War of Independence, said, "That Jesus Christ was not God is evidence from his own words."   In the same book, Allen noted that he was generally "denominated a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious that I am no Christian."   When Allen married Fanny Buchanan, he stopped his own wedding ceremony when the judge asked him if he promised "to live with Fanny Buchanan agreeable to the laws of God."  Allen refused to answer until the judge agreed that the God referred to was the God of Nature, and the laws those "written in the great book of nature."

From: Religion of the American Enlightenment by G. Adolph Koch, p. 40 (1968, Thomas Crowell Co., New York, NY.) quoting preface and p. 352 of Reason, the Only Oracle of Man and A Sense of History compiled by American Heritage Press Inc., p. 103 (1985, American Heritage Press, Inc., New York, NY.)

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Benjamin Franklin, delegate to the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, said: "As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion...has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his Divinity; tho' it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the Truth with less trouble."   He died a month later, and historians consider him, like so many great Americans of his time, to be a Deist, not a Christian.

From:  Benjamin Franklin, A Biography in his Own Words, edited by Thomas Fleming, p. 404, (1972, Newsweek, New York, NY) quoting letter by BF to Exra Stiles March 9, 1790.

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The "Treaty of Peace and Friendship," also know as "The Treaty of Tripoli," passed by the U.S. Senate in 1797, read in part: "The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."   The treaty was written during the Washington administration, and sent to the Senate during the Adams administration.   It was read aloud to the Senate, and each Senator received a printed copy.   This was the 339th time that a recorded vote was required by the Senate, but only the third time a vote was unanimous (the next time was to honor George Washington).   There is no record of any debate or dissension on the Treaty.   It was reprinted in full in three newspapers - two in Philadelphia, one in New York City.   There is no record of public outcry or complaint in subsequent editions of the papers.

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     Added Evidence:

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"One of the embarrassing problems for the early nineteenth-century champions of the Christian faith was that not one of the first six Presidents of the United States was an orthodox Christian."

The Encyclopedia Brittanica, 1968 Edition, p. 420

 

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 The words "In God We Trust" were not consistently on all U.S. currency until 1956, during the McCarthy Hysteria.

 

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The original "Pledge of Allegiance" was written in 1892 and read as follows: 
              
  "I pledge allegiance to my Flag 
                 and [to] the Republic for which it stands, 
                 one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."  

In 1954, Congress added the words, "under God," to the Pledge.   With this addition, the Pledge became more than a patriotic oath, it also became a public prayer and, thereby,  further distorted our Founding Fathers' intention to separate church and state.

 

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If one's intent is to keep government from interfering with religious affairs, does it not also make sense that the reverse should also be true, that (organized)  religion should, be kept from interfering in government affairs?

 

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The Constitution of these United States was ratified in 1788* without a single reference to "God," beyond the functional use of "in the year of our lord" (a common expression not necessarily indicative of reverence).   Nowhere in this august document can be found a single mention of Christianity, God, Jesus, or any Supreme Being in the context of governance or worship.   There occurs only two references to religion (other than noted above) and they both use exclusionary wording.   The 1st Amendment's says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." and in Article VI, Section 3, "...no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

 

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The relationship between Universal Spiritual values and our Founding  Fathers is explained in detail on our web  page titled :   Our Founding Fathers and Religious Freedom..

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.Golden Rule.          .Golden Rule.           ...

     The Source of Christian Values 

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The basic, core, Christian values (such as don't murder or don't steal) are not the exclusive property of Christianity.   Christians didn't invent them.   They are universal values which, because of their universal nature and their wide spread appeal, were simply incorporated into Christianity.   A good example of this is the Golden Rule.   Here's what the evidence tells us about the origin of the Christian Bible's golden rule: **2

Do not to your neighbor what you would take ill from him. -- Pittacus, 650 BCE

Do not unto another that you would not have him do unto you. Thou needest this law alone. It is the foundation of all the rest. -- Confucius, 500 BCE

Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing. -- Thales, 464 BCE

What you wish your neighbors to be to you, be also to them. -- Sextus (Pythagorean), 406 BCE

We should conduct ourselves toward others as we would have them act toward us. -- Aristotle, 384 BCE

Cherish reciprocal benevolence, which will make you as anxious for another's welfare as your own. -- Aristippus of Cyrene, 365 BCE

Act toward others as you desire them to act toward you. -- Isocrates, 338 BCE

This is the sum of duty: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you. -- Hinduism, 300 BCE

What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow men. That is the entire Law; all the rest is commentary. -- Rabbi Hillel, 50 BCE

Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets. -- Jesus of Nazareth, circa 30 CE

**2   Source of Quotations:  http://www.heresyhouse.com.

http://www.heresyhouse.com/quiz/spoiler15.html.

The list of quotations was  compiled by Sandy Feroe, Editor, the Atheist Outreach newsletter, #5, Fall 1999

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The Four Web Pages of this Document:

1)    Separation of Church and State    81-cs

2)    Our Founding Fathers and Religious Freedom    82-s

3)    Christianity and Our Founding Fathers    83-cs

4)    Virginia statute for Religious Freedom    84-cs

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For interesting information on a variety of topics,
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