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U.S. Founded on Christianity?

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Since encountering Objectivism, I developed a deep interest in the personal philosophies and lives of our Founding Fathers. I have started a collection of such works as The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, The Federalist Papers, Notes on Virginia by Thomas Jefferson, etc.

What has really suprised me is that many of these men were not Christians. Since I can remember, I have heard that old bromide, "This nation was founded on Christianity, by golly!"

I can't figure out where this myth originated. The Founding Fathers were quite clear as to their position on Religion. John Adams even said in the Treaty of Tripoli that "this nation is in no sense founded on the Christian religion."

So why am I still encountering people who say that it was founded on Christianity? :pimp:

When I ask them why they think this I rarely get anything coherent. Anyone else still running into this? :D

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So why am I still encountering people who say that it was founded on Christianity? :pimp:

Because they want it to be true, and they're not going to let a few pesky facts get in the way of their whims!

When I ask them why they think this I rarely get anything coherent.  Anyone else still running into this? :D

Oh yeah. Nearly everyone in this whole state (Utah) is suffering under that delusion. And nationally, President Bush isn't helping matters.

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President Bush isn't helping matters.

Ash,

When you said this I was reminded of Bush's "Faith Based Initiative" to provide federal funds to religious charities. I have not had the chance to find out more about this. Was it even questioned by the Supreme Court?

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES, ARTICLE 1.

Providing federal funds to religious organizations is clearly an "establishment of religion." :D

So what do we do now? :pimp:

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What is it about reading Ayn Rand and becoming interested in the Founding Fathers? I did the very same thing recently.

Anyway, it seems fundamentally dishonest to say that the Founding Fathers weren't really Christians and didn't at least have it in mind when they drafted the documents that founded this country. Matter of fact, I can hardly imagine that anyone giving the majority of the documents even a cursory reading would question it at all.

For every one of those quotes (and the same few always make the rounds) about them not being Christians, there are scores upon scores of quotes going in the other direction and anyone who has looked into it knows this very well.

I think a better and only honest approach would be to admit that they were indeed overwhelmingly Christian, but that they were enlightened enough to have seen the value of allowing Reason to trump Christianity. That the documents they drafted, while tipping it's hat to Christianity, led logically to a seperation of government and the church.

As an athiest, that's what I can concede as a positive of Christianity in it's current form as opposed to, say, Islam: it can seperate the government as essentially secular, while maintaining the religious as private.

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Anyway, it seems fundamentally dishonest to say that the Founding Fathers weren't really Christians and didn't at least have it in mind when they drafted the documents that founded this country.  Matter of fact, I can hardly imagine that anyone giving the majority of the documents even a cursory reading would question it at all.

There is a difference between Deism and Christianity. Most of the Founding documents sound distinctly Deist.

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It would be safe to say that the Founding Father's were, for instance, not Muslims. To say that they weren't really Christians though is I think to try and twist the truth into what we would like for it to be.

"Evil people are out to destroy themselves. Why not help them?"

I like that quote, by the way.

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As an athiest, that's what I can concede as a positive of Christianity in it's current form as opposed to, say, Islam: it can seperate the government as essentially secular, while maintaining the religious as private.

Hunter,

The reason why our government at the foundation of this country was very secular was because of the fact that most of the Founding Fathers were Deists. Yes, there are many mentions of the Creator, etc., in founding documents, but the basic views of most of the Founding Fathers were very different than those of Christianity.

First of all, Deists believe that God created the universe and has since done nothing to interfere with it. God, for Deists, is not all-good, all-powerful, or all-benevolent and does not act in our own lives.

Also, I would contend that many Christians today are CLEARLY attempting to blur the line between religion and state if not down right trying to destroy it!

Another point that I would like to bring up is the distinction between liberalism and fundamentalism. In this context I am referring to liberals as those who believe that morality can be accessed independently of any authority (through the use of reason in most cases) and fundamentalists as those who believe that only a particular authority can arrive at morality (and consequently, knowledge as well in most cases).

It seems clear to me that the Founding Fathers of our country were profoundly liberal and therefore did not attempt to create any sort of theocracy. I see this belief to be very different from most modern Christians, as well as most Christians of the past as well as can be seen through their attempts to influence government policy in their favor.

Finally, I agree with AshRyan about why you are finding Christians who claim that Christianity is at the core of the foundation for America. He is absolutely right when he says that they wish for facts to be otherwise and are using the Deists' language about God in the attempt to manipulate facts.

