To what extent where the forefather's Christian?

Lately, with the whole seperation of church and state debate, people in support of less division between the two often cite how we are “Christian nation” and that the forefather’s were Christians.

I went to Baptist, episcopal, and Catholic schools as a kid, and at every single one I was taught that the founding fathers were Deists. Yet, I saw a video of the always lovable Christopher Hitchens and someone (forgot his name) from the Falwell or Robertson camp on Scarborough Fair. When Hitchens (who wrote a book on Jefferson) started talking about the Deism thing, and other guy says something along the lines of “Oh, there goes the Deism argument again” like it’s not true.

So many people latch onto the word “God” or “Providence” in the writings of early Americans, without much regard for how these men viewed the concept of God.

I’m curious how much our founding has to do with Christianity and how much our nation’s founders relied on the reason of the Enlightenment. Because, for a country that was, as I see it, founded on the principles of the Englightenment, we seem to be losing sight of those very ideals (see Intelligent Design, sex-ed, etc.)

Just for the record, too, I’m not an atheist.

This is a good place to start:

It depends. As far as I know, there was no outright atheism (although Jefferson was accused of that), but they ranged the gamut from deism (Jefferson, Franklin), to Unitarianism (Adams), devout Catholicism (Charles Carrol), to indiferent Episcopalianism (Richard Henry Lee), to humanist Presbyerianism (Robert Livingston), to fire and brimstone conservative Presbytarianism (Rev. John Witherspoon)

Here’s another place to start:

Well, the second President of the US signed, and Congress ratified, a treaty with Tripoli that included an article (interestingly, the article was ratified by the US, but wasn’t in the original Arabic version), which said:

One imagines this to be a rather compelling statement on the religious feelings of our Founding Fathers; others seem to think it isn’t.

Well…they did also say that they held all men to be created equal–yet maintain slaves.

Um…that’s not too compelling. Convince me.

Actually it would be compelling statement on the FF’s policy regarding the official standing of Christianity vis-a-vis the government of the Republic. what it tells me about the “religious feelings” of those who wrote that is that they did not feel public policy decisions had to be guided by Christian proselytism. But it tells me nothing as to whether they themselves were believers, unless we subscribe to the hardliner position that a “true” believer must actively advocate his faith even while on official duty.

As mentioned before, there was a decent range of religious representation, at least insofar as the landowning-educated-white population of the colonies was concerned. So there was likely also a representative sample of levels of piety.

In any case that’s no help to the “Christian Nation” bunch: Religion being an individual or social-group matter, you can have a nation that is sociuoculturally obviously Christian, and recognize the obvious, yet set up a government that is in law and deeds nonsectarian and neutral.

I think none of the major founding fathers (the ones we now see on stamps and bills) really believed any of that religious nonsense, but they all knew that failure to mouth the words would do them no good. Easier to just to smile and nod than pick fights with people with pulpits.

It’s pretty clear to all but those who choose to delude themselves that the Founding Fathers weren’t exactly the type of Christians that modern Christians would get excited about.

It’s hard to generalize about the Founding Fathers. They came from all thirteen states and from a wide range of backgrounds.

As some have already pointed out, some of the founding fathers were “fire and brimstone” preacher types. While others were probably not specifically Christian at all (Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin.)

I think the FF’s were a good representation of America as a whole, a diverse group of people with many different beliefs.

Some have claimed George Washington was a deist, but there’s several interesting quotes from Washington that have me doubting that, such as this one:


Of course he also said:

First, “forefathers” is a pretty loose term. Just who do you consider the forefathers of the country? The people who first coloniuzed the land, or just the guys in the Continental Congress and at the Constitutional Convention? Depending which group you select as the “forefathers,” the answers are going to be very different.

Even if you stick to the latter group, most people have to ignore some inconvenient stuff in order to claim this-or-that Founder as one of his own.