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The Tea Party vs. the Founding Fathers – the Christianity Issue

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.

About dharma55

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    You could have added George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, who seem to have been Deists more than Christians. Unfortunately, these Tea Party people are only “selectively educated” about the history of their own country. By which I mean, they ignore evidence, no matter how weighty, that proves they’re wrong about anything.

  • Baronius

    Ever been to a Tea Party? Those guys don’t ever talk about religion. Palin’s the only one. Most tea partiers will tell you that they don’t want to get caught up in social issues; rather, they want to stay on fiscal issues. Maybe now with the mosque controversy, you’ll hear something, but it’s just never been the case up until now.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    The United States was founded in the sense that a bunch of leaders got together and cobbled together a country out of some erstwhile colonies, but even that wasn’t the clear transition it’s often imagined as having been. (I’m on top of my tenses today.)

    The original and preferred form of government was a confederation, which for the first few years after independence was in fact what you had: the states were given extensive leeway to govern their own affairs, banding together pretty much only for self-defence.

    Only later was it realised that this wasn’t working too well, and as a result, a stronger, federal form of government was instituted – in spite of many significant objections, not least those of Patrick Henry and George Mason.

  • http://handyfilm.blogspot.com handyguy

    Sharron Angle, Marco Rubio, Michelle Bachmann, Pat Toomey:

    All tea party faves, and all Christian Conservatives with two capital C’s.

    Glenn Beck constantly lectures us about religion — although he is a Mormon convert.

    And even if tea partiers were religion-neutral “except for Sarah Palin,” that’s quite an exception!

  • dharma55

    Jon, I wanted to add many more of the Founding Fathers, but the article was becoming too long.

  • John Wilson

    George Washington was certainly a deist, did not believe in Jesus divinity, and would not take communion.

  • dharma55

    Baronius, the TP’s want tax reform but it must conform to their template. They want every tax law and expenditure to be justified by the majority. That is, in effect, mob rule and is what the Founders were specifically trying to avoid. I wished first to address the concept of the “Christian” nation, which is definitely an assumption the TP’s make. In my next piece I will address the taxation issue.

  • Arch Conservative

    Gee, another moonbat that knows nothing about the Tea Party but thinks she knows everything about the Tea Party prancing around on her high horse.

  • zingzing

    gee, another substance-less archie comment. (i know, i know… but you’re the one who very recently said you don’t just fling poo around, you actually try to say something in your comments… but you fling a lot of poo, archie. a lot. it’s dangerous to make such claims.)

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius –

    “These guys don’t ever talk about religion”

    Of course, of COURSE!

    Senator Jim DeMint: I think as this thing (the Tea Party movement) continues to roll you’re going to see a parallel spiritual revival that goes along with it.

    From the home page of the Lake Charles Tea Party: “A group of Christian citizens from SW Louisiana committed to peacefully, prayerfully, actively resisting anti-Christian, anti-Family, anti-Constitutional legislation for God’s glory”

    From the Shoals Patriots home page about their then-upcoming Tea Party Rally, headlined by a pastor speaking, and including ‘inspirational’ music.

    There’s Tea Party darling Rand Paul, who said “We wouldn’t need laws if everyone were Christian.”

    Okay, Baronius? Please don’t try to feed us stuff that’s so obviously false.

  • Baronius

    Interesting Rand Paul quote. When did he say it?

  • Jordan Richardson

    I’m far from a Rand Paul fan, but that article by Sarah Posner (linked in the Halfway to Concord article) is pretty misleading when it comes to interpreting Paul’s position. I don’t doubt that it’s hard to grasp his position on almost anything because he’s probably unsure of his positions himself, but that article is just weird.

    Take the headline: “Rand Paul: We Wouldn’t Need Laws If Everyone Were Christian”

    Then the first time Posner quotes Paul in the first paragraph:

    You still need to have the laws but I think it helps to have a people who believe in law and order and who have a moral compass or a moral basis for their day to day life.”

    WTF?

  • dharma55

    Arch, if you insist upon calling liberals moonbats, then I will begin using the term “Tory” for the ultra-conservative movement. And Beck will be our modern day Oliver Cromwell.

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius -

    Okay – let’s get rid of the Rand Paul quote. Does that somehow dismiss the other three references?

    Oh, I forgot! Tea Partiers NEVER mix religion and politics. We know that because YOU said so.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Jordan: WTF?

    Ah, he’s just trotting out the well-worn logical fallacy that if we didn’t have religion, we’d all be running around looting businesses, raping anything that moved and shooting each other.

  • zingzing

    just look at glenn beck’s speech today.

  • Jordan Richardson

    The Rand Paul still quote applies to Glenn’s central point about Tea Partiers discussing religion. Hell, they do it frequently. I’m not even sure why anyone with a TV or internet connection would dispute that.

  • Jordan Richardson

    *quote still applies

    Paaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalinnnnnnn!

  • http://takeitorleaveit.typepad.com/ roger nowosielski

    Finally he shows his true colors. He believes in the laws of Christendom.

    Surely reminiscent of Spiro Agnes’ aptly-coined phrase, “the Silent Majority,” except it’s not so silent anymore.

  • Baronius

    Jordan, does it?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius –

    You never answered my question – even if we take Paul’s quote out of the list, does that somehow negate the significance of the rest of the links I provided?

  • Baronius

    Are some tea party supporters religious? Yup, you got me, Glenn. Some are. But it’s not an essentially religious movement. Look at your links. You’ve got one of a politician being asked why the tea parties *aren’t* religious, two local chapters, and a fabricated quote. You could have done a lot better job laying out your case.

    There is overlap between the evangelicals and the tea party movement. But it’s not the way this article implies. If anything, it’s more likely to turn into a behind-the-scenes turf war than a coalition.

  • zingzing

    baronius! what do you think of beck’s speech today?

  • Glenn Contrarian

    Baronius –

    Let me show you a quote:

    The Beck event was largely apolitical. In fact, I found it troubling how heavily religious it was, with extensive references to Mormon symbolism and creepy religious figures spending time talking about moral values and vaguely threatening references to rechristianizing America.

    This was concerning the Beck rally at the Washington Mall. The writer was none other than Dave Nalle.

    So how much proof do I have to give to show you the incredibly obvious religious slant to the Tea Party? Wishing won’t make it otherwise -

    Or are you going to now claim that the Tea Parties of America had naught to do with the rally?

  • William

    Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their “legislature” should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
    Thomas Jefferson – October 7, 1801!