Was America really founded to be a Christian country?

After discussing the “one nation, under god” pledge furor with a devoutly Christian friend of mine, he brought up their old ace in the hole - “America was founded by Christians to be a Christian country upon Christian morals”

Is there proof to this? I’m not saying he’s completely wrong, but it kinda sounds a little iffy to me. I realize that many people living in the colonies at that time were Christian, but why did they put the “separation of church and state” part into the constitution? Or did they mean, “separation of all non-Christian churches and state”? Why do people insist on thinking they know what the founding fathers meant instead of what they said? To me it seems pretty cut and dry.


This is going to end up in GD.

Founded on a Christian nation? I wouldn’t argue for that.

Founded as an athiest nation? Absolutely not. The words “God”, “creator”, “Supreme Being” “Divine Providence”, and such, are scattered all over documents written by the Founding Fathers, including the Declaration of Independance.
However, the actual “God” the Founders wrote about is never defined. So whether “God” is Allah, Jesus, or Shirley McClaine is up to each individual to interpret.

But they definately did mention “God”.

Simply by virtue of the inclusion of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights, I would have to say that they did not intend for this nation to be a “Christian” nation. However, I don’t think they intended it to be free of religion either. They certainly expected it to be a nation that reflected certain Christian values and morals, while not establishing the Christian religion as the official religion of the nation.

Zev Steinhardt

The original settlers came her for freedom of religion. Granted the religions were all Christian religions, but the Jews came shortly afterwards. That’s why the separation of church and state is enshrined in the Constitution. Reference is to generic terms of God, not to Jesus Christ, Mohammed, or Yahweh.

You might also want to note that many of the Founding Fathers were Deists, who believed in a Creator, but rejected organized Christianity as a whole.

A fierce Deist, Thomas Jefferson probably turns over in his grave every time someone claims the United States was founded as a Christian nation. :wink:

Andy, ask them to show you writings of the founding fathers that mention Christ or Christianity. While you’re at it, have them explain how Christian morals differ from Jewish, atheist, Hindu, etc. morals.

Whether they wanted or expected the U.S. to be a religious nation in the broad sense, it’s pretty clear they didn’t want any affiliation between its government and religion–ANY religion.

Right. Not a G.Q.

It might be interesting to note that none of these documents that mention any kind of religious belief are the Constitution, which is the document that establishes the state and defines its basis.

The Constitution begins "We the People …. That’s the basis of our state and our government. The fact that the founders may have individually believed in a god or that a god was ultimately the source of the human condition is beside the point.

I myself am an atheist and I emphatically do not believe that the United States was founded as an atheistic state. It was founded as a state that takes no position on the existence or nonexistence of a god, that does not encourage nor discourage any particular belief or disbelief in god, and that does not take action that (either morally or financially) supports or attacks any particular point of view with respect to a god.

Not a Christian nation, not a religious nation, not an atheist nation. In short, a secular nation. This would be true even if all the founders had been fully devout Christians (which, all indications are, they all were not, particularly Adams and Jefferson). This would be true even if all the past, present, and future residents of the United States be fully devout Christians, which we most definitely are not.

To take any other point of view would be by definition to relegate some number of Americans as second-class citizens, and I, for one, refuse to accept such a position. I am an atheist and I am the offspring of dark-skinned, non-Christian immigrants and I am an American, damn it, and I possess exactly the same degree of Americanness as any white Anglo-Saxon Protestant.

Believe whatever you wish, please. I invite you to, I beg you to practise exactly what you believe in your own home and in your own church and in your own private gatherings with your family, friends, and co-religionists. That is your right and I will defend that right. I don’t care what you believe. I really don’t care.

However, when you are elected or appointed or employed in an office in which you are representing the people, remember that you are representing me and your duty is to me as a member of the public. When you are acting in your official capacity, please, keep your beliefs to yourself. Keep your religious beliefs, expressions, symbols, and signs out of my public laws, out of my public documents, out of my public ceremonies, out of my public acts, out of my public symbols, out of my public buildings.

I grew up in public schools in which school events such as graduation ceremonies would begin with a benediction. Usually the prayer specifically mentioned Jesus. The one message I got from this is: This place does not belong to you; it belongs to us. You are not an equal member of our community. We suffer you to be here at our pleasure and at any time we can change our minds, so keep your place and mind you don’t annoy us too much.

