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A Christian Nation? Jefferson Didn't Want One

By John M. Kelley  Posted by Rob Kall (about the submitter)     Permalink
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Surely the decision in the Federal Court in San Francisco will get the Republican/Business/Christian Right propaganda machine revved up. Any day now some crank will declare that Katrina was a warning not to rule against "under God ". The talking points will be that we are a "Christian Nation ". Given its tattered flag right now, the decision to ban the words "under God " from the pledge of allegiance will give the Right new momentum.

I find it interesting that many corporations and their owners contribute to this fiasco of superstition even though few of them (with some exceptions) really care about it at all. Business leaders have supported the Pat Robertson type religious demagogues and others in their rallying of the troops not because of their spiritual message, but because they elect people who will vote for lower taxes, less corporate liability and regulation. They look at science as a convenient opinion to be used selectively when it supports profits and demonized when it doesn 't.

One thing you have to give them is that this unholy alliance has a good PR department. This propaganda mill has produced a level of superstitious belief that is reflected in absurdities that would have made my seventh grade science and history teachers tear out their hair in horror, even in 1961. Polls show that 60% of the people doubt evolution, 78% of the American people believe that the Ten Commandments should be able to be displayed on public property and that prayer should be allowed in school. I believe that this widespread consensus is not one based on knowledge of history or science as is being portrayed to the public, but on misrepresentations presented as fact by certain interest groups on the right.

They base these attempts to haul us all back into the dark ages on a three legged stool of lies: 1) That Christianity was the intent of the founders when they referred to God; 2)That the majority should be able to enforce its will on the minority and 3) The founders meant for all opinions to be treated equal. Lets look at each of these distortions of fact.

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The Founders Intent
We continually hear how this nation was founded as a "Christian " nation and that our forefathers certainly intended that the Judeo-Christian heritage of the United States be enshrined. Nothing could be further from the truth. This argument is not new, Jefferson and the other founders wrestled at length with this question. And luckily they were literate men and wrote down their thoughts and discussions.

Let 's look at what Jefferson thought about this subject. Jefferson a deist, sought to distance himself from religious dogma of any kind and was known to cut and paste the bible. He believed that truth was readily recognized "in the light of reason " to any man. In this light he also put forth that religious institutions were subject to the weaknesses of men and as such were prone to corrupt their spiritual missions with coercion and superstition.

He was particularly against the use of any religious beliefs, including Christianity; to qualify a person for civil life, participate in public activity or the forced financial support of any religious belief. In fact these were the very reasons for the First Amendment exclusionary clause because of past restrictions in the colonies for public office and forced support of churches by non members.

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This is what he had to say in his autobiography about the arguments over Christianity in the Constitution of Virginia.

"Where the preamble declares that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the words "Jesus Christ, " so that it should read , " a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion '; the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend within the mantle of its protection the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination. "


Even more to the point in a letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper in 1814: "Christianity neither is nor ever was a part of the common law. "

John Adams, who had strong spiritual beliefs but was very vocal about the abuses of religion in general and Christianity in particular, had this to say.

"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 tranquility of Musselmen (sic),-- and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan (sic) 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." [John Adams, 1797-05-27, Article 11, Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the US and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary. Treaties and Other International Acts of America, ed. Hunter Miller]


On the mixing of religion and government Jefferson was again very specific.

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"Religion is a subject on which I have ever been most scrupulously reserved. I have considered it as a matter between every man and his Maker in which no other, and far less the public, had a right to intermeddle." Thomas Jefferson to Richard Rush, 1813.


His opinion of such mixing certainly isn 't neutral.

"In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own." Thomas Jefferson to Horatio G. Spafford, 1814. ME 14:119


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