Deism and the Founding Fathers

There is a belief abroad in many conservative circles that the U.S. is “a Christian nation”. This belief is found in perhaps its most extreme form in the Mormon doctrine that the Constitution of the United States is a divinely inspired document. Less extreme versions hold that Christian piety was an shaping influence on the thinking and writing of the Founding Fathers, and Christianity therefore has (or ought to have) a privileged position in the political and cultural life of the U.S.

The Mormon doctrine is unfalsifiable. But claims about the beliefs and intentions of the Founding Fathers are not, and the record is clear: they explicitly rejected the establishment of Christianity as the preferred or natural religion of their infant nation.

This is implied by the part of the First Amendment that has come to be known as the “Establishment clause”:

Congress shall make NO law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

Article 6 contains this language:

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

These are the only mentions of religion in the Constitution, which is otherwise completely devoid of religious terminology or references. The point is made much more explicit in the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, which states:

[T]he Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion

Religious conservatives are fond of replying by pointing excitedly at the references to “Nature’s God”, “Divine Providence”, and the “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence. Let’s look at these in full:

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights;

And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

These phrasings do, at first blush, sound rather like Christian piety. But in interpreting them, we need to bear in mind several other quotes by Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence.

(1787) Question with boldness even the existence of a God;

(1787) I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.

(1800) [The clergy] believe that any portion of power confided to me, will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly: for I have sworn upon the altar of God, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man”

(1814) In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.

(1823) The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.

It is very clear from these that Jefferson was hostile to Christianity and to religious authority in general. However, that phrase “on the altar of God” rings oddly with the rest. Of what “God”, if not the Christian one, was Jefferson speaking?

The answer to this question — which also explains the references in the Declaration of Independence — is that Jefferson, like many intellectuals of his time, was a Deist. The “Creator” and “Nature’s God” in the Declaration of Independence, and the God of Jefferson’s altar, is not the intervening Christian God but the God of Deism.

Deism was an early attempt to reconcile the mechanistic world-view arising from experimental science with religion. Deists believed in a remote sort of clockmaker-God who created the universe but then refrained from meddling in it afterwards. Deists explicitly rejected faith, revelation, religious doctrine, religious authority, and all existing religions. They held that humans could know the mind of God only through the study of nature; in many versions of Deist thinking, the mind of God was explicitly identified with the laws of nature.

Thus “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God”; in Deist thought these concepts blurred together. The phrase “endowed by their Creator” could be rendered accurately as “endowed by Nature”. In modern terms, this is an entirely naturalistic account of human rights.

Jefferson was not an exception and he was not pulling a textual fast one on the other signers. The summary of Deism here observes “Many of the leaders of the French and American revolutions followed this belief system, including John Quincy Adams, Ethan Allen, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, and George Washington.” Many direct quotes from these Founders substantiate this claim.

At its height, Deist thought influenced and was influenced by the theology and practices of liberal Protestant sects, especially those of the more individualist kind and most especially the Quakers (a very large and influential faction during the Revolutionary period). Thus, even though some of the Founding Fathers were not explicitly Deist, all found Deist language in the Declaration acceptable.

“Divine Providence” is a Christian Protestant term of art, not really a Deist one. But it could be read in a Deist way, as the essentially mechanical unfolding of the clockmaker-God’s design, and often was at the time. Benjamin Franklin, a leading Deist who imitated Quaker customs and dress, would have found it appealing.

It is also relevant that many of the Founders were Freemasons. The “Great Architect” God of Masonry is more readily identifiable with the Deist clockmaker-God than with Jehovah or Allah or any conventional intervening deity. In fact, it is arguable that Masonic theology is essentially a fossil relic of 18th-century Deism. In period, not only were most of the signers of the Declaration and framers of the Constitution Masons, but most of the Committees of Correspondence (the communications and propaganda apparatus of the Revolution) were attached to Masonic lodges. This connection, despite having given impetus to a great deal of paranoid conspiracy literature, remains rather important for understanding the Founders’ “God”.

Jefferson’s “altar of God” quote and the references in the Declaration of Independence are easy to misconstrue today because Deism did not long outlive the Founding Fathers. In their time it functioned as a sort of halfway house for intellectuals who rejected traditional religion but were unwilling to declare themselves atheists or agnostics. As the social risk of taking these positions decreased, Deism waned.

Deism’s detached clockmaker-God had even less appeal to the less intellectual, and was swamped by a wave of Christian revivalism (the so-called “Second Great Awakening”) in the early 1800s.

Later generations, ignorant of Deism, mistakenly interpreted the references we’ve been discussing as evidence of Christian piety. But this is what they were explicitly not; the quotes from Jefferson above show that he was violently anti-clerical, and most of his colleagues professed Deism precisely because they agreed with him in regarding Christianity as a vulgar and bloody superstition. Their confident predictions that it would wither away before the Enlightenment were, unfortunately, not to be fulfilled.

185 thoughts on “Deism and the Founding Fathers

  1. It seems to me that your arguement is somewhat biased. The majority of your argument seems to be around Jefferson’s worldview, which is hostile towards Christianity as well as a number of the other founders you referenced. I think to be fair you should include the position of those holding to Christian theism as well as those who do not. I think your epistomology prevents you from doing so. Forgive me if my analysis is off, but if you hold to the darwinian position that everything is just “Matter in Motion”, then subscribing to Christian Theism would not hold any relevance for you and you shouldn’t really care if the conservative right holds to the nation being founded on Christian piety. Although as far as I know they didn’t contribute directly to the forming of the constitution, the Puritans played a large role in establishing the nation on Christian principles.

  2. I like to say that Deism was the label Atheists used before Darwin published “The Origin of Species.” Before Evolution had an explanation, a non-intervening-clockmaker-God would still be reasonable to the most educated people. After Darwin showed that “design” in Nature was only an illusion, Deism naturally lost its appeal.

    What do you think?

  3. In as much as I follow a spiritual tradition at all, I count myself a Deist.

    If there is a God, He has far more important things to do than to intervene on behalf of myself or anyone else.

    To me, the primary purpose of religion is to inculcate belief in consequences to actions (or to accept delayed gratification) without putting someone through the rigors of actually thinking through the process.

    Looking at how few people actually do think and do strategically plan for things, I’m not entirely convinced that this purpose is an untrammeled evil. It should, however, be done in moderation.

  4. >In as much as I follow a spiritual tradition at all, I count myself a Deist

    It’s not clear to me from your expressed beliefs why. Supposing Deism to be true, it doesn’t seem to me to have any observable consequences differing from atheism, except maybe as an encouragement to others to have a religion and you don’t much care which.

    >if you hold to the darwinian position … you shouldn’t really care if the conservative right holds to the nation being founded on Christian piety.

    I care because belief in Christianity and the belief that the U.S. is “a Christian nation” have political consequences. Those consequences affect debates over issues like stem cell research that I care about. leading to policy that I think is bad.

  5. A few observations

    1. Can we please stop talking about Religious Conservatives when we mean Christian Conservatives? Some of us Religious Conservatives are Jewish or
    (pace Rev. Lovejoy) “miscellaneous” you know.

    2. While I think it is incontrovertible that the major founding fathers (poor George Mason, The Ringo of the 1770s.) did not adhere to
    Christian doctrine, one can make the case they were part of the mainstream Christian culture. For instance whatever his personal feelings Jefferson
    attended Christian church services throughout his life include ones held in the House of Representatives itself (which would cause a first amendment
    shitstorm today.)

    3. But the Christians have dug themselves into their own hole. As a Hindu, philosophical doctrines like reincarnation, the Sanskrit language, and
    folkways such as not cutting your hair or shaving during the month of shravana are all as much part of my religion as “yay Shiva.” It’s the same in Judaism,
    to be a good Jew you must observe ritual and social mitzvot as well as say “yay Adonai” and Islam (Sharia as well as “yay Allah”) Even for Buddhism as
    practised by the vast majority of its adherents, culture is as important as faith in religion. The person who says America is a “Christian nation” means
    that it is or should be culturally Christian but American Christianity alone amongst the major religions denies culture altogether. There is only faith. So the Christian cannot make the argument he really wants to make and has to adopt this bogus one instead.

    4. Deists are not closet Atheists. Atheism was already intellectually viable in this pre-Darwininian era. The founding fathers could have followed Voltaire, Diderot, and Thomas Paine and it is as sigificant as any rejection of bishops and vicars that they did not.Furthermore there is no reason to believe that a Deist America would be anymore in favor of e.g. abortion or stem cell research than a Christian one. That’s just as much projection as the Christian view.

  6. >I care because belief in Christianity and the belief that the U.S. is “a Christian nation” have political consequences.

    It seems that interest in evangelical Christianity seems to ebb and flow, with strong undercurrents that explode in “Great Awakenings” (The last of which culminated in the presidencies of Ronald Reagen and George W. Bush.) I wonder why it happens here and not in Europe.

    Like it or not, Christianity seems to serve as a buffer in this country against the Islamification that seems to be affecting Europe, but I’d rather not have to choose between theocracies.

  7. I second Justin in pointing out your undue focus on Jefferson. Any statement that “the Founding Fathers intended X” is malformed. The framers were not a homogeneous entity; party squabbles were every bit as nasty in 1776 as they are today, and generally more-so. Deists were a powerful and largely victorious faction, but to represent them as the only voice at the table is disingenuous. Many Philadelphia Convention delegates were traditional Christians. William Samuel Johnson was an Anglican clergyman.

    The term “Christian nation” is meaningless without clarification. You can interpret it to mean anything from “theocracy” to “a plurality of citizens identify themselves as Christian”. If you pressed a modern evangelical for such clarification, you’d probably get back something false. But if you asked “is the United States a Christian nation?” in an exit poll of Philadelphia delegates, you’d surely get some answers in the affirmative.

    You’re correct insofar as that nothing which made it into the language of the Constitution or Declaration of Independence supports a theist worldview. Consider, though, that this could largely have been a consequence of the willingness of the traditional Christians to leave the matter up to the several States. The situation is indeed rather different among state constitutions, many of which did establish a religion (as was considered perfectly acceptable until Gitlow vs. New York). Reaching at random for Massachusetts:

    (Part I) Article II. It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly, and at stated seasons to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. And no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; or for his religious profession or sentiments; provided he doth not disturb the public peace, or obstruct others in their religious worship.

    Article III. As the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community, but by the institution of the public worship of God, and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality: Therefore, to promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic, or religious societies, to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.

    This language was not amended until 1821.

    It would be nice if the victory of the Enlightenment were more thorough, but let’s not pretend that traditional Christianity has ever been on its last legs in the US.

  8. > Deists are not closet Atheists. Atheism was already intellectually viable in this pre-Darwininian era. The founding fathers could have followed Voltaire, Diderot, and Thomas Paine and it is as sigificant as any rejection of bishops and vicars that they did not.

    Paine was a deist.

  9. My own state’s (North Carolina) take on freedom of religion essentially goes as follows: “Every man is free to worship God in his own way.” To my endless amusement.

  10. >Deists were a powerful and largely victorious faction, but to represent them as the only voice at the table is disingenuous

    Argue for “voices at the table” all you like, but the historical fact remains: no specifically Christian language was written into the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. Deist language was. To believe that this did not represent the consensus of the delegates is to believe that Jefferson somehow flimflammed them all.

  11. Deist language is quite inoffensive to Christians; as you’ve already pointed out, that’s basically the reason that deism existed. All the deist language to which you refer occurs in the DoI, not the constitution. At that time, the framers were probably more concerned with preparing for war and with avoiding being on the business end of a gallows than with debugging theological nuances. When the time came to set down principles that would be legally binding, no such language was included.

  12. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to focus on Jefferson in making the argument Eric has made, since the Declaration of Independence, in particular, is often cited as an example of how “Christian” the Founding Fathers were, and Jefferson drafted it. Congress, however, worked over Jefferson’s draft a good deal (so much so that Jefferson was rather offended, and periodically in later life sought opinions from acquaintances as to whether they thought his original draft was better). Thus we can assume that the members of the Continental Congress, at least, were satisfied with the version that came down to us.

  13. I just read Jefferson’s rough draft. “Laws of nature and nature’s god” was unchanged. “Endowed by their creator with” was originally “from that equal creation they derive”, which just seems like stylistic change. The clause “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” was originally absent.

    So it seems that to the extent the theological language was edited, it was pulled in a more Christian direction, since like Eric said, “divine providence” is a protestant phrase. But on the whole, this all seems consistent with the idea that the DoI was written by a deist in a manner intended to be acceptable to Christians and deists alike.

    By the way, I think Jefferson was wrong: the draft is a bit messy. The final version is better-written and more powerful.

  14. >they agreed with him in regarding Christianity as a vulgar and bloody superstition. Their confident predictions that it would wither away before the Enlightenment were, unfortunately, not to be fulfilled.

    esr,
    Your right to do things like own a gun and say things that offend people are either sacred or else they are not. If they are not, then you can confidently expect that as more people graduate from the Leftist indoctrination centers that our colleges and high schools have become, that your rights will be eaten away to nothing.

    You cannot defend your right to say offensive things on the grounds that it’s convenient. It is not.

    Nor on the grounds of tradition. Plenty of influential people don’t give a damn about American tradition (or the traditional rights of Englishmen).

    Nor on the grounds that a majority of your fellow citizens support your rights, because with enough Leftist propaganda, that could change. And beyond that, the Supreme Court assures us that “evolving standards of decency” must always move the country in a more Progressive direction.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kennedy_v._Louisiana

    So, sacred or not sacred: those are your options. Not sacred means your rights are already gone, they just look like they’re still here.

    And outside of a religious context, wherein things are “sanctified by God” or whatever, what does sacred even mean?

    If you have rights because the state or public opinion or tradition gives them to you, then the state or pollsters or Progress can take them away. Only if your rights are sourced in something beyond human authority can they successfully “stand athwart history, yelling stop!”

    You like Jefferson quotes? How about this one?
    “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.”

    Without some sort of Transcendent authority on your side, your attempts to fight that “natural progress” are absurd. And doomed.

  15. On second thought, “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” seems incompatible with deism. To a deist it would be like saying “with a firm reliance that gravity will continue to operate”, which is obviously ridiculous in context. “With a firm reliance that God will ensure our victory” seems like the only reasonable way to interpret it.

  16. >> The “Great Architect” God of Masonry is more readily identifiable with the Deist clockmaker

    This commonly held view of Freemasonry is false. Freemasonry holds no particular view of God, and it never did. In general, a Freemason simply has to believe in a Supreme Being (whatever that means).

    Freemasonry divides itself into independent lodges, and each lodge is self-governing. Almost from the very inception of freemasonry, it began to fracture and divided. In Freemasonry, your particular view of God was reflected in whatever particular lodge you associated with.

    >> In fact, it is arguable that Masonic theology is essentially a fossil relic of 18th-century Deism.

    This is actually another misheld belief about Freemasonry. In fact, the Christian interpretation of Freemasonry was the accepted norm until the later half of the 19th century. Before that time, it was primarily the French lodges that were Deistic in nature.

    >> In period, not only were most of the signers of the Declaration and framers of the Constitution Masons, but most of the Committees of Correspondence (the communications and propaganda apparatus of the Revolution) were attached to Masonic lodges. This connection, despite having given impetus to a great deal of paranoid conspiracy literature, remains rather important for understanding the Founders’ “God”.

    I actually agree with this. However, you would really have to understand each particular masonic lodge. My guess is that many of those lodges held very traditional Christian beliefs.

    Further, I’m not even sure that most of the signers of the Declaration and Framers of the Constitution were Masons. I know as a fact that Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and John Adams were never Masons. The only Founding Fathers I know, who were also Freemasons, are George Washington and Ben Franklin; and even they were not serious Masons. George Washington took his Freemasonry about as seriously as his religion, and Franklin was a Mason mostly for social reasons.

  17. Dean, for the case that natural rights can exist independent of a transcendent authority, see the works of some Thomist philosophers, perhaps in particular ‘De Jure Belli ac Pacis’. Via Rothbard,

    “Measureless as is the power of God, nevertheless it can be said that there are certain things over which that power does not extend. . . . Just as even God cannot cause that two times two should not make four, so He cannot cause that which is intrinsically evil be not evil.”

  18. >so He cannot cause that which is intrinsically evil be not evil.

    So sorry, but what does that mean? How can anything be intrinsically evil? Hitler killed six million Jews. A good exterminator kills six million cockroaches in the course of a career. Is there a difference?

    What’s that you say? Killing the people was murder? What does that mean?

    If we don’t have souls, because there is no God to give them to us, then we are just animals. Like cockroaches, only with bigger brains. A difference in degree, not in kind.

    And how can anything done to a creature not all that different from a cockroach be Evil? We are just temporarily animated bags of meat. Our lives mean nothing in the cosmic scheme of things. Our suffering is just the misfiring of neurons, no more morally significant than an avalanche or an earthquake.

    If there is no God to say “Thou shalt not,” then what exactly are you talking about when you use the word “evil?”

  19. >Freemasonry holds no particular view of God

    I’m not a Mason. but I’ve studied Masonic materials and have been invited to join by two different sponsors. At least in the materials I’ve seen, the “no particular view” of modern Masonry seems quite Deist in the style of its reservations. It is interesting that you point out the French lodges as having adopted Deistic views early; that is what I would on historical grounds if Deism diffused into Masonry from Voltaire and other figures of the the early French Enlightenment. And If, as you say, English and Scottish lodges adopted Deistic views later, this would be consistent with that diffusion theory.

    Note that I have refrained from taking initiation solely on the grounds that I cannot honestly swear to a belief in a Divine Creator, even in the weak Deist/nondenominational version of that idea that is all modern Masons require. It’s a shame, really; Otherwise I’d love to join.

  20. >If there is no God to say “Thou shalt not,” then what exactly are you talking about when you use the word “evil?”

    The problem of evil is not on topic for this comment thread. Please don’t go there.

  21. >On second thought, “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” seems incompatible with deism. To a deist it would be like saying “with a firm reliance that gravity will continue to operate”, which is obviously ridiculous in context. “With a firm reliance that God will ensure our victory” seems like the only reasonable way to interpret it.

    Try unpacking it as: “With a firm reliance that our objectives are in accordance with God’s unfolding plan for His universal clockwork.”

    This Deist-compatible interpretatation would not actually have been a very heterodox one even in terms of the Protestantism of the time. Calvinism and other sects with predestinarian doctrines were more important then than they are today.

  22. >> It is interesting that you point out the French lodges as having adopted Deistic views early; that is what I would on historical grounds if Deism diffused into Masonry from Voltaire and other figures of the the early French Enlightenment. And If, as you say, English and Scottish lodges adopted Deistic views later, this would be consistent with that diffusion theory.

