Origins of Religion in America
FACTS ABOUT THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE
"One of the embarrassing problems for the early nineteenth-century champions of the Christian faith was that not one of the first six Presidents of the United States was an orthodox Christian."--The Encyclopedia Britannica, 1968, p. 420
* The original Pledge of Allegiance, authored by Francis Bellamy in 1892 and approved by Congress, did not contain the words "under God." Not until June 1954 were those words added to the original text.
Beware: people are often sincere. But sincerity does not indicate fact, nor does it indicate accuracy.
The Founding Fathers did not all call themselves Christians, that is a misnomer on the part of SOME of the members of the Christian right who try to rewrite the history of the United States as part of their campaign to force their religion onto others. They try to depict the founding fathers as pious Christians who wanted the United States to be a Christian nation, with laws that favored Christians and Christianity. This is patently untrue. The early Presidents, Founding Fathers and Patriots generally called themselves Unitarians and Deists.
* In many of his letters, Thomas Jefferson denounced the superstitions of Christianity. He did not believe in spiritual souls, angels or godly miracles. Although Jefferson did admire the morality of Jesus, Jefferson did not think him divine, nor did he believe in the Trinity or the miracles of Jesus. In a letter to Peter Carr, 10 August 1787, he wrote, "Question with boldness even the existence of a God." Jefferson believed in materialism, reason, and science. He never admitted to any religion but his own. In a letter to Ezra Stiles Ely, 25 June 1819, he wrote, "You say you are a Calvinist. I am not. I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know." According to Thomas Jefferson, third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, "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." (in a letter of John Quincy Adams on April 11,1823). Mr. Jefferson was probably one of the harshest critics of Christianity. In a letter to William Short he stated, "I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition [Christianity] one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded on fables and mythology." In the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Notes on the State of Virginia (1781-85), he is quoted, "Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity [of opinion]. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites." Additionally, he stated in a letter to Baron von Homboldt in 1813, "History I believe furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their political as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purpose."
“Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.” ...Benjamin Franklin
“I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our superstition, Christianity, one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded upon fables and myths.” ...Thomas Jefferson
“It will not do to investigate the subject of religion too closely, as it is apt to lead to infidelity.” ...Abraham Lincoln
"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." ...Thomas Jefferson
“Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.” ...James Madison
“I have examined all the known superstitions of the world, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth.” ...Thomas Jefferson
A BRIEF HISTORY OF RELIGION
There was a time, thirteen hundred years ago, when the Middle East was among the earth’s leaders in math and science. Militarily they expanded their territory, even reaching into Europe. At this time, Europe was in the midst of the “Dark Ages”, and the “Middle Ages”. Government in Europe barely existed with the feudal system as the primary governmental structure, often with final authority resting with the Church.
With a few temporary or local exceptions, it took Europe almost one thousand years to regain world leadership after the fall of the Roman Empire, and rise to the level of science, mathematics, and industry that could support the arts and begin to explore the world.
Europe did finally gain ascendancy and world domination. This was accomplished when the age of reason arrived, with enlightened, educated people gaining national authority. There were wars, abuses of power, set-backs, and problems; but history shows that Europe did eventually gain greater economic wealth and world domination at this time. Conversely, this time period in the Muslim world saw the region fall under the influence of clerics and the leaders of Islam. Accordingly, the Muslim world lost their leadership in science, business, and exploration. There is a lesson to be learned here.
This is not to say that religious influences were gone in Europe. Different regions followed the Pope, or Martin Luther, John Wesley, or others. Wars were even fought over religion. In fact, just 15 years ago, the Catholics and Protestants were still fighting in Northern Ireland; but for the most part, most people in the Western world have moved beyond using religion for legitimacy regarding governmental power.
Early in the colonization of North America, many people left Europe in order to govern their lives and religion on their own, without the interference of the King of England or others. But these people never forgot the lessons learned from the abuses of kings and governments interfering with their practice of religion when they later wrote the United States Constitution.
But first, the U.S. needed to become independent of the British Empire. They wrote a Declaration of Independence. The Declaration made many statements, none of which created law in the United States. They were simply justification for stating that the thirteen colonies were now independent from England. Of course, as most such similar documents and doctrines include, they claimed a divine justification for their actions. Such historical claims are common among most political movements. Most at the time, even believe that this is the case. It is not unique.
When the U.S. Constitution was written, the authors were careful not infuse religion into the governance of the new nation. In fact, the only two mentions of religion are exclusionary. The under-riding theme seemed to be that Americans would be able to believe whatever they wanted, they could practice their religion in any reasonable manner; but they could not impose any religious belief on others through the use of the power of the government.
Most seem to see historical religion as a good thing. It helps to mollify the population in hard times, it helps to justify laws which help to control violence, it helped to control the “accidental” population and protect families, and it brings great personal comfort to many people who follow the various traditions.
There are those who claim Islam to be an evil religion. Some even seem to take on the tone of, “our religion is better than your religion”. These are simply opinions of people who ignore the dynamism of history, are arrogant regarding the present, or are selfish regarding the future. From the crusades, to the inquisitions, to countless religious wars, to the denial of proven science, to the quiet acquiescence of the shooting of abortion providers...Christianity has not always acted in a moral manner either. Even so, even most Christianity detractors would say that Christianity has marginally done more good, than harm, over the last one hundred years. But the issue is not which religion is better. This would be a childish argument. The issue important to the world’s future is to what level should theological opinions or current dogma be sanctioned or imposed, by governments.
The problem is not religion. Each of the major world religions have survived through periods where they were leading the people in positive directions, as well as times when their actions and policies were questionable.
The Muslim world may have currently gone astray, thinking it acceptable to use violence against others who disagree with them. This is because some of their religious leaders have been successful in influencing their governments, or have justified unilateral violent actions, based on their own current interpretation of their religious history and texts.
The United States must lead by example to the Muslim world, that allowing one’s religious community to control the government is not in their best future interest. History shows this clearly. The founders of our Nation understood this. Now we just need to insure that the current and future leaders of the United States understand this as well. We are fortunate that we can believe and publically worship (or not) as we wish in the United States; but we must guard against making the same mistakes of allowing the religious community to control governmental policies as many nations in the Middle East have done. We have seen the tragic consequences of doing so.
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2003 - 2014
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The Big Picture, established 1993
Religion is fine. I could imagine some people misunderstanding this article. Please don’t. Throughout history, religion (of every form, as it independently developed in many places throughout the world) has made people feel more secure in their lives, more content in difficult times, and even more compliant to their current government allowing peace in the community. If belief in a spiritual religion gives people personal serenity, then it may be a good thing for them. It is only a problem when they believe that their particular brand of religion is the only source of morality, or when they try to impose their particular views or version of religion on others, by using the force of local, state, or national government.
Throughout history, and for thousands of years, religion (of most forms and denominations) has made people feel more secure in their lives, more content with their eventual death, and even more compliant to their current government allowing peace in their community. People can believe whatever they want. This is the beauty of America. If religion gives them personal serenity, then it may be a good thing for them. It is only a problem when they believe that their particular brand of religion is the only source of morality, or when they try to impose their particular version of religion on others, through the force of the local, state, or national government. It is only the Declaration of Independence which promotes a god as the basis of the forming of the United States. Of course they did. They were hoping to break away from the most powerful empire on earth at the time. They better have a god on their side...and political movements have almost always claimed to have a god on their side to give them legitimacy. But as you read above, the U. S. Constitution and it’s writers did not use these claims, nor use this basis for legitimacy. We can believe whatever we want; but to invent stories regarding the founding of the United States, only decreases the integrity of the religious denominations promoting such ideas.