School of Antioch or Alexandria? By Dr. David Bowen I teach at a Christian university…
Irreligious Founders: Read Their Writings!
Irreligious Founders: Read Their Writings!
By Tim Moore
Among the liberties protected by our Constitution is the First Amendment’s “free exercise of religion.” Yet, over the past half-century, that once inalienable liberty has been greatly subjugated to the arbitrary whims of Supreme Court Justices by a series of hostile and absurd Court decisions. In fact, the Supreme Court’s micromanagement of religious expressions once prompted Justice Anthony Kennedy to characterize it as a “national theology board.” [County of Allegheny v. ACLU]
There have been moments of national outrage at judicial and civil attempts to limit public religious expression and to vilify people of faith. At times, public pushback to a growing encroachment on faith in America has manifested in many ways, including:
– election victories for candidates pledged to defend religious liberty;
– widespread support for constitutional amendments to protect religious liberty; and,
– growing cries of alarm when national leaders threaten American freedoms.
However, there are groups and individuals whose goal of a secular society is consuming and whose advocacy is unrelenting. How are they endeavoring to erode public support for religion in general and Christianity in particular? They do what they have always done: mis-portray, distort, and/or ignore the truth. Those who become particularly skillful at this are termed “revisionists.”
The Ploys of Revisionists
When revisionists attempt to concoct support for their viewpoints, they often vilify figures — past or present — who embrace the position they reject. Beginning in the 1990s, another revisionist tactic was to claim that America’s success was due to its long-standing tradition of secularism.
For example, Canadian Atheist Steven Morris wrote an article for The Los Angeles Times in 1995 that was reprinted in scores of American newspapers. Entitled “America’s Unchristian Beginnings,” it was loaded with deliberate falsehoods to “prove” America’s Founders were purely secular. For instance, concerning John Adams, Morris claimed:
Late in life, he wrote, “Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been upon the point of breaking out, ‘This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it!!!’”
The Rest of the Story
Adams’ statement appears in a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated April 19, 1817, in which Adams recounted a conversation between Joseph Cleverly and Lemuel Bryant — a schoolmaster and a minister he had known. Disgusted by the petty religious bickering displayed by those two, Adams declared to Jefferson, “Twenty times in the course of my late reading have I been on the point of breaking out, ‘This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it!!!’ But in this exclamation I would have been as fanatical as Bryant or Cleverly. Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean hell.”
In reality, revisionists like Steven Morris (and modern secularists spawned from the group calling itself American Atheists) deliberately reverse Adams’ position. Not only did Adams declare that it would be “fanatical” to desire a world without religion, emphatically stated that such a world would be “hell.” On May 5, 1817, Jefferson wrote back to Adams and said that he agreed! What makes revisionism so effective is that few citizens actually take the time to confirm revisionists’ claims or proclaim to the public the real facts.
Speaking for Themselves
Since the goal of Morris and others like him is to “prove” that people of faith have no precedent for being involved in politics, he characterizes the Founders’ general religious beliefs with the same false summary that most revisionists — both in academia and media — often proclaim: the early presidents and patriots were generally Deists or Unitarians, believing in some form of impersonal Providence but rejecting Jesus’ divinity and the relevance of the Bible.
Yet, the Founders’ own declarations (in their last wills and testaments) disprove those assertions and speak loud and clear that the great majority of our Founders were indeed believers in Jesus Christ. For example:
“First of all, I…rely upon the merits of Jesus Christ for a pardon of all my sins.” – Samuel Adams, Signer of the Declaration
“To my Creator I resign myself, humbly confiding in His goodness and in His mercy through Jesus Christ for the events of eternity.” – John Dickinson, Signer of the Constitution
“I resign my soul into the hands of the Almighty who gave it in humble hopes of His mercy through our Savior Jesus Christ.” – Gabriel Duvall, U.S. Supreme Court Justice; selected as delegate to Constitutional Convention
“This is all the inheritance I can give to my dear family. The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed.” – Patrick Henry, Founding Father
“I render sincere and humble thanks for His manifold and unmerited blessings, and especially for our redemption and salvation by His beloved Son…Blessed be His Holy Name.” – John Jay, Original Chief-Justice – U.S. Supreme Court
“I am constrained to express my adoration of… the Author of my existence…(for) His forgiving mercy revealed to the world through Jesus Christ, through whom I hope for never ending happiness in a future state.” – Robert Paine, Signer of the Declaration
“I think it proper here not only to subscribe to… doctrines of the Christian religion… but also, in the bowels of a father’s affection, to exhort and charge them (my children) that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, that the way of life held up in the Christian system is calculated for the most complete happiness.” – Richard Stockton, Signer of the Declaration
These represent only a few examples from many with the identical tone. Furthermore, the personal writings of numerous other Founders contain equally strong declarations.
“My hopes of a future life are all founded upon the Gospel of Christ and I cannot cavil or quibble away (evade or object to)…the whole tenor of His conduct by which He sometimes positively asserted and at others countenances (permits) His disciples in asserting that He was God.” – John Quincy Adams, Sixth President of the United States
“Now to the triune God, The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be ascribed all honor and dominion, forevermore; Amen.” – Gunning Bedford, Signer of the Constitution
“You have been instructed from your childhood in the knowledge of your lost state by nature — the absolute necessity of a change of heart, and an entire renovation of soul to the image of Jesus Christ; of salvation thro’ His meritorious righteousness only — and the indispensable necessity of personal holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.” – Elias Boudinot, Revolutionary Officer and President of the Continental Congress
“You do well to learn…above all the religion of Jesus Christ.” – George Washington, First President of the United States
“Don’t forget to be a Christian. I have said much to you on this head [topic of discourse] and I hope an indelible impression is made.” – Jacob Broom, Signer of the Constitution (to his son)
“On the mercy of my Redeemer I rely for salvation and on His merits; not on the works I have done in obedience to His precepts.” – Charles Carroll, Signer of the Declaration
“I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus Christ.” – Thomas Jefferson, Third President of the United States
“I think the Christian religion is a Divine institution; and I pray to God that I may never forget the precepts of His religion or suffer the appearance of an inconsistency in my principles and practice.” – James Iredell, U.S. Supreme Court Justice under George Washington
“My only hope of salvation is in the infinite, transcendent love of God manifested to the world by the death of His Son upon the Cross. Nothing but His blood will wash away my sins. I rely exclusively upon it. Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!” – Benjamin Rush, Signer of the Declaration
“I believe that there is one only living and true God, existing in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, the same in substance, equal in power and glory. That the Scriptures of the old and new testaments are a revelation from God and a complete rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.” – Roger Sherman, Signer of the Declaration and the Constitution
“I shall now entreat…you in the most earnest manner to believe in Jesus Christ, for “there is no salvation in any other” (Acts 4:12)…If you are not clothed with the spotless robe of His righteousness, you must forever perish.” – John Witherspoon, Signer of the Declaration
There are many other examples.
Standing on the Rock
The evidence is clear; the revisionists are wrong. Although there was some anti-organized-religion sentiment among the Founders (e.g., Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, Charles Lee, Henry Dearborn), those with such views were a small minority and, in fact, often were strongly criticized by others for those beliefs.
It is time that Christians retake the academic high ground. When historically false editorials or letters-to-the-editor are written, or when call-in programs make reckless charges, we need to stand up and confront those errors. This will provide an opportunity for those who are undecided on the issue of public religious expressions to formulate their opinions from accurate information rather than from revisionist trash. The most effective defense against revisionism is aggressive truth — and lots of it! If we will faithfully present the truth, the Scriptures assure us that it will eventually prevail.