The United States of America was founded on the principles of freedom, by a group of men who were ahead of their time in many ways. They were a mixture of open-mindedness and bigotry, devotion and irreverence, liberal beliefs and conservative. What they were NOT on the whole were devout christian men, set on building a christian nation ruled by biblical precepts.
In fact, despite the efforts of later historians to paint the founding fathers as a group of righteous disciples of christ, religious beliefs among the founding fathers ran the gamut. Many of the most powerful players ascribed to a much broader definition of god than christianity allowed, and several abandoned all forms of organized religion or christianity entirely.
Thomas Jefferson was an self avowed member of ‘a sect by myself’; George Washington repeatedly dodged questions fired at him about his beliefs and spoke often in his masonic related writings of the ‘great architect’; Benjamin Franklin was likewise a mason and a confirmed deist. Thomas Paine, whose writings influenced many prominent leaders of the day, stated, “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my church.”
John Adams was a very liberal unitarian, and James Madison was a token episcopalian; yet both fought most vigilantly for separation of church and state; battling against tax exempt status, claiming any true church to be more than capable of supporting itself by donations from its followers, and rejecting the idea that religious tenets had any legitimate place in the government of a nation.
The founding fathers’ concept of ‘freedom for all’ was hampered on all sides by prevailing beliefs and prejudices, however. Abigail Adams wrote her husband that women should be given equal rights with men, and was shot down thunderously by Adams’ answering polemic – he stated that “As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh… Depend upon it, We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems.and rather than give up this, which would completely subject Us to the Despotism of the Petticoat, I hope General Washington and all our brave Heroes would fight.” Adams went on to say scornfully that giving in to ‘rebellious women’ would open the door for “Tories, Landjobbers, Trimmers, Bigots, Canadians, Indians, Negroes, Hanoverians, Hessians, Russians, Irish, Roman Catholicks, and Scotch Renegadoes” to demand concessions as well.
Likewise, the issue of slavery was bitterly contested by Jefferson and Madison, but they were shouted down by those who felt too much change would hamper the solidification of the new country by alienating many of the wealthier supporters of the revolution. Blacks (as well as other minorities) and women were not accorded basic rights for a good century and more after the revolution, and only continual suffrage finally forced both issues. The christian bible was continually interpreted to justify the subjugation of both groups of people, and is still used today to justify denying rights to those who do not ascribe to heterosexual standards.
No wonder religion (specifically christianity) was looked on by many of the founding fathers as a hindrance rather than a benefit to the emergence of the new nation. Benjamin Franklin wrote, “If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Romish church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. These found it wrong in the Bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here [England] and in New England.”
Adams fully understood that religion and politics was a bad mix, saying hopefully, “The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history.” Adams classed all of the old testament and most of the new under ‘superstition’, and as a unitarian staunchly denied the divinity of christ.
Madison was more circumspect in his deviations from the episcopalian sect, yet was the strongest opponent of any mixture of religion and government. He wrote: “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 ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.”
How, then, did we end up with a country ruled so blatantly by christian methodology? Other world powers knocked down the walls separating blacks and white, men and women, gays and straights far in advance of the United States. Our country determinedly lags behind, with the rights of women to their own bodies continually challenged and anyone with a sexual orientation other than hetero continually denied the rights accorded others, in the name of ‘christian morality’.
Is freedom only applicable to those who play by rules set forth by those who often have no stake in the outcome? Until men can bear children, they should not be allowed to dictate to the gender who can. Until the entire nation willingly converts to fundamental christianity, rules from a religious book should not be used to batter non-conformists into submission. If our country claims to have separation of church and state, there should BE ACTUAL SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE.
This blog is designed to create awareness of how the freedoms of certain human beings are being curtailed and rights denied to huge groups of our nation’s citizens. It’s going to be controversial. It’s going to be messy. Hopefully, however, it will allow for real discussions to take place and some eloquence to be brought to bear on real issues that plague our country today. Comments will be moderated – flamers will have their comments deleted, as will evangelists; this is not a platform to argue over how right or wrong christianity is, but rather how to end its stranglehold on our legislative and judicial system, as Madison intended.
And yes, I am blatantly ignoring capitalization of many words. It’s deliberate.
For those interested in reading more about this topic, an EXCELLENT article exists here; I lifted several quotes from it and it contains wonderful notes about the derivation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.