This video will get the thoughts rolling on the founding fathers of the United States and religion. The conventional wisdom of our day from the Christian side of things is that the founding fathers were religious and devoutly Christian and that is simply not true.
The majority of the founding fathers were in fact deists who believed is creator god of sorts who could be discovered in nature and were big believers in natural revelation. They had very little love for special revelation like found in the Bible. Their belief was that God reveled himself in his world and that by studying the world they would find out more about this God. There were very few of them that actually were avid church goers. Washington went to church but never took communion or knelt in church. He was said to be deeply Christian but also deeply critical of his own faith. He is probably the guy with the most faith of the founding fathers and the rest of them while open to a creator God were extremely critical of the Bible and Christianity.
The founding fathers were more a product of the enlightenment and as such they believed that each person’s religion was a matter of their own conscience. They did not interfere with anyone’s belief but also felt they should be left alone to purse their own faith themselves. When they framed the constitution they felt their should be no connection between religion and the state. No person who wanted public office had to pass a religious litmus test. Congress is not allowed to create a state religion but they are also are not allowed to interfere with anyone’s religious practice. In the end though this probably did religion a lot more good than harm.
Freed from the pressure of political involvement, Christianity actually thrived in the new world. The revival of Johnathan Edwards who preached Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, was short-lived and by the time of the American Revolution more people were probably in the taverns and brothels than at church. It did not get much better under the Articles of Confederation after the Revolution as many states adopted state religions. Pennsylvania declared the Quaker religion as the state religion and only that religion prospered in that state but the majority people in Pennsylvania were probably simply ‘sinners’ at the tavern instead of following the state ordered religion. The problem didn’t really correct itself until the passing of the Bill of Rights in 1791. It was at this time the second awakening of Christianity also happened in this country and to be honest it was the fact the state had no vested interest in religion that allowed it to prosper.
Christianity exploded after that until our nation was either Baptist or Methodist by the 1820s. The reason is twofold. 1) The state was not allowed to stop it and 2) because the church was free of political activism they could concentrate on the growth of the faith. Imagine that, when the church isn’t politically involved, it grows. Huh.
This is why I became politically a libertarian even as a Christian. It is not about legalizing drugs or prostitution or even a non-interventionist policy in foreign affairs for me. In fact I am against the last one to some degree. What it is more about is taking a cue from my founding fathers and looking at the natural revelation around me and realizing something about people. They do not like to be forced to do something. Human beings have a natural desire to make their own choices and if you use government force to force them to make certain choices they will resist either passively or actively. I also don’t think this is morally right, except in the defense of another person’s liberty including my own. Ultimately I think this is what the Law of Moses and Jesus Christ are teaching. Jesus never lead political resistance in his life and never forced anyone to accept faith in him or a moral lifestyle. He was often at odds with those that did.
What the founding father’s were trying to create was a nation of people who loathed to force someone to their way of thinking but instead wanted to discover truth together through debate and reason. They wanted persuasion not coercion to be the order of the day when looking at any subject or issue. it is a high and noble dream and probably does more to help Christianity than Christian political activism. It allows us to focus on the issues facing the church rather than wasting energy on politics which changes with the winds.
The one thing Christians should lose though is the idea that founding fathers were really on their side . They were as different as we are in society and often were hostile to Christianity and the Bible. The thing was though they did not let this hostility lead to them saying people could not be religious. Instead they said ‘let’s put up a wall between the state and religion and not allow one to interfere in the business of the other’. As long as this was maintained both prospered.
Next: The Pledge of Allegiance