Interesting column by David Greenberrg in Slate: http://slate.msn.com/?id=2067499

While some of the colonies were, indeed, settled by folks looking for religious freedom, that was not the case for all of the colonies. The Virginia Company that settled at Jamestown in 1607 was looking for one thing and one thing only - how to make a buck (or pound, as the case may be). Commerce had as much to do with the creation of this country as did religious freedom.

rjung has it right. Several of the most prominent of our Founding Fathers were emphatically NOT Christian. They were Deists, or as they sometimes referred to themselves, Theists. Among the prominent early leaders who most likely fit this description were Thomas Jefferson (the principal author of the Declaration of Independence), John Adams, Thomas Paine, James Madison (the “Father of the Constitution”) and probably George Washington.

The Deists believed in a Creator. However, they did not accept Jesus as a deity. Jefferson specifically discusses this in his letters. He regarded the Christian notion of “the Trinity” as a form of polytheism, which he rejected. While he admired Jesus as a philosopher, his view was that the simple teachings of Jesus (i.e., love God and love your neighbor) had been misconstrued by his followers, and by those who came later.

I posted to another thread a series of letters between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in which Adams also (albeit implicitly) rejects Christianity. I’ll try to dig those up. In the meantime, you can learn more about the religious beliefs (or lack thereof) of several of the founders here. (Follow the links.)

Ok, here is the correspondence between Adams and Jefferson to which I alluded in my earlier post. The letters are too long to transcribe in their entirety, so I will only give you the gist of them here.

(The full text of the letters may be found in The Adams-Jefferson Letters. Anyone who is curious about the thought processes of the founders really needs to own that book. I also recommend The Republic of Letters, an expensive-but-worth-it three-volume compilation of correspondence between Jefferson and his protege James Madison.)

The relevant correspondence between Adams and Jefferson begins with a letter from Adams to Jefferson dated March 2, 1816. Adams discusses several French philosophers, and their supposed atheism. (One gets the impression that Adams is probing his friend and noted francophile Jefferson, to see whether Jefferson might admit to being an atheist himself.) Adams makes it clear that he is no atheist:

At the same time, Adams makes it clear he is no Christian:

Note how Adams lumps Christianity in among the religious philosophies he rejects.

Jefferson replies in a letter dated April 8, 1816. Jefferson takes the view that atheism tends to arise as a philosophy from Catholic countries, while “the infidelity of the Protestant took generally the form of Theism.” (Jefferson’s own philosophy.) He then goes on to give his logical reasons for rejecting atheism:

In a letter dated May 3, 1816, Adams responds, waxing philosophical on the question of the existence of an afterlife:

In sum, Adams seems to reject both Christianity and atheism, in favor of a generalized belief in a benevolent Creator, and a hopeful belief in an afterlife of some sort.

However, while Adams rejects atheism for himself, makes it clear that in his world view, atheists should not be persecuted for their beliefs.

You can find more of the views of Jefferson on matters of religion here.

You might also refer your friend to the 1796-1797 Treaty with Tripoli.

That Treaty, negotiated during the second term of George Washington, signed by President John Adams, and approved by the Senate, contains the following language:

As predicted, off to GD.

I’d actually argue that Jefferson was indeed a Christian.

Or more accurately, a christian.

He was a big fan of the Christ . . . as a teacher and wise man, but he didn’t care for Paul one little bit.

Not to mention Benjamin Franklin at various stages in his life.

Washington was a thoughtful Anglican/Episcopal layman who didn’t necessarily buy into the creedal orthodoxy of the day. He did serve as vestryman and churchwarden for his parish church, attended as he saw fit (sometimes regularly). Calling him a “deist” as though that were totally contrary to Christianity is doing him an injustice.

Dragging his Christianity into an argument as though he were a right-wing Southern Baptist is equally doing him an injustice, though. (Francis Shaeffer does this.)

Probably the biggest problem with this whole thing is that the early founders were nearly all men who believed in God in one way or another and who were united in defense of freedom, in particular the freedom to believe as one chooses and not as some dogmatist in power insists. So they made reference to the God they believed in.

For a narrow-minded sectarian group to decide that the only proper way for people to believe in that God is theirs and therefore the founding fathers were all supporting their hidebound political perspective from day one of America is a major insult to them all, whatever their beliefs.

