Monday, March 31, 2008

America is a Secular Nation

If you repeat a lie often enough, it almost becomes the truth.

One such lie is: "The United States was founded on Christian Principles!"

This 'misconception' is often touted as truth by conservative Christians. It appeals to the more evangelical of them. Popular history paints the pilgrims as pious and protestant and it's affirming for conservatives to believe there is a direct link between the beliefs they hold today and the beliefs of the people who built the American nation.

But however affirming and appealing the idea is, it remains a lie.

America is a secular nation, founded on secular principles. All it takes to dispel the fantasy of America's 'Judeo-Christian roots' is to open a history book.

America's Secular Roots

Conservative Christians often argue that the founding fathers themselves - as devout Christians - would have incorporated their faith when penning the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

The problem is, the founding fathers weren't necessarily devout - or even Christian. This is just an assumption conservatives make because the founding fathers lived during the tail-end of the eighteenth century.

In fact, out of the 55 delegates at the Philadelphia Convention (who we now refer to as the 'Founding Fathers') many belonged to no particular Christian affiliation at all.

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States, was a confirmed atheist. He penned the 'Jefferson Bible' which removed all superstition and supernatural references from the Bible. It presented the story of Jesus as if he was just a wise, yet mortal man - similar to how I've come to consider the story of the New Testament.

George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine wrote extensively against organised religion and many of the 'Christian values' conservatives claim America was founded on.

Franklin, Jefferson, Paine and Ethan Allen were deists - believing that if there was a heavenly creator, he did not come to mankind through religion, but by granting man the gift of rationality and reason.

In short - the founding fathers were not all pious Christians. In fact, the most American of Americans (like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin) would be horrified at 21st century evangelical superstition.

The Proof - On Paper

If there are any lingering doubts about the secular background of many of the founding fathers, it's worth looking at the documents they penned. The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution are clearly and indisputably secular in nature.

The "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" entitle people - not a Christian God.

"The Creator" grants all men "with certain unalienable Rights." Not God. Not Jesus. In fact, not not necessarily a deity at all. Just that which has created man.

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is interpreted by no less than Thomas Jefferson as "a wall of separation between church and state." This clearly establishes that the foundation of the United States of America took place entirely independently of any religious considerations.

Further irrefutable proof

If that mountain of evidence is not enough to satisfy the more rabid conservative Christian, the following will. The 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, signed into law by the founding fathers without any discussion, debate or opposition, states the following firmly in black and white:

"The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."

These words were written by - and signed into law by - the founding fathers of the United States. The 55 delegates who created the American nation - comprising atheists, deists, protestants and catholics amongst them - were unified on this important principle.

The United States has was never founded on Christian principles. Anybody who tells you differently is either ignorant - or a liar.


Bella said...


Very interesting post. I enjoyed it!


Scarlett Wanna Be said...

As a conservative Christian I have to say, I don't really care what religion the founding fathers were. Call me crazy, but for some reason, it doesn't make me love my country less or think that I am wrong for believing in "One Nation Under God". I was a history major in college and I usually don't go back and forth with people regarding the faith of our forefathers. What did interest me in this post is where you said you have come to view Jesus like Jefferson as a "moral and wise man". I really am asking this so that I can gain better understanding, if you don't believe that Jesus was the Son of God, how can you believe He was wise or moral? After all, he spent half of his life teaching that He was the Messiah. If he wasn't the Son of God, doesn't that make him a lier and therefore, unwise and amoral?

Roland Hulme said...

Scarlett - you've got me there.

I don't believe Jesus was the son of God, so the fact that he preached it meant he was either fibbing or a bit wrong in the head!

But if it takes a mad person to tell us all to live in peace and respect our brother man - perhaps there's something deeply wrong with society!

In all honesty, though - just because Thomas Jefferson and I didn't believe Jesus was divine, it doesn't remove the impact of many of his teachings. Also, even though much of the Bible is mysticism, it's also got a lot of historical fact in it (like interpretations of the great flood and early society.)

EmmaK said...

"America is a secular nation, founded on secular principles"

Thank Christ!!

I thought someone was yanking my chain when I came to this country and heard that in some schools they were teaching the old Adam and Eve story as fact. No one's saying Darwin was 100 per cent right either but come on, how can you teach Bible stories as fact. Just nuts.

ck said...

Wow, you honestly can't be more wrong.

The vast majority of our founding fathers were devout Christians and they formed this country on that belief.