    This is exactly my position. Freemasonry of the Colonial Age and Freemasonry of the present age have absolutly nothing in common. In my opinion, Albert Pike is the man most responsible for the big switch. Essentially, some time after the civil war, he undertook a major study of French Masonry, and he used the French Lodge as his guide in redesigning the 4th to the 33rd degrees in the Scottish Rite. Everything else (as they say) is history.

    I am no expert on Freemasonry, but this is what my understanding is.

    My point in bringing up Freemasonry was this: Most Freemasons of Colonial America were not Deists; they were Christians. While I’m sure that many of them were liberal, I’m also sure than many of them were very traditional. I’m actually intested in finding the deist/liberal/conservative ratio of our founding fathers, now.

    I’m actually not disagreeing with you, however. I think your thesis is completely correct: they [the founders] explicitly rejected the establishment of Christianity as the preferred or natural religion of their infant nation. However, I think your defense of it is wrong. If most of our founding fathers were Masons, which I seriously doubt is true (I’ve never actually seen any statistics), then they would probably not be Deists; since, Masonry in America had not progressed to that point.

  23. >The “Great Architect” God of Masonry is more readily identifiable with the Deist clockmaker-God than with Jehovah or Allah or any conventional intervening deity. In fact, it is arguable that Masonic theology is essentially a fossil relic of 18th-century Deism.

    When I spoke to the current proprietor of the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft (http://www.museumofwitchcraft.com), who is both a Wiccan and a Freemason, he said that much of the symbolism and rituals of the two were very similar, and clearly derived from the same roots. Though the Wiccan deities are clearly not “conventional intervening deities”, they are not a passive “clockmaker-God” either. It therefore strikes me as odd to think that the God of Masonry could be identified in such a way.

  24. “the quotes from Jefferson above show that he was violently anti-clerical”

    Gee, ya think? Insty must be having a slow day. It’s like reading an issue of “Free Thinker” again. (I used to do that when I was in college.)

  25. I think you’re all missing a piece of the historical context. The phrase “establishment of religion” means something very specific in US and UK history, which is the designation of one church as THE official church, supported by government and with every church official from parson to Archbishop appointed by the state. This was what the founding fathers clearly had in mind with regard to the First Amendment; note that they put no such prohibition in place for the several states, some of which had established churches into the 1970s. My home state of Maryland, in fact, didn’t get around to disestablishing the Episcopal church (formerly C of E) until Marvin Mandel became governor; it was felt that having a Jewish head of the Episcopal Church would be somewhat improper.

    Given that the prohibition was against setting up the Episcopal (or any other) church as the official American religion, it seems pointless to argue whether the founders were atheists, Deists, or closet Zoroastrians. The common culture of the nation has always been Christian, mainly Protestant, and this is what’s being referred to when people call America a “Christian nation”. Most of us are, and most of us don’t care where (or if) you go to church until you make a Federal case out of it. ;)

  26. George Washington was not against for states to collect a tax to go to religion, just so long as the people could direct which religion the money go flow to.

  27. >Not sacred means your rights are already gone, they just look like they’re still here.

    This is nonsense. Constructing an entirely naturalistic account of “unalienable rights” is not even very difficult. Sketch: “unalienable rights” are those which must be treated as axioms because denying them or even allowing serious exceptions produces fatal structural instability of the system.

    You may not agree with this account, but the fact that it is even possible to state it disposes of the notion that religion is indispensible to the system.

  28. >The phrase “establishment of religion” means something very specific in US and UK history, which is the designation of one church as THE official church, supported by government and with every church official from parson to Archbishop appointed by the state.

    You’re ignoring “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. I agree that your reading would be defensible if only that first half of the establishment clause were present; in that case, it would pass Constitutional muster to have Federal laws prohibiting the practice of Voudoun, or Wicca, or Santeria, or Islam, or Judaism, as long as no church was “established”.

    But the establishment clause contains both phrases. The second strengthens and broadens the first; together, they imply that the Federal government is barred not merely from preferring any particular church but any particular doctrine. This is completely consistent with critical Deism; in fact it is exactly what one would expect from the Bill of Rights if a gathering of Deists had written it.

  29. Um, if you want to convince us that the Founders were not Christian, then why do you lurch in to a long spiel focused exclusively on … (wait for it) … Jefferson. Is there some reason you left out all the other Christian founders?

    Let me guess. You started with an agenda and worked backwards.

    Just because the Founders did not want a Church of England in America does not mean that they were not Christian (a huge percentage were) nor does it mean that their values were not Christian (they were) or that America is not founded on Christian principles (it is).


    paul.abarge@email.com
    http://i349.photobucket.com/albums/q387/pabarge/carnac2.jpg

  30. Dean:

    If you need a God to tell you what is right or wrong, or good or evil, than, indeed, you are no more than an animal. Your beleif is weak, if you need God to tell you those things. Good and evil are concepts, that exist whether or not God exists.

    If one is so weak, as to not know even basic concepts such as good or evil, than what use is one to God? Would he not spit such a person out of his mouth? Such a person could easily be replaced by a Nitendo Gamestation. God is independent…he expects his creation to think likewise.

  31. >Is there some reason you left out all the other Christian founders?

    Quote from the original: “Many of the leaders of the French and American revolutions followed this belief system, including John Quincy Adams, Ethan Allen, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, and George Washington.” Many direct quotes from these Founders substantiate this claim.

    It’s actually rather difficult to even identify any great number of “Christian” founders. An earlier poster named one.

  32. FROM: http://www.christianworldviewnetwork.com/article.php/3706/By_Brannon_Howse

    “Benjamin Franklin clearly was a deist as a young man, but he later became disenchanted with deism. While Franklin probably never became a Christian in the orthodox sense, he came a long way from deism in his eighty-four years. At the Great Convention it was Franklin who called for prayer, declaring that “God governs in the affairs of men.” (Remember, according to deism, God does not so intervene.)

    Dr. M. E. Bradford of the University of Dallas…”discovered the Founders were members of denominations as follows: twenty-eight Episcopalians, eight Presbyterians, seven Congregationalists, two Lutherans, two Dutch Reformed, two Methodists, two Roman Catholics, and three deists.”

  33. “The framers may not have mentioned Christianity in the Constitution, but they clearly intended that charter of liberty to govern a society of fervent faith, freely encouraged by government for the benefit of all. Their noble and unprecedented experiment never involved a religion-free or faithless state but did indeed presuppose America’s unequivocal identity as a Christian nation.” – Michael Medved

    ——–

    Thomas Jefferson:

    “The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of mankind.”

    “I concur with the author in considering the moral precepts of Jesus as more pure, correct, and sublime than those of ancient philosophers.”

    “No nation has ever existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I, as Chief Magistrate of this nation, am bound to give it the sanction of my example.”

    “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure if we have lost the only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?”

  34. “You’re ignoring “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. I agree that your reading would be defensible if only that first half of the establishment clause were present; in that case, it would pass Constitutional muster to have Federal laws prohibiting the practice of Voudoun, or Wicca, or Santeria, or Islam, or Judaism, as long as no church was “established”.”

    No one is ignoring the “prohibiting the exercise thereof” part. The colonies where made up of many different Christian denominations, and one of the ratifier’s wanted to have their religion restricted.

    You are also taking a soda straw view of the history of America. America did not start with the D of I or the Constitution. It is a history of the 1st colonist’s up to today. You have to ignore the entire population of the America to make your case.

  35. Other Bible-Thumpers…Founders or Not?

    “[O]ur citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament, or the Christian religion.” – Noah Webster

    “We profess to be republicans, and yet we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government, that is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by the means of the Bible. For this Divine Book, above all others, favors that equality among mankind, that respect for just laws, and those sober and frugal virtues, which constitute the soul of republicanism.” Benjamin Rush

    “[P]ublic utility pleads most forcibly for the general distribution of the Holy Scriptures. The doctrine they preach, the obligations they impose, the punishment they threaten, the rewards they promise, the stamp and image of divinity they bear, which produces a conviction of their truths, can alone secure to society, order and peace, and to our courts of justice and constitutions of government, purity, stability and usefulness. In vain, without the Bible, we increase penal laws and draw entrenchments around our institutions. Bibles are strong entrenchments. Where they abound, men cannot pursue wicked courses, and at the same time enjoy quiet conscience.” – James McHenry (Signer of the Constitution)

    “To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys. . . . Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.” – Jedediah Morse

    From: http://eucatastrophy.blogspot.com/2008/07/myths-of-founders.html

  36. Me. Bradford’s article says, according to the page cited: “Notice Dr. Bradford’s study found that only three out of fifty-five Founders were possibly deists. These are Hugh Williamson of North Carolina, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania.”

    The fact that Bradford failed to list Washington or Jefferson casts serious doubt on either Bradford’s criteria for who counted as a Deist or who counted as a Founder. Accordingly, his use of facts I can check is at best selective and at worst actively dishonest.

    Accordingly, I’m suspicious of the purported Franklin quote. It wouldn’t be the first time a supposed quote from a Founder had been fabricated to advance an agenda, and the page on which the study is quoted reeks of ax-grinding.

  37. “This is exactly my position. Freemasonry of the Colonial Age and Freemasonry of the present age have absolutely nothing in common.”

    Colonial Freemasonry was also badly damaged by the anti-masonic sentiment that peaked in the late 1820s through 1830s. This caused a great decline in US freemasonry which continued through the middle of the 19th century. Modern freemasonry emerged after the Civil War. By all historical accounts, it is so different from Colonial Masonry that it cannot be considered one and the same.

    Is the US a Christian Nation? Well it is a nation full of Christians, but structurally the Republic is designed to be secular. The real issue is whether the doctrine of “Separation of Church and State” is actually an accurate reflection of the secularism found in the Constitution. The establishment clause is meant not to stifle religious expression in the public square, but to prevent the creation of a State Church. Furthermore the free exercise clause is generally pissed all over in jurisprudence. Neither of these are good things.

  38. “It’s actually rather difficult to even identify any great number of “Christian” founders.”

    The true founders of the American nation were/are the people. The people were 99% Christian at the signing of the Constitution. The Founding Fathers founded a state that was “backwards compatible” with the nation. That you equate “state = people” is scary. You are doing the opposite of what the Founding Fathers intended, that is, cramming your beliefs down on the nation.

  39. It is a mistake of the first order to confuse hostility to ORGANIZED or ESTABLISHED religion, i.e. flawed human institutions, with hostility to theology or God (bathwater, baby).

  40. Look, nearly all of the founders were churchgoing men. Some were ministers, or trained to be ministers, By my count, 34 were Anglican, 13 Puritans (Congregationalists), 6 Presbyterians, and 1 each of Baptist, Quaker, and Catholic.

    Hamilton requested the Holy Eucharist to be brought to him on his deathbed. In his last letter, to his wife Eliza, he says, “The consolations of religion, my beloved, can alone support you; and these you have a right to enjoy. Fly to the bosom of your God, and be comforted. With my last idea I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world.”

    Everyone seems to forget about Rev. John Witherspoon, president of Princeton (which was, at the time, primarily a school for training ministers).

    Patrick Henry wrote to his daughter: “…I hear it is said by the Deists that I am one of their number; and indeed, that some good people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain than the appellation of Tory; because I think religion of infinitely higher importance than politics; and I find much cause to reproach myself that I have lived so long, and have given no decided and public proofs of my being a Christian. But, indeed, my dear child, this is a character which I prize far above all this world has, or can boast.”

    Or Benjamin Rush: “[T]he only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”

    Thomas Paine said this about atheism: “Religion has two principal enemies, fanaticism and infidelity, or that which is called atheism. The first requires to be combated by reason and morality, The other by natural philosophy …. It is there [in nature] that the proofs of his existence are to be sought and found.”

    There’s more where that came from. All this to say, any simplistic understanding of the Founders as somehow opposed to orthodox Christianity, or all Deists is foolishness. Also foolishness is the idea that Deists were simply atheists. Absolutely not. As deists, they believed that nature revealed the existence of God, even if that God was something different from what traditional Christianity said it was. The DoI and Constitution were built (and here I’m giving my opinion) on the common overlap between the two–that whatever disagreements the theologically diverse Founders had, they all agreed that nature’s God demanded virtue from them.

    The idea of America as a “Christian nation” would not have been controversial to these men. The DoI and Constitution were designed to appeal not only to those of authentic Christian faith (most likely the majority of signers of both documents) but also to the Deists or Deist-leaning people signing, which included a large number of the “prime movers” so-to-speak, of American independence.

  41. From: http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5097

    “Given the fact that most of the Founding Fathers–either those who are among the 55 delegates to the Constitutional convention or those outside of that number who were significant architects to the Constitution–were in fact biblical Christians and had sworn to that, and those that weren’t were at least deeply moved and informed by a biblical moral view, one could ask the question, “So what? What does that have to do with anything today?”

    I think that Christians may be a little out of line on this part of the issue, and I want to bring it into balance. Regarding the question, Is America a Christian nation?, if we mean by that that Christianity is the official, doctrinal religion of this country, the answer is of course not. That’s prohibited by the exclusion clause of the First Amendment. If we mean that we were founded on Biblical principles by Christian men who had a deep commitment to the Scriptures by and large, the answer is certainly yes.

    But then the question is, So what? How does what happened 200 years ago influence what is going on now? I actually have two points to make.

    This fact doesn’ t give Christians a trump card in the debate on public policy, in my view. Just because Christians were here first doesn’t mean that their views should continue to prevail. Within the limits of the Constitution, the majority rules. That’s the way this government works, ladies and gentlemen.

    But let’s not rewrite history to relegate those with religious convictions to the sidelines. That is the other half of this. The privilege of citizenship remains the same for all despite their religious convictions. Everyone gets a voice and everyone gets a vote. Christians don’t have a leg up on everyone else because we were here first. Even the Christians who wrote the rules didn’t give us that liberty. They didn’t give us that leg up. They made the playing ground even for everyone, every ideology, every point of view.

    Having said that, though, in writing the First Amendment and the non-establishment clause, they did not have in view this current idea of separation–that the state is thoroughly secular and not informed at all by religious values, especially Christian. This view that is popular now was completely foreign, not just to the Founders, but to the first 150 years of American political thought. It’s absolutely clear that the Fathers did not try to excise every vestige of Christian religion, Christian thought, and Christian values from all facets of public life. In fact, they were friendly to religion in general, and to Christianity in particular, and encouraged its education and expression. “

  42. Alleged to be from Thomas Jefferson:“No nation has ever existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I, as Chief Magistrate of this nation, am bound to give it the sanction of my example.”

    Er…Thomas Jefferson never held any post that could be described as “Chief Magistrate” of the U.S.; he was Secretary of State, Vice President, and then President, but never held a post in the judicial branch. This quote is therefore obviously bogus.

    Your other quotes are grossly inconsistent with Jefferson’s known position on Christianity and revealed religion between 1787 and 1824, as my previous and well-known citations show. I know of no other evidence to support the notion that Jefferson held such pro-Christian views as you suppose at any point in his life. and much evidence against it.

    There is a long history of fabricated Jefferson quotes, including one I was fond of until I discovered it was bogus: “Firearms are the American yeoman’s liberty teeth”. I conclude that you have probably been flimflammed and your sources are suspect. Quoting Michael Medved doesn’t help your case; the man is so narrow and doctrinaire that I wince when reading his punditry even though I not infrequently agree with its conclusions.

    >The true founders of the American nation were/are the people

    While this is true, it changes the subject of discussion, which is the beliefs of the individuals responsible for the Declaration of Independence , the Constitution, and other foundational documents of the U.S. This argument is, accordingly, evasive and you do not look honest when you make it.

  43. I haven’t had time to read the prior comments thoroughly, so forgive me if I’m repeating someone else’s thought. I have been taught (correctly or not) that the thought “respecting an establishment of religion” would be expressed today as “with espect to an establishment of religion.” In other words, the federal governemt could neither establish a federal religion, nor prevent the states from establishing state religions. FWIW.

  44. T, please refrain from posting piles of unsubstantiated assertions from axe-grinding Christian sites, You are perilously close to spamming this discussion and I will not tolerate that; you are on notice that I will delete any future comments that are as content-free as your last. Cite evidence: quotes that can be verified, facts that can be checked.

  45. While what you actually state that Mormon (LDS) Doctrine holds is correct, what you associate it isn’t a part of Mormon doctrine. We don’t believe that the Founding Fathers were acting to establish a christian religious state at all, just that they were divinely led to do the things what they did in establishing a nation in which the Gospel could be restored. We similarly believe the Martin Luther and Columbus were inspired to their accomplishments which opened up the gates of opportunity and religious freedom, even though we’d don’t agree with their religious doctrines at all.

    We certainly believe in religious freedom for all people, both as a part of our nation’s law, but also as one of the Articles of our Faith.
    cf. Articles of Faith 11 &12 http://scriptures.lds.org/en/a_of_f/1/11#11

  46. >While what you actually state that Mormon (LDS) Doctrine holds is correct, what you associate it isn’t a part of Mormon doctrine

    Noted, and thanks for the correction.

  47. May I suggest Jeffry Morrison’s insightful book about Jonathan Witherspoon (the only Christian minister to sign the Declaration of Independence) ‘John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic.’
    Specifically, chapters 4 and 5 which discuss the role he played in the American Revolution and the documents that where its result.
    You may be very surprised to discover the influence that a conservative Presbyterian had in the formation of the USA.

  48. PSM’s post is good example of how to conduct a discussion like this. Instead of merely asserting from secondary sources, he linked directly to the LDS Articles of Faith where the claim about Mormon doctrine can be checked directly.

    Christian apologists, please take note; there have been far too many unsourced quotes, and handwaving assertions based on unsourced quotes, from your crowd.

  49. It is quite obvious that Jonathan is not, as he says, “an expert on Freemasonry”. Why put forth incorrect information and purport it to be as fact then?

  50. Hey, guys. A lot of good comments and a lot of thrashing on both sides. The argument itself is problematic because it has three components: 1) What is the definition of a “Christian nation”; 2) What is the meaning of the establishment clause? and 3) Who were Christians/Deists? I have little to add to 1 and 3, but will merely say that the establishment clause was expressly written to prevent a denomination from asserting dominance. There was never any thought of Islam or Judaism being established. So the threat, for the drafters, was that a Christian sect (e.g. Calvinism) would acquire ascendancy. This is why Penn established Pennsylvania, to free Baptists, et. al., from the persecution of the Puritans.

    Also, I would like to address Xiaoding i’s ad hominem comment:

    “Dean: If you need a God to tell you what is right or wrong, or good or evil, than, indeed, you are no more than an animal.”

