A reader queried CAC wanting sources that would substantiate the assertion in my letter to the Wall Street Journal (“State Department’s Faith-Based Initiatives,” July 31) that the U.S. was not founded on Christian principles, but secular ones. Here is my reply, and the instances cited below do not begin to exhaust the amount of proof:
From Jefferson’s Notes on Virginia (1782):
"The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they [the clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me . . ."
Jefferson endorsed individual freedom; he argued that any form of government control, not only of religion, but of individual mercantilism, was tyranny. He maintained that our rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, that is, that individual rights do not derive from religious dogma or belief, but from observable nature. Whether or not a “God” was responsible for that nature, was to him and to most of his fellow Founders, utterly irrelevant.
“Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.” – Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787.
From James Madison, fourth president of the U.S.:
“Every new & successful example of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance.” – Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822.
“And I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed.” – Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822, in Saul K. Padover, ed., The Complete Madison: His Basic Writings (1953).
“The civil government…functions with complete success…by the total separation of the Church from the State.” – Madison, Writings Volume 8, p. 432, quote from Gene Garman, “Essays in Addition to America’s Real Religion.”
From Benjamin Franklin:
"I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absenteed myself from Christian assemblies."
"Lighthouses are more helpful then churches."
From John Adams:
“The question before the human race is, whether the God of nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?” – Letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 20, 1815.
“The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.” – Adams, “A Defence of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America” (1787-88), from Adrienne Koch, ed., The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society (1965), p. 258, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, “Quotations that Support Separation of State and Church.”
“Thirteen governments [of the original thirteen states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind.” – Adams, “A Defence of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America” (1787-88), from Adrienne Koch, ed., The American Enlightenment: The Shaping of the American Experiment and a Free Society (1965), p. 258, quoted from Ed and Michael Buckner, “Quotations that Support Separation of State and Church.”
“We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions ... shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power ... we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.” – Letter to Dr. Price, April 8, 1785, quoted from Albert Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom (1991).
“As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?” – Letter to F.A. Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816.
Regarding the 1797 Treaty with Tripoli, cited in my letter/article, here is the wording from it regarding the query:
In 1797, six years after the adoption of the Bill of Rights, the United States government signed a treaty with the Muslim nation of Tripoli that contained the following statement (numbered Article 11 in the treaty):
“As the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the law, religion or tranquility of Musselmen; and as the states never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mohometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever produce an interruption of harmony existing between the two countries.” (Italics original)
The treaty was approved by President John Adams and his Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, and was then ratified by the Senate without objection. Of course, today, the U.S., as a secular nation, should harbor a natural enmity “against the law, religion and tranquility of Islam,” since Islamist jihadists and states that sponsor terrorism have declared war on America, and it should bear hostility against any Muslim nation that seeks to harm America.
The historical instances are legion that support the contention that the Founders did not intend America to be a Judeo-Christian state. The Founders may have been deists, but their position was that if God existed, he played no role in human affairs; it was left to men to find the means to achieve happiness on earth through reason, especially in their political arrangements. The Founders were reality oriented; they asserted repeatedly that religious beliefs or fantasies were the purview of individuals, not to be regulated or commanded by the state.
To claim otherwise is to reveal a sorry ignorance of the philosophical and political origins of America; or a patent dishonesty passing for “revealed” truth and masking a frightening political agenda.
The fundamental problem is that our President believes – and I stress believes – that America is indeed a nation governed by Christian principles. It is the altruistic, self-sacrificing tenets of the Christian morality that have enmeshed the U.S. in a no-win war in Iraq and Afghanistan against belligerent “Musselmen.”
It was clergymen of Bush’s ilk who accused Jefferson of wanting to declare war on religion. But it was their “schemes” to impose religion by force that he opposed. It is noteworthy that even in Jefferson’s time, while the majority of Americans were nominally Christian, very few of them would likely have disagreed with him (or with Madison or Adams) that the nation was founded on a secular, natural rights philosophy, not a religious one.
Presidential candidates should also take note of it, as well, especially those who in the past evinced no particular religious bent, but who are now jumping on the Gideonite bandwagon. An Associated Press article of July 30th, “Religion Looms Large over 2008 Race,” reported:
“…All the Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls have been grilled on their religious beliefs. Most seem eager to talk publicly about their faith as they actively court religious voters.”
Further into the article, it says:
“The links between religion and governance intensified with the presidency of George W. Bush, said Joan Konner, former dean of the Columbia Journalism School. ‘He brought it up when he ran for office and he said his favorite philosopher, in answer to a question in a debate, was Jesus….And then he followed up on that by faith-based public funding and various other actions that started to erode what Americans took for granted as the separation between church and state,’ said Konner….”
One of the Associated Press article’s examples of a candidate exploiting the religion angle is Democratic Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, who “emphasizes her Methodist upbringing and says her faith helped her repair her marriage.”
So she might claim. It is a more credible likelihood that it was her faith in Bill Clinton’s political guidance and savvy and arm-twisting skills that “repaired” her marriage than her belief in the literal truth of the Bible’s chapter and verse. Why sacrifice a political career and a chance to satisfy one’s power-lust over such a petty thing as a cuckolding spouse? That she is willing to “forgive” her husband’s sexual escapades to facilitate her quest for political power is a measure of this ambitious harridan’s selflessness and consequent need to “serve society.”
However, all the presidential candidates are of the left – name me one Republican who is advocating, for example, repeal of the 16th Amendment, or unregulated laissez faire capitalism, or the absolute right of Americans to be secure in their property – and all of them want to serve “society.”
But, as Jamie Whyte writes with sardonic wit in an excellent article in the Financial Times of London (“Thatcher was right about society, David,” August 2), “Society is for the left what God is for Christians. Its mere existence creates moral obligations, with no need for contracts and with no need for tiresome debate about the merits of making these obligations law. Those who deny the existence of society are simply trying to evade their responsibilities.”
Whyte agrees with former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women….”
Another way of saying it is that “society” is as much a phantasm as God, and those who believe in it also claim that being a member of it entails duties, responsibilities and debts to it, just as one must obey God’s commandments, if one is a conscientious Christian. But if “society” is only the people one encounters in one’s lifetime, or sees on television, where is that entity called “society”? And if such a thing does not exist, what is the source of all those duties, obligations and debts? That amorphous mass of strangers sociologists call “society”?
As Ayn Rand would put it: Blank out.
Both Republicans and Democrats are attempting to wed God and Society in their venal campaigns to win first, the primaries, and then the national election, by appealing to the delusional worst in the electorate: Christian collectivists.
If the left and conservative right combine to create a political force, we may today be witnessing the beginnings of the establishment of a nation the Founders would have abhorred: a theocracy – but with a socialist base.