Roland Hulme said...

Hey CK! Hope you're doing well. Thanks for popping by.

I'm not wrong! I know you'd like to believe America was founded on Christian sensibilities, but I've just given irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Sure, the majority of the founding fathers might have been one kind of Christian or the other, but it is a DOCUMENTED FACT that this foundation of law and government in the United States was left DELIBERATELY secular.

I mean, it’s in black and white. Written by none other than the founding fathers themselves: "The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."

They wrote: "IN ANY SENSE."

I do understand your position and where you're coming from, but you have to present some kind of fact or evidence before you tell me I'm wrong. Because I'm not!

You need something a little more convincing than 'most of the Founding Fathers were Christian.' That's as given considering where they came from and the period in history - but there were so many (conflicting) denominations within that group, it's erroneous to claim it as a unifying factor.

I find it amazing that no less than the 3rd president of the United States was an athiest - yet it would be unthinkable for an athiest to be president in this (supposedly more advanced) time!

fatbrit said...

@ "I find it amazing that no less than the 3rd president of the United States was an athiest"

And the second (Adams) was a Unitarian -- so okay it's a religion based on Christianity -- but its a tenuous hold. More humanism in there than bashing the bible.

Good topic, Roland.

vikette dad said...

Roland - You've bought into what everyone wants you to believe. The founding fathers were intent on protecting the church from the state. Remember they came here from England to escape a country that ESTABLISHED a national religion - and that is exactly what they wanted to prevent. They never intended to protect the state from the church. Do a little more research, and you'll learn that when these founding fathers were attempting to discern how to solve the problems of a new nation, they turned to the ministers of the day for insight on how to incorporate faith into a country without it ever becoming a nationalized religion. This is why so many of the founding documents mention God. Yes, they all came to their own understanding of what God is - but that does not negate the fact that they all believed in God. That was exactly what they wanted - a country where the citizens are free to come to their own understanding - and be able to worship as they wished - not as the state determined. Once you understand that, you will understand that the nation was not founded to be secular, but founded to enable independent choice of worship - - or not. Again, their desire was to protect the church from the state, not to protect the state from the church. Just one example to ask yourself: Why did they desire every assembly of Congress be started with a prayer? Oh they believed - and look at the blessings that have fallen on this country because of how they believed!

Roland Hulme said...

Hello Vikette Dad, thanks for stopping by!

I absolutely agree that the founding fathers wanted freedom of religion in America - the freedom OF and the the freedom FROM religion.

It's clearly documented that the founding fathers - many of whom were religious themselves - wanted the American system of government and the foundation of American culture tobe ABSOLUTELY SECULAR.

I've already proven that, with the quote from the Treaty of Tripoli.

The only shred of evidence most Christians cling to when trying to 'prove' that America is a Christian nation is the frequency of use of the word 'God' in documents...

Well, that's very limp compared to the opposing evidence I have presented. Besides, they refer to 'Nature's God' or 'the Creator' or just 'God' which could refer to a Christian God, the Jewish God, the Islamic God or just some sort of higher power - and having some sort of vague unspecified belief in the existence of a higher power is VERY different from being a Christian.

Besides, the most vocal advocates of America's 'Christian' roots tend to come from the evangelical side of things - which didn't even exist until a century after Independence.

You are PROJECTING what you want to believe into history, regardless of the facts that prove otherwise.

Quantum_Flux said...

Thomas Jefferson, who was a confirmed atheist, actually wrote or drafted the US declaration of Independence. These Christians have absolutely no ground to stand on in declaring that the Declaration of Independence was actaully some sort of a declaration of dependence on God.

QF's blog:

Anonymous said...

I wanted to mention that there is no dichotomy between Thomas Jefferson and his thoughts on Jesus,...Thomas Jefferson respected Christ as a moral teacher and prophet, but not as the Son of God.

Lastly, it is worth pointing out that Thomas Jefferson was not an atheist.
Thomas Jefferson(like many of the other Founding Fathers you mentioned) was a deist. The fact that he wrote the Declaration of Independence,a document with many references to the deist God (Nature's God, Creator, and Providence), is proof positive of his deistic leanings.

Roland Hulme said...

Hey Anonymous, thanks for stopping by.

Everything you wrote is accurate. I guess I was being a bit overzealous claiming he was an Atheist - but a Deist is still a long way from a commited Christian who believes Jesus is the son of God.

Unfortunately, the founding fathers were more rational people than politicians of today.