How Well Known Were The Unorthodox Religious Views of the FF?

It is largely accepted nowadays that at least Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin (at least in his early years), and various other Founding Fathers did not hold to orthodox Christianity. But how well known were their religious views when they were alive?

Probably not very - but I read the Thread Title as asking about the Fantastic Four before following the link and am a little disappointed.

Jefferson’s political opponents called him an atheist, so there was definitely at least some notion at large that Jefferson’s religious views were unorthodox in some way.

Newspapers were totally creations of the owners’ political viewpoints: there was no pretense of objectivity. They existed to hail their side and to vilify the other side in terms that require a dictionary and a handbook of 18th century slang to begin to understand. They didn’t report as much as gossip, using charges, accusations, allegations, rumors, and pure fiction with better effect than today’s internet illiterates.

Everybody knew everybody else in the tiny political world. Secrets couldn’t be kept. Everybody wrote to everybody and shared their letters.

Religion was a favorite subject. Deviationism was as suspect as in Stalin’s Russia. Everybody got accused of atheism eventually, even John Adams. (He veered toward a kind of Deism late in life. That was sufficient for the charge.) The attacks continued throughout their entire political lives. Thomas Paine, an outspoken atheist, was the most vilified man in America and it didn’t get better when he left the country in exile.

So, yeah, everybody knew. Did they care? That’s harder to answer. I’ve got to wuss out and say maybe, sometimes, it depends, some did and some didn’t, and attitudes changed with time. None of it corresponds to the right-wing history that says that we are a Christian nation founded by men who were all good Christian believers of a sort that would be recognizable today. That’s looney tunes.

Ben Grimm was recently revealed to be Jewish, and as Qin’s thread title suggests, I think he is not Orthodox.

I think the OP’s question might be: Yeah, but that’s other politicians. But did the average voter know that So-and-So was a damned heretic?

Accusations of atheism ganied currency after the French Revolutionaries came to power, executed the King, seized church property, and began warring with Great Britain in 1793. Americans (mostly Federalist) who sided with Britain in the conflict were derided as aristocrats, reactionaries, and monarchists. Those who sided with France (mostly Republicans) were denounced as radicals, levellers, and atheists.

These accusations were robustly circulated in the newspapers and pamphlets of the day, so yes, anybody who cared enough (and was eligible) to vote should certainly have known about them.

So he would be okay with “hamming it up” as a super-hero, I take it.

The charges were almost certainly known but I am willing to bet that a most people didn’t believe the accusations.

To put it into a modern context Fox News tries to paint Obama as a Muslim or as not a natural citizen but the majority of people know these are just political lies without any reality.

Or if you want to look at the other side of the isle I remember Air America repeatedly referring to George W. George H. and Prescott Bush as the Bush crime family for everything from funding the Nazi to using the CIA to distribute Cocaine to black neighborhoods.

Didn’t Sue and Reed have a rather shaky marriage, with insinuations regarding Submariner?

Well, she kept disappearing, and some of his stories were a real stretch…

The fact that her brother, who lived with them, was a real flamer didn’t help either!

I think there’s an unstated assumption in the OP that a successful politician of the time had to pass a litmus test as a mainstream Christian of an approved denomination.

As the learned **Exapno Mapcase **says, that was not true then. Even though (IMO) we have regressed to that point in much of the country today.

If you’ve read The Age of Reason you know that Paine specifically disavowed atheism for deism, and used the design of the solar system as the reason. Teddy Roosevelt called him an atheist, but I think that came from Paine’s definitely not being a Christian. I suspect he would be an atheist today.
Paine wrote The Age of Reason while in France. I don’t know if his views were known before. He pissed people off for lots of reasons.

Madison, to get back to the FFs, brought him back to the US.
As for whether people know, the Constitution does not mention God, which did not go unremarked, so my guess is yes.

Timing is everything, as they say. He was a highly unpopular figure long before he wrote The Age of Reason, which wasn’t until 1793. As an attack on established religion it would have qualified as an atheist tract to those wanting to brand him as an atheist. The Founders had highly nuanced religious views that we’re still trying to sort out two centuries later. But the partisans couldn’t care less about nuance.

Keeve, the answer to your question is a strong “probably.” Papers were relatively expensive and the average farmer or worker certainly didn’t subscribe. However, in the culture of the day politics was popular entertainment. Newspapers shouldn’t be thought of as the Sunday New York Times of today. They were quite short, usually two or four pages. Some were broadsides, which is both a newspaper size and a term for being printed on one side only. These were typically posted in the taverns, which were the only places other than the churches in which everybody gathered regularly. People would read them, or have them read, and talk endlessly about what was written. Town halls and other public meetings were regular and lively affairs which drew large percentages of the voters. And women. Everybody of every class loved gossip, then just as much as now.

The only person in the world that was circumcised with a jackhammer.

It wasn’t true during the Revolutionary era, and through the 1780’s. That was the age of the Enlightenment, when the elite read Voltaire and Rousseau and were expected to do a little free-thinking. Furthermore, “orthodox” Christianity, south of New England at least, meant the Anglican church, tainted by its association with the Crown. If you fell away from attending Anglican services, you could spin it as an act of patriotism.

In 1793, the world changed. The French Revolutionaries abolished Christianity within France, turned Notre Dame into a “Temple of Reason”, and adopted a calendar which removed all reference to religion. At the same time, the streets ran red with the blood of the guillotined, and Europe was plunged into a world war.

To many, the second followed from the first. “This is what happens,” they reasoned, “when you make war on organized religion. Society collapses.” The Enlightenment was over. Free-thinking was out, and orthodoxy was in. And in the US, “orthodoxy” increasingly meant the more assertive, evangelical denominations–Presbyterian, Baptist, and Methodist–which gained members as the Anglicans/Episcopalians lost them.

From that time forward, propagandists began taking a closer look at their opponents’ religion. Aaron Burr was criticized for “not having been in any place of public worship for ten years”, and a friend warned him, “Had you not better go to church?” Alexander Hamilton, who had been an atheist or a deist, found religion in a big way. Sam Adams criticized Tom Paine’s efforts to “unchristianize the mass of our people”. The attacks on Jefferson have already been noted.

Of course, Jefferson and Burr won the election of 1800 anyway, by a narrow margin. But the earlier era of apathy toward opponents’ religion had passed.


Not a one of them was in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch in Constantinople! :slight_smile:

More seriously, this is the Religious Right’s latest spin – if you agree with their particular eisegetical and moral doctrines, you’re “orthodox”, but churches that have been around centuries longer are “unorthodox” for believing something else. (I’m not making an insult against Qin here; it’s the vocabulary he would have experienced as normative, and he’s no doubt using it without any personal intent to spin.)

Let’s be fair here. Deism (so far as I am aware) has never been accepted by any Christian denomination or sect of any size, and although the non-divinity of Jesus may be acceptable to modern unitarians, since ancient times it has been denounced as the Arian heresy by all or practically all denominations (except for the actual pre-Nicene followers of Arius, I guess). You don’t have to be a modern American fundamentalist* to think that Jefferson, Franklin etc were, at best, “unorthodox” (and at worst, downright heretical) in their “Christianity.”

*I suspect most theologians of most Christian denominations in most historical epochs would have regarded modern American fundamentalists as heretics, but that is another issue.

I wasn’t disputing that Jefferson and Paine got attacked as atheists. That’s clearly true. I was just disputing that Paine was an outspoken atheist. That wasn’t true. An outspoken non-Christian - definitely.