Was America really founded to be a Christian country?

AndyChrist, I wouldn’t be surprised if your friend drags out the Mayflower Compact, which does indeed say they intended to found their colony “for the Glory of God and Advancement of the Christian Faith…”

Of course, they also did so to “Honour our King and Country,” so the Pilgrims can hardly be taken as the direct antecedent to the current Republic. And, as spoke- points out, there were other European colonies in North America at the time, founded for other purposes.

Also, when asking the question, “Were the founding fathers Christian”, I think it’s important to realize that they weren’t a monolithic group. For every Deistic Thomas Paine, you have a Presbytarian John Witherspoon, or Congregationalist like Robert Treat Paine, who believed the bible was a divine revelation. Even in asking “Was Jefferson a Christian” or “Was Washington a Christian”, its important to remember that their beliefs weren’t static. Jefferson, for example, started out an Episcopalian, was briefly a Baptist, then “simply a Christian”, then a Deist, then an Epicurean, winding up a Unitarian. To say “Jefferson believed X about G-d” is in itself a meaningless statement, because his beliefs were not static, but evolving.

—For one thing, very few people at that time had any notion of justice or morals outside of a religious context.—

Virtually all the founders were students of the Enlightenment, and of the revolution in rights thinking it entailed. Jefferson was quite plain in noting that intelligent atheists and agnostics can be just as moral as anyone else.

Indeed, Jefferson and Adams both held the rather insulting concept that religion was necessary for the common man: elites like them didn’t need such things, but lesser men wouldn’t be able to understand natural rights or have the moral character necessary to be good without threat.

—Also, when asking the question, “Were the founding fathers Christian”, I think it’s important to realize that they weren’t a monolithic group.—

Indeed: what is important is the compromise they made on whether the government should have religious authority: and by and large they agreed that both religion and government would be better off it did not.

It’s a pity that Darwin wrote long after the deist founders were all dead: most of the deists believed that there had to be a creator simply because they could not imagine any other way there could be natural design: much like Hume. It would be interesting to see, once the argument from design was largely demolished, whether they would have still assumed a Creator.

Let’s not forget that 12 of the 13 colonies practiced some form of religious persecution prior to the adoption of the Constitution.

So if this country is indeed founded by “Christians” to be a “Christian” country, how does one reconcile this with religious persecutions done by these same “Christians” against other “Christians” and non-Christians?

During the Presidential election campaign of 1800, one of John Adams’ attacks on Jefferson’s policies claimed that they would “abolish religion and morality.”

Even 2 centuries ago, politicians could still grab brownie points for themselves by playing the God Card. :rolleyes:

Nitpick: True enough, except that Jefferson would not have conceded that Jesus was “the Christ.” In fact, Jefferson specifically noted in his letters that Jesus never claimed this title for himself, but that it was given him by his followers.

Jefferson regarded Jesus as a wise teacher, stating often (and I’m paraphrasing) that it would be a better world if we followed the simple commands of Jesus to love God and love our neighbors.

Jefferson also regarded Jesus as a would-be reformer of Judaism, which Jefferson considered to have gone astray.

He did not believe that Jesus was a messiah or a deity. Jefferson adopted Thomas Paine’s belief in “one God and no more,” meaning he rejected the concept of the Trinity, and by extension, rejected Christianity.

In his later years, Jefferson saw the Unitarian Church as a home for Deist beliefs, and predicted that Americans would one day shunt aside what he regarded as the “superstitions” of Christianity, in favor of a rational belief in one God.

UncleBeer correctly points out that Benjamin Franklin might also be regarded as a Deist. He wavered a bit over time, but in the last year of his life he penned the following in a letter to Ezra Stiles, the president of Yale:

So Franklin’s views seem pretty close to those of Jefferson. Jesus was a wise teacher, whose religious precepts bore observance, but who was not (or probably not) a divine “Christ.”

But in the larger picture, as noted by Spavined Gelding and others, the religious beliefs of the Founders are of limited relevance. The Founders, cognizant that religion is or should be a matter of individual choice, sought to separate government from the process of choosing a religion, and to leave religion as a matter of each citizen’s conscience. In my view, the insertion of “under God” in the Pledge runs counter to this purpose.

Ask your friend to read the Constitution and to show you a reference to God or Jesus in that document.

<tracer glances at his wristwatch>

Well? Come on, Americans, I’m waiting! <folds arms and taps foot impatiently>

Well, Jefferson was clearly a bit off on his prediction. He thought it would happen within one generation!

