Evangelical Religion vs. Our Founding Fathers
by Joan Porte
George Bush pulled himself into the White House for another four years on the robes of evangelical Christians and other members of the religious right who crave a return to "moral and traditional values. " Theirs is a desire to live in a country controlled by strict Biblical precepts where gays are legally restricted to the closet and women follow St. Paul 's instructions to be submissive. This is a world where guns are plentiful, preemptive war acceptable and the death penalty in fashion but using stem cells slated for the trashcan to treat epidemic illnesses is "sinful " because it constitutes murder. They allow free speech as long as it conforms to their definitions of religious purity. They are at peace with a man running the country and thus the world who says as Mr. Bush did at the Southern Baptist Convention, "I believe that God wants me to be president. "
Jerry Falwell in his "Moral Majority Report " called for the Christianization of America. "If we are going to save America and evangelize the world, we cannot accommodate secular philosophies that are diametrically opposed to Christian truth ... We need to pull out all the stops to recruit and train 25 million Americans to become informed pro-moral activists whose voices can be heard in the halls of Congress. I am convinced that America can be turned around if we will all get serious about the Master's business. It may be late, but it is never too late to do what is right. We need an old-fashioned, God-honoring, Christ-exalting revival to turn American back to God. America can be saved! "
While these evangelicals hold themselves out to be true patriots, nothing is more antithetical to the beliefs of our Founding Fathers and their dreams for America than the Falwellian world into which we are quickly descending.
Conveniently forgotten in this rush to remake America into a theocracy is the "Treaty of Tripoli, " negotiated during George Washington 's second term of office and signed by John Adams. It states, "As the government of the United Sates of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."
James Madison, in his 1785 treatise entitled "Memorial and Remonstration Against Religious Assessments " clearly stated the dangers of a religion based government.
influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In
some instances, they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the
ruins of the civil authority; on many instances, they have been seen
upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been
the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert
the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient
auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it,
needs them not."
Few of the men who brought us the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution believed in any organized religion. Most were deists believing that there was some form of higher power, a creator God, but refusing to accept the dogmas of organized religions. Jefferson went so far as to rewrite the Bible, leaving in segments that pertained to the life of Christ but removing all words that mentioned his divinity, Virgin Birth, Resurrection or other acts Jefferson felt were unreasonable and leaning toward the "superstitious." In a letter to William Short, he went further, "Christianity (has become) the most perverted system that ever shone on man."
John Adams agreed, "The doctrine of the divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity. This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it."1 Thomas Paine would have been a true enemy of the current religious right when he said, But when I see throughout the greatest part of this book (the Bible) scarcely anything but a history of the grossest vices, and a collection of the most paltry and contemptible tales, I cannot dishonour [sic] my Creator by calling it by his name."2
James Madison cautioned against blending religion and government. "Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing [sic] that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."3 How would Attorney General John Ashcroft defend holding daily prayer meetings in the Department of Justice Building to Mr. Madison?
George Washington wrote of his feared the effect of religious battles upon the fabric of society as a whole in an Oct. 22, 1795 letter. "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. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society. "
Washington rarely attended religious services, left behind no writings referencing Jesus Christ and did not admonish his stepchildren and grandchildren to conform to any religion. Jefferson described our first President 's religious beliefs in his diary six weeks after the first president died. "Feb. 1. Dr. Rush tells me that he had it from Asa Green that when the clergy addressed General Washington on his departure from the Government, it was observed in their consultation that he had never on any occasion said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Christian religion and they thought they should so pen their address as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so. However, he observed, the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article in their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice .... "I know that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets and believed himself to be so, has often told me that General Washington believed no more in the system (Christianity) than he did."
Our most beloved President, Abraham Lincoln,
according to an early law partner John T. Stuart, was an avowed
atheist in his younger days and thought of writing a book disputing
the need for organized religions.
In 1863, he wrote to Judge J.S Wakefield, "My
earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation
and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and
stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I
shall ever change them."
The brilliant and rational minds of these men gave us a legacy of freedom including freedom from the tyranny of religions. They designed an America based on logic and education not fear and repression. It is our duty to hand our descendants some semblance of that inheritance. It would be disloyal, un-American and sadly ironic for the generations immediately succeeding that heralded as the "Greatest" to stand in quiet complacence as these freedoms are extinguished and our country turns toward theocracy.
1. John Adams letter to Thomas Jefferson 1818
2. Thomas Paine "The Age of
Reason " 1793
3. James Madison, "Writings," pages 788-789
Joan Porte, Arlington , VA Jjp3871@aol.com
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