“Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear.“ Thomas Jefferson letter to Peter Carey (1787)
Quick disclaimer time again. This post is not about the basic philosophy of any major religion. They all basically boil down to “The Golden Rule”. How could someone be against that?
As I said in the 1st episode of this series, as well as in “The Theory of Evil-ution vs the Mythology of Creationism” post: “Some of my best friends are religious”. It’s true. They are. I have a number of devout friends who earnestly try to make the world a better place.
This isn’t about them. This is about the types of people and actions that give religion a bad name.
Fyi, iyadbi* (*if you’re a damn bit interested) the reasons I repeated it are 3:
- It bares repeating. (As opposed to “bears repeating” which could refer to a couple of grizzlies farting in the forest.)
- It allows me to jamb in 2 shameless plugs.
- You may not have read the 1st episode. (Shame on you!)
I’m pretty much going to skip through most of the 18th century, with one notable exception. Not that there was an absence of bigotry and intolerance. Protestants still hated Catholics, Catholics still hated Protestants, Protestants still hated other Protestants, and everybody still hated the Jews.
There were a few events happening during the century that can kind of act as a guide to the greater picture:
- (1700) New York and Massachusetts solved their Catholic conundrum by kicking out any Catholics in their jurisdictions.
- (1701) North Carolina passed the Vestry Act, making Anglicanism its official religion.
- (1708) Connecticut passed their 1st statute that allowed “full liberty of worship” to Anglicans and Baptists.
- (1714) The Amana Church Society (aka the Church of True Inspiration) was founded. (You probably remember them because of their appliances.)
- (1723) On a foreign note: China solved its Christian problem by banning Christianity.
- (1725) Colonial Slaves got their own separate Baptist church in Williamsburg. (Btw, at the time there were 75,000 slaves in the colonies. This was out of the general population of 600,000.)
- (1728) New York City got its 1st synagogue.
- (1732) The only colonial Catholic Church held its 1st mass.
- (1734) The 1st of 3 or 4 (depending on who you talk to) “Great Awakenings” commences.
- (1741) The 1st of 3 or 4 (depending on who you talk to) “Great Awakenings” goes back to sleep.
- (1743) Quakers start preaching against slavery.
- (1743) Ben Franklin and some of his buds founded the The American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.
(Members included a few people you might have heard of:
Pretty much your standard founding fathers,except for M. de Lafayette who had a different roll to play.
- (1766) Methodism came to the Colonies.
- (1769) Father Serra founded the first mission in California.
- (1771) The State of Virginia jailed 50 Baptists worshipers for preaching the Gospel contrary to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
- (1774) Massachusetts Baptists were put in jail for not paying taxes to support the Congregational Church. (Back in the “Hateteenth Century”, Baptists were one of the “Them” groups in the “Us vs Them” mindset.)
- (1777) American Philosophical Society member, Thomas Jefferson, completed his first draft of the “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom“, which states: “No man shall be forced to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.” (Take that, tea potty poopers!)
- (1785) Another APS member, James Madison, penned “Remonstrances Against Religious Assessments” advocating separation of Church and State. (Hmmm, another “Founding Father” that didn’t toe the tea potty line.)
- (1786) The legislature adopted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which disestablished the Anglican Church as the official church and prohibited harassment based on religious differences. (Good luck with that one.)
- (1789) The Bill of Rights was ratified. The First Amendment reads: “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.“
- (1796) Andrew Jackson opposed the inclusion of the word “God” in Tennessee’s constitution. (Sounds rational to me.)
- (1796) The Treaty of Tripoli was conducted. (A bit more on that a little farther down the page.)
Ok, now to that “one notable exception” I mentioned earlier:
One of the cherished myths of the current incarnation of the religious wrong is that the U.S. was founded as a “christian nation”. Like so many of their myths and beliefs, this one is essentially a bovine bowel movement.
Were the writers and framers Christians? Of course they were. Out of 55 delegates to the 1787 Philadelphia (aka Constitutional or Federal) Convention, 28 belonged to the Church of England, 8 were Presbyterians, 7 Congregationalists, 2 Methodists, 2 Lutherans, 2 Catholics and 2 Dutch Reformed.
And at that time and place there simply weren’t any socially acceptable alternatives. (Athesim did not fall into the “socially acceptable” column.) About the closest thing you could safely be was a Deist. (De·ism n. The belief, based solely on reason, in a God who created the universe and then abandoned it, assuming no control over life, exerting no influence on natural phenomena, and giving no supernatural revelation.) (That’s kinda like knocking up a chick and then splitting before you have to change the diapers. In other words, “Big Daddy” is also “Deadbeat Daddy”.
In practice, Deists believed in a useless god, but not in any of his religious organizations (other than, of course, for social, political or monetary benefit). That doesn’t sound like someone who considers himself a “vessel of the lord’s work”.
