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Faith and The Founders

There is a widespread and dangerous misconception that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. As religious fundamentalism increases today, so does the likelihood that faith-based laws will be enacted and enforced by our government. Items on the agenda of faith-wielding politicians—who are increasingly pushing for rule by religion—include banning abortion, criminalizing sexual acts between consenting adults, and (further) stifling the creation and use of life-promoting medical treatments. To protect America from these wannabe Mullahs, we must understand and propagate the truth that the founding fathers were as opposed to religious tyranny as they were to every other form of statism.

This piece in the New York Times briefly reviews three books that consider the Founding Fathers’ religious beliefs and their opinions on the place of religion in government. (Spoiler: It has no place.) Based on the review, two of the books—David L. Holmes’s “Faiths of the Founding Fathers” and Peter R. Henriques’ “Realistic Visionary”—merit reading by those interested in the topic. Even the piece itself is interesting reading as it contains specific facts indicating not only that the Founding Fathers were serious about the whole “separation of church and state” thing, but also that most of them were, by today’s standards, barely religious at all. You might know that Thomas Jefferson “cut and pasted his own Bible”—but did you know that John Adams denied “the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, total depravity and predestination”? That would be a good thing for all Americans to know.

Comments:

From Peter Murphy, May 11, 2006

And what is also conspicuously absent from today’s religionists’ revisionism is the reason why the founding fathers advocated the separation of church and state – namely: they recognized that faith was useless in gaining knowledge, and therefore destructive in the public sphere whenever injected into a government’s legitimate processes like adjudicating contract disputes or legislating to protect individual rights. Only a dispassionate identification of facts and reasoned evaluation by objective standards like the Bill of Rights, they held, could have any chance of arriving at the level of justice required by a civilized society. Contrast their dominantly pro-reason stance with the so-called “courts” of today’s theocratic societies like Egypt or Iraq: God said it (as interpreted by my feelings about this book), you must believe it, and that settles it! This is the key argument against the incursion of religion into government: reason and faith are irreconcilable opposites, with the former enabling civilization and progress, and the latter leading inexorably to barbarism and annihilation. Faith must remain solely in the private sphere (where, in a more rational society, it will naturally atrophy as it did among most of the Founding Fathers).

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