Origins of Religion in America


"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

"At the time of its Founding, the United States seemed to be an infertile ground for religion. Many of the nation's leaders—include George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin—were not Christians, did not accept the authority of the Bible, and were hostile to organized religion. The attitude of the general public was one of apathy: in 1776, only 5 percent of the population were participating members of churches."-- Ian Robertson, Sociology, 3rd edition, New York: Worth Publishing Inc., 1987, p. 410.

No one disputes the fact that our Founding Fathers exhibited a great sensitivity to our spiritual selves by speaking of inalienable Rights being endowed by a Creator.   This is most clearly expressed early in the Declaration of Independence, when they spoke of "the Laws of Nature" and of "Nature's God."  Many Christians who think of America as founded upon Christianity usually present the Declaration as "proof." The reason appears obvious: the document mentions God. However, the God in the Declaration does not describe Christianity's God. It describes "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." This nature's view of God agrees with deist philosophy but any attempt to use the Declaration as a support for Christianity will fail for this reason alone.

*  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.

*  The United States currency never had "In God W e Trust" printed on money until after the Civil War.  The words "In God We Trust" were
not consistently used on all U.S. currency until 1956.


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.

*  Thomas Paine was a pamphleteer whose manifestos encouraged the faltering spirits of the country and aided materially in winning the war for independence.  He did not consider himself a Christian as evidenced by his own publication (see "The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine").  In this, he wrote,  "Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity. "

*  George Washington, the first president of the United States, never declared himself a Christian according to reports or in any of his voluminous correspondence.  George Washington championed the cause of freedom from religious intolerance and compulsion (see George Washington and Religion by Paul F. Boller Jr., pp. 16, 87, 88, 108, 113, 121, 127, printed in 1963 by Southern Methodist University Press, Dallas, TX).  "As President, Washington regularly attended Christian services, and he was friendly in his attitude toward Christian values. However, he repeatedly declined the church's sacraments. Never did he take communion, and when his wife, Martha, did, he waited for her outside the sanctuary.... Even on his deathbed, Washington asked for no ritual, uttered no prayer to Christ, and expressed no wish to be attended by His representative. George Washington's practice of Christianity was limited and superficial because he was not himself a Christian. In the enlightened tradition of his day, he was a devout Deist—just as many of the clergymen who knew him suspected."--Barry Schwartz, George Washington: The Making of an American Symbol, New York: The Free Press, 1987, pp. 174-175.  Washington was also a freemason.  His initiation occurred at the Fredericksburg Lodge on 4 November 1752, later becoming a Master mason in 1799, and remained a freemason until he died.

*  It was during John Adam's (second President of the United States) administration that the Senate ratified the Treaty of Peace and Friendship, which states in Article XI that "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."  It also stated, "The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines, and whole carloads of other foolish trumpery that we find in Christianity." In his, "A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" [1787-1788], John Adams wrote: "The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses."


*  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."

*  James Madison, fourth president and father of the Constitution, was not religious in any conventional sense. A quote from a letter by James Madison to William Bradford April 1, 1774, states:  "Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise."  He also observed in a letter to Edward Livingston in 1822 that, " I have no doubt that every new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together." Called the father of the Constitution, Madison had no conventional sense of Christianity. In 1785, Madison wrote in his Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments: "During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.  What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not."

*  Benjamin Franklin was a prolific writer and had a great deal to say about Christians, churches, and religion in general.  One of his quotes sums it up when he stated, "Religion I found to be without any tendency to inspire, promote, or confirm morality, serves principally to divide us and make us unfriendly to one another."

*  There were some who wished a connection between church and State. Patrick Henry, for example, proposed a tax to help sustain "some form of Christian worship" for the state of Virginia. But Thomas Jefferson and other statesmen did not agree. In 1779, Jefferson introduced a bill for the Statute for Religious Freedom which became Virginia law. Jefferson designed this law to completely separate religion from government.  Patrick Henry's Christian views never gained enough support to make introduction of the views for possible U.S. law a realistic option.

*  Nowhere in the Constitution do we have a single mention of Christianity, God, Jesus, or any Supreme Being. There occurs only two references to religion and they both use exclusionary wording. The 1st Amendment's says, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. . ." and in Article VI, Section 3, ". . . no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."


Historical Quotes:


“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



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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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.