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RationalEgoist,

I agree completely with the bulk of what you said, for instance:

"Also, I would contend that many Christians today are CLEARLY attempting to blur the line between religion and state if not down right trying to destroy it! "

No doubt about that. I don't think that the majority of them are...I guess I would say "actively pursuing" blurring that line, like the majority of Muslims. If it were up for a vote, I have no doubt that the majority of people, being Christians, would probably blur it to a degree although I'm not sure how far they would be willing to go with it.

I think most people in this country are passively Christian. They'll say they believe, but show no real interest in either reading the Bible or following what they've been told it means. I couldn't be happier about that.

As to the Founding Fathers and the term "Deist" vs. "Christian", which of those two do you think they would have used to describe themselves?

I can't imagine John Adams claiming to be a Deist rather than a Christian.

I think you're exactly right in saying they were profoundly liberal...but profoundly liberal Christians.

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It would be safe to say that the Founding Father's were, for instance, not Muslims.  To say that they weren't really Christians though is I think to try and twist the truth into what we would like for it to be.

Please follow the link provided by GreedyCapitalist and see for yourself! Six Founding Fathers--John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine, and Ethan Allen--are quoted there to have expressed some explicitly un-Christian ideas.

See also: George Washington and Religion

Some more quotes from Jefferson:

"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."

"I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, 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 the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth."

Jefferson is also known to have characterized the Bible as a "dungheap."

This is what Thomas Paine had to say about the Bible:

"I would not dare to so dishonor my Creator God by attaching His name to that book"

Also from Paine:

"Accustom a people to believe that priests and clergy can forgive sins...and you will have sins in abundance."

From Madison:

"What influence in fact have Christian ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In many instances they have been upholding the thrones of political tyranny. In no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty have found in the clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, does not need the clergy."

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I can't imagine John Adams claiming to be a Deist rather than a Christian.

LOL Hunter, you might better follow the link provided and read the quotes lest you make yourself an object of ridicule!

Here's another link for John Adams quotes--tell me if they sound Christian enough for you: http://www.positiveatheism.org/hist/quotes/adams.htm :angry:

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I guess I've gotten off to a bad start, huh? As to being the object of ridicule, I couldn't care less....and it would be pointless to post the quotes I have of John Adams referring directly to the Christian religion or to point you to the sites that show it because you'll turn right back around with another link of your own.

Bottom line is that it's likely I agree with what most everyone in this group thinks about religion and it's place in society. It's just that I've seen this little power-tug being acted out with the Founding Fathers so many times that it's really a laughably exhausted subject. How someone could have even a limited knowledge of Western history and think the Founding Fathers weren't by a vast majority Christian is beyond me, but so be it. It doesn't make this a "Christian nation", only a nation founded overwhelmingly by Christians. The seperation being clear in the Bill of Rights, it seems an overrated subject.

I really came into this group to ask some questions about Objectivism, so I'm not likely to post anything else on this topic. I probably should have gotten the questions answered before I pissed everyone off, huh? That's what I get for coming directly to the Politics forum.

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These lists seem to be missing one of the most damning quotes on Christianity from a founder:

"Of all the systems of religion that were ever invented, there is none more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory in itself, than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid, or produces only atheists and fanatics. As an engine of power it serves the purpose of despotism; and as a means of wealth, the avarice of priests; but so far as it respects the good of man in general, it leads to nothing here or hereafter."

This is from the conclusion to Paine's _The Age of Reason_, which is an all out polemic against Christianity. In private correspondence Jefferson was supportive of Paine's book. (Franklin was not, but largely for pragmatic reasons.)

What is interesting about _The Age of Reason_ isn't just its Deist content, it is its style and tone. The book makes no apologies for tearing apart and ridiculing *every* aspect of the Bible, from the consistency inconsistency and implausibility of the stories, to their unoriginality, immorality, and poor narrative structure, to the intelligence of the authors who he describes as fools, incompetents, etc. This is not a polite Critique from someone inching away from Christianity. It is an all out assault by a life-long enemy who sees the doctrine as wicked and ridiculous. That such a book could have been published, and widely read (and that at least one president seems to have agreed with its content) says a great deal about whether America's intellectuals were Christian at the time.

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I guess I've gotten off to a bad start, huh?  As to being the object of ridicule, I couldn't care less

Hey, I wasn't implying that you were already "an object of ridicule," I just saw that you hadn't followed the link and I thought I would warn you because the quotes in the link reveal that John Adams was very much a Deist rather than a Christian, so readers of your post might find it rather amusing that you pick exactly him as an example of a Founder whom you couldn't imagine claiming to be a Deist rather than a Christian.

it would be pointless to post the quotes I have of John Adams referring directly to the Christian religion or to point you to the sites that show it
If you have such evidence, then by all means share it with us! We are interested in knowing the truth, for which purpose one has to examine all the relevant evidence.

because you'll turn right back around with another link of your own.