    Evil is a moral judgment that is socially-constructed. In absolute terms, as the monotheistic religions define it, the concept of evil does not exist outside of a localized context. Xiaoding illustrates an example of an ethical system when he calls someone an “animal” in a discussion of “right and wrong.” This would not happen were he a Christian since the reference to “wrong” would be made against an absolute value system outside of the personal. Jesus made that clear when he said even if you call someone a “fool” you’re in danger of going to hell. Why? It wasn’t the talismanic power of a given word, but the measurement of the evil intent of the heart. Who can do that but God? This is why human constructs of “right and wrong” permit Holocausts, the Rape of Nanking, etc. Christians are condemned for the Salem witch trials (16 dead?) or the Crusades (a belated 300 year response to Muslim aggression) or to the Inquisition (@3,000 in 300 years) without reference to the twin evils of Nazi and Communist socialism.

    My point is, that any reference to the “evil” of one ideology (as several commenters have made about Christianity) should logically be balanced against a reference to other ideologies.

  51. “Many of the leaders of the French and American revolutions followed this belief system, including John Quincy Adams…”
    Hmmm…Was John Quincy Adams a leader of the French revolution or the American revolution? I’m not familiar with him being a leader of either one. At least he was older during the French Revolution; maybe he had some kind of secret leadership role I have never heard about.
    Now, the French Revolution. There was a triumph of Deism. Viva le Robespierre!

  52. For me, I’m not terribly concerned whether the founders were Christians, Deist or some combination of the two. Their values seem quite compatible with Christianity and I see no major conflict as a result. While the founders may not have been all Christian, their values nonetheless seem to be in keeping with Judeo-Christian ethics and values. Freedom from tyranny, all men created equal, etc…

    As to whether or not Christianity should have a “privileged position in the political and cultural life of the U.S.” – I cannot say. Some better questions might be: Are Judeo-Christian values good for society and the nation? Do they help preserve freedom, opportunity and help combat tyranny? The answer appears to be yes.

    I’m agnostic, so I don’t have religious reason to support this view. I just recognize that Judeo-Christian values are not in conflict with the values of our nation and actually help preserve it.

  53. “Christian apologists, please take note; there have been far too many unsourced quotes, and handwaving assertions based on unsourced quotes, from your crowd.”

    If you can kindly show me the rules and regulations on “unsourced quotes” in the constitution we would gladly imply.

    The term “your crowd” seems to imply a little bigotry and heat from your end, yes?

    It seems that you are all living in the virtual world of estimation. You can debate this topic till the end of time with little or no effect. You van evaluate T. Jefferson are the rest of the bunch and not have 100% closure. No matter how eloquently one writes it will not change the fact. The bible is the most documented source in the history of man. There is more evidence pointing to the truth of the bible than any other document in the world and is growing daily. You can take the church out of the constitution. You can take the church out of Christianity( i would prefer it this way) but you will never take Christianity out of the United States.

  54. The American government may be nominally secular, but culturally the United States is a deeply religious country. (Remember that the killer app for mass education was the Bible.) Evangelical Christianity pervades nearly every aspect of life here, but many Americans are also interested in just about anything metaphysical, especially the latest “rediscovered” eastern mysticism du jour.

    Are Americans just more prone to magical thinking than the rest of the world?

  55. One thing left out of the discussion so far is the purpose of stating that America is a Christian nation. It depends on the speaker or writer, but the idea of a Christian nation can also be seen as a rallying cry for Christians to stand up and pay attention while they still can.

    We have empirical evidence of what happens when secular progressivism is given free rein. Europe has steadily been excising Christianity and Judeo-Christian principles from their countries, and the results are weakened states with populaces unable to maintain birth rates, the steady erosion of rights and liberties, and the looming specter of demographics in Islam which assuredly doesn’t support the existence of a secular state.

    If you couch it in systems terms, perhaps it is Judeo Christian values that serve as one of the pillars of a structurally stable nation. It’s a hypothesis, but one that has better proof for it than that of secular progressivism (which is failing), or secular scientism (which has never been tried).

    While I appreciate you Eric, and Glenn, and others who are classical liberals, good citizens, and not Christian, it’s important to recognize that your beliefs exist not in a vacuum, but in a majority Christian nation where large groups of voters protect liberties because they feel God gave them those rights. Take that bloc of voters away, and your views end up in a dangerous minority. This doesn’t mean they are wrong – it could be that your opinions are the keys to a successful state, but if they are in the minority, you’d end up like many of my British friends – living in another country because your own country failed to stand up for itself. There simply aren’t any countries governed without God that turn out well in the long run.

    At least in a Christian nation, you can air your views, and work to convince others of their rightness. There is no other country on earth where you are as safe to express your opinion as you are here. That makes you, and the Christians, natural allies. To suggest that Christians are a vulgar and a bloody superstition is your right, but it’s a right you enjoy because voters with Christian principles help defend your right to say it.

  56. >The term “your crowd” seems to imply a little bigotry and heat from your end, yes?

    I’ll come out and say it: I think religious faith is best regarded as a form of mental defect or contagious insanity. The handwaving and tub-thumping in your comment does nothing to disabuse me of this conviction.

  57. Hey,

    David Holmes of William and Mary sort of beat you to this in his book Faiths of the Founding Fathers. I heard him present his thesis at of all places Liberty University with no dissent on his thesis – hmmm guess some conservative Christians aren’t so narrow minded after all.

  58. “Er…Thomas Jefferson never held any post that could be described as “Chief Magistrate” of the U.S.; he was Secretary of State, Vice President, and then President, but never held a post in the judicial branch. This quote is therefore obviously bogus.”

    ESR while I agree with you about deism and the founding, you are incorect here. The President was often refered to as the Chief Magistrate of the republic until the last hundred years or so. The lable of CinC while mentioned in the constitution wass not as widey used.

  59. >To suggest that Christians are a vulgar and a bloody superstition is your right, but it’s a right you enjoy because voters with Christian principles help defend your right to say it.

    Indisputably many voters have “Christian principles”, but the inference that they defend my rights because of those Christian principles — and that Christianity is therefore structurally indispensible — is not justified. A tolerant and free society can be founded simply on the recognition that if you persecute your neighbors for their beliefs they are likely to persecute you right back at the first opportunity. To make your case you’d have to demonstrate that specifically Christian doctrine is more important in shaping political behavior than this simple Golden Rule.

    I’m not sure you can do that even when the people you’re pointing at are rather devout Christians. I think many Christians believe that God personally does not want women to have abortions, but I don’t think you could find many who think God personally wants Americans to have free speech or the right to bear arms. Actually, when I hear “God-given rights” from Christians, I think they are often expressing something close to the Deist idea of these rights being inherent in the nature of creation, rather than an issue their God spends time being actively exercised about.

  60. >All worldviews, whether shared by a billion people (Christians) or by one (you) are a “faith.”

    Nonsense. A worldview founded on obervation, reason, and experiment is not a “faith”, no matter how much you might like to think it is.

  61. Due to a large volume of spam by Christian apologists, I am now deleting comments that fail to present new facts relevant to the original post. To pass the filter, you must give a checkable fact or quote bearing on the beliefs and behavior of the founders of the U.S.

    General argument about religion, ethics and theodicy is off-topic and will be deleted unless I think it adds something to the discussion.

  62. The moderation on this site seems to have the unique feature of a memory hole. ESR’s response to my post is visible, but the post I wrote mysteriously never appeared. Fair enough, it’s your site. But it’s a perfect illustration of Jonah Goldberg’s thesis at work.

  63. “If there is a God, He has far more important things to do than to intervene on behalf of myself or anyone else.”
    That’s the crazy thing about deism. If there is a God, who are you to say? This sounds like atheism hedging its bets.

    “I’ll come out and say it: I think religious faith is best regarded as a form of mental defect or contagious insanity.”
    Are you sure? Or do you just mean to impugn Christianity in particular? If not, that’s funny. Deism is still religious faith. You assert that most founders adhered to it. Obviously, our nation is the creation of a crowd of tub-thumping mental defectives. Brilliant. You’ve just disqualified everything they ever wrote from serious consideration by the sane. There goes your whole argument. But that’s okay. Religious dominionists of any brand should be refuted on the particulars of their projects anyway; they’re not good projects, and they should be refuted. If you want to demonstrate that this nation has no Christian material in its foundation, you need to prove that, not that some founders had the same kind of feeling about Christianity that you do. Most people realize that the establishment clause is not equivalent to making the laws free of any kind of Christian (or Jewish, or Muslim, or Jainist, or Buddhist, etc.) influence. That would be impossible anyway in a federal republic like the insane entity in which we live.

  64. >> The fact that Bradford failed to list Washington or Jefferson casts serious doubt on either Bradford’s criteria for who counted as a Deist or who counted as a Founder.

    It technically would be correct not to consider Washington and Jefferson as Deists. Officially, Washington was Episcopalian and Jefferson was a Unitarian. In reality, however, they personally believed in Deism. Washington’s wife was a fervent “believer” and Washington pretty much put on a religions front for her sake. Jefferson as a youth started as a Deist but slowly moved to Unitarianism as he aged. It is interesting to note that most of Jefferson’s anti-religious statements were made when he was a Unitarian; not when he was a Deist.

    >> Accordingly, his use of facts I can check is at best selective and at worst actively dishonest.

    I agree. However, I think there may be some substance to his argument: Most of the Founding Fathers were not Deists. I personally only know something about 8 – 10 of our founding fathers. It just so happens that most of them were Deists. I have absolutly no clue what the 40 other (or so) founders believed. I suspect if you were to actually analyze all of our Founders, Deism would probably be a minority view.

    I don’t neccessarily think this is very important, though. Let’s admit it, most of our important Founding Fathers were Deists. Would anyone seriously be able to identify John Witherspoon from a lineup of our founding fathers?

  65. “A worldview founded on obervation, reason, and experiment is not a “faith”, no matter how much you might like to think it is.”

    It is,however, a metaphysic.

    Would it be fair to describe your metaphysic as
    “faith in reason,observation, and experiment”?

    I am inclined to think it would.

    (BTW, I much appreciate your “Gramscian Damage” article,
    and have shared it it with a number of readers online.)

  66. Er…Thomas Jefferson never held any post that could be described as “Chief Magistrate” of the U.S.; he was Secretary of State, Vice President, and then President, but never held a post in the judicial branch. This quote is therefore obviously bogus.

    Er…wrong. And an indication that you haven’t done much reading in the early American period, though the quote is indeed probably bogus.

  67. Spam? ESR, you can’t dismiss arguments with name-calling:

    “Nonsense. A worldview founded on obervation, reason, and experiment is not a “faith”, no matter how much you might like to think it is.”

    Your rebuttal most certainly expresses every condition of a “faith.” You believe you are correct and seem to think that the abstract goddess, Reason, will favor your argument. When writers critique your argument, you resort to deleting posts and diminishing their argument by calling it “spam.” I suggest that you just let the argument unfold and stay out of it. That way your pride won’t get hurt and the thread will have “free will” instead of being interfered with by the non-aloof watchmaker of what has suddenly become a non-Deist thread.

  68. Ok, I’ll do Jefferson’s Last Letter.

    “May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth….,”

    note in the following, the malevolent “God”, who lends his grace to the booted and spurred oppressors of mankind, as opposed to benevolent neutral “Creator” of the Constitution.

    “…that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.”

    esr is absolutely correct that Jefferson was a deist and not a christian.

  69. I think we are all missing the point. The founding fathers, regardless of their religious faith, attempted to build a country that was one! We could disagree and even live in states that fit our beliefs better but we are still one nation.
    We get so bogged down in discussions like this that we only succeed in divideing ourselves. We are all in the same boat, lets quit poking holes in it.

    “We must hang together, gentlemen…else, we shall most assuredly hang separately.”
    Ben Franklin

  70. ESR:

    You posted my last comment. Good. I apologize and retract the charge of heavy-handedness. The issue then remains: is a person’s singular worldview a matter of “faith” or is it not? ESR and I disagree. If others would like to, please weigh in.

  71. Wow. That’s your great clarification?

    I think you’d have been better off leaving in my posts you deleted in the previous thread, as they were in my opinion more balanced.

    It’s possible to nitpick your observations in several fashion, but the whole thing falls apart most simply in that I could pick a single founding father – say Patrick Henry, one of the leading architects of the Bill of Rights – and by examining his views and quotations in isolation come to the exact opposite conclusion.

    The founding father’s are by no means a homogenistic group, and the deists among them – while prominent – are one of the smaller minorities. And even amongst the Deists and Unitarians, the percentage that reject a Christian culture, worldview, and morality are themselves a minority. So you are arguing the whole from one of its most radical extremes. You are absolutely off your rocker if you think most of Jefferson’s colleagues were deists. There are maybe a half-dozen signers that you could confirm that for and are accepted by historians as being deists.

    And even were it possible, by examining his private writings, to claim that Jefferson was not intending to invoke or appeal to a Christian God, that would not change the fact that Christian terms of art would have been read by the vast majority of Americans as being references to the Christian God and understood as such.

    But even more than this, the problem I see with the essay is that it ignores that the term ‘Christian Nation’ is extremely vague and can mean any number of things. Much of the problem with the debate is that both the statement, ‘The USA is not a Christian Nation’ and ‘The USA is a Christian Nation’ are both true depending on what you mean by ‘Christian Nation’.

    Lastly, I would be very careful before claiming someone else is putting forward spurious quotes given the thinness of your own citations. In particular, “I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature” sounds like a variation on the quotation often attributed to Jefferson, “…I do not find in our superstition one redeeming feature” which I know to be a false attribution and all the evidence that I can find seems to suggest that it is simply a paraphrase of the longer invented phrase.

  72. MK: Sorry if it came across as ad hominen, I did not mean it thus. I meant it in the literal sense; as in “one is no better that an animal”. I should have phrased it better.

  73. I think, perhaps, esr is revealing the intentionalism inherent in the Constitution.
    The Framers were exquisitely careful to always refer to a neutral Creator.
    Surely they were cognizant of the history of religious oppression and religious warfare in Europe.

  74. Jonathan July 17th, 2008 at 11:16 am says:

    “Would anyone seriously be able to identify John Witherspoon from a lineup of our founding fathers?”

    I think that it is certainly true that deists where disproportionately represented amongst the more promenent founding fathers, if simply by certainly having (at least for the majority of thier life) both Jefferson and Franklin among thier members and Washington (at various points) certainly among at least thier sympathizers. But I don’t think it follows necessarily that the religious founders where not great men or did not hold important roles just because people couldn’t pick out say Richard Henry Lee or Patrick Henry from a lineup of portraits, or that they could pick out John Adams but know nothing of his piety. For one thing, I think that it has become impossible to teach the religious history of the United States in a secular class room because the mere claim that this or that founding father was a pious Christian is treated as a religious rather than a historical statement. Hense, both the role of Faith in the founding of our nation and the role of pious individuals in our nation has been diminished in most peoples minds. For another thing, the relative lack of orthodox piety by men like Jefferson and Franklin was not something emphasised or celebrated until relatively recently.

    One of the things that really troubles me about this debate is the degree which both sides are employing very anti-historical methods. It’s almost impossible to find accurate lists of the quotations of any founding father on religion because the sources providing the quotations are so universally biased and agree to accept anything that supports thier particular view. In my opinion, it’s leading a radical distortion of history by both sides.

  75. >>The phrase “establishment of religion” means something very specific in US and UK history, which is the designation of one >>church as THE official church, supported by government and with every church official from parson to Archbishop appointed >>by the state.

    >You’re ignoring “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. I agree that your reading would be defensible if only that first half of >the establishment clause were present; in that case, it would pass Constitutional muster to have Federal laws prohibiting the >practice of Voudoun, or Wicca, or Santeria, or Islam, or Judaism, as long as no church was “established”.
    >But the establishment clause contains both phrases. The second strengthens and broadens the first; together, they imply that >the Federal government is barred not merely from preferring any particular church but any particular doctrine. This is >completely consistent with critical Deism; in fact it is exactly what one would expect from the Bill of Rights if a gathering of >Deists had written it.

    No, actually, I’m not. Established churches were the norm in the 18th century, and most European nations either prohibited the free exercise of religion altogether, deprived nonconformists of the franchise, and/or barred them from public office. It’s worth noting that the UK still has the Test Act, and anyone thinking that’s a dead letter should note that former PM Tony Blair waited until *after* his resignation to announce his conversion to Catholicism.
    The Federal government, for that matter, refused to accept Utah as a state until the Mormon church banned polygamy, and was upheld by the Supreme Court. Not sure this is relevant to the issue at hand…

  76. I am a philosophical agnostic and a practical theist but I find the entire, America was not founded as a Christian nation silly.

    It doesn’t really matter what the views a small number of founding fathers held. In the end, America government is of the people and by the people. In 1792, and really up until the 1960′s, the vast majority of the American electorate were Christians. The Constitution was the most publicly debated document ever. In the end, millions of Christians saw the Constitution as in keeping with Christian morality and theories of governance.

    The Constitution therefor is a “Christian” document and the government it created a “Christian” government because the millions of people who gave its mere words the substance of action were Christians.

    Only, by adopting an un-America elitist view of governance does the religious views of a small number of founding fathers become controlling. It doesn’t matter what theory of governance Jefferson had in mind when he penned the Declaration of Independence because Jefferson’s actions did make the Declaration or the Constitution live. Instead, the beliefs and actions of millions of Christian voters and, ultimately in all things political, soldiers, brought Jefferson’s words to life.

    So, are the Constitution and America itself, “Christian”?

    Damn skippy they are

  77. esr, im on your side!
    honest. ;)

    “Intelligence is a predictor of religious scepticism, a professor has argued. Rebecca Attwood reports Belief in God is much lower among academics than among the general population because scholars have higher IQs, a controversial academic claimed this week. In a forthcoming paper for the journal Intelligence, Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Ulster, will argue that there is a strong correlation between high IQ and lack of religious belief and that average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 countries. In the paper, Professor Lynn – who has previously caused controversy with research linking intelligence to race and sex – says evidence points to lower proportions of people holding religious beliefs among “intellectual elites”. The paper – which was co-written with John Harvey, who does not report a university affiliation, and Helmuth Nyborg, of the University of Aarhus, Denmark – cites studies including a 1990s survey that found that only 7 per cent of members of the American National Academy of Sciences believed in God. A survey of fellows of the Royal Society found that only 3.3 per cent believed in God at a time when a poll reported that 68.5 per cent of the general UK population were believers. Professor Lynn told Times Higher Education: “Why should fewer academics believe in God than the general population? I believe it is simply a matter of the IQ. Academics have higher IQs than the general population. Several Gallup poll studies of the general population have shown that those with higher IQs tend not to believe in God.” He said that most primary school children believed in God, but as they entered adolescence – and their intelligence increased – many began to have doubts and became agnostics. He added that most Western countries had seen a decline of religious belief in the 20th century at the same time as their populations had become more intelligent.”

    The Founders were intellectual elites, weren’t they?

