Religion of the American Founders
The word “religion” is an extremely loaded term in modern-day America. Various uses and misuses of this term leads to confusion and outright misinformation. Unfortunately, God is often equated in the same general idea as Islam, Christianity, Catholicism and similar, although Christians in particular should know better.
In the biblical book of “Acts”, we find two different early Jesus followers, Stephen and Paul, both saying the same thing in regards to religion and God. According to both of them, God “does not live in a temple made with hands.” This represents a rejection of the world’s religions, including all Greek and Roman religions, Judiasm and later, religions like Christianity and Islam, all of which insist on constructing temples, cathedrals and similar religious edifices.
Then again, more confusion arises in regards to the First Amendment, which intention is clearly in regards to religious brand, separation of “church” and state. And which has no intention in regards to God, who is mentioned 4–5 times in the Declaration as being separate and distinct from both human governments and “church”, that is, from any religious brand.
More confusion arises when the so-called “founding fathers” are broad-brushed as being “deists” by many historians and educators, when in fact few of them were. The only two primary founders who claimed to be deists were Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin; George Washington is said to have been influenced by deism. But then again, deism was defined far differently in the 18th Century than it is today.
Today, deism is usually defined as a belief in a Creator who after creating the cosmos, does not otherwise involve himself in the workings of the universe or the affairs of human beings. Upon reading the Declaration of Independence, this is clearly not what a single Declaration signer believed. And self-anointed deist Benjamin Franklin, is said to have become angry during the Constitutional Convention because they were not seeking God’s guidance enough.
Deism arose in 17th Century Europe and consisted of diverse intellectuals; a few were agnostic and atheistic, while the majority were Christians who were tired of religious orthodoxy. Deism in its 17th and 18th Century form, was in many ways an attempt to remove God from religious tradition and dogma and, place discussion of God under science and reason. This is a far cry from how discussion of God is treated today by the ACLU, the AUSCS, the Supreme Court and many others.
Although often branded a deist, Thomas Jefferson himself apparently did not espouse any religion, although his family were members of the Church of England. Jefferson often read the Bible and his now famous statement, “that all men are created equal and, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. . .” traces directly to the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah and also reflects the 1st & 2nd chapter of the New Testament “Romans”.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, the majority of the American founders belonged to various brands of Christianity, while some were far more devout than others. Like is still true in parts of the American South, attending church on Sunday was as much a social occasion as a religious practice in 18th Century America and thus, many of the so-called ‘christian’ founders were not necessarily all that devout.
Suffice it to say, as Thomas Jefferson may have grasped and most certainly, as the New Testament Paul taught, confusing Jesus with Christianity or any other religion is plainly wrong. While confusing God with the world’s religions is plainly ignorant, as if the inventions of diverse peoples somehow equate to our father in heaven.
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