Saturday, April 8, 2006

Don't Know Much About History, Part Two

I was contacted recently by a My Case Against God reader named Stephanie. She had sent a copy of my post “Don’t Know Much About History” to a Christian with whom she frequently interacts. As expected, that Christian responded, strongly disagreeing with my post. This blog entry will respond to that response.

First off, let me quote some relevant passages from the Christian’s response, which was largely comprised of theistic quotes from historical figures. Since his response is a bit long, I’ll only include bits and pieces.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
- Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence

“Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. It is impossible that it should be otherwise; and in the sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.”
- George Washington, from his Farewell Address to the Nation
Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 1792

“The First Amendment has erected a wall of separation between church and state, but that wall is a one directional wall; it keeps the government from running the church, but it makes sure that Christian principles will always stay in government.”
- Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States, January 1, 1802, in an address to the Danbury Baptists

Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers and it is the duty as well as the privilege and interest, of a Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”
- John Jay, 1st Chief Justice of Supreme Court

“The highest glory of the American Revolution was this: that it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”
- John Quincy Adams

"Can the liberties of a nation be sure when we remove their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?"
- Thomas Jefferson

OK. The response probably includes more than double that, but it’s a fair representation. Before actually presenting my own counterarguments, I’ll provide a few contrary quotes from historical figures.

Thomas Jefferson:

"Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear."
- 1787 letter to his nephew

"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as His father, in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."
- Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823

“I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition (Christianity) one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythologies.”
- Letter to Dr. Woods

Benjamin Franklin:

"The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason."
- Poor Richard's Almanack, 1758

"He (the Rev. Mr. Whitefield) used, indeed, sometimes to pray for my conversion, but never had the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard."
- Franklin's Autobiography

James Madison:

"Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise."
- April 1, 1774

"...the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State"
- Letter to Robert Walsh, Mar. 2, 1819

Thomas Paine:

“The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on nothing; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing.”
- The Age of Reason (1794)

Of course, there are many more anti-Christian quotes to be found in the various words and writings of the Founding Fathers; but, I’ll include no more. Letters only mean so much; actions mean far more. That’s why, in my initial post, I immediately brought up the Treaty of Tripoli. Once again, this is what the Treaty of Tripoli explicitly states: “…the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion….” It was composed (by American diplomat Joel Barlow) under the presidency of George Washington. It was unanimously approved by the Senate, and signed by John Adams. If this truly were founded to be a Christian nation, that certainly wouldn’t have happened.

Additionally, if this truly were founded to be a Christian nation, it seems logical to expect there would be a greater number of explicit references to Christianity in our most important, enduring documents. Allow me to quote David Mills, writing in Atheist Universe:

“The two documents upon which our country was actually founded—i.e., the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States—contain not a single word about Christianity, Christian principles, the Bible, or Jesus Christ. Neither is there any mention at all of the Ten Commandments, Heaven, Hell, or being saved. Not a word! The phrase ‘they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights’ was a reference to the Deist Creator, rather than the God of Christianity.”

And moreover, if this country were founded to be a Christian nation, it seems that more of our laws would reflect it. Let’s take a look at The Ten Commandments for a moment.

1. Have no other gods. – No correlation to law.

2. Do not make idols. – No correlation to law.

3. Do not take the lord’s name in vain. – No correlation to law.

4. Keep the Sabbath day. – No correlation to law.

5. Honor your parents. – No correlation to law.

6. Do not kill. – Yes, we have a man on base!

7. Do not commit adultery. – No correlation to law.

8. Do not steal. – He’s made it to second!

9. Do not falsely accuse. – Only half-right. This applies when people are under oath.

10. Do not covet. – Our economy depends upon people being covetous.

So, the Ten Commandments are 25% applicable to our basic laws. Hardly impressive.

So, two points have been ably proven: The Founders were decidedly mixed on Christianity, and the United States was not founded upon the religion (nor do its documents or laws reflect Christian doctrine). But, in truth, this isn’t terribly important. I only raised the issue of the Founding Fathers because so many people have the misconception that the United States was founded to be Christian. As was mentioned in the comments to the original post, I have very, very little reverence for the founders of this country. I’m not hostile to Christianity because they were; it’s purely coincidental. In my view, the Founding Fathers were a pack of rather blatant hypocrites.

It takes a special kind of hypocrite to pontificate about “inalienable rights” and everybody being created equal while at the same time owning black people and treating women as subservient to men. At one time, Franklin owned slaves. Jefferson owned in excess of 650 slaves in his lifetime. Quoting from Wikipedia, here's the story on George Washington. "Although the nation was at peace in the late 1780s, Washington worried that his slaves were going to be set free. He therefore endorsed plans to create a new constitution to allow slavery in all of the states. His support guaranteed it would happen, and he presided over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787." Patrick Henry also owned black people.

Whether the Founding Fathers were Christian or not really is irrelevant in this day and age. I don’t take my marching orders from a bunch of white guys who preached about inherent rights yet who, at various times in their lives, owned slaves and endorsed the institution of slavery. I make posts on this subject only in the spirit of historical accuracy. This is not a Christian nation. It never was. I truly hope it never will be. For, a Christian theocracy promises just as many horrors as Islamic theocracies already present. It always amazes me when parasites like Falwell and Robertson defend Bush’s foreign policy on the grounds that it’s bringing freedom and democracy to countries currently under the thumb of extremist clerics. They, apparently, are blind to the fact that they themselves are cut from the same cloth as those they decry.


Blogger Francois Tremblay said...

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2:19 AM EDT  
Blogger Francois Tremblay said...