  78. Religion was addressed in the Constitution prior to the adoption of the First Amendment. Article VI states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” It also provides that public officers be “bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution”; the option to affirm, rather than to swear an oath, meant that Quakers would not be excluded from public office under the Constitution.

  79. esr, you keep referring to Jefferson in contexts which lead to the impression that he was part of the Constitutional Convention. He was not, as he was in Paris at the time. Likewise, he probably would not have supported the Convention if he had been present.

    As others have pointed out, Hamilton was an orthodox Christian for most of his life. People keep going back and forth over what exactly Washington believed; I’ve heard somewhat convincing arguments that he was a lot more orthodox than secularizing partisans like to claim. John Adams was not present at the Convention but was a later supporter, and strikes me as fairly orthodox. His son was *not* a founder, and is usually categorized as an Unitarian, which probably shouldn’t be confused with deism, although it’s clearly a direct doctrinal descendant.

    The study of the Constitutional Convention membership stands, in my opinion, and thus produces the peculiar picture of an orthodox association producing a “deistical” document, one that is, by textual analysis, even more “deistical” than the one actually written by an attested deist, the DoI. (Incidentally, this isn’t a Federalist bias in the convention membership, either – the Anti-Federalists opposed ratification in New England heavily on the issue of its failure to respect Establishment – Samuel Adams being an exemplar of the theocratic opposition.) The sad truth is that a ‘deistical’ stance is well-calculated to cleanly split the difference between Episcopal and Congregational “establishment” supporters, and Quaker, Baptist, and Presbyterian dissenters, especially because of the internal cross-grain hostilities within those two loose communities.

    A recent overview of the period of the Second Great Awakening, What Hath God Wrought, makes the excellent point that the second awakening began with the second-generation disestablishment of the State churches, and notes the sense of liberation among the ministers and missionaries of the establishment churches after their disassociation with the state authority.

    Disestablishmentarianism is a core feature and driving principle behind American religion. It is clearly influenced by deists, and they were important figures in the process, but the deists were a token minority in the population and a small minority even within the elites.

  80. >Deism is still religious faith

    Actually, it isn’t. That was the point of Deism — to vigorously reject faith claims by making the mind of God unknowable except through the study of nature.

    >Would it be fair to describe your metaphysic as “faith in reason,observation, and experiment”?

    No, because that description depends on confusing a valid use of the term “faith” with an invalid one. I develop my model of the world not by relying on claims I cannot test (which would be faith) but by observing the consequences of claims I can test (which is empiricism or, as I prefer, operationalism).

  81. “Nonsense. A worldview founded on obervation, reason, and experiment is not a “faith”, no matter how much you might like to think it is.”

    Hogwash. There is no necessary empirical difference between any of the following:
    1) An atheist universe, where there is no divine.
    2) A deist universe, created and abandoned (or merely observed) by the divine.
    3) A theist universe, where the divine is omnipotent and interferes constantly, but is scrupulous about covering its tracks.

    Observation and experimentation support all three possibilities. Which you choose to believe is a matter of faith. I am always honest about my atheist faith. Those who hide behind Reason’s skirts in an attempt to deny faith lack the courage to make a choice if there is a chance that they might be wrong.

  82. >I am a philosophical agnostic and a practical theist but I find the entire, America was not founded as a Christian nation silly.

    Then what is your interpretation of that line in the Treaty of Tripoli? I grant you that President George Washington may have lacked the authority to speak for the American people, but he did have by delegation the authority to speak for the American government and its constitutional system.

  83. Why not post my comment on Church of the Holy Trinity v. US. It is certainly verifiable that Brewer stated that “this is a Christian Nation,” which includes a historical analysis. While I don’t necessarily agree with his conclusion, all the Justices signed on to that opinion and it should be considered by a reasonable person.

  84. >Hogwash. There is no necessary empirical difference between any of the following:

    Quite correct. Your analysis is quite similar to what I had in mind when I asked Ken Burnside for observable consequences of Deism.

    In your case, as in any other case of hypothetical unobservables, the correct way to break the tie is with Occam’s Razor — that is, not multiplying entities beyond necessity.

    This is not an empirical rule, but it isn’t a faith criterion either. It’s an efficiency heuristic; given N models with provably equivalent predictions, choose the one for which the cost of prediction is lowest so that you will have the most resources to devote to other problems.

  85. >Why not post my comment on Church of the Holy Trinity v. US

    Because the first time you posted on this, your use of “Justice Brwer” led me to categorize it as spam.

    In any case, I think Justice Brewer’s conclusion does not follow from the evidence and he was in error.

  86. ESR on this thread’s rules: “To pass the filter, you must give a checkable fact or quote bearing on the beliefs and behavior of the founders of the U.S. ”

    ESR on the country’s founding creed: “Sketch: “unalienable rights” are those which must be treated as axioms because denying them or even allowing serious exceptions produces fatal structural instability of the system.”

    ESR on the redundancy of religion in this creed: “A tolerant and free society can be founded simply on the recognition that if you persecute your neighbors for their beliefs they are likely to persecute you right back at the first opportunity. To make your case you’d have to demonstrate that specifically Christian doctrine is more important in shaping political behavior than this simple Golden Rule.”

    lastly, ESR on those who mix this creed with religion: “religious faith is best regarded as a form of mental defect or contagious insanity.”

    Another person mentioned Europe, which hasn’t been subject to religious Great Awakenings since the English and German civil wars of the 1600s. And someone else mentioned Jonah Goldberg.

    The thing about Europe is that the religiously-inclined over there reverted to Pharaonism starting around Napoleon. So, they still had religious awakenings, but they were always tied up with worship of the state. Not sure if ESR would count fascism and communism as varieties of “religious faith”. Probably.

    But ESR hasn’t yet subjected the “non-religious” axioms of the American, non-Pharaonic creed to scrutiny. The idea that all are created equal is a statement of faith which derives from Christianity (it sure as heck wasn’t from Roman or Jewish law); unfortunately, “equal” always gets confused with “alike”, which is eminently falsifiable. Other falsifiable statements of faith include any belief in social progress (the “providence” part of “divine providence”). The Golden Rule is better – a sentiment rather than a falsifiable claim – but unworkable if other groups are seeking to do unto you first.

    America was founded by Whigs, dissenters from England-based Anglicanism. They created a democracy, with restraints, because they believed that all men were created equal. That is a religious, specifically creationist Christian, opinion. And since they tied this into a system of people running government rather than a code for government running people, by “equal” they are really assuming “alike”, that is that two people with an IQ of 75 have twice the votes as one person with an IQ of 150. (This ludicrous axiom also has been a “fatal structural instability of the [democratic] system”, for instance in the South during the 1870s.)

  87. If you bother to actually read the Constitution you may notice that there is a reference to Jesus Christ:

    “…Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the Twelfth. In Witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names”

    I find it amusing that so many find it uncomfortable to acknowledge that the overwhelming majority of the people of the Colonies, and the original Citizens of the United States of America were Christian Believers.

  88. “No power to prescribe any religious exercise or to assume authority in any religious discipline has been delegated to the General Government. It must then rest with the States” (Letter to Samuel Miller, January 23, 1808).

    “No power over the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom of the press being delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, all lawful powers respecting the same did of right remain, and were reserved to the people….Thus was manifested their determination to reserve to themselves the right of judging how far the licentiousness of speech and of the press may be abridged without lessening their useful freedom….” (Thomas Jefferson, Kentucky Resolutions, October 1798)

    Jefferson understood the purpose of the 1st amendment to be that of guaranteeing the right of self-government–that is, all laws concerning religion, speech, and press would be made by the State governments and not by the Federal government. He did not understand its purpose to be that of “reject[ing] the establishment of Christianity as the preferred or natural religion of their infant nation.”

  89. >The idea that all are created equal is a statement of faith which derives from Christianity

    I do not interpret it that way. Nor did the Founders. They held this truth to be “self-evident”, which whatever it means is not a faith-based or creedal justification. They didn’t even attribute this one to a Deist clockmaker, making it already two steps removed from Christianity.,

    >Not sure if ESR would count fascism and communism as varieties of “religious faith”.

    I would say they are not religious faiths per se but that they depend on the same flaws in human wetware that religions exploit, and use many of the same pyschological control mechanisms. See my post on Islamofascism and the Rage of Augustine for discussion.

  90. While I agree with you that the United States was never a “Christian nation” in the way many of my fellow conservative Christians would have liked it to be, you’re taking a modern view and reading it back 200 years. For example, John Quincy Adams was no deist, he was a Unitarian.

    The Unitarians were not the same “believe whatever you want just as long as it’s not Trinitarian” body that they are now; until their merger with the Universalists(or the mid-1800′s and the influence of European higher criticism if Professor William Tighe of Muhlenberg College is right), the Unitarians were very liberal Christians. Check out the web site and particularly the liturgy of King’s Chapel in Boston, one of the first churches in this country to officially go Unitarian.

    While they have skeptical moments, to be sure, Quincy Adams’ diaries are full of entries where he confesses his need of a Savior. And Washington was an Anglican, end of story; to call him a deist simply because he seldom ever mentioned Jesus is silly. An alternate explanation for that might be that Washington felt that that was a Name that was not to be taken lightly, certainly not to be insouciantly entered in a diary. And one could call Washington the first modern Episcopalian. I grew up in that denomination and I knew Episcopalians who never let that name pass their lips.

  91. Suggested reading: The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States. By Benjamin F. Morris

  92. “…the correct way to break the tie is with Occam’s Razor…

    This is not an empirical rule, but it isn’t a faith criterion either. It’s an efficiency heuristic…”

    Exactly. Occam’s Razor is a tool for making efficient choices, and often a very useful one at that. However, “go with the flow” is also an efficiency heuristic, and since most observable consequences of one’s choice of religious beliefs are social consequences, it could be reasonably argued that this the more appropriate tool for making this choice. In the end, the fact that one used a tool to choose one’s faith does not make it not a faith.

  93. >If you bother to actually read the Constitution you may notice that there is a reference to Jesus Christ:

    Citing a calendrical reference to “the Year of Our Lord” as a reference to Jesus Christ indicating Christian piety is desperately weak. I’d have deleted it as content-free and irrelevant to the discussion, except that I think it’s a great example of unintentional humor.

    Thank you, clown. You can go away now. Take the pig bladder and the grease paint with you.

  94. >In the end, the fact that one used a tool to choose one’s faith does not make it not a faith.

    Congratulations, you have rendered the word “faith” semantically null and meaningless. In your language, nothing observable can be deduced either from the statement “esr has faith” or its contrary “esr does not have faith”.

    I’ll stick with a meaningful use of the word “faith”, thank you. Under which I have none.

  95. ESR on the country’s founding creed: “Sketch: “unalienable rights” are those which must be treated as axioms because denying them or even allowing serious exceptions produces fatal structural instability of the system.”

    Who gives a damn about the “system”? No man is morally bound for the sake of the “system” to obey a law that abrogates his unalienable right. (The Christian tradition, at least, has also long debated the conditions under which any man should obey a law that abrogates his neighbor’s unalienable right.)

    Without a religious underpinning, the Golden Rule is merely a practical axiom and not any kind of duty. In other words, there is no intrinsic reason not to do unto others before they do unto you, as long as you can get away with it — only utilitarian reasons.

    Without a religious underpinning, there is no basis for calling any law unjust. One can call it unfair or discriminatory, but the necessity of fairness as a condition of justice is another unprovable religious belief.

  96. “Congratulations, you have rendered the word “faith” semantically null and meaningless.”

    You believe that there is no divine. Indeed, you have stated that those who believe otherwise suffer from some sort of mental illness. You have also agreed that there can be no empirical proof that there is no divine.

    Is “belief that a proposition, for which there is, or can be, no empirical proof, is fact” not a sufficient definition of “faith”?

    While I share your belief that there is no divine, I disagree that those who believe otherwise are insane simply because they used a different heuristic to choose their belief.

  97. Thanks for posting. While the trinity case is often ignored and was ridiculed by Scalia at least once, it certainly is strong evidence that this view was widely held in the mid-late 19th century and perhaps not easisly dismissed; they read all the material that we have. Why not spend some time covering it in your main post given that this is a unanimous Supreme Court opinion declaring that America is a “Christian Nation?” Perhaps this gives rise to an interesting discussion concerning the relationship between nation and government.

  98. “While I share your belief that there is no divine, I disagree that those who believe otherwise are insane simply because they used a different heuristic to choose their belief.”

    Indeed. If you dislike fundamentalist evangelical theists, are fundamentalist evangelical aethists to be held in any higher regard?

    I’m still uncertain how to respond to the claim that if something is held to be axiomatic, it can’t also be held on the basis of a creed or faith.

    For example, if I hold the Golden Rule to be ‘self-evident’, does it follow that I can’t hold it on the basis of a creed (my cultural affliation with a religion) or a faith (my belief that the rule is mandated by a divine authority) or reason (that people who adhere to such a belief enjoy benefits from doing so)?

    Is it really the case that if I hold something on the basis of faith, that reason cannot inform this decision? This would be a great surprise to centuries of believers and theologians. Likewise, is it really the case that if reason has formed the basis of your beliefs, that there is nothing which you hold to be axiomatic? Reason itself would seem to argue against the later.

  99. >You believe that there is no divine. Indeed, you have stated that those who believe otherwise suffer from some sort of mental illness

    You skipped a step. It is not belief in the “divine” that I think is evidence of insanity, it is the way that belief is constructed in Christianity and some related religions. I would still consider religious believers insane even if I myself had operational evidence of the existence of their God, so long as their belief were constructed on “faith” rather than evidence.

    >Is “belief that a proposition, for which there is, or can be, no empirical proof, is fact” not a sufficient definition of “faith”?

    Not quite. Faith also requires the conviction that any evidence contrary to the belief must be discarded. That is why I think you are incorrect in describing your own stated position as involving “faith”.

  100. “Er…Thomas Jefferson never held any post that could be described as “Chief Magistrate” of the U.S.; he was Secretary of State, Vice President, and then President, but never held a post in the judicial branch. This quote is therefore obviously bogus. ”

    ESR…I think you just showed that your historical credentials are decidedly lacking. “Chief Magistrate” was one of the terms that the original founders used for the office of the President of the United States. Try reading John Adams by McCullough. Adams uses that term regularly while in office and McCullough does, in fact, reference this letter from Jefferson.

    They considered themselves “Chief Magistrate” because, after congress (legistlature or the law) wrote and passed a law, the President was the final word to sign or veto the law. Thus “Chief Magistrate”.

    And, let me draw your attention to Adams who was the person who read the DoI and as its most vocal supporter, fighting to insure certain language stayed in, most particularly language regarding the creator and rights. Now, it can hardly be said that Adams was a deist. He considered himself a Christian and had a decided dislike for atheists with just a bit more tolerance for deism. I would be hard pressed to believe such a man supported the DoI for the sake of making truck with deists. Neither was he or any of these other men particularly fond of “infidels” or pagans, as they would have called many other religions. At most, they were somewhat tolerable of the multiple sects of Christianity and of Judaism, being the close brother of Christianity (though, even then, the anti-semitism of Europe still prevailed in some hearts). Beyond that, they didn’t have much use for any other religions.

    One of the most interesting aspects of the first amendment argument is what exactly the founders had in mind re: religion. The fact of the matter is, they had every sort of Christian faith represented along with some Judaism, but little else, within the colonies. At least, among the people they hoped to recognize as “citizens” of this nation. They certainly did not write the first Amendment to protect the religious beliefs of the natives they still encountered nor of any slaves. They really were not that tolerant. The first amendment, in all reality, was written to largely protect the different Christian sects from persecuting one another as had been the case (and still was) in Europe. As well as had been the case in some parts of New England colonies (do read how Pennsylvania and Rhode Island came to be founded). It is that history that informed their opinions, not some omniscient, pragmatic benevolent brotherhood for all the world’s religions.

    However, these gentlemen knew that they must write these concepts as broadly as possible. They knew that as soon as you put a law into writing, even one that was meant to be affirmative, people would find a way around it or a way to interpret it as narrowly as possible to gain power over others. Most fearfully, through the power of the state. Thus, they were willing to insure these rights were interpreted as broadly as possible to limit any encroachments on their own liberties. In large part, the practice of their Christian faith however that would be rendered: Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, etc. Very fortunate, indeed, they would rather give religious freedom to even those they might despise in order to protect their own.

    Frankly, sir, I believe that you do both the founders and history a great disservice by trying to remake these founders into your own modern view in order to suit your progressive interpretations or, slightly more welcome, to insure the broadest acceptance of liberties among the broadest part of society today. That last would be much more noble than some quiotic insistence on being right about these men’s religious beliefs, purposes or influence on our founding as a Nation.

    In the question of whether the United States is a Christian Nation, I believe that several concepts have already been explored and break down to:

    a) Yes, in so far that the largest part of the original settlers were of some sort of Christian faith;
    b) Yes, in so far that the laws they enacted amongst themselves were based on the laws of a Christian nation they had just left and that their decisions were guided by the morality they found in their religious beliefs;
    c) Yes, in so far that this greater sense of morality and justice in society as the colonies grew was informed and influenced by the religious beliefs of the greater community and could not help but to influence the founding fathers, this “sense” being largely Christian in nature;

    d) That the founders, by and far, were mostly practicing Christians with varying degrees of adherence or piety, but who, even relapsed or “deist”, could not help but be influenced by their religious beliefs or even, at least, upbringing. Most of these men had classical educations including stints at Harvard, etc where religion was taught with philosophy, prayer was mandatory and not regularly attending church might get you expelled. Thus, the idea that religion, particularly Christianity, did not inform, guide or otherwise influence these founders’ ideas is perprosterous and, as noted, largely an attempt to re-organize history to support some modern need to validate all of the religious beliefs in the US and give them some part or reason to support the DoI, Bill of Rights and Constitution as part of their own history. Why that is necessary can only be that not all of these religions are as tolerant as others towards one another, towards individual freedom and often supportive of subjugation by an anointed one or few. And, if they had been the founding beliefs of our fathers, we would have gotten a much different DoI, if one at all.

    Finally, I would add that there was, indeed, one final and extremely important Christian concept that came right out of Protestant beliefs and plopped itself down on the DoI and the Bill of Rights. That concept was called “Free Will” and it guided every other idea and belief including the idea of choosing to rebel or choosing to suffer those things that we found tolerable. “But, when a long line of abuses…”. Old, continental religious beliefs, such as Catholicism, did not accept or promote free will and neither did any other known religions at the time. Most of them promoted obedience to some sort of priesthood or king (the reason for Jefferson’s animosity and more directly related to his love of all things French and all things revolutionary). Accept Protestant Christianity. It is the idea of “Free Will” that animates Locke who in turn influences Jefferson (the DoI is the “Right to Rebellion”) who is, in turn, supported by an avowed Protestant Adams.

