Well, I’ve gone and done it now.
The very title of this article is more blasphemous than dancing naked under a full moon with a snake. Or voting democrat. Or both.
It’s one of the core tenets of right-wing Christianity that the United States was founded by Godly Christian Men, with laws solidly based upon the Bible. That the very foundation of this great nation is one of Christianity.
Unfortunately, it’s a lie.
The Founding Fathers
First off, the “Founding Fathers” weren’t monolithic. They were individuals, with a wide range of opinions, and they disagreed quite a lot. Right Wing Christians love to quote any Founder who ever uttered a Christian-sounding sentence. But no matter how devout some of them may have been, the fact is they knew they’d formed a country that was not.
“The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
“The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. … But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding….”
The fact of the matter is, we are not now, nor have we ever been, a Christian nation. Our founding fathers explicitly and clearly excluded any reference to “God” or “the Almighty” or any euphemism for a higher power in the Constitution. Not one time is the word “god” mentioned in our founding document. Not one time.
Were some of the founding fathers devout Christians? Sure. I’m a Pagan. But that doesn’t mean the company I have helped to build is a Pagan company. It’s not any kind of company – it has no religion at all. Kinda like the US is supposed to be.
The Declaration of Independence
The Christian Right loves to quote the Declaration because the Declaration actually mentions God. Thomas Jefferson – who famously held deist beliefs – wrote the majority of the Declaration. The Declaration describes “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God.” This wording agrees with deist philosophy. In other words, Jefferson wasn’t referring to the personal God of Christianity (which he clearly didn’t believe in as evidenced by his quote above) but to the Deist idea of a god who created the universe, then left it alone to run according to the laws of nature.
Note that the power of government is derived not from any god but from the people. No appeal is made in this document to a god for authority of any kind. In no case are any powers given to religion in the affairs of man.
The Treaty of Tripoli
When the United States was founded, few countries had ever existed that were completely divorced from religion of any kind. So as the fledgling nation began to wade into world affairs, it was necessary to actually spell this out. Specifically, in November of 1796 (during George Washington’s Presidency) a treaty was drafted with the nation of Tripoli on the Barbary Coast.
Because Tripoli WAS a nation founded on a religion – Islam – the US felt it had to be crystal clear about how we felt regarding the relationship. And guess what was negotiated under Washington, ratified by Congress and signed by John Adams in 1797? Article 11 of the treaty states:
“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.” (Emphasis mine).
This one is pretty clear. Not only does the Constitution never use the word “god” or “Christianity,” the First Amendment plainly states:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
In fact, the secular foundation of our nation was so clear to past generations that in the mid-1800s several groups formed to rectify what they considered a mistake of our forefathers in founding our country on principles of reason rather than faith. Perhaps the most prominent was the National Reform Association, established in 1863 for the purpose of amending the preamble to the Constitution to acknowledge God and Jesus Christ as the sources of all government power, because the original document does not.
The NRA (1800’s version – all about God and not Guns) was just as batshit crazy as modern fundamentalists can be. They believed that the Civil War was the judgement of God for
slavery and near-genocide of Native Americans neglecting to give Props to God in the Constitution. (No doubt Pat Robertson is a direct descendant). In 1864 they insisted on a preamble that would replace “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…” with “Recognizing Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, and acknowledging the Lord Jesus Christ as the governor among the nations, his revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government….”
Fortunately Abraham Lincoln laughed them out of his office. Unfortunately, Congress decided to pander to them and put “In God We Trust” on some of our currency. Which brings us to:
Under God/ In God We Trust
As Sarah Palin famously said defending the “under God” clause: “If the pledge was good enough for the founding fathers, its [sic] good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.”
But the pledge wasn’t even written until 1892 (maybe the Founders were psychic, and approved of the Pledge 100 years before it was written). At that time it read, “One nation, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” It wasn’t until 1954 after a prominent Presbyterian minister challenged Congress in a sermon to do so that the words were changed to “one nation, under God…”
1954. Pretty sure all the Founders were dead by then.
Back to currency. “In God We Trust” was first added to some coinage in 1861. It appeared off and on until after the turn of the 20th century when it finally became permanent. So both of these phrases are 20th Century additions that cannot be used as evidence of our Foundations in any way shape or form.
So yeah… The United States of America was NOT founded as a Christian nation. Sorry Right Wingers. Maybe you’ll win the next time.