History

Faith of our Fathers

How the Founders got religious liberty right

|

Were the Founding Fathers religious? Deist? Apatheists?

In Sunday's New York Post (founded by Alexander Hamilton!), reason's Nick Gillespie takes a look at a fascinating new book about the origins of religious freedom in America, answers thoose questions, gives a shout-out to Moloch, and tips a tricorn hat to James Madison. All in less time than it takes to go to a drive-through Mennonite service.

Read all about it here.

NEXT: Bear Stearns Roundup

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Nick,

    If you posting it, why not say “I took a look…”

    Only people who live in Ohio pretentiously refer to themselves in the 3rd person.

  2. Taxtix,

    John-David doesn’t appreciate that comment at all.

  3. Just watched Cabiria (1914) which had a scene at the temple of Moloch. It kind of reminded me of the time I went to a Southern Baptist service, except for the part where they sacrificed children

  4. It kind of reminded me of the time I went to a Southern Baptist service, except for the part where they sacrificed children

    We only do that one sunday a month.

    This article shows why I support separation of church/state. Im not worried about the church corrupting government, Im worried about government corrupting the church.

    Is it any surprise that the European countries with state churches have such low attendance?

  5. The service or the movie? (I’ve never seen either.)

  6. “Im not worried about the church corrupting government, Im worried about government corrupting the church.”

    I’m more worried about the former, myself. But that’s because I don’t care about “the church”.

  7. Danny,

    Is it possible for government to be anymore corrupt?

    Then again, Im not worried about the form because I dont care about “the government”.

  8. robc,

    You seem like a good candidate to heed a saying I made up all by myself: “As bad as things are, they can always be worse!”

  9. Im not worried about the church corrupting government, Im worried about government corrupting the church.

    “The church” is apparently a noun.
    Would a fellow reasonoid please identify or define this thing for me.

    Ignorantly yours,
    J sub D

  10. For a word on what the founding fathers thought, check here, if you’re not already familiar. (I think libertarians would take special note of the Washington’s opinion of “tolerance”)

    http://www.ashbrook.org/library/18/washington/hebrewcongregation.html

  11. I don’t think we’ve yet reached a point where the government couldn’t be more corrupt. And I don’t understand how you couldn’t care about the government since they control the way we do everything on a day-to-day basis (some are good, some are bad, some could be better).

  12. J sub D,

    Wikipedia says:

    The church referred to by Jesus, is a group of persons that follow his teaching, to whom he gives heavenly and earthly authority (Matt 16:18-20) and is a group of persons that share two primary commonalities:

    * Acceptance of Salvation through Jesus of Nazareth, that he was the promised “Christ” (Rev. 22:20).
    * Obedience to God (Mark 12:13)

    That was “the church” I was referring to. There are other uses of it obviously.

  13. As bad as things are, they can always be worse

    It is always darkest before the blackest.

  14. How is atheism the “negation” of religion? Firmly stating one’s belief in the nonexistence of a supreme being is just as much a religious position as Christianity or Zoroastrianism or Shinto. If anything is the opposite of religion, wouldn’t it be agnosticism? Absence of belief, rather than belief in an absence?

  15. Danny,

    I agree on the more corrupt. They dont have absolute power yet, so there is still room to go. I dont care in the since of whether it survives or not. I do care about how is affects me.

    If the government fails, we will start a new one and eventually it will get out of control and have to be overthrown too.

  16. Nick, good job son. Thank you for not invoking the Gumbi version of the American founding where we go through Gumbi-like contortions to prove that the founding fathers were really disguised atheists and all that 18th Century talk about God was just because they’d be burned at the stake once the God-fearing public learned the truth.

  17. Alan | March 17, 2008, 12:50pm | #
    For a word on what the founding fathers thought, check here, if you’re not already familiar. (I think libertarians would take special note of the Washington’s opinion of “tolerance”)

    http://www.ashbrook.org/library/18/washington/hebrewcongregation.html

    That wasn’t me above. I’ll always use lower case because those who get pissed off every time they see ‘e. e’ cummings’ will also be annoyed and pissed with me as well.

  18. With the recent news of the Bear Stearns bailout, I think that you should worry about the corruption of both. Once government sticks its fingers in a realm (business, religion, charity, disaster relief), they create an incentive for corruption, thus guaranteeing that both government and the entities with a vested interest in that realm will corrupt each other.

  19. Right now John Meacham is probably thinking, “That guy in the trench coat is lifting my stuff.”

  20. Alan,

    Thanks for the link. I am now trying to memorize: “It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of [me]” for the next time I receive a compliment!!

  21. J sub D

    I would assume that “the church” would be defined as the religious architecture that many worship God. Many usually partake in rituals that celebrate the eternal nature of God. Usually “the Church” is adorned with icons, paintings, and sculptures.

  22. robc, thanks.
    PC, thanks.

    2 down, 647 to go. 😉

  23. I know pedants are scum around here, but I can’t let “thoose” slide any longer.

  24. stating one’s belief in the nonexistence

    Good one, Adam. Best nonsense I’ve seen today.

  25. Paine seems to have been Deist. Jefferson appears to have been sympathetic to Deism as well.

    The church was still very powerful then. Most Founders at least made the pretense of religiousity, but empiricism was really coming into its own by then, and privately most were skeptical of received wisdom and ancient tales of miracles.