    Neither, I might add, had any use for atheists, infidels, pagans or satanists, all of which get some sort of protection today under their broadly worded document. It is hard to believe that they purposefully protected what they considered reprehensible practices, but that is what they end up doing in order to protect their own faiths. Not because they loved these other ideas or wanted to see them promulgated nor because these ideas informed their own, but because the first one you are willing to give away always leads to the next.

    In trying to separate religion from the state, most people go to far and try to separate religion from the men. That is just as ridiculous as trying to separate a word from a sentence or Mona Lisa’s smile from the painting. Without it, everything else is meaningless. Others, realizing it is impossible, such as our friend here, simply try to turn that religious faith on its head and call it something else.

    In either case, it is a false dichotomy. Neither does Christianity have to disappear from the history of our founding nor from these men’s belief in order to create some modern value acceptable by all. Because, what animates them at every turn is the knowledge that giving any person or entity the power to persecute a minority invariably gives them the tool to oppress the majority. That is a political tradition that these men would have recognized from ancient Greece to Modern man. Religion, at that point, becomes a tool of that oppression, not the animater.

    There in lies the final paradox: that it is faith that leads them to the idea of free will and it is faith that has and can be used to oppress them.

  101. “Faith also requires the conviction that any evidence contrary to the belief must be discarded.”

    Really?

    I propose that there is a faith which is based on the conviction that no evidence to the contrary can ever be provided.

    Now, with regards to a belief in a divine creator who is concerned with his creation, you might find such a conviction naive. But that doesn’t preclude calling belief in something which seems true at present but which you admit might be overturned by some new evidence, “Faith”. Rarely are we in a situation where we have absolute knowledge of anything. Faced with our own limited understanding, we frequently have to make choices based on a conviction that something is true even if we cannot prove that it is true.

  102. I doubt anybody seriously considers us a “Christian nation”. But we have always been, since the Founding Fathers and before, a nation of Christians. Something the Left has been working furiously, and with some degree of success, for a few decades.

    Just read de Tocqueville.

    And dip into Montesquieu for an analysis of which religion is suitable for which people. (Spirit of Laws, Book XXIV, Chapters 3, 4, and 5).

  103. Deist or otherwise, the founding fathers were decidedly *not* opposed to Christian religious sentiment:

    “After this Mr. Duche, unexpected to every Body struck out into an extemporary Prayer, which filled the Bosom of every Man present. I must confess I never heard a better Prayer or one, so well pronounced. Episcopalian as he is, Dr. Cooper himself never prayed with such fervour, such Ardor, such Earnestness and Pathos, and in Language so elegant and sublime-for America, for the Congress, for The Province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially the Town of Boston. It has had an excellent Effect upon every Body here.

    I must beg you to read that Psalm. If there was any Faith in the sortes Virgilianae, or sortes Homericae, or especially the Sortes biblicae, it would be thought providential.”

    John Adams, letter to Abigail Adams of Sept. 16, 1774, describing the opening moments of the First Continental Congress

  104. > “Faith also requires the conviction that any evidence contrary to the belief must be discarded.”

    Why? And what would this contrary evidence be that theists would have to discard? Have we not already agreed that there is no necessary empirical difference between a theistic and atheistic universe?

    > “It is not belief in the “divine” that I think is evidence of insanity, it is the way that belief is constructed in Christianity and some related religions. I would still consider religious believers insane even if I myself had operational evidence of the existence of their God, so long as their belief were constructed on “faith” rather than evidence.”

    Can you extrapolate on this? As it stands, it seems to indicate simple anti-Chrisitian religious bigotry, as opposed to a defense of a positive belief in atheism.

  105. Adding to PSM’s comment, I suggest reading
    Dallin H. Oaks’
    February 1992 article on the topic.

    (Oaks clerked for Chief Justice Earl Warren in 1957,
    taught law at the University of Chicago, and served several years
    on the Utah State Supreme Court.)

  106. >Is it really the case that if I hold something on the basis of faith, that reason cannot inform this decision?

    To the extent that reason and observation informs the decision, it is sane. To the extent that faith informs it, it is insane.

    Generally, it is my experience that religious people who claim rational justification for their beliefs can be quickly discovered to be fooling themselves. While I concede the possibility of faith-based atheism, I haven’t observed it.

    >Why? And what would this contrary evidence be that theists would have to discard?

    Most theists believe their god intervenes in the world, so it’s not the case that their theism is operationally indistinguishable from Deism or atheism. The contrary evidence can be summed up in one neat theological term: “theodicy”. I won’t go further unto that as we are wandering far off topic.

    >Can you extrapolate on this? As it stands, it seems to indicate simple anti-Chrisitian religious bigotry, as opposed to a defense of a positive belief in atheism.

    Bigotry is like faith: it’s emotionally-grounded conviction not justified by evidence. I’ll have nothing to do with either, thank you. Please reread what I wrote, focusing on “so long as their belief were constructed on ‘faith’ rather than evidence.”. If that isn’t sufficient, I suspect you are not educable by any argument I can muster.

  107. The thread is topic-drifting again. The drift into epistemology is partly my fault, but I’m calling a halt to it. No more abstractions about faith vs. reason, please, if only because none of the faith-holders are going to come up with an argument that wasn’t already stale at the time of the American Revolution.

    The topic is the beliefs and acts of the founders of the U.S.

  108. “It is hard to believe that they purposefully protected what they considered reprehensible practices, but that is what they end up doing in order to protect their own faiths. Not because they loved these other ideas or wanted to see them promulgated nor because these ideas informed their own, but because the first one you are willing to give away always leads to the next.”

    Richard Henry Lee and John Madison exchanged letters on this very topic. Madison, as you probably know was opposed to the Bill of Rights, and Lee along with his ally Patrick Henry were among the principle supporters of it. The question arose to how much protection might actually be needed to be provided to the free practice of religion given that, in the men’s estimation, there was a relative uniformity of belief and practice across the country. This question was of particular importance to Lee, who also believed that the government should in the interest of the state encourage the teaching of Christianity and put funds to this purpose – something that Congress in fact did, for example see the now largely forgotten Northwest Ordinance. Yet he writes:

    “And he must be a very inattentive observer in our Country, who does not see that avarice is accomplishing the destruction of religion, for want of a legal obligation to contribute something to its support. The declaration of Rights, it seems to me, rather contends against forcing modes of faith and forms of worship, than against compelling contribution for the support of religion in general. I fully agree with the presbyterians, that true freedom embraces the Mahomitan and the Gentoo as well as the Xn religion. And upon this liberal ground I hope our Assembly will conduct themselves.”

    Now the thing to remember is that Lee, and not Madison, is on the side that will eventually produce the 1st Amendment.

    The problem with the claim that this is a Christian nation or that this is a Secular nation is that generally both people making such claims wish to actually advance the idea that this is nation which is exclusively one or the other, and by extension that any question over on which side the nation may be said to principally be is a wholly new one and that the evidence is decidedly on one side or the other. But as with many aspects of our nation’s history, the truth is a good deal more complicated than that. We’ve been debating whether or not this is a Christian nation principally or a secular nation principally ever since we started debating what sort of nation we wanted to be, and the question is still without perfect resolution.

  109. Among all the truths which the DoI holds to be “self-evident”, there isn’t a one which can conceivably be tested empirically. Nor is there one which is self-evident in the modern sense of that word; all of them had been denied, by persons not obviously insane, whose opinions were known to the Founders. It follows that a strict empiricist cannot believe any of them, since a strict empiricist believes nothing unless it can be empirically tested, or which it would be self-refuting to deny; and even a loose empiricist, who believes them despite a lack of evidence, must regard them as private opinions, not solid enough to build a government on.

  110. “It follows that a strict empiricist cannot believe any of them, since a strict empiricist believes nothing unless it can be empirically tested, or which it would be self-refuting to deny; and even a loose empiricist, who believes them despite a lack of evidence, must regard them as private opinions, not solid enough to build a government on.”

    You are quite right.

    Not only can the strict empiricist not believe any of them, but, following some of the above definitions anyone that held such an unprovable assertion as “all men are created equal” in the face of the overwhelming emperical evidence that they are not would have be deemed ‘insane’.

    By declaring that what would follow was, “self-evident”, Jefferson was stating – on the behalf of the government and The People – that such beliefs as “all men are created equal” where held by the American people without question, axiomatically, and without any desire to debate thier truthfulness. That is, by declaring them self-evident, Jefferson was saying that they were intuitive, not tuitive, products of faith and not products of reason, something held with the fullest emotional conviction, and not something held conditionally or intellectually alone. He was establishing that there was no basis for negotiating them, and that no evidence or rhetoric which could be introduced would cause Americans to question thier sensibilities on the matter.

  111. >Among all the truths which the DoI holds to be “self-evident”, there isn’t a one which can conceivably be tested empirically

    As it happens, I tend to agree with you on this. I was not proposing that those truths actually are self-evident, merely that the Founders did not consider their justification to be faith-based or Christian. Which is what is most relevant to the current thread.

    A strict operationalist may not believe them to be truth, but he may regard them as normative assertions that are essential to the kind of society the Founders intended to create. They are, accordingly, not faith claims either, and Celebrim is in error about that. They’re more like essential rules of the democracy game – if you break them, you’re not playing any more, and if too many people habitually break them the system collapses.

    This is not a novel position private to me. See Kant’s “categorical imperative” for discussion.

  112. I recently read the following book and found it to be a balanced look at this very issue.

    Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America

    By Steven Waldman (Co-founder of Beliefnet)

    He focuses his study on Washington, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, and Madison.

    Basically what I took from it was the idea that Madison especially held the belief that religion was best served when it was separated from government. By clearly establishing a separation, it gave all citizens the ability to practice their religion according to the dictates of their own conscience. The author speculated that Madison was influenced by the persecution the Baptists received at the hands of the Anglicans in early Virginia history.

  113. >The author speculated that Madison was influenced by the persecution the Baptists received at the hands of the Anglicans in early Virginia history.

    I believe this is part of the standard interpretation of Madison’s thinking. That is, it is not one particular to this book or author.

  114. “A strict operationalist may not believe them to be truth, but he may regard them as normative assertions that are essential to the kind of society the Founders intended to create.”

    I don’t think you can get out of the contridiction by trying to jump through jargon hoops. A strict operationalist could not hold something to be ‘self-evident’ until after the thing was validated by appropriate tests. But no good prior model existed for what the United States was trying to become, and the government that would be brought forth was in many ways a wholly new thing (certainly at least in scale). I don’t think that there could exist an operational definition for what the Founders intended to create at the time the DoI was written.

    So in what sense would they be self-evident to a strict operationalist any more than to any other strict empiricist? If Jefferson was a strict operationalist, should he have written, “We hold these theories to be likely demonstrated by the results of the experiment we are proposing…”

    And for that matter, who could you develop an operational definition of any of the abstract terms in play? Or why would you expect that Jefferson’s thinking was highly colored by Operationalism, given that no such philosophy formally existed at the time? I highly expect that Jefferson’s view of the world was more Classical and Platonic, or at least colored by same, rather than Operationalist. I don’t think he would have said, “We define liberty as this thing which we have created and which is distinguished from other things using the particular rules here outlined…”, and if he did he certainly would have needed to say nothing about “endowed by thier creator…”

    I think you are much more on track when you cite a contemporary like Kant, but that is a non-epiricist approach which admits things that don’t depend on reason. I’m not at all sure how you get to “all men are created equal” as something which is a priori knowledge, given that for the majority of human history governments and societies had been instuited under the opposite conviction. How do you get the idea that the subject man, contains the inherent quality equality by definition? It wasn’t self-evident for most of human history. We certainly wouldn’t say “All cars are created equal”, or “All rocks are created equal” We might say, “All hydrogen atoms are created equal”, but why would it be self-evident to say that of something inherently and testably diverse in form and ability? It seems to me that there are three ways to hold something to be true, either tuition (or reason), intuition, or faith (or revelation). You’ve admitted that these claims aren’t held by reason and declared that they can’t be faith, but I don’t see how they could possibly be intuition either given that thier novelty.

  115. “They’re more like essential rules of the democracy game – if you break them, you’re not playing any more, and if too many people habitually break them the system collapses. This is not a novel position private to me.”

    Maybe it’s not novel, but it’s beside the point. The founders thought differently, which is why they didn’t write something like your not-novel, not-private position into their documents.

    And deism does not become non-faith just because some guys you like developed it. It still posits a belief in a creator whose existence cannot be proved, and try as you might, you can’t dance around that. Deists, like all people of faith, are insane according to your very own stated position. Crazy people wrote these documents that you’re defending. That is truly hilarious.

  116. >A strict operationalist could not hold something to be ’self-evident’ until after the thing was validated by appropriate tests.

    You’re right. I’ve already said I don’t consider those ‘truths’ to be self-evident in any sense. In fact, I don’t think they can technically be considered truths at all, though (as I already pointed out) they can be unpacked to similar but testable claims.

    >If Jefferson was a strict operationalist, should he have written, “We hold these theories to be likely demonstrated by the results of the experiment we are proposing…”

    Jefferson was not a strict operationalist, though I’ve often thought he was fumbling in that direction. The language in which to state your proposed claim barely existed in 1776, and wasn’t made rigorous until around 1880, so I think we can forgive Jefferson for not being a century ahead of his time in this respect.

    >It seems to me that there are three ways to hold something to be true, either tuition (or reason), intuition, or faith (or revelation).

    Bah. Naive metaphysics; it’ll screw you up you every time.

    There is only one way for a claim to be both true and non-vacuous; it must lead to testable predictions which are observably correct. You are confusing the ways humans generate claims with what constitutes confirmation of those claims; this is an error. I added the qualifier ‘non-vacuous’ because there is a case for considering theorems in a formal system true but vacuous; this is a distraction you should ignore.

    Please go study up on epistemology and confirmation theory before continuing this discussion, which is anyway off topic for this thread..

  117. >But yet, this character decided it should not be viewed.

    For reasons I took the trouble to explain to you in email. Come back when you can show evidence of having read and understood the original post.

  118. Celebrim July 17, 2008 at 11:49am says:

    >> I think that it is certainly true that deists where disproportionately represented amongst the more promenent founding fathers, if simply by certainly having (at least for the majority of thier life) both Jefferson and Franklin among thier members and Washington (at various points) certainly among at least thier sympathizers. But I don’t think it follows necessarily that the religious founders where not great men or did not hold important roles just because people couldn’t pick out say Richard Henry Lee or Patrick Henry from a lineup of portraits, or that they could pick out John Adams but know nothing of his piety.

    I would never claim that a particular founding father was not important simply because he is obscure. However, it seems very obvious that some founders are more important than others. Don’t you think that Jefferson played a far more important role in American history than say John Witherspoon? Obviously, the statements and opinions made by Jefferson are more important than Witherspoon.

    >> For one thing, I think that it has become impossible to teach the religious history of the United States in a secular class room because the mere claim that this or that founding father was a pious Christian is treated as a religious rather than a historical statement. Hense, both the role of Faith in the founding of our nation and the role of pious individuals in our nation has been diminished in most peoples minds.

    I agree. I myself have made the same observation, and I believe that it is wrong. Simply because we have a seperation of church and state, does not negate our responsibility to teach history as it truly is. Certainly, many of our founding fathers were deeply religious, and understanding their religious convictions is essential for a proper understanding of American history. Simply because I might disagree with a particular dogma, creed, or philosophy does not mean that it is not important in our society. I particularly like the southpark episode “Chef goes Nanners” (Season 4, Episode 55: http://www.southparkstudios.com/episodes/103581) because it deals precisly with this point. While it was originally meant to deal with racism, I think that the underlying moral of the episode applies here.

    >> For another thing, the relative lack of orthodox piety by men like Jefferson and Franklin was not something emphasised or celebrated until relatively recently.

    I completly disagree. However, I don’t really have anything to back up my position; so, I’ll just leave it at that.

    >> One of the things that really troubles me about this debate is the degree which both sides are employing very anti-historical methods. It’s almost impossible to find accurate lists of the quotations of any founding father on religion because the sources providing the quotations are so universally biased and agree to accept anything that supports thier particular view. In my opinion, it’s leading a radical distortion of history by both sides.

    I totally agree. Whether your a christian or atheist, I don’t think that it is productive to use false history to prove your point. A lot of people seem to have this “if the founding fathers were alive they would agree with me” mentality. Lets admit it, the Founding Fathers were not united in any kind of philosophy. These people were about as devisive as our current politicians. I particularly like the southpark episode “I’m a little bit country” (Season 7, Episode 97: http://www.southparkstudios.com/episodes/103621). It touches exactly on this point.

    I will say this: I don’t think that any one particular founding father is authoritative in interpreting the DoI or Constitution. They were collaborative efforts and a proper understanding of these documents requires a proper understanding of all the major ideas that were floating around at the time. This includes Deism and Christianity.

    Personally, Jefferson is one of my least favorite Founding Fathers. While he had great ideas and did wonderful things for the country; he was also a grade-A a**hole. This is the guy who slept with his slaves, had several illegitimate children through them, and at the end of his life decided to sell them all off into slavery in order to cover his debts. At least George Washington set his slaves free and gave them a pretty sizable sum of money upon his death. Jefferson just let his own children hang and dry. Because of this, I’m not too open to his ideas as I am to say Ben Franklin or George Washington.

  119. >> But claims about the beliefs and intentions of the Founding Fathers are not, and the record is clear: they explicitly rejected the establishment of Christianity as the preferred or natural religion of their infant nation.

    This is implied by the part of the First Amendment that has come to be known as the “Establishment clause”:

    Congress shall make NO law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

    This is the only mention of religion in the Constitution, which is otherwise completely devoid of religious terminology or references. <<

    Eric- A minor correction here: Article 6 contains a reference to religion-

    “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

    This, of course, _bolsters_ your contention since it represents an explicit forswearing of the Old World practice of reserving or forbidding the holding of political offices based on the religion of the office seeker. If the Founders had meant the US to be a “Christian” Nation, why would they make it impossible to reserve public office for Christians only?

  120. >And deism does not become non-faith just because some guys you like developed it

    No. Deism becomes non-faith because (a) its originators intended it to abolish faith claims and (b) it makes no claims about observables based on unobservables. Admittedly, it’s difficult to to notice the latter point because Deist rhetoric deliberately dresses up naturalistic arguments in theological terms.

    So Deism is not a faith system. But you can accuse it of dishonesty and trimming — falsely pretending to be a faith system — with some justice. That won’t bother me, because I’m not a Deist; I just dislike seeing Deism condemned on the wrong grounds.

  121. >Maybe you ‘deleted’ it. Like you did my response to your initial item (above).

    Your failure is not my problem. Nothing you wrote would have contributed anyhing new and substantive to the discussion, and you have therefore not earned the right to be snotty at me. Your question about Jefferson’s “altar of god” demonstrates that you have not even read my original post, in which answering that very question was a major theme.

