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"These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own." G.K.Chesterton

"You cannot grow a beard in a moment of passion." G.K.Chesterton

"As you perhaps know, I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that."C. S. Lewis

"I blog, therefore I am." Anon

Saturday, August 30, 2003

The wall comes tumbling down

One thing every teenaged atheist in cyberspace who knows his catechism from Online atheism 101 can tell you: the founding fathers of the United States were absolutely and definitely not Christians, no way. They were all freethinkers, skeptics and Deists (a PC code word for eighteenth century atheists) who totally and completely disavowed any connection between God and the American nation, you bet.

So thanks to Clayton Cramer for pointing out that those who like to fantasize that Washington was a Deist (in the sense of believing that God does not intefere in the affairs of men) may be disheartened by his First Inaugural Address:
Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe--who presides in the councils of nations--and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States, a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow citizens at large, less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the affairs of men, more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities, from which the event has resulted, cannot be compared with the means by which most governments have been established, without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking, that there are none, under the influence of which, the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence.

The Library of Congress has the original record of the speech online here.

Mr Cramer also points out that Thomas Jefferson is often given as an example of one of those freethinking anti-Christian Deists that founded the USA, yes indeedy. He was certainly among the most liberal of the Founders on the subject of religion. But those who wish to claim him for a non-Christian, will have to argue with Jefferson himself, in this letter he wrote to Benjamin Rush April 21, 1803:
Dear Sir,

In some of the delightful conversations with you, in the evenings of 1798--99, and which served as an anodyne to the afflictions of the crisis through which our country was then laboring, the Christian religion was sometimes our topic; and I then promised you, that one day or other, I would give you my views of it. They are the result of a life of inquiry & reflection, and very different from that anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing of my opinions. To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.

By his denial that Jesus was the Son of God Jefferson would be quite at home in many of the "mainstream" liberal denominations of Christianity today. But he doesn't deserve the injustice of being claimed as an atheist hero.

As a non-American, I am constantly amazed at how frequently and how vehemently so many Americans insist that the "founding fathers" of their country were implacably opposed to Christianity and thus erected a wall of separation between the State and religion in order that never the twain shall meet. Yet it seems obvious to any outsider that what they opposed was the establishment of a State Church as existed in most European countries or any legal preferment for one sect or denomination over another. This is what was meant by "a wall of separation between Church and State" ; it has nothing to do with removing religious belief or Christianity from the public square. How this noble and prefectly sensible idea has become enshrined into kind of practical and legal state atheism in a country that remains the most religious and Christian Western nation in the world is truly one of history's imponderables.

10:44:00 pm