The Founding Fathers Were Not Christians

Interesting argument-

The Founding Fathers Were Not Christians Numerous examples given to support this thesis.

Some were, some weren’t. But taking isolated quotes from 5-6 people, and assuming that represents “the founding fathers” isn’t really a good argument.

More were Christians than Muslims, but they acted in the public sphere for the practical good, not out of religious beliefs, but for practical reasons.

Alternative viewpoint.

Pet peeve time: the phrase “founding fathers” is pretty well meaningless. Do we just include everyone who signed the Declaration and/or the Constitution? How about the men who signed the Articles of Confederation and not the others? Do we include Thomas Paine, because while he wasn’t there in Philadelphia it certainly wouldn’t have happened without him? Does John Dickinson get included, because he participated in the 2nd Continental Congress but refused to vote on it or sign it?

Even aside from those problems, it’s a bit preposterous - in my opinion - to use it to include all the men who were involved in that process, because it puts them on equal historical footing. There is no possible way that Thomas Mifflin or Caesar Rodney (who each only signed the Constitution and the Declaration, respectively) contributed as much or worked as hard as the rightfully more famous “founding fathers” - Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Lee, Washington.

I haven’t thought they were Christians (in any modern, conservative definition) since I was a little kid. Most of them were Unitarians or Deists, or skeptical Christians, and many experts believe they would have been atheists had Darwin’s work been done by that time. The most Christian of the first tier, major founding fathers was probably Washington, but he didn’t seem to be rabid about it, and in my understanding he didn’t directly have near as much to do with designing our republic as did Madison, Jefferson, Adams, et al. He was a great leader and set the standard for the American president but to my knowledge he did not write a word of the constitution or Declaration of Independence (someone correct me if I’m wrong, I’d be interested to know.)

No it’s not. A phrase does not have to have a strict, black-and-white definition to be meaningful. Would you say George Washington was not a founding father of this country? Further reading.

I give you the Jefferson Bible. :smiley:

Yes, but of the examples given, there are many cherry-picked examples that are overridden by more compelling evidence which is ignored.

For example, your link adduces the follwoing evidence for the proposition that Washington was not a Christian:

Yet it fails to mention things like the oath Washington took before becoming a vestryman of his parish, which may be found in written form, signed by Washington, at the library of the New York Historical Society. “ I … do declare that I will be conformable to the Doctrine and Discipline of the Church of England, as by law established…" It fails to mention his service as a vestryman.

Instead, it mentions that on his deathbed he failed to ask for a clergyman to be called… but fails to mention that he likely died from the “medical” treatment he was given: calomel and bloodletting, creating shock from the loss of five pints of blood, asphyxia and dehydration. He may not have known he was close to death; he may not have been anywhere near rational, and the writer mentions noone of that but invites the reader to infer that Washington’s failure to ask for clergy means his lack of Christian beliefs is evidenced.

It’s far from a sure bet, I grant, but this author doesn’t present a fair case; he cherry-picks evidence and this is fatal to his credibility.

Ok, of the people mentioned, Washington and Jefferson, regardless of what they personally believed, were Anglicans. We know this because they were Burgesses in Virginia before the Revolution, and by law, only Anglicans could be members of the House of Burgesses. In his personal belief, Washington was probably a deist at some parts of his life, and not at others. He certainly considered himself a Christian, if not a very devout one, and was a regular churchgoer when he was President. Jefferson, in his later life, didn’t consider himself a member of any denomination, but if you had to ask, he’d probably consider himself Unitarian (See my note re Adams, below)

Franklin was raised a dissenter, was a Presbyterian for a time, and then became a deist, saying in a private letter that he had doubts about Jesus’s divinity, but as he was going to die soon, he’d know one way or the other, and that it was probably good that people thought Jesus was divine, if that meant they’d pay more attention to what he said. He also mentioned that he’d appreciate if his correspondant would keep his sentiments private, because he took the position that he might as well let others enjoy whatever beliefs they had and he didn’t want to be criticized or start a fight.

John Adams was raised a Congregationalist and became a Unitarian (which was at that time, a sect of Christianity).

John Madison was a devout Episcopalian who attended an Episcopalian church all his life, and studied for the ministry.

Ethan Allen and Tom Paine were definately deists, and Paine might have even been an atheist, although he never admitted to that.

Like Cisco said, a lot of them might not be Christians according to the “modern, conservative definition”, but most modern Christians aren’t Christians according to the “modern, conservative definition”.

Oh, also, for anyone who’s interested in a fairly in-depth read on the topic, I recommend a book entitled Moral Minority by Brooke Allen.

Its likely many of our founding fathers (using the term broadly - I think that if you put your name to the Articles of Confederation and were willing to die as an English traitor you get some credit here - even if you weren’t the orator Paine or Jefferson was…) were “social Christians” much like social Christians of our own era. They may or my not have had deep thoughts about it - which, like human thought often does, changed from time to time. They questioned some of what they’d been raised to believe - because they were a group who questioned authority. And the majority of them went to church. Many of them were likely also devout and a few of them were likely free thinkers - but free thinking as a movement was relatively new and small.

I thought Lincoln handled this well in the Coopers’ Union speech.

As a side topic, the non-existent so-called “war on Christmas” that the right keeps yammering on about was an actuality in 1600s Boston. Christmas was banned for about 20 years by the Puritans, who considered it to be too reminiscent of Pagan yule rituals.