Thomas Jefferson believed that a coolly rational form of religion would take root in America. Was he ever wrong.
January 10, 2012
To hear the Religious Right tell it, men like George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were 18th-century versions of Jerry Falwell in powdered wigs and stockings. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Unlike many of today’s candidates, the founders didn’t find it necessary to constantly wear religion on their sleeves. They considered faith a private affair. Contrast them to former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (who says he wouldn’t vote for an atheist for president because non-believers lack the proper moral grounding to guide the American ship of state), Texas Gov. Rick Perry (who hosted a prayer rally and issued an infamous ad accusing President Barack Obama of waging a “war on religion”) and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum (whose uber-Catholicism leads him to oppose not just abortion but birth control).
There was a time when Americans voted for candidates who were skeptical of core concepts of Christianity like the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus and the virgin birth. The question is, could any of them get elected today? The sad answer is probably not.
Here are five founding fathers whose views on religion would most likely doom them to defeat today:
1. George Washington. The father of our country was nominally an Anglican but seemed more at home with Deism. The language of the Deists sounds odd to today’s ears because it’s a theological system of thought that has fallen out of favor. Desists believed in God but didn’t necessarily see him as active in human affairs. The god of the Deists was a god of first cause. He set things in motion and then stepped back.
Washington often employed Deistic terms. His god was a “supreme architect” of the universe. Washington saw religion as necessary for good moral behavior but didn’t necessarily accept all Christian dogma. He seemed to have a special gripe against communion and would usually leave services before it was offered.
Washington was widely tolerant of other beliefs. He is the author of one of the great classics of religious liberty – the letter to Touro Synagogue (1790). In this letter, Washington assured America’s Jews that they would enjoy complete religious liberty in America; not mere toleration in an officially “Christian” nation. He outlines a vision of a multi-faith society where all are free.
“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation,” wrote Washington. “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.”
Stories of Washington’s deep religiosity, such as tales of him praying in the snow at Valley Forge, can be ignored. They are pious legends invented after his death.
Alternet for the rest.
It is always worthwhile to keep bringing these well known facts up, because too many ignore them, or intentionally obscure them, in their zeal to manipulate many Americans (already primed by ultra-conservative religious beliefs) into believing that this crazy level of piousness, this religious bigotry, this race to see who kisses god's ass more spasmodically, is was the norm at the foundations of the United States of America. Any of these 5 founding fathers would have shaken their heads in disbelief, where they to see the current GOP primary, for example.
Those who ignore history choose to do so at their own peril.
One of the lessons of history is that it is always rewritten.
Usually by those who win...
In Quebec we have three distinct history threads, Franco, Anglo and Amerindian. Even though the Anglo eventually won, they didn't bother learning French so they could not rewrite our French thread.
I love this John Adams's quote, referring to a theologian arguing that the divinity of Christ (or the Trinity, or the virgin birth, or something like that) was too mysterious for us to comprehend:
“Thus mystery is made a convenient cover for absurdity.”
It is a great quote. =)
And yes, this is old news. Most of us who have read a little history somewhat understand how the founders thought. If the "christian nation" crazies on the right would stop the idiocy, we wouldn't have to keep looking at this.
This, for some reason reminds meof the video I watched on this site "I am angry"; she states that we know more (atheists) about their religion than themselves, well I guess we know more about history (or religious history) than them as well..
This is our new banner quote =)
It is a good one. =)
"It matters not where he was born; this man is deeply and fiercely alien to the American tradition. He thinks ordinary Americans "cling" to Gods and guns because we are "bitter." He believes we should "redistribute the wealth." He thinks cops are "stupid" for politely asking a Harvard professor to show proof of residence when a neighbor reported a burglary in progress. He thinks that if Congress doesn't immediately do his bidding, he can ignore the Constitution because he supposedly has a superceding need to"act." He thinks government has a right to tell people when they have made "too much money." He is an alien menace," - Quin Hillyer, American Spectator.
I wonder who Washington and Jefferson would consider who had an "alien" attitude.
Those who do not understand history make a lot of noise spewing their lack of understanding
PAT BUCHANAN BLAMES ‘MILITANT GAY RIGHTS GROUPS,’ ‘PEOPLE OF COLOR’... | Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan attacked gay rights and civil rights organizations for pressuring MSNBC network president Phil Griffin to fire him after the release of his latest book, Suicide of a Superpower. The work, which has been roundly condemned, includes chapters titled “The End of White America” and “The Death of Christian America.” “Look, for a long period of time the hard left, militant gay rights groups, militant — they call themselves civil rights groups, but I’m not sure they’re concerned about civil rights — people of color, Van Jones, these folks and others have been out to get Pat Buchanan off T.V., deny him speeches, get his column canceled,” Buchanan said during a radio interview with Sean Hannity on Wednesday. “This has been done for years and years and years and it’s the usual suspects doing the same thing again. But my view is, you write what you believe to be the truth.” Buchanan said he has not received a “formal notification” of his termination from the network, although executives have hinted that he will not return to the airwaves