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Christian Nation
Letter to the Editor
Wednesday, September 7, 2011 • Posted September 7, 2011

Dear Gerry,

Perhaps this letter will put to bed the annual squabbling about whether or not this is a Christian nation, founded by Christians.Our founders had no problem with the “general principles of Christianity,” but just about all the major figures had problems with its details and practice. In his version of the bible, Jefferson edited out the miracles, but kept the teachings, which he considered wonderful. Jefferson expressed the hope that someday this country would home a diversity of believers and he included Moslems. “It is in our lives, and not from our words, that our religion must be read.” If we all cultivated generosity, compassion, forgiveness, kindliness, and tolerance, who would care about what diverse personal belief systems were thus manifested? If your readers would read about the perfectly beastly behaviors exhibited by American colonists to other colonists, you would readily understand Jefferson’s “hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” It is a well-attested fact by his contemporaries, including his local clergy, that Washington never took communion; Martha stayed, but George left the church. In an 1831 sermon involving much research (e.g. Washington’s rector), one Rev. Wilson said that Washington was “a typical 18th century Deist, not a Christian, in his religious outlook.” Rev. Wilson went on to state, “The founders of our nation were nearly all infidels...and of the presidents ...thus far elected, not a one professed a belief in Christianity.” (Those presidents were Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, J.Q. Adams, Jackson.) In his first inaugural speech, Washington cited “the Great Author,” “Almighty Being,” “parent of the human race”; he did not use the words God or Jesus. The Treaty of Tripoli was drafted on GW’s watch, but unanimously ratified by the Senate under John Adams. Its article 11 reads, “As the government of the US of A is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion...” James Madison, in a 1785 response to Virginia’s considering “establishing a provision for teachers of the Christian religion,” wrote a manifesto presenting 15 reasons why government should not support a specific religion. This document and other letters have been used by the Supreme Court to interpret the first amendment as intending to erect a wall of separation between church and state. Really, one could go on and on. For some reason, many people nowadays just can’t accept that religion’s being kept out of government protects all religious beliefs. Indeed, it certainly seems to me that those screaming loudest that this is a Christian nation are, at the same time, belittling other citizens’ different beliefs. Rather than itemize founding fathers’ attitudes, all we have to do it look at the result of all their efforts, the US Constitution. Christianity was voted out. We know this because one Luther Martin proposed at its drafting that the document contain some sort of way to distinguish practitioners of Christianity from other believers. His proposition was rejected and an entirely secular document, the US Constitution, was drafted. No God. No Jesus. No Christianity. No Christians. Nada. Even the concept of religion only appears in a measure to eliminate its influence, “...no religious test shall ever be required...”. The Right’s more rabid element can shout until they’re blue that this was, is, and evermore shall be a Christian nation, but that’s just not supported by facts. Our founders were good men, men of ideals, men who for the most part actively cultivated virtue, but most of the movers and shakers were not necessarily card-carrying Christians. It was the Age of Enlightenment. Deism was in the air. They can’t be turned into what they weren’t.

Helen Liston

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