Just as one might pick and choose Biblical references to bolster an argument, so the Tea Party Nouveau Patriots are now scouring the Constitution, Bill of Rights, and various other documents to support their wobbly stance on issues. But for those of us who did not sleep through American History class, the glaring omissions and manipulation of actual sections of our respected documents are nothing less than heinous. So, for any TPNP (Tea Party Nouveau Patriots) reading this, I am typing very slowly so you will understand everything clearly.
The first canard I will address is the claim by TPNP’s that the Founding Fathers created a “Christian Nation” founded upon “Christian Principles”. First of all, there is a problem with semantics. We have Founding Fathers and this is the generally accepted terminology applied to represent the gentlemen who crafted the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, Federalist Papers, etc. The problem is with the idea of the nation being “founded.” The United States was not “founded,” it declared its independence from Great Britain. This is quibbling, I know, but an important thing to remember about US history.
In the general population in the Colonies at the time of our independence, the dominant religion was Christianity. The Christianity practiced in the 18th century was nothing like the fundamentalist or evangelical forms prevalent today. American Protestant fundamentalist Christianity did not exist until the Great Awakening of the 19th century. So, let’s look at a few of the Founding Fathers.
Thomas Jefferson: Jefferson’s religious beliefs are the most well known of all the Founding Fathers because he wrote the “Jefferson Bible.” In this tome he preserved the teachings, parables and lessons of Jesus, but removed the supernatural content of the gospels. Jefferson rejected the dogma of Christianity but not the message.
[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.
- Thomas Jefferson, Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1779), quoted from Merrill D Peterson, ed., Thomas Jefferson: Writings (1984), p. 347
John Adams: Adams was initially a Congregationalist and later became a Unitarian Universalist. Although Adams was certainly a religious man, he eschewed creed-based dogmatic religion.
The TPNP’s like to point out certain phrases and terms that were used. “Creator” appears in the Declaration of Independence. The term “Creator” was most commonly used in the 18th and 19th centuries to refer to deity in a generic sense. “The Great Governor of the World” and “Providence” appear in the Articles of Confederation, more examples of terminology being used in a generic sense and not meant to refer to the deity of a specific religion. What we have now are present-day fundamentalists taking the language of the 18th century and bending and extrapolating it to their own needs.
Here is a very interesting document from 1796, The Treaty of Tripoli, which reads in part,
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.