    What you do on your own blog (link here as a demonstration that I am not suppressing anyone’s dissent) is your business. Here, you will be civil and constructive or I will delete your posts. This thread is too long and clogged for me to tolerate your sort of noise.

  122. >Eric- A minor correction here: Article 6 contains a reference to religion

    Thank you for the correction.

  123. Permit me to say so, but this is very much trying to prove a false negative.

    That, in fact, deists were tantamount to atheists becaue they would have had to eschew faith in order to write a document that routinely recommends a belief and faith in a non-existent being as the protector and giver of the rights of men. While, at the same time, proclaiming the divinity of all men in order to negate the divinity of only a few, expressly kings and/or clergy who anoint them.

    All this in order to disprove Christianity as a part of the founding ideology that set men free when these men would have only thought of or came to the idea of that divinity as part of their Judeo-christian upbringing and education. Frankly, there are a number of words and inflections to choose from, but I have always viewed the word “Creator” as being directly related to Genesis and “THE Creation” of man, giving him first breath and free will. I fail to understand how that could have any other meaning or purpose of being there than in reference to a faith in God, more to the point, a Christian God as found in one of the main books found in most households, used to educate all children at the time and taking precedence in most ceremonies of state, particularly oaths of office.

  124. >[Jefferson] is the guy who slept with his slaves,

    This is actually not proven, though the media has been behaving for some years as though it has been.

    I’m not an uncritical defender of Jefferson; I do think he failed in some important respects to actually live up to his principles, and there are a couple of issues he got very badly wrong (trying to replace the blue-water navy with coastal gunboats was a particularly dumb stunt),

    But based on the DNA evidence, there were approximately 25 adult male Jeffersons who carried living in Virginia at that time who might have been the father of Eston Hemings, and a few of them are known to have visited Monticello. At least one study has fingered Thomas’s younger brother Randolph as the probable father.

    I’m also suspicious of the political motives of many of people pushing this story, which doesn’t make it untrue but does change my estimate of the likelihood that the results have been fudged or distorted.

  125. >I fail to understand how that could have any other meaning or purpose of being there than in reference to a faith in God, more to the point, a Christian God

    You do indeed fail to understand. Fortunately, your failure does nothing to change their actual beliefs or actions.

  126. “No. Deism becomes non-faith because (a) its originators intended it to abolish faith claims and (b) it makes no claims about observables based on unobservables. Admittedly, it’s difficult to to notice the latter point because Deist rhetoric deliberately dresses up naturalistic arguments in theological terms.”

    Oh, really?

    To generalize, deists believed that there was a “god,” a moral creator of some kind and that he revealed himself through the human faculty of reason. Evidence for the existence of this being was to be observed in nature, it is true. But if you are seriously suggesting that belief in an invisible being who exists beyond human capacity to observe him directly is non-faith, based on your own definition, you’re as loony as any snake handler and nowhere near as fun to watch.

    So, you are either badly mistaken or you are a liar. Those are the only two likely possibilities since, because you’re not a person of faith, you can’t be insane.

    I’d love to see you try to prove your ridiculous assertion. You cannot, which is why you haven’t.

  127. >But if you are seriously suggesting that belief in an invisible being who exists beyond human capacity to observe him directly is non-faith, based on your own definition, you’re as loony as any snake handler and nowhere near as fun to watch.

    You’re missing the point. It would be “faith” as theists use the term if the presence of the hypothecated invisible being had any consequences distinguishable from the workings of natural law — that is, if the Deist God had causal impact on the universe after the moment of creation. But critical Deists denied this; therefore what would have been a faith proposition was just meaningless.

    That meaninglessness — the fact that the Deist God had no consequences — is what made Deism ‘safe’ at the time Enlightenment thinkers were seeking an alternative to theism, and what eventually killed Deism.

  128. Dude. Put down the crack pipe. Deists who aren’t actually atheists disguised to themselves as deists are also theists. And I think the only way I could be “missing the point” is by failing to accept your apparent premise that deists were all lying about what they actually believed. Even if that were true, how in the world could you possibly prove it? But let’s not digress.

    “It would be “faith” as theists use the term if the presence of the hypothecated invisible being had any consequences distinguishable from the workings of natural law — that is, if the Deist God had causal impact on the universe after the moment of creation. But critical Deists denied this; therefore what would have been a faith proposition was just meaningless.”

    I see. So I’m a deist. Here’s what I really believe. There’s an actual, moral, invisible, creator god of some kind out there somewhere. I can’t experience him or her in any way directly. I can’t detect this being with any faculty except reason. He or she somehow brought everything into existence and then withdrew his or her engagement with said creation so completely as to leave behind no definitive proof of his or her existence. I still believe, though. I infer this being’s existence by observing natural phenomena and reasoning about them. But don’t confuse me with a person of faith. To be one of those, you have to believe in a god that’s immanent, and those people are f’n crazy.

    It is clearly a unique, not to say very, very private, set of definitions you subscribe to, Eric.

    I should not have said that you’re either badly mistaken or lying. It is clear now that you are just solipsistically equivocating. I apologize.

    But seriously. I thank you. I have not laughed this hard in a long time.

  129. Daniel Franke said:

    By the way, I think Jefferson was wrong: the draft is a bit messy. The final version is better-written and more powerful.

    I agree with you completely. In fact, I think of the Declaration as the world’s only example of a work that was greatly *improved* when it was edited-by-committee. :-)

  130. >So I’m a deist. Here’s what I really believe. There’s an actual, moral, invisible, creator god of some kind out there somewhere. I can’t experience him or her in any way directly. I can’t detect this being with any faculty except reason. He or she somehow brought everything into existence and then withdrew his or her engagement with said creation so completely as to leave behind no definitive proof of his or her existence. I still believe, though. I infer this being’s existence by observing natural phenomena and reasoning about them. But don’t confuse me with a person of faith. To be one of those, you have to believe in a god that’s immanent, and those people are f’n crazy.

    Very good. You may have intended this as sarcasm, but I think it’s a rather accurate and complete summary of Deist thought, including the Deist relationship to faith claims. (Bearing in mind that I’m not myself a Deist, though I’ve studied Deism as a historical matter.)

    >It is clearly a unique, not to say very, very private, set of definitions you subscribe to, Eric.

    …which just tells me you haven’t studied much philosophy, and in particular know nothing or almost nothing about the analytic schools and pragmatism. My definitions are neither private nor unique; just about anyone in that tradition after C.S. Peirce would recognize them, though we might differ on some technical details.

    Joke’s on you, therefore. Or would be if I had any desire to laugh at you.

  131. I think Mark A.Noll, Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois, makes a good analysis of Thomas Paine and I think it’s relevant for this thread as he was regarded as America’s founding philosophical reference point during the constitutional period:

    “If Paine’s Age of Reason (with its dismissive attitude toward the Old Testament) had been published before Common Sense (with its full deployment of Scripture in support of republican freedom), the quarrel with Britain may have taken a different course. It is also likely that the allegiance of traditional Christian believers to republican liberty might not have been so thoroughly cemented. And it is possible that the intimate relation between republican reasoning and trust in traditional Scripture, which became so important after the turn of the new century, would not have occurred as it did”

    Reference: Mark A. Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 84.

    There’s my reference, so I hope my reply doesn’t get smitten by esr.

  132. “In any case, I think Justice Brewer’s conclusion does not follow from the evidence and he was in error.”

    You are right. Even Justice Scalia, in “A Matter of Interpretation” categorizes the Holy Trinity case as a textbook example of piss poor legal reasoning.

  133. “…which just tells me you haven’t studied much philosophy, and in particular know nothing or almost nothing about the analytic schools and pragmatism.”

    Oh, gosh, no. I’m a dabbler. A little Plantinga here, a little Kierkegaard there (in translation, of course). Wittgenstein? Out of the question. I’ll leave that to the really smart guys like you.

    But we’re talking about what deists actually believed during the time they were alive and the impact of those beliefs on their work. Not how analytical philosophy can be used in an attempt to deconstruct their truth claims, nor as a philosophical yardstick to which they now should be held. Your application of analytical phil to the belief systems of people who lived and worked a hundred and fifty years before your pet school came into existence is a bit of a dodge. Anyway, the founders aren’t in on the joke.

    Dishonesty is dishonesty, whether it’s wrapped in philosophy or religion. You’re just being intellectually dishonest, and a bit of a bully, too.

    If you want to be an a*s, that’s no business of mine, but at least try to be credible. And for God’s sake, man: get a sense of humor about yourself. The joke is not on me. You ARE the joke.

  134. “There is only one way for a claim to be both true and non-vacuous; it must lead to testable predictions which are observably correct.”

    Yes, I know already what you believe. What you believe is however not particularly relevant and in fact rather off topic, considering this is about what the founders (or actually just Jefferson) believed. I don’t think what you believe is particularly more relevant to what the founding fathers believed than the post 1950 charismatic movement is.

    The problem with that claim is that, even were it true, Jefferson wouldn’t have agreed with it and neither would have Kant, and probably few other Enlightenment thinkers. So it tells one absolutely nothing about what the Founding Fathers would have thought or intended when writing the founding documents of our nation.

    The fact of the matter is that if you insist on things being testable, then “all mean are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights” is a completely vacuous claim itself, one that isn’t worthy of founding a nation on, or dying for, or upholding and which one would certainly never call either a “truth” or “self-evident”. It is utterly unprovable that all men are equal or that all men are deserving of equal justice or equal rights, which is why Jefferson didn’t bother to try. It’s not something that you can test and verify. It’s a value judgment – not anything that is confirmable. It’s hard to even claim that its a value judgment that is intrinsically tied to our biology and thus the inevitable outcome of our genes, since it is a judgment on the whole that is rather late in gaining any wide acceptance. I personally believe that the judgment is a meme, and that it can die along with the minds that host it.

    Personally, I find you beliefs to be a muddled ill considered mess which don’t even manage to be internally consistent. You are reduced to claiming that when Jefferson wrote that something was a “self-evident” “truth” that he didn’t really mean it was either true or self-evident. Meanwhile, the basis of your argument in this thread revolves around a wholly private and insulting definition of faith which if taken literally would mean that virtually all people of faith weren’t actually people of faith, and you have the gall to complain about how other people use the language. You upbraid people for pushing false quotes, but you’ve done nothing to address the fact that one of your citations looks dubious. You’ve made astounding claims about the prevalence of Deism that are counterfactual and anti-historical, and you’ve arrogantly dismissed posters that disagree with you for not providing enough evidence.

    In simply no fashion ought one to claim that “most of Jefferson’s colleagues” were Deists, nor can you claim that “it’s hard to name a Christian founding father”. You have done nothing to establish that any of the Nation’s founding documents are Deist in conception; all you’ve really manage to establish is that Constitution is a secular document which you could have done with much less fuss. You put together this flimsy argument that even though the DoI features some protestant Christian terms of Art, they could have been read in a Deist way. Well, sure, they could have and far all we know maybe Jefferson privately read them that way, but they could also be read in an orthodox protestant Christian manner and probably were read that way by the majority of people reading and ratifying the documents. There is nothing at all to suggest that reading them in a Christian manner is wholly novel or based on ignorance. And for that matter, you’ve so dumbed down and broadened what it means to be deist that you are now claiming that it not only encompasses but is exclusive of completely orthodox doctrine such as the existence of natural law, as if an orthodox believer could not also believe in natural law!

    In any event, neither pointing out that some of the founding fathers were Deists nor pointing out that the Constitution is a secular document fatally or even particularly undermines the claim that the USA is a ‘Christian Nation’. After all, that the Constitution was made a secular document was by many founders considered to be a matter of Christian principle mandated by their understanding of the Bible. Likewise, I think you seem to be arguing against a straw man right from the beginning, in that there are actually very very few Christian Identity congregations out there which would claim that the United States is meant for Christians and Christians only. The vast majority of Americans who claim that America is a ‘Christian Nation’ do not mean by the claim anything so simplistic as the US government is not a secular but religious authority, or that the US Constitution intended to establish a Christian state religion. And for that matter, like Richard Henry Lee, neither do they think that it ought to for reasons that they think are quite congruent with their religious beliefs. But if the founders intended for the interpretation of the Establishment clause that you provide, then it is quite strange that such an interpretation is so late in arriving.

    But go ahead; keep telling everyone else how much they need to learn.

    I think you have a remarkably high degree of faith in your own reason. Do you sustain that faith by throwing out any of the evidence to the contrary?

  135. The Founders “[regarded] Christianity as a vulgar and bloody superstition”? How strange, then, that nearly all of them attended Christian religious services every Sunday for their entire lives.

    Yes, many of the Founders were “anti-religious” by the standards of the time – an era where religion was deeply entrenched and established to a degree that is almost unimaginable in the modern West. They did not speak or write of the Christian basis of American society because it was too obvious to talk about – like fish and water.

    Most of them would today be considered egregiously pious, and most of them would be stunned to see the de-Christianization of the U.S. (And also by the prominence of the Catholic Church, which was exactly the sort of organized religion that they deplored.)

    Me, ‘m not religious. But I’m not going to project my attitudes on men who lived in a very different time.

  136. >[Justin Andrusak] There’s my reference, so I hope my reply doesn’t get smitten by esr.

    I don’t find a counterfactual hypothetical about Thomas Paine by a “Professor of Christian thought” very convincing. This strikes me as not unlike citing an analysis of “Jewish thinking” by a Nazi — while it is theoretically possible that the analysis might be correct and useful, it’s so unlikely that I don’t feel any need to seek it out without powerful evidence of quality that I don’t have yet.

    But I recognize that my heuristic could be misleading me. If the book crosses my path, I’ll skim it.

    >[sobi] Plantinga here, a little Kierkegaard there

    I see, and that explains much. Two religious apologists, one fighting a pathetic rear-guard action against evolutionary theory and the other notorious for sloppy subjectivism. That gives me a better idea of the quality of thinking to expect from you, and I will adjust my expectations accordingly.

    >Not how analytical philosophy can be used in an attempt to deconstruct their truth claims, nor as a philosophical yardstick to which they now should be held.

    A sound confirmation theory can be applied to the Founders’ reasoning regardless of whether they were aware of it, just as F=MA applies to physical processes before Newton formulated it. Your subjectivism is showing.

    >[celebrim] The problem with that claim is that, even were it true, Jefferson wouldn’t have agreed with it

    I wasn’t criticizing Jefferson. I was criticizing your sloppy thinking. You want to divide the universe of discourse into so-called “truths” attainable by tuition, intuition, or faith. This is garbage metaphysics which inevitably will lead you to babble nonsense, and I’m simply serving notice that I’m not interested in playing that game.

    If you wish, you may regard it as a rule of commenting on this blog; I regard “truth” assertions without testable consequences as so much gas, and I will refute, ignore or delete them as I see fit.

    >It is utterly unprovable that all men are equal or that all men are deserving of equal justice or equal rights

    How many times do I have to tell you or Michael Brazier that I agree with you on this before you get it?

    You are right; predicates like “deserving” are difficult to reason about. However, there is a related claim “A democratic polity in which citizens are not treated equally before the law is fatally unstable” which we can reason about and test. This may be what Jefferson meant; I don’t know, but it seems like the meaningful claim at minimum distance from his language.

    >You are reduced to claiming that when Jefferson wrote that something was a “self-evident” “truth” that he didn’t really mean it was either true or self-evident.

    Wrong. I have made no such claim. I agree with you that the confirmation status of that sentence is dubious. Jefferson almost certainly believed he was uttering a truth, but I don’t think I know what kind of confirmation he thought he had for it. I actually wondered about this when I first read the DoI as a child of 11 or so — “self-evident” seemed like a handwave to me even then.

    >You have done nothing to establish that any of the Nation’s founding documents are Deist in conception;

    A couple of dozen respondents don’t agree with you. That isn’t a truth demonstration, but it suggests that claiming I have “done nothing” is pretty silly.

    >The claim that the USA is a ‘Christian Nation’ [blah, blah].

    For a precise unpacking of that claim, please reread the first two graphs of my original post. You have wandered so far away from it that very little of what you write on the matter seems worth responding to.

    >But go ahead; keep telling everyone else how much they need to learn.

    Thank you, I will continue to do that when it seems necessary. (Yes, I know you intended this as sarcasm. I’m not impressed by the attempt.)

    >I think you have a remarkably high degree of faith in your own reason. Do you sustain that faith by throwing out any of the evidence to the contrary?

    You are correct (under a sloppy definition of ‘faith’), I do; and no, I don’t, as I have demonstrated by acknowledging and incorporating textual evidence against some of my original claims.

  137. >How strange, then, that nearly all of them attended Christian religious services every Sunday for their entire lives.

    Yes, this is confusing to a modern. But as you say, we should be wary of projecting our preconceptions on their motivations. Let’s take two prominent examples:

    Jefferson: the case that he viewed Christianity as a vulgar and bloody superstition is as ironclad as it gets from his own quotes. Yet, he thought so highly of Jesus as a moral instructor and example that he prepared his own recension of the New Testament, the Jefferson Bible. Would it be all that surprising, therefore, if he attended services in a Quaker or Unitarian context where the dogmas he detested were largely absent and even the theism was watered down to a nearly Deist level of meaninglessness?

    Washington: An earlier respondent pointed at evidence that Washington was a Deist who went through the motions of Christian observance to placate his wife. This seems quite plausible. And it should make you wonder how many other Founders were responding to social pressure in the same way, by pretending to a degree of Christian piety they did not in fact feel.

    These men were the first and second Presidents of the United States, one acclaimed in his own lifetime as the father of the country and the other the author of its Declaration of Independence. Their thought and action would be almost sufficient to define the U.S. as a nation Deist in origin all by itself — and yet, they attended Christian services.

    Things were different then. The importance of that social signal was much larger, Today, a person like me who regards Christianity as a “vulgar and bloody superstition” probably wouldn’t be caught dead in a Christian service. But in 1776, we know that quite a few people holding that thought were demonstrably sitting in pews and using the strange equivocations of Deism to try and slide out from under l’infame.

  138. Deists were over-represented (as opposed to the generasl population) among the Founders and Framers because they were the intellectual elite. They were the atheists and agnostics of their cultural slice of spacetime.
    The elite govern and write constitutiontions.
    The elite represent a fraction of the general population always, based on the bellcurve.
    The “xian nation” thing seems to represent an attempt for a religious segment of the population to impose their “judeo-xian morality” on the rest of the country, eg, abortion, samesexmarriage, ESCR.
    The Founders and Framers were explicit about the separation of church and state.
    If they had intended the US to be a “xian nation” it would have been explicit., incorporating the ten commandmants say as part of the bill of rights.
    The Founders also understood the need of the common man==working class==Jefferson’s “yeoman farmers” to have religion.
    This article is a pretty good summation of their intentionalism.

    The xian nation meme is a loozer….theocons should just cite majority rule to impose their religious values on the rest of us.