That is not the Objectivist style. If you offer evidence that seems to contradict our evidence, we will not respond by ignoring it and trying to overwhelm you with material that supports our side of the argument; rather, we will examine your evidence in order to try and resolve the contradiction. As I said, we are interested in finding out the truth, not in winning arguments by overwhelming our opponents.

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According to Bradley Thompson's "John Adams and the Spirit of Liberty" and to the evidence presented there, Adams, though very influenced by Deism, was never a Deist. He was a sort of minimalist Christian who was very critical of Christianity as traditionally practiced. Nothing in the quotes linked to earlier is inconsistent with this.

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From my readings on the topic, I don't think it's correct to lump the founders in as being either predominantly Deist or predominantly Christian in any real sense. Some leaned farther in one direction or the other, but the best of the intelligentsia involved in the founding at that time were critical Christians. In other words, they took Christianity as their starting point (chronologically: they were born into it), but they only accepted it insofar as it could be rationally defended. Certainly they weren't Christian in the way that modern fundamentalist evangelists are; nor were most of them serious Deists. Jefferson, Paine, and Allen were probably the most critical of Christianity of the bunch (to my knowledge, anyway). But they were exceptions to the rule, and it'd be an error to generalize from them alone.

For the most part, their personal religious beliefs are irrelevant. The relevant issue is that the vast majority of them did not consider appeals to faith to be a reasonable form of argument or, by itself, a means of acquiring knowledge. (What role, if any, they did give to faith, I have no idea.) If the US had been a nation "founded on Christianity", one would expect that Christianity would have been viewed as a necessary condition for supporting it -- in other words, a nation founded on a particular religious belief is not one which athiests or believers in other religions could enthusiastically condone. But there's nothing -- not one thing -- in any founding document which is specifically Christian. I think it would be ignorant to say that the founders weren't influenced by Christianity. Many of them were; but they were well-read people who were influenced by many different things. This influence is not nearly enough to make a Christian nation out of the US.

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I agree with matt, Christian "influence" is certainly not enough to call this a Christian nation.

This nation was founded on a single principle. Man's "unalienable right" to exist for his own sake.

Not a single verse of the Bible defines the concept of RIGHTS. And it certainly doesn't hint at anyone being a "rational animal" (Franklin's words) capable of using his own judgment to persue his own best interest. ;)

I think Thomas Paine defines best the main influence of the Founding Fathers.

"The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall."--Thomas Paine

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Very good discussion ... I'm new to this listing, though I've benn reading Rand's works diligently for several years now trying to sort 'things' out in this screwy world.

Another statement poised often, which I'd like to hear some replies from you seemingly intelligent and knowledgable folks: the assertion that

"this nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values [or ethics]" i.e., as symbolized by the Ten Commandements of the Bible's Old Testament.

This is a different statement from a foundation 'based on Christianity'.

Was this nation founded, in whole or in part, on "Judeo-Christian" values [ethics] ??

What "Ethics" were incorporated in its 'founding' ??

Where did they come from ? ... did our Founding Fathers lay the base work for Objectivism ... or did they select rational ethics [for their time and understanding] from the history [and religions] that preceded them ??

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"this nation was founded on Judeo-Christian values [or ethics]" i.e., as symbolized by the Ten Commandements of the Bible's Old Testament.

;)

This article best handles this one.

The Ten Commandments vs. America

did our Founding Fathers lay the base work for Objectivism

;)

I would not say that they laid the base work for Objectivism, but I would definitly say that had they not discovered man's relationship to REASON, and the only system which allows reason to flourish, Objectivism would not have been discovered. I believe, though I can't quote, Rand mentioned that she could not have discovered her philosophy if the Industrial Revolution had not occured, which was a by-product of man's ability to act according to his own judgment. (I could not imagine how an Industrial Revolution even could occur under any type of "Christian" gov't, considering the Dark Ages.)

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Was this nation founded, in whole or in part, on "Judeo-Christian" values [ethics]??

NEITHER. I can not find a single attribute of the "Judeo-Christian" ethical system which supports the idea of RIGHTS, i.e the right of man to exist for his own sake.

Many of the Founding Fathers were deists, to varing degrees, which I gather from my own reading of their writings to mean basically, "God exists, but you should try to work your own problems out as best you can, by THINKING." (My paraphrasing)

Holding this as a basic premise, they then formulated a system which allowed men to do just that. ;)

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I don't think the 10 Commandments are a horribly bad set of 'social standards'. Some of them qualify as ethical values, some obviously not. Given the primitiveness of our history, and esp. the lack of rapid communication through the millenia, I'd rather see a society based on some consistent set of ethics, even if not ideal, than based on the lack-of-ethics which is the platform of today's moral relativists. I'd rather know for certain what a man believes in, and that he is sincere about that belief --- even if it makes him my enemy --- than to wonder what whim will be the basis for his actions tomorrow as opposed to today.