American Deists included:
- Ben Franklin “I wish it (Christianity) were more productive of good works … I mean real good works … not holy-day keeping, sermon-hearing … or making long prayers, filled with flatteries and compliments despised by wise men, and much less capable of pleasing the Deity.“— Benjamin Franklin, Works, Vol. VII, p. 75;
- John Adams “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.” From a letter to Charles Cushing (October 19, 1756);
- Ethan Allen “I have generally been denominated a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious I am no Christian, except mere infant baptism makes me one; and as to being a Deist, I know not strictly speaking, whether I am one or not.” Ethan Allen, Reason the Only Oracle of Man
- George Washington “Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated.” George Washington letter to Edward Newenham (1792)
- Thomas Jefferson “History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose.“ — Thomas Jefferson letter to Baron von Humboldt, (1813)
- Thomas Paine “Here it is that the religion of Deism is superior to the Christian Religion. It is free from all those invented and torturing articles that shock our reason or injure our humanity, and with which the Christian religion abounds.” The Writings of Thomas Paine (G.P. Putnam: 1896), p. 322.
- James Madison (“The Father of the Constitution”) “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.” Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785)
So, (1) were the “Founding Fathers’ devout churchgoers and (2) did they use the bible as inspiration in creating the nation? (1) Not so much and (2) meh!
(2) I’m sure if you searched, you could find relationships between the constitution and the bible, as I’m sure you would find relationships between the constitution and most other major mythologies’ holy books.
You would also find influences such as
- The Magna Carta: (1215) Limitations on governmental power; Due Process; Trial by jury of one’s peers. (Think 5th Amendment.)
- The Mayflower Compact: (1620) The first American document to provide for a form of democracy that included principles of self-government and voting.
- Thomas Hobbes: Deist (1588-1679) Hobbes believed in a strong central (i.e. national) government. His book, “Leviathon” (1651) established the foundation for most of Western political philosophy.
- John Locke: Deist (1632-1704) Believed that people are all born with certain natural rights: life, liberty, and property and that government can’t take those rights away without due process.
- Charles Louis de Secondat [Baron de Bréde et de Montesquieu]: Deist (1689-1755)Montesquieu was the 2nd most cited source (behind the bible) in colonial America, and the Baron liked checks & balances. (And, I ain’t talkin’ bank accounts.) He promoted the idea of separation of powers between 3 branches in government. (Which btw, was the form of government practiced by the Roman Republic back in pre-Caesar times.)
- Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Deist (1712-1778) Rousseau’s book “The Social Contract” (1762) promoted liberty and equality and freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion. (As in separation of church and state.)
- Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union: The first attempt at nation creation, the Articles of Confederation, was a humongous FAIL!! The failure proved a couple of things: 1) Tommy Hobbes was right. 2) Preeminent states rights is a recipe for disaster! (Btw, your high school history teacher lied to you. Washington was not the 1st President! He was the 15th. 14 men including Peyton Randolph, John Hancock, John Jay & Richard Henry Lee served under the Articles.)
You’ve probably noticed (Hell, I pointed it out often enough!) that deists were running rampid throughout the whole Constitutional process. Of course, Freemasonry was also running rampid. (And, I haven’t pointed that out, so I will.) For starters, 33 of the 55 delegates to the Philadelphia Convention were Freemasons.There were a lot of Freemason/Deists in the group.
A lot has been made about Freemason influence on the early government. And, especially in various designs ranging from the dollar bill to the layout of Washington D.C., this is rather evident. As to their religious influence? Freemasons believe in “the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man”. Beyond that it gets rather vague. They were more open-minded in their beliefs as evident in the Freemason/Deist crossover numbers.
So, I guess, in answer to my own question, if there was Freemason religious influence, it most likely echoed the Deist line, rather than the organized religion line.
Colonial Freemasonry has been visited more than a few times on the History channels. I recommend that you watch if you get a chance. The programs are fairly interesting if you’re a history fanboy.
To sum it up, (It’s late and I’m getting hungry.) the Constitution was not “inspired by god”. It basically drew on a number of progressive (for the time) ideas from various sources and assembled them into a very workable document that could grow and adapt along with the country. The FF, whatever their other attributes or failings were intelligent men who put the good of the country mostly above their own interests. Remember, this was the “Age of Enlightenment” and western civilization was breaking away from the autocracy of monarchies and religion.
Plus, as you might have noticed, Big Daddy, J.C. and the Sacred Spook aren’t mentioned anywhere in the constitution. The closest mention, “in the year of our lord”, was a common time reference in this era.
Now, the Religious Wrong may try to “weasel word” their way around the subject, but the coffin’s final nail came in the form of the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli. Article 11 states: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…”
Check it out yourself!
My work here is done.
Tune in next time when we get to the fabulous 1800’s with Mormons, more “Great Awakenings” and some of the damnedest takes on religion that side of the Church of God with Signs Following(that came in 1910, two episodes down the road.)
May the Force be with you! (Or, at least somewhere in the neighborhood).
p.s.: If my ramblings don’t revolt you, check out my FaceBook page (“Grouchy’s Grumbles”) you might just enjoy it. Better yet, you might “like” it. I’d love it if you did.It’s free (and worth every cent) and almost completely painless (other than the usual bad jokes).