  139. Not that that the theocons will be able to impose religious values on the rest of us.

    Kitzmuller vs the Dover school board is a good example of the protections afforded to citizens deriving from the establishment clause.

  140. The “xian nation” thing seems to represent an attempt for a religious segment of the population to impose their “judeo-xian morality” on the rest of the country, eg, abortion, samesexmarriage, ESCR.

    An attempt to JUSTIFY imposing judeo-xian morality.
    Samesexmarriage is legal now in cali, and likely will remain so, ESCR will be funded, and IDT is illegal in public school classrooms.
    The genius of the Founders lives on.
    ;)

  141. “This strikes me as not unlike citing an analysis of “Jewish thinking” by a Nazi — while it is theoretically possible that the analysis might be correct and useful, it’s so unlikely that I don’t feel any need to seek it out…”

    OMG. The hilarity (and hypocrisy) do not relent. “This strikes me as not unlike citing an analysis of “deist thinking” by an analytical philosophy hack — while it is theoretically possible that the analysis might be correct and useful, it’s so unlikely that I don’t feel any need to seek it out…except that correctness and usefulness are as beside the point as the analytical project itself. The point is the amusement to be gained in reading the relentless attempts of a small, damaged, and narrow mind to rationalize an invalid thought project.”

    “Would it be all that surprising, therefore, if he attended services in a Quaker or Unitarian context where the dogmas he detested were largely absent and even the theism was watered down to a nearly Deist level of meaninglessness?”

    You really need a little help with basic reading comprehension, Eric. At least one of your commentors have tried to help you by pointing out that Unitarians then were not the Unitarians of the present. Read Adams’s correspondence with Abigail, for instance. The guy had some real religious fervor. When I read that he was a Uni, I, like you, assumed that he was effectively a deist, kinda like Unis are today. But that’s demonstrably not the case, and the churches that a Unitarian of his time would have attended would be nothing like the ones of our day.

    “But in 1776, we know that quite a few people holding that thought were demonstrably sitting in pews and using the strange equivocations of Deism to try and slide out from under l’infame.”

    Wow. In 1776, you know. Mastery of analytical philosophy confers the ability to time-travel. I gotta get me some o’ dat! Wish I weren’t so dumb. But Eric, it’s even more demonstrable than their pew-sitting that other deists were sitting in those pews believing in an actual creator they couldn’t see, unaware of their tautological guilt. Unless, of course, you just want to call them all liars, and use the accusation to dismiss what they actually did and said.

    “These men were the first and second Presidents of the United States, one acclaimed in his own lifetime as the father of the country and the other the author of its Declaration of Independence.”

    Actually, they were the first and third presidents, Eric. The second was a blatant religious apologist, a good Unitarian of his time, who prayed. A lot. He obviously believed in a God who was to some degree interventionist. His correspondences confirm this, unless he was a serial liar for his whole life. Of course, he was a wild-eyed tub-thumper, like some of the lunatics who followed him. But I can totally see how your scholarship on this issue supports your argument that this is not a Christian nation.

    “I see, and that explains much. Two religious apologists, one fighting a pathetic rear-guard action against evolutionary theory and the other notorious for sloppy subjectivism. That gives me a better idea of the quality of thinking to expect from you, and I will adjust my expectations accordingly.”

    Yeah. Plantinga is a real idiot. And Kierkegaard. What a buffoon. Nobody smart is influenced by those guys. You’re on a whole ‘nutha level, aren’t you, Eric?

    As I said, I’m a dabbler, and I’m pretty dumb, unlike you. I’m also religious, which makes me insane, like a lot of those guys you’re now trying to say were not people of faith, but rather cynical manipulators of the religious fools beneath them, whose writings you nonetheless defend. You should probably just disregard what I say, because I do believe in truth claims, and so do people who are in your school.

    But your subjectivism is showing, Eric. When you accuse people of faith of not really believing what they said and otherwise indicated that they believe, and then analyze your projections as if they were beliefs actually held by the people you pretend to understand, you hold yourself up as intellectually dishonest. Maybe you don’t have a moral issue with that. Maybe you’re too pure an analytical philosopher. But, subjectively speaking, that’s reprehensible. It’s also stupid and short-sighted.

    Speaking as a tub-thumping crazy, it’s a very, very bad idea for religion to align itself specifically with the state. That’s especially true with regard to Christianity, and it’s true for many, many reasons. Your silly attempt at deconstructing the founders is SO not among them because it is as completely irrelevant as it is hypocritical and dishonest.

  142. sobi, the 40percent (of the bellcurve) need religion.
    the 10percent, the righthand tail, simply dont.
    ESR is correct…..the Founders were simply as a-religious as their embedding culture permitted at the time.

  143. >OMG. The hilarity (and hypocrisy) do not relent. [blah, blah, blah]

    Yes, Jefferson was the third, not the second President. Thanks for the correction.

    As far as all the other stuff goes…that’s the last pile of of content-free flamage you get to post here without having it deleted. I’m not sure I’m doing my readers a service by letting this much pass, but I won’t have it said that I censored anyone with even the thinnest pretension to a real argument.

  144. “Deists were over-represented (as opposed to the generasl population) among the Founders and Framers because they were the intellectual elite. They were the atheists and agnostics of their cultural slice of spacetime.”

    Seems like a thin pretension to a real argument to me.

    esr, I read your first two paragraphs. You stated one position and then proceeded to disprove another. So you really just burned a straw man.

    I don’t even particular mind that. After all, I don’t agree with “the establishment of Christianity as the preferred or natural religion” of the United States either. But then again, I don’t know anyone who does, although, back in 1776 even among the founders, you would have found a not insignificant minority many of whom went back to thier own states and wrote Constitutions confirming those beliefs.

    What I really mind is just how bad of a job you’ve done proving something that ought to be simple, that the United States government is in its conception secular and not religious. Does anyone here in the slightest disagree that the United States government is a secular instution? Yet, rather than proving this rather simple and obvious point, you’ve constructed a shaky tower of poor reasoning in an attempt to prove something counterfactual – that the majority of the nations founders were Deists who held extremely poor opinions of Orthodox Christianity. You’ve argued that the minority is the majority. But not content with that error alone, you’ve taken the minority of the minority – Jefferson – and tried to treat his beliefs as if they were widespread, despite the fact that by his own admission he knew of no one else that held his particular views. He was as he said, “the sole member of his sect”.

    But even worse than that, you’ve not even correctly portrayed Jefferson’s own rather complicated views. Instead, you’ve relied on at least one quotation that is well known to be a misattribution if not an outright fabrication, whose sole provenance is a bunch of radical self-referential atheist websites, and you’ve tossed out, deleted, or dismissed as untrustworthy anyone who provides contridictory quotations because of the provenance of those quotations. Physician, heal thyself!

    Moreover, the heart of your textual analysis is pure sophistry. Natural law is not a uniquely Diest concept. Paul makes reference to natural law in his Epistles. Augustine of Hippo formalized the orthodox Christian position on natural law. In no fashion can you call, “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” a particularly Deist statement. It is an Orthodox Christian statement. Yes, the Deists would have particularly thought ‘Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God’ to be inseparable to degree not found in other Christian sects, but that just highlights that if it was meant to be read as a Deist document it would have just said, “Laws of Nature”. In no fashion whatsoever may, “The phrase “endowed by their Creator” could be rendered accurately as “endowed by Nature”.” Yes, that might be the naturalistic reading of “endowed by their Creator”, but its not an accurate rendering of the statement because it precludes the even more natural reading of “Creator” to mean “Nature’s God”. And again, “Divine Providence” is a Christian Protestant term of art, not really a Deist one. Yes, it could be read in a Deist fashion, but it could also be read in an Orthodox Christian fashion and nothing in the document precludes that reading.

    Jefferson may have been the principal author of the document, but it was drafted and ammended by five men, and debated and ammended and ratified by a bunch of people with different opinions than Jefferson. Other than Franklin, few of those other men were Deists, and thier is simply no evidence that Jefferson and Franklin were trying to advance any sort of Deist agenda covertly against Adams, Sherman, Livingston and Lee (much less the whole assembly). They wrote in the common terms of thier time, using Protestant terms of Art that would have been immediately understood and recognized by everyone in thier audience.

    Of course, none of that of course establishes that our government is religious or that or government is secular, much less establishes whether we can be fairly called a Christian Nation or not.

    Now all the above I think is historical fact, but let me engage in a little unprovable speculation, which I think I’m deserving of given how much speculation you’ve engaged in and tolerated when it serves your purposes. It’s being repeatedly advanced that the Deists were disproportionately represented amongst the highest political elite because they were the intellectual elite, and that Deism has a natural appeal to those of superior intellect as opposed to any other obvious characteristic like superior economic resources. But while that could be said of Franklin and Jefferson that they had a superior intellect, it’s alot harder to make the case that Washington held his high rank and esteem by virtue of superior intellect. He had alot of charisma, a powerful understanding of politics, and the ability to avoid damaging verbal gaffes, but his intellectual limitations are well known to any student. And if it were true that the men of highest intellect were Deists, what would we make of figures like Alexander Hamilton who was part of Washington’s ‘brain trust’ and who actually ran the country? What would me make of figures equally important founders like Adams, whose religious sentiment is well known?

    I think the best explanation of why the Deists were disproportionately represented at the very highest levels is ambition. What really joins the group of men Washington surrounded himself with isn’t Deism or even intellectuality, but it was that they were young, energetic and – like himself – highly ambitious. And its quite easy to see in this context why Washington and Jefferson might have been more ambitious than thier peers. Most of the Founding Fathers, being men with the conventional beliefs of thier day, would have seen the highest glory one could attain to being success in the afterlife. But among the Deists, no such sentiment would have been satisfying. Instead, they strived to obtain eternal glory in this life by obtaining a permenent place in history. And this I think we would agree that they have obtained. If you examine the lives of the men involved, it becomes obvious that men like Livingston and Sherman were simply never as politically ambitious as Washington or Jefferson. They didn’t care about high office as much, and unlike Washington really were content to return to thier land and farm, create families, and enjoy thier private pursuits. The didn’t put thier careers first, the way Washington so clearly did.

  145. Fwiw, here is Washington’s first inaugural address (which I have not seen referenced yet … ) … http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/american_originals/inaugtxt.html.

    It may be that Washington was a deist, but there are several things here that point to a belief in a more activist God. E.g., “…. 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….”

    This conversation has often conflated organized religion (specifically Christianity), faith (a belief in a god), and Christian Faith (a belief in an activist monotheistic god who works on behalf of man). Deism rejects the first and third explicitly. However, as Washington’s speech shows, there is a take on Christian Faith that does not necessarily promote (a) religion, but does not reject the notion of faith either. From the text, he could support faith, perhaps even a Christian Faith, but not necessarily advocate for any particular religion.

    The point is that the Constitution, and to a lesser degree, the Declaration, were meant to be documents that operationalized and provided a foundation for the concept of constitutional government. In and of itself, this could not provide for the establishment of _a_ religion nor preclude the pursuit of any religion and / or faith. So while the Constitution deals with manifestations of faith (that is, organized religion) it has very little to say about faith or its instances.

  146. Nope Celebrim.
    The discriminant is the bellcurve of IQ and g.
    Have you read the pre-release of Lynn’s study on religion and intelligence?
    Religious belief is correlated negatively with IQ and g.
    The Founders and Framers were the intellectual elite of the day.
    The 40percent of the bellcurve below mean IQ need religion inorder to rise above the inherent brutish tribalism that homosapiens got wired with in the EEA(environment of evolutionary advantage).
    The rest of the rightside bellcurve doesn’t need religion to do that.
    In other words, Jefferson’s “yeoman farmers” were never going to read the Theory of Forms or The Republic…….they couldn’t even get “the light of science” Jefferson refers to in his Last Letter, or overthrow “monkish superstition and ignorance”.
    But Jefferson valued the noble yeoman farmer as a great good.
    Thus the careful tension described inthe Cato article I linked above.

  147. qf: Lynn’s research is hardly without contriversy or question and is I think very far from established scientific fact. I very much read the pre-release, but such summaries of findings tell you virtually nothing. Before I could state an opinion of his research, I’d have to read it. However, were I to advance Lynn’s other theories here that men are smarter (well, higher IQ) than women, or that whites and asians are smarter (again, higher IQ) than other racial groups, I would be met with a great deal of skepticism at the claim. I wonder why you think that equivalent claims favoring some group convienent to the post should be met with less skepticism?

    Your speculation regarding the evolutionary role of religion does not conform with the latest research. And I have read those papers.

  148. Celebrim, see my above discussion with Cathy regarding comparison of the rough and final drafts of the DoI. “Laws of nature and nature’s God” was in the rough draft, which I think leaves little doubt that it was deist sentiment. The other references are more debatable.

  149. Daniel: You originally wrote.

    “But on the whole, this all seems consistent with the idea that the DoI was written by a deist in a manner intended to be acceptable to Christians and deists alike.”

    I can agree with that. But I don’t think its presence in the rough draft means that you can assert without question that it was a particularly Deist sentiment. I think the best you can muster is that it wasn’t a particularly anti-Deist sentiment. If it was a particularly Deist sentiment, then I think that modern Christian evangelicals would be made uncomfortable by it rather than heartened by it. It’s not like Jefferson’s status as a Deist is unknown in even the most conservative Christian circles.

    Rather, I think it was a mutually acceptable term of art for referring to natural and proper moral law, which was assumed by all parties involved including the Deists to be quite alot like traditional Prostestant ethics. Exactly what the nature of that God was left up to the reader, but I think it highly likely that the term was so artful that a great majority of the people reading it never really worried about its ambiguity. The ambuiguity of the terms, ‘Supreme Judge’, ‘Creator’, ‘Nature’s God’ which might well have allowed Deists to read an impersonal and distant (but perhaps still moral and providential) God from the text, but would in the main have echoed in the ear of the hearer the flowery language of oratorical prayer with its many diverse invocations of the titles and names of God. Which is also why the text resonates in the ear of a modern evangelical.

    And I concur with you that Jefferson’s draft was pulled in a more Christian direction without putting in any doctrinal statements that would have been overly objectionable to the Deists (like Jefferson and Franklin) or to the proponents of strict secularism (like Madison).

    Where I disagree with you is this:

    ““Endowed by their creator with” was originally “from that equal creation they derive”, which just seems like stylistic change.”

    I don’t think it is just a stylistic change. I think it drags the text away from Jefferson’s natural inclination to focus on a single event without an explicit embodied creator toward a less Deist conception of multiple active event (both a ‘creating’ and an ‘endowing’) by a personified being. Yes, the langauge is more stirring, but it is more stirring precisely because it is less impersonal and passive.

    Again, I think you are dealing with a consensus text from several different thinkers who are trying to put together a text which will meet with broad approval. So you aren’t going to see alot of contriversial theological statements one way or the other. Deism would have certainly been contriversial, and Jefferson hid his opinions carefully because he knew it would be.

  150. Meh.
    Celebrim discounts the bellcurve also I expect.
    lol
    Between-group racial differences in IQ is an established fact.
    XY are not “smarter” than XX, but the std of male IQ is much larger, allow for geater variation in the tails
    of the distribution.
    Differences in morphology and function between male and female brains is documented fact.

    Celebrim!
    Like Jefferson exhorts in his Last Letter, …..
    Throw off the chains of monkish superstition and ignorance!
    Embrace Science!
    Embrace Reason!

    “May it be to the world, what I believe it will be, (to some parts sooner, to others later, but finally to all,) the signal of arousing men to burst the chains under which monkish ignorance and superstition had persuaded them to bind themselves, and to assume the blessings and security of self-government. That form which we have substituted, restores the free right to the unbounded exercise of reason and freedom of opinion. All eyes are opened, or opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth….,”

  151. Sobi says at July 18th, 2008 at 8:26 am:

    >> You really need a little help with basic reading comprehension, Eric. At least one of your commentors have tried to help you by pointing out that Unitarians then were not the Unitarians of the present. Read Adams’s correspondence with Abigail, for instance. The guy had some real religious fervor. When I read that he was a Uni, I, like you, assumed that he was effectively a deist, kinda like Unis are today. But that’s demonstrably not the case, and the churches that a Unitarian of his time would have attended would be nothing like the ones of our day.

    Sorry, I disagree. Unitarianism was a very liberal denomination even back then. I know this beacuse the Puritans and Unitarians really went at it during that moment in time. John Adams is about as representative of Unitarianism as George Washington was representitive of Episcopalianism. John Adams was in reality a Congregationalist.

    Your attempt to portray Jefferson as a religious sympathizer simply will not work (because he wasn’t). ESR is right: Jefferson most likely attended church services in the “Unitarian context where the dogmas he detested were largely absent and even the theism was watered down to a nearly Deist level of meaninglessness”.

  152. quellcrist falconer Says July 18th, 2008 at 8:08 am:

    >> Deists were over-represented (as opposed to the generasl population) among the Founders and Framers because they were the intellectual elite. They were the atheists and agnostics of their cultural slice of spacetime. The elite govern and write constitutiontions. The elite represent a fraction of the general population always, based on the bellcurve.

    quellcrist falconer says at July 18th, 2008 at 11:40 am:

    >> The discriminant is the bellcurve of IQ and g. Have you read the pre-release of Lynn’s study on religion and intelligence? Religious belief is correlated negatively with IQ and g. The Founders and Framers were the intellectual elite of the day.

    I’m not sure what this has to do with anything. OK, there is a correlation between religious belief and intelligence; so what? Attributes of the parts do not imply attributes of the whole (and vice versa). I’m sorry but your argument is completly illogical.

    Let’s run through your argument: the founders were smarter than the general public; those who are smart are generally not religious (i.e. Deists); therefore, most of our founders were Deists. You don’t find anything wrong with this?

    Honestly, I don’t think that most of our Founding Fathers were Deists. It is pretty obvious to me, now. The Deists are simply overrepresented in our prominent Founding Fathers. Whatever the reason for that is a completly different discussion.

    >> The 40percent of the bellcurve below mean IQ need religion inorder to rise above the inherent brutish tribalism that homosapiens got wired with in the EEA(environment of evolutionary advantage). The rest of the rightside bellcurve doesn’t need religion to do that.

    This is wrong on so many levels. First, I’d like to know how you determined this. It seems like you just pulled it out of thin air. Why not 30 percent or 50 percent? Second, this seems to imply that those with higher IQ’s are somehow less prone to human nature. Most of the genocidal murderers I know were actually quite intelligent. Third, You never really explained why this is true (which, by the way, it isn’t).

  153. You have to understand, religion is not causal….it doesnt make people dumb.
    The selfish genes make us age and die, cause some of us to be supersmart and some of us not so much, and cause us to promote tribal kinship, both genetic and memetic.
    But religion is a good thing for the 40percent that didn’t “get” Plato and Aristotle in Jefferson’s day, and dont “get” evolutionary biology and quantum mechanics in our day.