By the way, our current team is :
Robert Dawson, Jake Doelling, David Eller, Edward Greve, Aaron Kinney and Zachary Moore.

So as you can see it is good company.

2:20 AM EDT  
Blogger Duane said...

I have no doubt that there was a time when Christian theology was more publicly forced on those against their liking all the way to school prayer to religious oaths for at least local office holders. But I have a theory that during these years (and I don't know this to be true) there was much greater sectarian violence and repression of minority religions. Minority religions such as Judaism and Seven Day Adventists were without doubt persecuted (in fact I think the Mormon flight to Utah came from Indiana after what was essentially a pogrom. This would be an interesting topic for an historically researched book. Once one religion is publicly pushed all others much keep their mouths shut or risk retribution.

6:04 PM EDT  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...

I think you're right, Duane. If anything has proven true over the years, it's that the majority religion will inflict harm on all the minority religions. Indeed, the only purpose of religion seems to be to divide people into factions, and grant the imagined right to torture and kill those in opposing factions.

After The Bible, the most storied book in Christian history is Malleus Maleficarum. Read this link for more about that blood-drenched work.

The Inquisition wasn't a perversion of Christianity, it was an expression of Christianity.

7:55 PM EDT  
Blogger KA said...

Hey, I've fought the 'original intent' argument more than once. This 1:
“The First Amendment has erected a wall of separation between church and state, but that wall is a one directional wall; it keeps the government from running the church, but it makes sure that Christian principles will always stay in government.”
I'm fairly positive that this is bogus. A la Barton.
I believe it was Madison, who once stated, 'Government and religion will remain the purer, the less they are mixed together.'
& Madison recognized a line of separation between church & state. Tomato, To-mah-to.
Go to I did a huge amount of research about this.
That crap about god being in the Declaration is bogus too. It was an open-ended statement. Could bloody well apply to Allah (Peanut butter and jelly be upon him).
Oh, & watch for misquotes about Paine (recant on deathbed, all that crap). I bust theists on that 1 all the time.
Most of it's Barton propaganda: the meme is EVERYWHERE. I can google on SOCAS,xtianity, & pick a site, & it's from his tainted book, 'Myth of Separation of Church & State.'
I have 3 posts, 'OF CANONS, CANNONS, & CANARDS – PART THE ONE [TWO, & THREE] – ORIGINAL INTENT' which you may find of interest.

9:34 PM EDT  
Blogger beepbeepitsme said...

Great original post :)

8:17 AM EDT  
Blogger franky said...

Yes, yes, yes. The founders were hypocrites and elitist as well who despised/distrusted the majority. Why do you think we have the electoral college?
Great history lesson, thanks :)

2:35 PM EDT  
Blogger TheJollyNihilist said...


Thanks for your interesting comments. I'm always on the lookout for misinformation propagated by the Christian right. They really have a strange fondness for fictitious recants on the deathbed. They invented one about Darwin, so it doesn't shock me at all to hear they invented one about Paine. However, I didn't know it all could be traced back to one pseudo-historical book by a revisionist.

It seems that the bottom line is the Founding Fathers were mixed on religious issues. Nevertheless, the Treaty of Tripoli stands as a defining moment in setting this country's course--a SECULAR course.


Thanks for the compliment!


You're welcome. Glad you enjoyed the post! It's true, I don't have a quarter of the reverence for the Founding Fathers that most people do. Your example of the Electoral College is a perfect one. It amazes me that we still have that stupid system in place, even today.

7:08 PM EDT  
Blogger KA said...

Well, Barton's still around. The recant meme started w/Voltaire, then Paine. Ingeroll offered a $1000 reward for proof that either of them had, someone laid claim, but couldn't prove.
Of course, there's claims that Ingersoll himself recanted.
All unprovable.

Yes, yes, yes. The founders were hypocrites and elitist as well who despised/distrusted the majority. Why do you think we have the electoral college?
You don't know what you're talking about.
From the Legal Encyclopedia:
"In the popular election, the American people actually vote for electors, not the candidates themselves. The candidate receiving the majority of votes from electors takes office. Although the Constitution allows the electors to vote for any candidate, they usually vote for the candidate of the political party that nominated them. In a limited number of instances, the structure of the electoral college has led to unusual election results.

The republican basis of the electoral college stems from the Constitution. When the founders of the United States set out to secure a system of political representation, many among them feared mob rule. Elections based on representative blocks of votes would implement checks within the system. The founders took into consideration that large numbers of regional candidates could appeal to the interests of various select groups, and thus the populace could be divided widely, and disturbances in the succession of power could ensue."

""We are all full of weakness and errors, let us mutually pardon each other our follies. It is the first law of nature."
- Voltaire.

1:22 AM EDT  
Anonymous bernarda said...

See George Carlin's video on the 10 commandments which he reduces to 2. Probably on Google Video, but it must be easy to find.

Also, 5 of the 6 first presidents were not Christians. Only John Quincy Adams was. The others were at most theists, called deists in those days, and they specifically rejected christian dogma.

8:54 AM EDT  
Blogger KA said...

Also, 5 of the 6 first presidents were not Christians. Only John Quincy Adams was. The others were at most theists, called deists in those days, and they specifically rejected christian dogma.
Oh no, that's not true at all.
1. Washington - Episcopalian
2. J. Adams -Unitarian
3. Jefferson- Deist
4. Madison -Episcopalian
5. Monroe -Episcopalian
6. J. Q. Adams -Unitarian
7. Jackson -Presbyterian
8. Van Buren -Reformed Dutch

11:39 PM EDT  

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