Ming the Mechanic:
The Secular American Founders

The NewsLog of Flemming Funch
 The Secular American Founders2004-11-29 17:58
picture by Flemming Funch

Nice article in Ms. Magazine (eh, no, I don't normally read that), Fighting Words For A Secular America, about the framers of the U.S. Constitution and to which degree their endeavor had religious roots. I.e. is the U.S. a christian country founded by devout christians who founded the laws on the authority of God? The U.S. religious right, like the current regime in power, would like to claim so, and many people would be inclined to believe it. Just happens not to be true.
[T]he 1796 Treaty of Tripoli — initiated by George Washington and signed into law by John Adams — proclaims: “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian Religion.”

Offices for "Faith-Based Initiatives" with nearly $20 billion in grants have been established (by executive order, circumventing Congress) in 10 federal agencies, as well as inside the White House. This fails "the Lemon Test", violating a 1971 Supreme Court decision (Lemon v. Kurtzman): "first, a statute [or public policy] must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principal or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion; finally, the statute [or policy] must not foster ‘excessive government entanglement with religion.'"

When Attorney General John Ashcroft repeatedly invokes religion, the Founders must be picketing in their graves. They were a mix of freethinkers, atheists, Christians, agnostics, Freemasons and Deists (professing belief in powers scientifically evinced in the natural universe). They surely were imperfect. Some were slaveholders.

Female citizens were invisible to them — though Abigail Adams warned her husband John, "If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies, we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation."

But the Founders were, after all, revolutionaries. Their passion — especially regarding secularism — glows in the documents they forged and in their personal words.

Indeed, the constitutional framers had quite some poignant words to say about the separation of church and state. Which would get them accused of being the worst sort of liberal communist devil worshippers, if they were saying them today, I'm sure.
Thomas Paine: "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. My own mind is my own church" (The Age of Reason, 1794).

Benjamin Franklin: "Some volumes against Deism fell into my hands ... they produced an effect precisely the reverse to what was intended by the writers; for the arguments of the Deists, which were cited in order to be refuted, appeared to me much more forcibly than the refutation itself; in a word, I soon became a thorough Deist"

I actually myself had missed the distinction of deism vs theism. Deism is when one believes in a first cause based on reason rather than faith. It is contrasted to theism. Deism is mostly synonymous with "natural religion" in 18th century Enlightenment writings. A modernist movement inspired by the success of the scientific method. The founders were mostly inspired by deism, although some of them were theists and some were atheists.
The false image of Washington as a devout Christian was fabricated by Mason Locke Weems, a clergyman who also invented the cherry-tree fable and in 1800 published his Life of George Washington. Washington, a Deist and a Freemason, never once mentioned the name of Jesus Christ in any of his thousands of letters, and pointedly referred to divinity as "It."

Whenever he (rarely) attended church, Washington always deliberately left before communion, demonstrating disbelief in Christianity's central ceremony.

And then there's Thomas Jefferson:
It's a commonly stated error that U.S. law, based on English common law, is thus grounded in Judeo-Christian tradition.

Yet Jefferson (writing to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814 ) noted that common law "is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement in England ...about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century. ...We may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law."

Jefferson professed disbelief in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus Christ, while respecting moral teachings by whomever might have been a historical Jesus. He cut up a Bible, assembling his own version: "The whole history of these books [the Gospels] is so defective and doubtful," he wrote Adams (January 24, 1814), "evidence that parts have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds."

Anyway, there's lots more. Those were definitely thinking people. It is a shame that their work is being undone. But then again, it can't completely be undone as long as anybody can go back and examine what the United States was based on, and as long as anybody can still read English and think independently once in a while.

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29 Nov 2004 @ 18:39 by Ge Zi @ : sometimes it is hard ...
... to question all the things you hear during a long day. There just seems to be too little time to follow up each and every affirmation you hear.

In this case I have been subject to the belief that, yes, this country was a christian country.

Thanks for setting me straight. ;-))

2 Dec 2004 @ 22:50 by Nathan Caplin @ : We are a Judeo Christian country
The truth is ming our nation is based on Protestant Christianity and the individualism it embraces. Even Jefferson recognized our Creator as the giver of our rights and freedoms -- he also prayed in public and attended Christian religious meeting in the House of Representative. Washignton, Madison, and many other founders were faithful Christians. The Judeo part comes in, because our founders also believed in and respected the Old Testament (including the Torah) and Ten Commandments. Lincoln, Roosevelt, and all other influential presidents after them were Christians.  

