Fighting Words for a Secular America

For many, including the Attorney General of the United States,
America is ‘one nation, under God.’ For John Adams, those would be
fighting words. An intellectual child of the Enlightenment, Adams
loathed religious doctrine and referred to Christianity as an
‘engine of grief.’ In his Defence of the Constitutions of
Government of the United States of America
, he envisions an
America ‘erected on the simple principles of nature… without a
pretence of miracle or mystery.’ Adams was not alone in his
convictions; the Constitution’s framers were a varied group, and
while many of the men were Christian, a number of them were not.
Deism, a belief in an impersonal, removed creator God was in vogue
among intellectual circles at the time, and it helped shape the
radical idea that power was derived not from God or king, but from
the people (at least, the ones with land). George III ruled jointly
as head of church and state, and it was this kind of authoritarian
synergy that men like Washington and Jefferson radically
rejected.

‘My country is the world and my religion is to do good,’ said
Thomas Paine, author of numerous influential pamphlets deriding the
British and calling for war. Along with Benjamin Franklin, George
Washington was a committed Deist and did not mention Jesus once in
his thousands of letters (the mythology around his supposed
Christianity, like the cherry tree fable, a pastor’s invention).
While Jefferson admired the historical Jesus as a moral teacher, he
denied his divinity, predicting that ‘the day will come when the
mystical generation of Jesus… will be classed with the fable of
the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.’ In fact,
Jefferson openly antagonized the religious establishment. ‘I have
sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form
of tyranny over the mind of man,’ he said. James Madison shared
this opposition to ‘religion as an engine of civil policy’ and
described the results of organized Christianity as ‘pride and
indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in
both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.’

It’s true that some of the founding fathers, like Alexander
Hamilton, were Christians. But the Constitution was intentionally
framed to accommodate the founding fathers’ plurality of beliefs,
as well as the country’s. So while Attorney General Ashcroft’s
Pentecostal beliefs are indeed protected by the Constitution, the
same document was drawn up to protect the citizenry from Ashcroft’s
Pentecostal beliefs.
Brendan Themes

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Fighting
Words for a Secular America

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