I have heard many complaints about the recent Court decission that recognises the term "under god" in the pledge of alligience as being unconstitutional, and many suggestions - and outright declarations - that the United States is a Christian nation or that "In God we trust" is our national motto.
Here is a succinct explanation of where this misinformation is coming from:
"The Christian right is trying to rewrite the history of the United States as part of its campaign to force its religion on others. They try to depict the founding fathers as pious Christians who wanted the United States to be a Christian nation, with laws that favored Christians and Christianity.
"This is patently untrue. The early presidents and patriots were generally Deists or Unitarians, believing in some form of impersonal Providence but rejecting the divinity of Jesus and the absurdities of the Old and New testaments."
from: The Founding Fathers Were Not Christians by Steven Morris, in Free Inquiry, Fall, 1995
Nonetheless, we do have a national motto here in these United State - in fact, we have two!
First of all, "E Pluribus Unum" graces the front of the Great Seal of the United States. It means, as most folks know, "Out of many, comes one."
Secondly, the obverse of that selfsame Great Seal proclaims, "Novus Ordo Seclorum," meaning "New Secular Order."
To proclaim this a secular nation was a deliberate slap in the collective face of all European royalty, who traditionally ruled by "divine right." The use of the term "Natures God" in the Constitution itself was a further neo-pagan step from either 'man's God' or 'religion's god' as mandated by law in most European countries of the time.
"God Bless America" or "In God We Trust" are most certainly not our national mottoes. In fact, "In God We Trust" is a Christian political slogan that was not added to our currency until 1956, during the McCarthy Hysteria, as a direct response to Karl Marx' famous indictment of religion as the opiate of the masses.
We adopted this slogan because tailgunner Joe conned the general population into believing that the peoples of Russia, Yugoslavia, Poland, etc. were "Godless" people and we needed to distance ourselves from them at a national level. It is a good saying and a better motto to adopt as one's own and to live by. Still and all, it is not our national motto.
I have heard even well-educated people who ought to know better proclaim that, "Christian men and women founded this nation on Christian principles," and that, "this is clearly documented."
It sounds nice and may be a comforting thought, but the facts don't back it up.
In a sermon of October 1831, Episcopalian minister Bird Wilson said,
Where are the Christian origins of the United States supposed to be documented? Nobody can ever name a source. Are they referring to the "Puritan" pilgrims, who were extremists of the Anglican Church and fled England in order to live in a land where Anglicism would be the only religion when King James Stewart lifted the ban on Roman Catholicism? They didn't found this nation. This was a part of England at that time. This land was under English rule until the time of the American Revolution.
Between 1770 and 1786, less than seven percent of the English subjects living in the 13 colonies were Christians, according to the many polls and censuses taken prior to and following the Revolution.. There is no evidence anywhere that any of the framers or signers of either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution ever belonged to any Christian denomination.
There were many Catholics in French Canada and Spanish Mexico/California, but other than very little assistance from the French very late in the Revolution, they were wholly uninvolved in the founding of this nation.
In their own words, and from well documented sources, here are what the Founding Fathers of these United States of America had to say about religion in general and Christianity in Particular:
Thomas Paine was a pamphleteer whose manifestos encouraged the faltering spirits of the country and aided materially in winning the war of Independence:
"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... Each of those churches accuse the others of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all."
"Among the most detestable villains in history, you could not find one worse than Moses. Here is an order, attributed to 'God' to butcher the boys, to massacre the mothers and to debauch and rape the daughters. I would not dare so dishonor my Creator's name by attaching it to this filthy book (the Bible)."
"It is the duty of every true Deist to vindicate the moral justice of God against the evils of the Bible."
"Accustom a people to believe that priests and clergy can forgive sins... and you will have sins in abundance."
And; "The Christian church has set up a religion of pomp and revenue in pretended imitation of a person (Jesus) who lived a life of poverty."