3 Dec 2004 @ 00:43 by ming : Judeochristians
Oh, today the country is obviously run by JudeoChristians. And there's only religious freedom if you're Jewish or Christian. But, no, that somebody shows respect for the bible or for religious ceremonies or that they pray does not put them under your religion. It is not YOUR creator. No copyright or trademark or ownership there. If anything, it is the other way around. We're all sharing the same universe and we're all made of the same stuff from the same source. And what I like about the early founders is that they had the guts to stand up for that, rather than allowing the words of a particular group of folks to rule everything.  

10 Feb 2005 @ 01:08 by Nathan Caplin @ : The founders believed in G-d
Hamilton, Adams, Washington, etc. believed in G-d and were Christians. The truth is all religions are protected, but the basis of our freedoms came from the idea that G-d grants inalienable rights to all men. That idea was uniquely Protestant/Puritain/Classical-liberal.

It's not true that only Christians and Jews have religious freedom in the US. Hindus, Muslims, and other religions have just as much freedom as Christian religions. Just because over 90% of our country rejects religions other than Christianity and Judaism, doesn't mean those minority religions are afforded constitutional rights.

Our Founding Fathers believed in a Creator and that belief was culturally Christian.

You are right there is only one Father of the world, He belongs to no one; we belong to Him. We're His children.  

10 Feb 2005 @ 14:07 by martha : He- Him
For one thing GOD is not male and i wish people would stop referring to the source that way. It is old thinking to make the source a MAN even if meant in the generic sense to cover both men and women. You need to adjust your terms Nathan.
I also don't believe the statement that only christians and jews have religious freedom in this country. We have many religions in America and as far as I know there is NO law to stop you practicing your religion. Ming and Nathan you are both not correct in your assumptions on this and mis informing the world about the US.  

10 Feb 2005 @ 14:45 by ming : Deists
Well, I find it comforting that the founders seemed to be leaning more towards deism than theism. And that they deliberately created a system with religious freedom and a secular government. But there are many forces that would like to thwart that and pretend that it is all just christianity. Like the present administration that sneaks in prayer services in the whitehouse and faith-based initiatives and that kind of thing. Anyway, it is more a matter of what the people in power happen to be pushing. Yes, luckily there are no laws hindering the practice of any religion. Then again, you can be a christian in Saudi Arabia, but that doesn't necessarily make it a free country.  

10 Feb 2005 @ 14:50 by vibrani : Hello
have we ever had a president who was Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, or a full-blood American Indian/Native American? How about a Witch or Pagan? Of course it's about the Christian/Catholics as the predominant power. Christmas is a legal national holiday. Easter is a legal national holiday. The New Year is a legal national holiday, and it's not the Jewish one on Jan. 1, Ming. Name me any other holiday from any other religion that is celebrated legally, nationally? And the people in power are pushing Christian fundamentalism, in case you hadn't noticed.

Source isn't a he or she. Are some people so conditioned, vocabulary challenged, that they can't even be creative enough to use a non-gender term like "It?" (Or do these guys really believe the Source is a male?)  

10 Feb 2005 @ 14:54 by martha : Saudi Arabia and America
I really don't think it is fair to compare Saudi Arabia and America as far as religious freedom!. Really ming...LOL...Women have almost no freedom in SA.
Yes the present administration is caught up in evangalizing but they will be gone in 2008. The Clintons certainly didn't push their religious beliefs on anyone.
Many people in America such as muslims, Buddists, and hindus can openly practice their beliefs here.

Actually what I see happening in America is more people beginning to question Christian doctrin and it's limiting theology which is great. Let the Bushes and Aschcrofts of the world continue their narrow focus. It is a fine example of how disconnected they are and can only lead people who know how to think for themselves question many of the control beliefs that only cause seperation and war.

Good points Nora. Yes America is Christian based but it doesn't have to remain that way. Times are changing.

i think many people think of god as male or use the generic HE to cover anyone because they are not sensitive to women. They continue the old propoganda and are too lazy to reconsider how insulted many women feel about such an antiquated way to talk about source, it, zero point energy or whatever label you want to put on the energy that connects us all.  