That said, don't mistakenly believe I am sanctioning them as a standard to be continued. I read Harry Bingswanger's column [as referenced in a posting above]. I agree predominantly with it ...

He writes in part: "The second set of commandments is unobjectionable but is common to virtually every organized society—the commandments against murder, theft, perjury and the like. But what is objectionable is the notion that there is no rational, earthly basis for refraining from criminal behavior, that it is only the not-to-be-questioned decree of a supernatural Punisher that makes acts like theft and murder wrong."

Obviously, the prohibitions against murder, theft, and perjury align with the ethics derived rationally under Objectivism prohibiting initiation of violence, theft, and fraud. Mr. Bingswanger emphasizes throughout the article that the objectionable nature of the 'valid' commandments lies in their coming from "the not-to-be-questioned decree of a supernatural Punisher that makes acts like theft and murder wrong." Folklore may say they come from a divine source, but being a rational person [i try anyway], I know that those words didn't come from some supernatural power, but were written by the hand of man some long time ago. It is not inconceivable that such a man .. or men ... sat and thought and contemplated existence just as we, and decided for themselves, based on rational thought, that it is 'not good' to murder, steal, and lie. I can accept these particular commandments without giving any consideration to a supernatural being. The 'packaging' was a consequence of their time and place in history --- along with a choice on their part to temporarily suspend rational thought to sell the valid ethics as coming from a greater power than man [after all, if man can't enforce laws, who will respect man as an authority competent to make laws ? ].

Other 'commandments' do present problems, and Mr. Bingswanger handles those concerns fairly well.

Regarding the 1st, though: "I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt have no other gods before me"

I have no problem with a simple re-write of it: "There is but one Truth, thou shalt have no other truths before it".

Anyway, when someone vocally, often vehemently, rejects all '10 Commandments' because of their prior association with religion, with no regard for the rational portions that lie within, I have to question the rationality of their position. If in the end of rational thought, they arrive back at prohibitions against violence, theft, and fraud, then their action of discounting 'all' of them was irrational. If they do end up with rational ethics in the end, then I am glad .. and hopeful they will consistently follow those ethics.

A point not to be missed here, though -- moral relativists will attack all of the 'commandments', including the sound ethics embodied in a few. They want no ethical/moral standards to remain in law. The only people who stand up to them are the religious fundamanetalists --- seems as though too many other people are afraid to stand up for even the portion of sound ethics contained within due to the appearance of impropriety that may be associated by 'allying' with religion. I have no qualms about saying "Hey, prohibitions against violence, theft, and fraud are sound, rational ethical values which I support .. but I don't accept the irrational portions associated with superstition." The men who understood those same values thousands of years ago came to a rational conclusion, based certainly on their own experiences with cause and effect in their lives. That they packaged them among a few other less-than-rational statements associated with their supernatural beliefs [understandable given their primitive nature] is excusable, IMHO. The present is now --- we have learned --- it is up to us to take what is good and rational from history, and discard what is bad and irrational ... and move on.

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kgvl,

I don't think the 10 Commandments are a horribly bad set of 'social standards'. Some of them qualify as ethical values, some obviously not.

I agree that some qualify as ethical values. My point is that the 10 Commandments could not be the starting point for a Government which respects rights. The Founding Fathers were aware of the content of the 10 Commandments, but being men of reason, I can not imagine Ben Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, and others answering the question, "Is murder wrong" by saying, "Yes, ;) because it's in the ten commandments."

I can't quote them offhand on that one. I would definatly like to look into their comments on murder, theft, etc. to find their rational justification of why its wrong, and I have a hunch from what I have read by them, that I would be pleased with such an inquiry.

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yes ... reading the words of the men who made those decisions would be, by far, the best source for undrstanding the thought processes that led them to those conclusions. If you locate such sources, please post them

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In my anthology of writings from Benjamin Franklin, there is a section in which he is discussing a case in which parents of a child were responsible for her death, in fact, Franklin believed they should be tried for murder. When these individuals were only given the sentence of manslaughter, he wrote:

"...they had not only acted contrary to the particular Laws of all Nations, but had even broken the Universal Law of Nature; since there are no Creatures known, how savage, wild, and fierce soever, that have not implanted in them a natural Love and Care of their tender Offspring, and that will not even hazard Life in its Protection and Defense."

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