From: The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine, pp. 8,9 (Republished 1984, Prometheus Books, Buffalo, NY)
George Washington, the first president of the United States, never declared himself a Christian according to contemporary reports or in any of his voluminous correspondence. Washington Championed the cause of freedom from religious intolerance and compulsion. When John Murray (a universalist who denied the existence of hell) was invited to become an army chaplain, the other chaplains petitioned Washington for his dismissal. Instead, Washington gave him the appointment. On his deathbed, Washington uttered no words of a religious nature and did not call for a clergyman to be in attendance.
From: George Washington and Religion by Paul F. Boller Jr., pp. 16, 87, 88, 108, 113, 121, 127 (1963, Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, TX)
John Adams, the country's second president, was drawn to the study of law but faced pressure from his father to become a clergyman. He wrote that he found among the lawyers "noble and gallant achievements" but among the clergy, the "pretended sanctity of some absolute dunces."
"Where do we find a precept in the Bible for Creeds, Confessions, Doctrines and Oaths, and whole carloads of other trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days?"
"The doctrine of the divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity."
Late in life he wrote: "Twenty times in the course of my late reading, have I been upon the point of breaking out, "This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!"
It was during Adam's administration that the Senate ratified the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which states in Article XI that "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."
From: The Character of John Adams by Peter Shaw, pp. 17 (1976, North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, NC) Quoting a letter by JA to Charles Cushing Oct 19, 1756, and John Adams, A Biography in his Own Words, edited by James Peabody, p. 403 (1973, Newsweek, New York NY) Quoting letter by JA to Jefferson April 19, 1817, and in reference to the treaty, Thomas Jefferson, Passionate Pilgrim by Alf Mapp Jr., pp. 311 (1991, Madison Books, Lanham, MD) quoting letter by TJ to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, June, 1814.
Thomas Jefferson, third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, said: "I trust that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian." He went so far as to edit the Bible, which he called "a dunghill," deleting everything but the direct quotes from poor old Jesus Himself, whose divinity Jefferson denied, and to publish it as The Jefferson Bible. He referred to the Revelation of St. John as "The ravings of a maniac" and wrote:
The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ leveled to every understanding and too plain to need explanation, saw, in the mysticisms of Plato, materials with which they might build up an artificial system which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power, and pre-eminence. The doctrines which flowed from the lips of Jesus himself are within the comprehension of a child; but thousands of volumes have not yet explained the Platonisms engrafted on them: and for this obvious reason that nonsense can never be explained."
"Christianity...(has become) the most perverted system that ever shone on man. ... Rogueries, absurdities and untruths were perpetrated upon the teachings of Jesus by a large band of dupes and imposters led by Paul, the first great corrupter of the teaching of Jesus."
"The clergy converted the simple teachings of Jesus into an engine for enslaving mankind and adulterated by artificial constructions into a contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves...these clergy, in fact, constitute the real Anti-Christ.
"I have examined all the known superstitions of the word, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth."
From: Thomas Jefferson, an Intimate History by Fawn M. Brodie, p. 453 (1974, W.W) Norton and Co. Inc. New York, NY) Quoting a letter by TJ to Alexander Smyth Jan 17, 1825, and Thomas Jefferson, Passionate Pilgrim by Alf Mapp Jr., pp. 246 (1991, Madison Books, Lanham, MD) quoting letter by TJ to John Adams, July 5, 1814. Six HIistoric Americans, by John E. Remsburg, letter to William Short
James Madison, fourth president and father of the Constitution, was not religious in any conventional sense. "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise."
"During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution."
"What influence in fact have Christian ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In many instances they have been upholding the thrones of political tyranny. In no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty have found in the clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, does not need the clergy."
Madison objected to state-supported chaplains in Congress and to the exemption of churches from taxation. He wrote:
"Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."
From: The Madisons by Virginia Moore, P. 43 (1979, McGraw-Hill Co. New York, NY) quoting a letter by JM to William Bradford April 1, 1774, and James Madison, A Biography in his Own Words, edited by Joseph Gardner, p. 93, (1974, Newsweek, New York, NY) Quoting Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments by JM, June 1785.