7 Mar 2005 @ 23:14 by Nate @ : He/she
G-d is male -- if you don't believe that you are neither Christian nor Jewish nor Muslim. My terminology is based on my beliefs (Judeo Christian values, American Christianty). Your terms on based on your beliefs (political correctitude, secularism, feminism). I'll say "He" you can say "it". I won't conform to political correctness to satisfy some girl -- my beliefs are more important than your version of political correctness.
PS. A majority of the World believes the Creator is a man (2 billion + Christians, 1.3 Billion Muslims, Jews)  

7 Mar 2005 @ 23:23 by nathan caplin @ : Saudi Arabia
Ming, it's illegal to own a Bible in Saudi Arabia. It's also illegal to preach anything other than Wahabism (the official sect of Saudi Arabia). They have a religious police force that tortures those who stray. America has more religious freedom than any other country (including European countries). That won't change unless people like Martha get into power. (Sounds like she would censor people's Bibles and throw traditionalists into reeducation camps where they would come out politically correct and submissive). So, in a way Ming, America has the potential to be like Saudi Arabia, albeit a leftist version, if radicals come into power. Some people would like to force their religion down the throats of Americans -- that religion is called secularism.  

10 Mar 2005 @ 21:22 by ming : Religious freedom
Sounds like you define religious freedom as the degree of dominance that your religion has.

Religious belief is sort of a weird thing. It really has a sizable part in how the world is run only because of the mass of people who believe each thing, and the ability of some of them to get into positions of power. Most of what goes for religious beliefs would be considered delusional insanity if it weren't that they were shared by so many people, and thus gain a sizable leverage. If I believed that the world was made of green kryptonite and the spiderman was going to come and save it, and I stood up and tried to convince other people to believe it too, I'd just be considered crazy. Am I free do believe so? Yes, of course. But I probably shouldn't be operating heavy machinery or be responsible for any important organization or anything.

Now, the status quo is that maybe up to half of the earth's population believes something that is equivalent to the earth being made of kryptonite, and that spiderman will save us. They not only think it is an inspiring and meaningful story, they are thoroughly convinced, and are no longer open to perceive anything that might conflict with that belief. They base their lives and their actions on believing in crazy things that aren't really there and that have no relation to factual information. And since there are so many of them, the norm has become to accept unquestioningly what they believe in, as it is religious freedom. But it worries me that they're driving on the freeway next to me, seeing thing, and that some of them become world leaders, and make big decisions based on secret messages in their heads, from spiderman.

And, no, it is not really that I have something against religion as such. It can be a good thing to have stories and traditions and rituals and holy books that provide a framework for how one understands the world to work. And, hey, I also see things that aren't necessarily physically there. But there's the sort of frightening thing that happens when it goes fundamentalist, and people start believing that some book that a bunch of folks wrote a couple of thousands years ago is THE message from the creator of the universe. Again, nothing greatly wrong with the book itself, even if might not have terribly much to do with the real Jesus or Mohammed or whoever, so it is more when somebody comes along many hundreds of years later and decides to interpret it in their own particular hardcore fashion, and convince people that this is the REAL version. There are just too many weak links there, and it ends up having very little to do with the amazing creation process of the universe, and principles for good living. And all to do with somebody's circular mental processes, reinforced by peers who share the same dysfunctions.

No, again, I'm glad that the framers of the U.S. constitution had a bigger and more inclusive view. That they were smart and aware folks who could think independently, and see the need for allowing others to do so too.  

21 Apr 2016 @ 08:21 by Honney @ : TAqmrKQTwcXpHNVu
Haha. I woke up down today. You've chreeed me up!  

Other stories in
2011-11-24 00:54: Blind and Automatic Punishment
2011-11-19 22:50: Corruption
2007-03-16 01:50: Logic and the Autobahn
2007-01-22 21:14: The Century of the Self
2006-12-12 21:43: Le Web 3
2006-12-11 00:14: Software and Community in the Early 21st Century
2006-12-04 21:42: Troubadours and the Singable Earth Charter
2006-10-26 18:11: A message from DHS
2006-02-09 21:41: Mohammed cartoons in Egypt
2006-02-09 20:46: Instigators of the Mohammed controversy

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