Just like Jesus, ironically enough. Different “it” though.

There was considerable difficulty getting the constitution ratified by the various states because of their complaints of it being a “godless” document. That language stayed as it was certainly intended.

A nice piece of evidence that our country was not founded to be a Christian country is the text of our treaty with Tripoli in 1797

I was looking through the Constitution of Massachusetts the other day, and was surprised to see that at one time it included this:


Not sure what to make of it, but it does seem like the “Christian” idea was floating around back then.

Yeah, there have actually been a couple of attempts over the years to “remedy” the godlessness of the Constitution.

In 1863-64, there was a movement to amend the preamble to read as follows:

That movement had little solid support in Washington.

But then in 1953 (not coincidentally, around the same time “under God” was added to the Pledge), Senator Ralph Flanders of Vermont introduced a joint resolution to amend the Constitution by adding the following language:

Just a quibble. Jefferson’s views shouldn’t be considered in a discussion of whether America was founded to be a Christian country or not. Despite being named as a delegate, Jefferson did not attend the Constitutional Convention, so he had no role in the founding of the country.


Sua, Jesus wasn’t there, either. But it is conceivable that Jesus influenced the proceedings, as many of Jefferson’s opinions may have. No?

erislover, many would argue that Jesus was in fact there. (Indeed, that’s pretty much the point of those who assert that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation. :)) I don’t think that anyone claims that Jefferson was or is capable of omnipresence, a la J.C.

As for Jefferson’s influence, I’m sure his ideas made a difference. But then again, so did Plato’s, Aristotle’s, and a whole mess of other players. However, if we are to consider the influences of persons who weren’t there, rather than the intentions of those who were there, then I think the question becomes unanswerable.


Yes, but as I mentioned before, Madison was very much Jefferson’s protege, and consulted with Jefferson frequently.

Virginia’s Bill on Religious Freedom (drafted by Jefferson) was the bell cow on the concept of separation of church and state. The ideas of the Framers flowed, at least in part, from that pioneering document.

Jefferson’s influence was felt both at the convention and during the debate over the adoption of a Bill of Rights. He was a good bit more involved than Plato and Aristotle, I’d say. :wink:

Moreover, those who would claim that this is “a Christian country founded by Christians” need to be made aware of the extent to which the philosophy of Deism held sway over the Founding Fathers, the framers of the Constitution, and the first four or five Presidents (Jefferson included).

We constantly hear claims that the US was founded on Christian “principles” or “values”, but they never go ito any detail as to what principles we’re talking about and/or what makes them explicitly “Christian”.

One might at this time make a distinction between principles such as peace on earth, loving your neighbor, concern for the poor, etc. which are part of the Christian message but which can be embraced in a secular context, and principles such as Jesus being the Son of God, the only path to salvation , etc. which are exclusively Christian religious beliefs. The former catagory might be labled “christian ideals” (small ‘c’).

The irony is that our leaders are having the US behave less and less like a “christian nation” in terms of christian ideals even as they insist on official recognition and stamps of approval on Christian religious beliefs.

So once again, what are these “Christian principles” upon which the US was founded.

And where in the Constitution, Declaration of Independence, etc. does it specify in writing this founded to be a Christian nation thingy? Sounds like you’re friend is just making this up because it suits his religious bigotry. The fact that our founding documents are silent except for the first amendment, which specifically prohibits establishment, would seem to indicate that he doesn’t know his ass from a whole in the ground. The ancestors of the founding fathers came to these beknighted shores to escape religious persecution and practice their religions (mostly Christian) a number of different ways that are fundamentally contradictory. Independence was finally declared for economic reasons, namely a series of taxes the landed gentry didn’t much like. So tell your poop for brains friend that we aren’t gonna adopt his bucktoothed and inbred perversion of a fine religion simply because he is too damn lazy to compare about his religious convictions to historical fact.

I found a more extensive analysis of Washington’s beliefs here.

50 of the signers of the declaration of independence were known freemasons. the total was 52 i think. looks like a stacked deck to me. the catholic church had an edict against the freemasons in the 1700’s. Franklin and Jefferson were both accused of being atheists. Franklin was a deist.

considering where most immigrants to this country came from it is impossible for it to not have a strong christian bias but the philosophy of the founders didn’t support organized religion.

Teddy Roosevelt called Thomas Paine a “filthy little atheist.” the founding fathers were BAAAAAAADD.

Dal Timgar