Ethan Allen, whose capture of Fort Ticonderoga while commanding the Green Mountain Boys helped inspire Congress and the country to pursue the War of Independence, said, "That Jesus Christ was not God is evidence from his own words." In the same book, Allen noted that he was generally "denominated a Deist, the reality of which I never disputed, being conscious that I am no Christian." When Allen married Fanny Buchanan, he stopped his own wedding ceremony when the judge asked him if he promised "to live with Fanny Buchanan agreeable to the laws of God." Allen refused to answer until the judge agreed that the God referred to was the God of Nature, and the laws those "written in the great book of nature."
From: Religion of the American Enlightenment by G. Adolph Koch, p. 40 (1968, Thomas Crowell Co., New York, NY.) quoting preface and p. 352 of Reason, the Only Oracle of Man and A Sense of History compiled by American Heritage Press Inc., p. 103 (1985, American Heritage Press, Inc., New York, NY.)
Benjamin Franklin, delegate to the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, Ambassador to France, publisher of the neo-pagan Poor Richard's Almanac, author of Fart Proudly, celebrated Sybarite and womanizer, said:
As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion... has received various corrupting Changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his Divinity; tho' it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the Truth with less trouble." He died a month later, and historians consider him, like so many great Americans of his time, to be a Deist, not a Christian.
From: Benjamin Franklin, A Biography in his Own Words, edited by Thomas Fleming, p. 404, (1972, Newsweek, New York, NY) quoting letter by BF to Exra Stiles March 9, 1790.
The Treaty of Tripoli, passed by the U.S. Senate in 1797, echoed the Treaty of Peace and Friendship,when it said in part: "The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion." The treaty was written during the Washington administration, and sent to the Senate during the Adams administration. It was read aloud to the Senate, and each Senator received a printed copy. This was the 339th time that a recorded vote was required by the Senate, but only the third time a vote was unanimous (the next time was to honor George Washington). There is no record of any debate or dissension on the treaty. It was reprinted in full in three newspapers - two in Philadelphia, one in New York City. There is no record of public outcry or complaint in subsequent editions of the papers.
I've listened to many suppposed Christians saying disentious and xenophobic things such as, "If God offends you, go live in another part of the world, because God is part of America."
While I'm certainly not offended by anyones belief in god(s), this xenophobic attitude offeds me quite badly!
There are a lot of Christians in America, but there are a lot of Jews here too, and a lot of Moslems, a lot of Hindus, a lot of Bhuddists and a surprising number of Pagans, including many of what's left of the original Americans.
The fact is, the latest American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) reflects that nearly 13% of the population has no religion. This comes to over 30,000,000 Americans, a figure larger than most American religious denominations.
To say that only people who believe and think alike can live here is way too much like what the Holy Ayatollah preached in Iran a decade or two ago - and look where that shallow, hateful mindset has lead those poor people!
Love God. Worship God. Praise God. However, whenever and wherever you please. But don't stop there; cherish the right, as an American, to do these things in your own way, free from the government telling you how or when or where you must do it!
Freedom of religion is a right granted to the People of the United States; it is not a right granted to the government.
While the government cannot be allowed to endorse either Christianity or any other faith, each and every one of We the People has the right to bring a live evergreen tree into our home, adorn it with spheres and candles, and do whatever we like under it in the privacy of our own home. We have the right to sing "Hallelujah!" We have the right to light a new candle on each night of Chanukah. We have the right to drop to our knees and face the east five times a day to pray. As Americans, we have the right to practice any religion we like in any way we want to, on any day of the week. We all do. But not the government.
The very first Article of the Bill of Rights forbids the government from either endorsing or prohibiting the practice of any faith - it was the one and only thing our founding fathers thought was more important than the right of the People to be armed.
As Americans, we can't ever let our government tell us what god(s) to worship. We cannot let anyone force us to believe the way they do. That's why we must never try to force our own way of thinking on others.
Democrats for Religious Freedom
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