Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Our Founding Fathers' Faith

Once again, I am sooo sick and tired of hearing people say that America is a Christian nation, and that we have to protect its Christian interests and integrity. I have done hours of personal research on the topic of the forefathers' faith and, as best as anyone can interpret, their intent with faith's/Christianity's role in the founding and governing of our nation, and have come to the conclusion that we are not a Christian nation, were never intended to be, don't know where that implication is coming from within a historical context, and am scared that so many think its the governments job to "protect" and "implement" Christian values.

Through my research, I have learned of the faith backgrounds of many of the founding fathers. Many people will only look at the issue from one side or the other; they either were devout Christians who wanted a Christian nation, or they weren't religious men, and therefore wanted a nation that didn't acknowledge religion. I think its both and neither.

Those in the "Christian nation" camp base their viewpoint on the fact the founding fathers believed in God and/or were "religious men." They were "religious" men...most of them. Most of them did believe in God, at least, as God the Creator. But in Jesus? In the foundational principles that Christianity is based on, such as redemption through Jesus alone, that Jesus was God in the flesh, the Holy Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit), that we are all one day destined for either heaven or hell, that God is someone who cares to be a part of our daily lives.... That is another matter entirely.

Here are the Founding Fathers' religious affiliations:

* John Adams - Unitarian
Unitarians are open to the teachings of Jesus, but accept all faiths as worthwhile and valid. They do not believe in eternal damnation or hell, believing all will one day enter heaven.

* Samuel Adams - Most likely a believer in Jesus, based on the wording of his last will and testament:
"Principally, and first of all, I resign my soul to the Almighty Being who gave it, and my body I commit to the dust, relying on the merits of Jesus Christ for the pardon of my sins."


* Benjamin Franklin - Deist
A Deist is "One who believes in the existence of a God or supreme being but denies revealed religion, basing his belief on the light of nature and reason." Deists reject the Judeo-Christian accounts of God as well as the Bible. They do believe that God is eternal and good, but flatly reject having a relationship with Him through Christ.

* Alexander Hamilton - Episcopalian, appears to be a believer in Jesus, as evidenced by his purported dying words:
"I have a tender reliance on the mercy of the Almighty, through the merits of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am a sinner. I look to Him for mercy; pray for me."
However, I must note, these were only "purportedly" his last words. They are not in written form, therefore not verifiable.

*Patrick Henry - May or may not be a believer in Jesus, most likely was, based on a letter to his daughter:
"Amongst other strange things said of me, I hear it is said by the deists that I am one of the number; and indeed, that some good people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain than the appellation of Tory; because I think religion of infinitely higher importance than politics; and I find much cause to reproach myself that I have lived so long, and have given no decided and public proofs of my being a Christian. But, indeed, my dear child, this is a character which I prize far above all this world has, or can boast."
I find it interesting though that he mentions he didn't speak about his Christian beliefs publicly. His faith was personal and private.

* John Jay - Most likely was a believer in Christ, based on a letter to John Bristed:
"While in France . . . I do not recollect to have had more than two conversations with atheists about their tenents. The first was this: I was at a large party, of which were several of that description. They spoke freely and contemptuously of religion. I took no part in the conversation. In the course of it, one of them asked me if I believed in Christ? I answered that I did, and that I thanked God that I did."

* Thomas Jefferson - Deist
Deists respect Christ's teachings, but reject His divinity, His miracles, and His resurrection - all fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. Jefferson penned The Jefferson Bible: The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth Extracted Textually from the Gospels, in which he removed all mentionings of miracles or anything of supernatural nature, such as the resurrection and ascention, which are the most fundamental of all fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. So I can only conclude that Jefferson was definitely NOT a Christian!

* George Washington - Cannot be determined
All his writings, and writings by others about his faith, contradict one another. I believe he did have a sense of faith and belief in God the Creator, but whether it goes beyond that is unknown.

There is much more to read, and is put much better than I have, here. It is the most unbiased, factually-based source I have found so far.

So, as far as bonafide, Jesus-believing Christians, of the ones listed above, I think its safe to say it was about 50/50. ALL believed in a higher power, but some definitely did NOT believe in the divinity, ressurrection, and ascention of Jesus, and therefore cannot be considered Christians.

