Saturday, July 4, 2009

The Founding Fathers

It’s July 4th, so I thought I’d write about our country today. I’ve been off of blogging for a week or so, mainly because work was too busy and cut into my early mornings and evenings. Getting back from a long trip always takes a few days to recover and achieve normalcy in the office, but also having a proposal due (for which I had a lot of reading and writing to do) complicated the readjustment. Luckily, I don’t have to teach in the summer, so I don’t have worry about class notes and homework sets on top of it all.

A couple of years ago I read a book about the Founding Fathers by Brooke Allen called “Moral Minority.” She felt it necessary to rebut the claims of the conservative Christian Right that America is a Christian Nation founded on the principles of Jesus. She went through the religious-oriented writings of 6 of the big names in creating our country: Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Madison. I think that she makes a superb argument for her counter position that the Founding Fathers were, with only a few exceptions, deists of the Enlightenment era who accepted the notion of a supreme being but rejected the god-nature of Jesus. They were very afraid of a state-sponsored religion and very intentionally left out religion from the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The “separation of church and state” argument is not actually in the Constitution (only briefly in the First Amendment), but rather it is discussed in gory detail in the Federalist Papers, the lengthy and numerous persuasive essays on which the Constitution is based.

I think that the Founding Fathers were very perceptive in defining the country in this way. Forcing a religion on people is never a good idea, and history shows us that such enforcement often leads to the bloodiest times for humanity. Even though I am a Christian, I am very thankful that America is not a Christian Nation. I do not think Christianity (or any religion) is served well when politicians make it mandatory. To me, religion requires a deep, personal sincerity that cannot be imposed on anyone by others. You can offer your own religious experiences as an example to others, but only they can decide to truly believe. Enforced membership is counterproductive and, I think, ultimately damaging to the religion such a rule is trying to enhance.

Personal evangelism, though, is a different matter. I like to talk about religious topics, but I also don’t want to push my religious beliefs on others. That’s a delicate and undefined line that I usually don’t know that I’ve crossed until the other person is offended. Religion (like politics) is a tough thing to discuss with others unless they are of the same mindset as you (in which case you simply agree) or they are exceptionally open-minded (in which case they will agree that you have the right to that position). Either way the discussion is often short-lived. I have found that anything less than this leads to arguments or awkward silences. Again, this leads to another short-lived discussion.


  1. Uh oh, you invoked a religious word. Now for the awkward silence...


  2. Keep in mind that the phrase "Christian nation" could be interpreted at least a couple of ways. English is not our official language, but would it be a stretch to say that we are an "English nation"? Without making Christianity the official religion, we still built most of the country from a christian perspective.

    None of that is to say that many christian fundamentalist don't take that argument to the ridiculous extremes such as the 10 commandments in the courthouse fights. Are laws are based more on the Hammurabi Code than the commandments. I think there's only 3 or 4 of then 10 that can actually be matched.

    While extremist may hijack this argument (and a certain political party) to make themselves appear more mainstream, it does not mean the basis of the argument (or that party) is worthless.


  3. P.S. I could actual spell and grammar check if this $#*& page would allow me to cut and paste is the comment box.

  4. Cut and paste experiment. worked for me. Regardless, good points.