Religion and vast historical misconceptions



When your job makes you do a swearing in ceremony with ‘so help me god’ on your script, it makes you wonder…


The Founding Fathers Were Not Christians

by Steven Morris, in Free Inquiry, Fall, 1995


“The Christian right is trying to rewrite the history of the United States as part of its campaign to force its religion on others. They try to depict the founding fathers as pious Christians who wanted the United States to be a Christian nation, with laws that favored Christians and Christianity.


This is patently untrue. The early presidents and patriots were generally Deists or Unitarians, believing in some form of impersonal Providence but rejecting the divinity of Jesus and the absurdities of the Old and New testaments.


Thomas Paine was a pamphleteer whose manifestos encouraged the faltering spirits of the country and aided materially in winning the war of Independence:


“I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of…Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.”


George Washington, the first president of the United States, never declared himself a Christian according to contemporary reports or in any of his voluminous correspondence. Washington Championed the cause of freedom from religious intolerance and compulsion. When John Murray (a universalist who denied the existence of hell) was invited to become an army chaplain, the other chaplains petitioned Washington for his dismissal. Instead, Washington gave him the appointment. On his deathbed, Washington uttered no words of a religious nature and did not call for a clergyman to be in attendance.


John Adams, the country’s second president, was drawn to the study of law but faced pressure from his father to become a clergyman. He wrote that he found among the lawyers ‘noble and gallant achievements” but among the clergy, the “pretended sanctity of some absolute dunces”. Late in life he wrote: “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!”


It was during Adam’s administration that the Senate ratified the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which states in Article XI that “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion.”


Thomas Jefferson, third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, said:”I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian.” He referred to the Revelation of St. John as “the ravings of a maniac” and wrote:


"The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ leveled to every understanding and too plain to need explanation, saw, in the mysticisms of Plato, materials with which they might build up an artificial system which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power, and pre-eminence. The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them: and for this obvious reason that nonsense can never be explained.”


James Madison, fourth president and father of the Constitution, was not religious in any conventional sense. “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.


Benjamin Franklin, delegate to the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, said: "As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion…has received various corrupting Changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his Divinity; tho’ it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the Truth with less trouble.” He died a month later, and historians consider him, like so many great Americans of his time, to be a Deist, not a Christian.


The words “In God We Trust” were not consistently on all U.S. currency until 1956, during the McCarthy Hysteria.


The Treaty of Tripoli, passed by the U.S. Senate in 1797, read in part: “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” The treaty was written during the Washington administration, and sent to the Senate during the Adams administration. It was read aloud to the Senate, and each Senator received a printed copy. This was the 339th time that a recorded vote was required by the Senate, but only the third time a vote was unanimous (the next time was to honor George Washington). There is no record of any debate or dissension on the treaty. It was reprinted in full in three newspapers – two in Philadelphia, one in New York City. There is no record of public outcry or complaint in subsequent editions of the papers.

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