Okay, and here's where I get all preachy.... Belief in God alone, without Jesus, does NOT a Christian make! The Bible addresses this in James 2:19. "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder." I understand that I am taking the verse somewhat out of context - in full context it applies to belief without action (faith without works) - but the bottom line is, you can be a believer in God, but that doesn't make you a Christian. Simply acknowledging God doesn't mean you believe in, or put your faith in, His Son, Jesus Christ. So certainly demons wouldn't consider themselves Christians! But yet, they do acknowledge there is a God. Much the same, one can believe in God, but that doesn't make them a Christian. So it bugs me when people assume that just because the founding fathers were men of faith that translates into them being Christians, and them therefore basing our government on Christian principles.

But here's where it gets tricky.... Our founding fathers were men of faith...one faith or another. Certainly their faiths drove their personal belief systems, and it was their personal convictions that determined what was written into our governing documents. However, I cannot believe our nation was founded INTENTIONALLY on Christian principles, because not all our founding fathers shared the same faith, and therefore, I cannot believe they would have all been in accordance on founding our nation on the belief system of one sector of them all. I do, however, think that they all acknowledged that Americans have an entitlement to exercise their God-given rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I mean, that's pretty clear-cut, indisputably written into our Declaration of Independence. But...even atheists believe in the universal principles of personal safety, protection, privacy (life), freedom to govern ones own life as they see fit without restrictions by others (liberty), and the ability to work toward prosperity (pursuit of happiness). Yes, you could say these are Christian principles, because they are - most definitely they were things God established and Jesus taught about and fought for while He walked among us - but they are principles that nobody in humanity can argue with, regardless of religious affiliation. They are HUMAN principles! Given by God, yes, but I hardly think we can call them "Christian principles," because ALL men - Christian and non-Christian alike - believe in treating others with respect for their life, liberties, and pursuit of happiness! It is so much farther-reaching than Christianity! So I don't believe our founding fathers wrote those principles in because they were in one Christian accord....because they weren't all Christians! I believe they wrote it in there because they were in HUMAN accord - they wanted the best life possible given to every American, regardless of where they stood religiously.

Now, all that said, do I deny Christianity's role in our history and government? Not for a second! But I still don't think we are, or were ever intended to be, a Christian nation. Instead, I believe we are a "nation that is predominantly inhabited, and therefore heavily influenced throughout history, BY Christians." We see God everywhere in this great nation of ours. Christians are involved in humanitarian works, politics....there are Christian churches everywhere....we openly pray and give talks, we share our faith openly with others... We are definitely a nation predominantly "OF" Christians, but we aren't exclusively a "Christian nation," and were not ever intended to be.

But I firmly believe every Christian has an obligation to make America great. We have an obligation to meet the needs of our friends and neighbors; those down the block, 10 states over, and around the globe. I believe we need to take care of our country's money and resources, our environment... We need to be productive, loving, caring people who uphold what Christ is about WITHIN our nation, and in our relationships with other nations. We have been called by God to be used by Him in whatever capacity we can right where He has put us, and we are fortunate enough to be Christians in America, where we can easily, freely, and safely commune and collaborate with other Christians. But would God's call be any different if we were a believer in India, Japan, or Afghanistan? No, it wouldn't. We are called to His work no matter where we live. So here in America, we are the "nation's Christians," but are still not a "Christian nation."

So to say we're a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles, by founding fathers who were Christians, I believe is inaccurate. But on the flip side, to say we're a nation without godly influence, without God-fearing, love-spreading Christians, is also inaccurate. Our culture is immersed in Christian influence, but our government was not designed to uphold, protect, or influence it, nor push Christian values on the unwilling. America is for ALL MEN!! Christian and non-Christian, ALL men's rights are protected under our Constitution, and NO man's rights should be determined, restricted, or undermined by our government!

One final note.... If you cannot tell - either from this post or others - I am a Christian. However I am against the religious right pushing Christian values on the unwilling non-Christian. So if its possible for me to retain a level of separation between my Christian convictions and my political ones, do you think its possible that our founding fathers were able to as well? I think they were more than capable, and I think they saw the value in doing so. Even the most Christian of our founding fathers were able to acknowledge the need for a government that respected the rights of even those who weren't Christians. In my opinion, it is quite pious to think that one group's relgious values should be everyone's political values. So I am incredibly grateful that our founding fathers had the good sense to recognize the harm and oppression of a government founded as such, and didn't establish America that way!