It is beyond question that the United States was organized, founded and established as a Western country, as opposed to Byzantine or Arab or Hindustani or Chinese/Japanese. European and Christian were inseparable ideas in the 18th Century. It was not too long before that the Turks were turned back at the very gates of Vienna.

However, the US was unique among Western countries in that it had no State Religion (although I think the right to vote in Mass was dependent on being a member in good standing of the Puritan Church). The lack of an established church, the prohibition of an established church, and the rejection of religious tests to hold government office tells me that the Founders, believing or nominal Christians that they were, saw the nation as being essentially secular. Remember, at the time you could not hold any public office in Great Britain unless you took an oath that you were not a Roman Catholic and you had to take an occasional communion in the Church of England. The Founders, it seems to me, were trying to separate the idea of Western civilization from the idea of Western Christendom, and break a pattern that had existed from the fall of the Roman Empire.

(Oofah - well as you can see I am a SDMB newbie in the worst sense, but you gotta believe me - I am a long time SD reader. So please forgive my ignorance in posting this in the wrong section.)

That said, I really appreciate all your input and I look forward to my next discussion with my Christian friend so I can point him here.

You all seem like really smart and interesting peeeeple - I’ll try to stick around the neighborhood although I can’t promise I’ll have anything interesting to say.

Washington did attend the Anglican (Episcopal) Church, but one gets the impression he did so out of respect for the beliefs of his wife, and not as an expression of his own convictions. He was never observed to take communion in the Anglican Church, nor did he ever publicly make any statement which would indicate he was a Christian.

Note also that in my earlier post I said Washington was probably (not definitely) a Deist. Here are some quotes by and about Washington, from which readers of this thread can draw their own conclusions.

Most telling to me is this quote from Thomas Jefferson regarding Washington:

Jefferson also wrote this about Washington:

A reading of the other quotes from the linked site will definitely incline one to the view that Washington was a Deist, but not a Christian.

I don’t mean to be close-minded about it, though. I would appreciate receiving any information which would tend to establish that Washington was, at heart, a Christian. So I say this in a gentle spirit: Cite?

Washington’s real beliefs will almost certianly remain a mystery, largely because that was his intention.

He believed it to be totally inappropriate to speak of religion as a public political figure (I guess modern politicians could use a lesson!), and was never observed kneeling in prayer by anyone (that slanderous Valley Forge painting non-withstanding).

He spoke of Providence, and if there was any connection of this concept to the Christian theology, he never made it clear.

Clearly, if being a Christian means professing the faith and even witnessing, then Washington was no Christian, because unlike even some Deists, he never so much as mentioned Christ for good or for ill. One thing is certain: that he dearly respected sincere religion and piety, and he dearly loves the idea of toleration. He defended the abscence of theist references in the Constitution, and he defended the rights of Jews and atheists.

For the broader question, it is important to remember that just because one is of a particular belief does not mean that this belief enters into everything one does. Christians do not brush their teeth in a specifically Christian manner. Likewise, the Diests and Christians that founded the country comprimised on the idea that government should likewise not have a religious manner: and part of their rationale, which deserves some examination today, is that politics did not DESERVE any religious authority: that was to be reserved for the states and the people alone (and later, post 14th amendment, just for the people).

There are a number of reasons why mentions of a creator were in some of the writings about our nation’s political philosophy. For one thing, very few people at that time had any notion of justice or morals outside of a religious context. Justice and morality were always defined by divine mandate. Not until consequentialist ethics really became popularized did people think anything could be right and just unless some figure outside of ourselves said it was so, for instance God.

If our break with England was to be considered a move in furtherance of justice, they had to propose a reason related to divine morality. So that’s why they would argue we were endowed with liberty by a Creator, and thus our rebellion against England for limiting our liberties was morally just.

If we had gained independance now, we would have had many other philosophical options available to justify our action. Perhaps we could have had liberty without the need to bring gods into the mix if the founding fathers had been able to read Ayn Rand. Who knows? As it is, just because their philosophy was immature and limited doesn’t mean ours has to be. Today we know better, and can make choices about things (like the recent ONUG issue) without looking to what founding fathers had to say about a religious issue that is no longer essential to the debate.