  26. J sub D – actually “The Church” is here.

  27. Okay, it’s been a long time since I went to church, but did anybody else notice that the thumbnail picture that accompanies this article is “Jesus’ Appearance in the Western Hemisphere?”

    It’s a piece of LDS (Mormon) artwork I haven’t seen in FOREVER! Of all the pictures of Jesus to choose from, I just thought it was a little funny that Reason picked this particular one!

  28. an adam-

    Please not again with the agnostic/atheist thing.
    Gnosis is knowledge. Nobody knows about the god issue. We’re all agnostics.
    The question is what you believe, hence the “ism” part of theism and atheism.

    Atheism says you don’t believe, theism says you do. Both are agnostic because nobody knows.

    There, now. Who’s next for answering J sub’s 647 remaining definitions?

  29. “How is atheism the “negation” of religion? Firmly stating one’s belief in the nonexistence of a supreme being is just as much a religious position as Christianity or Zoroastrianism or Shinto. If anything is the opposite of religion, wouldn’t it be agnosticism? Absence of belief, rather than belief in an absence?”

    Atheism is as much a religion as not collecting the stamps is a hobby.

  30. fyodor | March 17, 2008, 1:10pm | #
    Alan,

    Thanks for the link. I am now trying to memorize: “It would be inconsistent with the frankness of my character not to avow that I am pleased with your favorable opinion of [me]” for the next time I receive a compliment!!

    My head hurts just contemplating the memorization of such a sentence. Personally I’d go for something like this: “Thanks, for the compliment, I appreciate it.”

  31. Were the Founding Fathers religious? Deist? Apatheists?

    Depending upon which FF you are discussing, the answer is “yes.”

  32. BakedPenguin…

    Damn, beat me to it.

    When I was in college, The Church came to town

    My favorite quote from the band’s interview on the local radio station.

    “We’re popular among the hipper young intellectuals of Australia.”

  33. TWC:

    The correct spelling is Gumby, dammit!

  34. Depending upon which FF you are discussing, the answer is “yes.”

    And pluralism and tolerance are beautiful, IMO. If you feel the same way, SERIOUSLY DO NOT GO ON THE FOX NEWS MESSAGE BOARDS.

  35. Atheism is as much a religion as not collecting the stamps is a hobby

    But it is a philosophy. Which leads me to ponder the relationship between religion and philosophy.

  36. Icl, thanks for the nice simile. My favourite is: “if atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair color.” But I must say, I have a hard time believing that a good many of the founding fathers weren’t deists. Paine was one, and Jefferson had his own version of the Bible with all the supernatural stuff cut out, so he was hardly a “christian” in the conventional sense of the word even if he might not have been technically a deist.

  37. Futhermore, has anybody heard of the Treaty of Tripoli? It explicitly stated that the United States was not founded “on the christian religion.”

  38. The real reason we ended up with separation of Church and state is because each colony had a separate religious view which was dominant and accepted. Just read the various government charters and founding documents of the colonies. They had little problem with the state and church being one. The problem came when the all joined together. What would be the religious view of the Federal government? Each colony had the European experience to give them reason for fear. So they agreed the Federal government would have no official religion. The constitution was a uniquely Christian document, its roots were in Christian history and reflected Christian problems. It turned out that this was a blessing for religious liberty. We have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

  39. We have freedom of religion, not freedom from religion.

    More’s the pity.

  40. The correct spelling is Gumby, dammit

    Not if you’re a stoner in Gumbi-land

  41. The correct spelling is Gumby, dammit

    Nick, the correct spelling is damn it.

  42. Why should we care if Washington worshiped wooden teeth, Jefferson prayed to his slave mistress, and Madison was scared of Catholics? They’re all dead now. We’re free to do this up right (or wrong) all on our own.

  43. Thanks, Nick. It’s about time someone got it right.

    I would assume that “the church” would be defined as the religious architecture that many worship God. Many usually partake in rituals that celebrate the eternal nature of God. Usually “the Church” is adorned with icons, paintings, and sculptures.

    That would be a denomination. If a particular denomination believes that their form of worship is the only one acceptable, then for them the two definitions would coincide. My United Methodist Church, however, speaks of the “catholic church” in its creeds. The small “c” is intentional, as we use catholic as meaning “universal” not Catholic.

    One of my favorite definitions is, “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is the one true church, apostolic and universal, whose holy faith we now declare.”

    As in J sub D’s definition, we include all Christians, and most of us strive to keep from being too picky about who is and who isn’t. After all, He certainly wasn’t.

    As a young man in 18th century Virginia, Madison witnessed the systematic and at times brutal repression of dozens of “unlicensed” Baptist preachers by the Anglican-dominated government.

    The Baptists, as a result, were among those calling for a separation. Hence the great irony of Mike Huckabee calling for “Christian Government.” He should know better.

    Why should we care if Washington worshiped wooden teeth, Jefferson prayed to his slave mistress, and Madison was scared of Catholics? They’re all dead now. We’re free to do this up right (or wrong) all on our own.

    It helps to have a good example. Those who will not learn from history, etc.

  44. Some of the Founders quotes on religion were far from ambiguous. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with presenting America’s political past as being characterized by struggle between secular democracy and religious authority, but we need not throw theocrats a bone that history didn’t provide. Secularists, not unlike anti-racists and anti-homophobes, have a pretty clear Constitutional case for their interpretation despite the disparity between theory and practice.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.