  154. qullcrist falconer > Does anyone deny that the Founders nd Framers were the intellectutual elite of their society?

    Well, in some cases. John Adams was an intellectual giant, John Jay and Thomas Jefferson maybe less so. But Washington by his own admission was not terribly brilliant. Samuel Adams neither. I would say that Benjamin Franklin was more pragmatic than intellectually brilliant. John Rutledge was pretty conservative but not necessarily brilliant. John Hancock was a great merchant and smuggler, but again, I wouldn’t say that he was necessarily brilliant.

    This discussion of the ties between religion and IQ is odd, given that we are not discussing Kant, Epictetus, Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, Chesterton, or the current Pope – all of whom are considered intellectuals in their own rights but who were also devout.

  155. Pardon, Lynn’s study shows increasing IQ leads to decreasing religious faith.
    esr’s point is that the Founders and Framers were not religious Christians, and in fact had some objections to christianity, monks, superstion, etc, which have been delineated with quotations.
    I’m pretty sure most of the Founders pegged in the upper 10percent of their contemporaries.

    Plato religious? Kant?
    sry, but I dont think popes actually qualify as intellectual elites any more.
    in the bad old days everyone was religious, and science and reason were part of religion.
    not anymore, not even in Jeffersons time.
    lol

  156. Okay, Eric. I’ll stop being amused. Well, I mean, I’ll stop talking about it here.

    Jonathan Says: July 18th, 2008 at 6:06 pm

    “Unitarianism was a very liberal denomination even back then. I know this beacuse the Puritans and Unitarians really went at it during that moment in time. John Adams is about as representative of Unitarianism as George Washington was representitive of Episcopalianism. John Adams was in reality a Congregationalist.”
    Maybe Adams was a Congregationalist. I do know that he attended Unitarian churches and was a self-described Unitarian, which seems odd if he was actually a Congregationalist, since there were Congregationalist churches available. Maybe he did it for Abbie. The Unitarian church has changed immensely since the time of Adams, moving from a decidedly supernaturalist position to the present one informed, I think almost purely, by rationalism. You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Unitarianism#United_States.

    “Your attempt to portray Jefferson as a religious sympathizer simply will not work (because he wasn’t). ESR is right: Jefferson most likely attended church services in the “Unitarian context where the dogmas he detested were largely absent and even the theism was watered down to a nearly Deist level of meaninglessness”.”
    I made no such attempt. I was talking about Adams. And it doesn’t help you to quote Eric here. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about with regard to the “Unitarian context.”

    I think you’re making Eric’s mistake of analyzing what you think people should have believed rather than what they actually believed.

  157. Adams was a Congregationalist AND a Unitarian. In fact Adams’ Congregational Church preached Unitarianism from the pulpit as of 1750 which was the date Adams identified as a “Unitarian.” I’ve looked into this issue in detail and can attest that Adams’ & Jefferson were largely agreed in their personal theology. And I wouldn’t call it “Deism” but rather some kind of theologically unitarian “theism.”

    “I thank you for your favour of the 10th and the pamphlet enclosed, ‘American Unitarianism.’ I have turned over its leaves and have found nothing that was not familiarly known to me.

    “In the preface Unitarianism is represented as only thirty years old in New England. I can testify as a Witness to its old age. Sixty five years ago my own minister the Reverend Samuel Bryant, Dr. Johnathan Mayhew of the west Church in Boston, the Reverend Mr. Shute of Hingham, the Reverend John Brown of Cohasset & perhaps equal to all if not above all the Reverend Mr. Gay of Hingham were Unitarians. Among the Laity how many could I name, Lawyers, Physicians, Tradesman, farmers!”

    — John Adams to Jedidiah Morse, May 15, 1815. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 122, Library of Congress.

  158. haha, welcome Jon Rowe.
    I very much enjoyed your Cato piece.
    Would that some of the others here might actually read it and enjoy it too.
    ;)

  159. Thanks much. For those interested on American Creation all we do is debate this issue of what the Founding Fathers believed from a variety of theological and political perspectives.

    Let me add that while John Adams’ Congregational Church preached unitarian doctrines, Thomas Jefferson’s Anglican/Episcopal Church, from the evidence I have seen, preached regular Trinitarian doctrines. Jefferson’s private letters, however, reveal he utterly rejected those doctrines. So the dynamic is Founders attended and were nominally affiliated with churches in whose doctrines they did not believe. Joseph Priestley (the spiritual mentor of Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin) once said something along the lines of “worship with the vulgar but think with the wise” (my paraphrase, not his exact words).

  160. >> Maybe Adams was a Congregationalist. I do know that he attended Unitarian churches and was a self-described Unitarian, which seems odd if he was actually a Congregationalist, since there were Congregationalist churches available.

    Jon Rowe’s comment (July 19th, 2008 at 10:30 am) pretty much proves I was wrong (at least in part).

    >> I made no such attempt. I was talking about Adams. And it doesn’t help you to quote Eric here. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about with regard to the “Unitarian context.”

    >> I think you’re making Eric’s mistake of analyzing what you think people should have believed rather than what they actually believed.

    Well, to be fair, you were responding to a comment by ESR on Thomas Jefferson; so, I can’t be blamed too much for misinterpretting you. Further, I was only quoting ESR because I believed he was actually right. However, Jon Rowe’s blog post(http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2008/07/thomas-jefferson-christian.html) pretty much proves the opposite.

    Also, I was not “analyzing what you think people should have believed”; I was simply wrong (in part).

  161. Thomas Jefferson did indeed call and believe himself to be a “Christian.” However one thing we MUST keep in mind is that he rejected every single tenet of Christian orthodoxy. He listed and rejected them in the following letter:

    http://www.stephenjaygould.org/ctrl/jefferson_short.html

    This is what Jefferson rejects in that letter:

    “The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.”

    So if you can be a Christian and reject all of those things, fine, we can call Jefferson a “Christian.” But…just let’s make sure we know what Jefferson believe [and rejected!] before we label him. Every traditional Christian I know says whatever he called himself Jefferson’s creed was not “Christianity.”

    If on the other hand one comes from a non-traditional Christian background, then perhaps Jefferson’s creed could qualify as Christianity.

  162. >Thomas Jefferson did indeed call and believe himself to be a “Christian.” However one thing we MUST keep in mind is that he rejected every single tenet of Christian orthodoxy.

    Yes. This is a good reason to be wary of claims that other self-described “Christians” among the Founding Fathers actually were Christian as a modern would use the term, and a reason that I stated earlier that it was not terribly easy to identify even one Founder who we’re sure would qualify.

    The religious apologists who ridiculed me for this were displaying their own ignorance of the complex and peculiar compromises between faith and reason that were common in the immediate aftermath of the Enlightenment. Even among clergymen.

  163. esr………………………………….. 1
    religious apologists………….. 0

    ;)

  164. falconer: So far, John Rowe is the only one I would award any points to. His scholarly demeanor is a good antidote the sort of charlatan agenda driven ‘history’ I despise.

    I still think it ridiculous to claim that you can’t identify a single founding father who was Christian. Alexander Hamilton? John Hancock? Patrick Henry? Richard Henry Lee? Roger Sherman? Matthew Thornton? Richard Stockton? Charles Carrol?

    And in any event, John Rowe’s essays may well disenchant some Christians out there raised on ‘chopping down the cherry tree’ fairy tales, if there are any left, but they don’t do you a whole lot of good from a political standpoint, if the point of this is to avoid holding “that Christian piety was an shaping influence on the thinking and writing of the Founding Fathers, and Christianity therefore has (or ought to have) a privileged position in the political and cultural life of the U.S.”

    Because it’s not really the question of triunitarianism versus unitarianism, or the Divinity of Jesus Christ, the immaculate conception, or the transubstantiation of the eucharist that impinges on modern politics. To my knowledge, there exists no widespread political movement to see these doctrines enshrined into law. Certainly also I don’t recall anyone claiming that such creeds where ever influential in shaping US law. No, the specific manner in which it is claimed that Christianity has historically had and ought to have priviledged position in the political and cultural life of the U.S. is in shaping the sort of morality which we have encoded in to law. (Just as an aside, if you can’t legislate morality, what do you legislate? Do you make it a crime to do things which no one finds immoral?)

    And there debates over the religion of the founders, to the extent that it ever was relevant, is not at all helpful to you. Because if what is at stake is what the founders thought of something, then the question isn’t what do they think of the transubstiation of the eucharist or what is necessary to believe to obtain salvation in the next life, but rather what do the founding father’s think of Christian ethics?

    Rowe: I’ve only a couple of times had the religious beliefs of the founding father’s come up in a church context. Based on those conversations, I think it’s generally well known by modern evangelicals that Jefferson at least was not a Christian. It’s less well known that Washington was not a Christian, for a variaty of reasons of which I’m sure you are aware, but even that is I think fairly widespread. The conversation in which Washington was discussed, the statements brought up by the participants seemed to indicate they were all pretty well equainted with his indifferentism and theological rationalism, and the only point of real debate was whether or not he had come to know Christ late in life or perhaps on his death bed. So, yes, I think it is true that traditional Christians would not call Jefferson a ‘Christian’. If similar evidence was available for the views of the vast majority of the 200 or so persons we might consider central to the founding of our country, then the debate could not only be easily put to rest but probably would have never come up.

    esr: As a modern would use the term? What do you think has changed in say the Apostle’s creed or Westminster confession in the last few years that causes there to be some doubt over the meaning of ‘traditional’ or ‘orthodox’? Also, while you are right to suggest that there are difficulties in indentifying who was really pious or who personally held to the orthodox beliefs of thier professed creed, I think there is nothing particularly more difficult about the interplay of faith and reason in the Enlightenment period that there is at present. If you think that there is, then I suggest you are probably wholly ignorant of the sort of debate and politics that go on at theological seminaries. It is not unusual today to find even clergymen who hold publically or privately the sort of views held by less relgious (or irreligious) faction of the founding father’s. I think that you neglect what is really the most intractable problem, which is that several of the colonies had state religions. and even among those that didn’t religious sentiment was such that few public persons of any office or profession where willing to wholly disassociate themselves from religious professions.

    And something of the sort is probably also the most intractable problem in identifying whether someone seeking public office today is privately a believer as well.

    And you still haven’t addressed the fact that one of your supporting quotes is fabricated. I have little doubt that Jefferson found little value in orthodox Christianity, and a great many quotes by him denouncing its features and its practicioners may be found, but “I find no redeeming feature in Orthodox Christianity” is to the best of my knowledge and research one of those ‘fake but accurate’ things.

  165. “Alexander Hamilton? John Hancock? Patrick Henry? Richard Henry Lee? Roger Sherman? Matthew Thornton? Richard Stockton? Charles Carrol?”

    I haven’t studied all their religions, but I’ll give my informed opinion. Note, what’s really hard about this is just about all of the Founders including Jefferson and Franklin were formally or nominally associated with orthodox Churches. Thus, on the surface, one could surmise they were all “Christians.” But, when you read their letters and see some/many rejected the doctrines in which their churches believed, it becomes impossible to categorize them on the basis of formal or nominal church association but rather, one has to meticulously pour through their private letters and whatnot. And this hasn’t been done with all or even most of the few hundred men who comprise the “Founding Fathers.” It has, however, been done with the more famous or notable Founders.

    Hamilton: Believed similar to Jefferson, Franklin, J. Adams, et al. until the end of his life, after his son died in a duel, where upon he converted to orthodox Christianity.

    Patrick Henry: Orthodox Christian

    Roger Sherman: Orthodox Christian

    Charles Carroll: Orthodox Roman Catholic.

  166. “’I find no redeeming feature in Orthodox Christianity’ is to the best of my knowledge and research one of those ‘fake but accurate’ things.”

    You are right this is an “unconfirmed” meaning “bogus” quotation. There are probably more from the other side, but this is one the secular side often peddles. To see the ones that the religious right often peddle google “David Barton” with “unconfirmed quotations” and see the article he wrote on the matter. Note, he’s the prime culprit in spreading them. But to his credit wrote an article cautioning his followers from citing them. But, given he didn’t out and out admit they were “bogus” but instead used the euphemism “unconfirmed quotations” many of his followers didn’t get the message as these quotations are still constantly peddled.

    Jefferson disagreed with just about every doctrine of orthodoxy in Christianity. However, what he valued in Christianity, in fact in all religions, was the teaching of the existence of an overriding Providence and future state of rewards and punishments. But what he valued in Christianity particularly — indeed what justified calling himself a “Christian” at times — was Jesus of Nazareth’s (the MAN’S) moral teachings.

  167. celebrim, the ESCR vetoes were exactly why xianity should not enjoy a “priviledged position” in politics.
    We need to be advancing biotech so that the upper half of the bellcurve can be creating jobs for the lower half.

    btw, which half are you on?
    lol.

  168. celebrim, it is that monkish superstition and ignorance that Jefferson decries.
    That is why xianity should be forcibly removed from government.

  169. “But, when you read their letters and see some/many rejected the doctrines in which their churches believed, it becomes impossible to categorize them on the basis of formal or nominal church association but rather, one has to meticulously pour through their private letters and whatnot.”

    That’s probably true for most Protestants and even quite a few Catholics, in this age or in any other.

  170. zactly.
    and i expect lower half of the of the bellcurve also.
    as evidenced by his support for Huckabee.
    lol.

  171. Dean,

    good to see you again.

    I think

    1. Rights come from obligations. Person A’s right to not be murdered is person B’s obligation to not do so. It does not matter much if A knows and cares about his right, but it does matter much if B knows or cares about his obligation or not.

    2. Thus, your right to free speech or guns is not very important: what is important is the obligation of others esp. the constitutional obligation on government to not punish you because of saying something or carrying a gun. The point is not that you are allowed to carry a gun: the point is that they are NOT allowed to ban you from doing so. (This is typically Ron Paul’s way of thinking: yes it would be nice to give a medal to the Dalai Lama, unfortunately, the Constitution does not allow the Congress to do so. It’s not the constitutional rights of people, it’s the constitutional restrictions put on the state are what important.)

    3. Obligations come from a theory of ethics.

    4. There are 3 kinds of ethical theories:

    a) deontological: “do not steal because it’s wrong in itself” & “it is wrong in itself just because I said so” or “just because God said so” – a pretty shitty argument

    b) utilitarian: “do not steal because it harms others” – a pretty illogical argument if we investigate it more closely,

    c) virtue-based ethics: “do not steal because it’s bad for your character, thus inhibiting your ability to live a good, happy life” – WIN! That’s the one that works: we are selfish, and virtue-based ethics (Aristotle) basically tell us ethics and our long-term self-interest is more or less the same. This is what should be use. We have obligations because they build character.

    5. Not killing someone just because you don’t have the means to does not build character. Carrying a gun and yet not killing someone does build character. This is how guns can defended based on a virtue ethics.

    6. Free speech. Well, actually speech cannot be 100% free. Writing an article that urges people to kill someone or massacre a certain group of people or something cannot be allowed. This is prescriptive speech: prescribes something, and if it prescribes something that’s not allowed, such as murder. then the speech itself cannot be allowed too.

    What can and must be free is descriptive opinion. “Blond people are dishonest and generally bad, rotten” -> descriptive, must be allowed. “Let’s kill all blond people” -> prescriptive, prescribes something that’s not allowed, thus cannot be allowed.

    Thus, it’s not freedom of speech, it’s the freedom of descriptive opinions. Obviously, from a virtue point of view, putting limitations on descriptive opinions would put a limitation on honest inquiry, research, love of truth, which are very important virtues and do build character.

  172. @shenpen: think you’ve been drawn a long way away from eric’s topic by dean’s peculiar tangent.

    OT:
    but if you are interested in rights as a concept, you may like my old article: Humans have no rights, which includes a proof (by example only, i’m afraid) and provides a framework for expressing and discussing rights which, by subtly but significantly expanding the re-framing you quote above, eliminates the value-based muddling inherent in the ethics points you quote above.

    eric, in the spirit of Homesteading the Noosphere expressed as the consequence of group memes (and individuals’ compliance) on group outcome, you may also like the last para of that article. it presents a thought-experiment which hints at why, looking at it globally (and at almost any point in time in recorded history you choose), the average umma-member is poorer than the average khaffir-member.
    essentially, i suggest that the further group responsibilities drift from acting in the group’s best long-term interests (alternatively expressed: the further the memes a group chooses to express its long-term interests in diverge from real-world consequences in favour of arbitrary social-world “virtue”), the less wealthy a society tends to be.

  173. @Saltation: yes, this topic I found more interesting – which leads to:

    @ESR, first, I fully accept you have the right to moderate the discussion here any way you want. But I think you did it better in 2006 when you didn’t mind if the discussion wandered offtopic. That was great, because many interesting things were discussed. That way, you got 1900 comments under Oderint, and at least 1000 of it was gold compared to the average Internet standard f.e. Digg or Reddit. Now, you seem to be more keen on keeping the discussion ontopic – and thus lose many interesting, if offtopic comments.

    Suggestion: set an ontopic deadline. State it under each post, that, for example, for 3 days discussion should stay ontopic, and then it can wander onto the secondary topics, secondary questions arised from the original topic etc. I think it would be a good idea.

  174. ESR,

    you were almost correct in the the Rage of Augustine, yet you miss a crucial point: the root of Fascism, Socialism etc. is exactly that Gnostic way of thinking the Catholics have fought against. The Adversus Haereses, written in 180AD is a still an interesting read today: it almost sounds like a normal man with a lot of common sense today writing against crazy Lefties:

    http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103437.htm
    http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103106.htm

    etc. So I think the problem isn’t Christianity in itself, it’s rather the heresies – including all that Protestant Fundie stuff :-)))

    P.S. I’m not a believer but I do believe in common sense, of which these Church Fathers seems to have had a lot.
    Further suggested read: Eric Voegelin: The New Science of Politics (from Amazon)

    To get ontopic: thinking your country was founded on Christianity can be dangerous and counter-productive in many things, but OTOH it can provide protection against Political Gnosticism (Fascism, Socialism) etc.

  175. I missed this before:

    “Also, I would like to address Xiaoding i’s ad hominem comment:

    “Dean: If you need a God to tell you what is right or wrong, or good or evil, than, indeed, you are no more than an animal.”

    Evil is a moral judgment that is socially-constructed. In absolute terms, as the monotheistic religions define it, the concept of evil does not exist outside of a localized context. Xiaoding illustrates an example of an ethical system when he calls someone an “animal” in a discussion of “right and wrong.”

    It was not ad hominem. I was responding to this, by Dean:

    “If we don’t have souls, because there is no God to give them to us, then we are just animals. Like cockroaches, only with bigger brains. A difference in degree, not in kind.

    I was using “animal” as an example, not an insult.

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