Adams and Jefferson and a Christian Founding


March 27, 2011   Columbia MO
By David Rosman

A long discussion is occurring on Facebook’s “KOMU8 News” (Columbia, MO) page concerning government and religion. It all started with a comment that a new one dollar coin is to be issued by the United States Mint without “In God We Trust” imprinted on the coin.

In God We trust is imprinted on the side

For those of you who are appalled at this thought, it is not true. In fact, by order of the United States Congress, “In God We Trust” must be on all American coinage and paper money.  In this case, on the side of the coins.

That being said, the Facebook discussion has turned from coinage to the premise that the United States was founded as and continues to be a Christian nation. This specific discussion concerns quotes from Thomas Jefferson and John Adams.

I can say, without hesitation, that the Christian nation premise is false. Why? Because I am writing a book (A Christian Nation? An objective evaluation to objective evidence) concerning this very subject and have done extensive research into the matter. Some basic definitions before I continue.

In defining “founding,” proponents look to two eras. The first is the original European colonization of the New World, from the Spanish to the British, west coast and east.

The second “founding”, and the premise of the discussion on the Facebook, is the writing of the Constitution. One must look a bit further back and begin in 1763 with Patrick Henry’s defense of western Virginia Baptists against the Anglican Church, a major victory for religious freedom in the New World.

“Christian” must also be defined because the term is different now than it was in the 1770s. For the most part, it included Anglican and Puritan denominations of Christianity. Baptists, Catholics and other denominations were shunned by the Church of England and considered second class beliefs and practitioners. Jews and Muslims were considered somewhat lower classes than that.

Thomas Jefferson

One quote justifying the Constitutional Founding is supposedly from Thomas Jefferson. There are various versions, all having a common thread. “This government will not work unless it is for a moral and god-fearing people. Without values and core Christian beliefs it will fall apart.”

Unfortunately, after researching over 200 Jefferson quotes, I have not been able to find this or anything close to it reviewed. None came close to this sentiment.

On the contrary, Jefferson’s position concerning all religions and of the myths is well known and exemplified in his Life and Morals of Jesus: A compilation of the teachings of Jesus extracted textually from the Gospels, usually identified as the “Jefferson Bible.” It was not Jefferson’s attempt to rewrite the Christian Bible. He just removed those things he considered myths or unnatural.

This may be a Jefferson quote, but being unable to locate it and its context leads me to at least question its existence. Like the stories made-up about George Washington’s religious beliefs and feats of strength, Jefferson has also been placed on a mantle that does not exist. This where I ask for your assistance to find the quote in context, not as a stand alone statement.

John Adams

The other quote is one attributed to John Adams. “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.” This, in fact, is an Adams’ quote but slightly out of context. The section including this quote reads:

…because we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.

The quote is from a letter the President wrote to the officers of the First Brigade, the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts. It was written to acknowledge the officers of the brigade for “military dignity becoming your character and the memorable plains on which it was adopted.” The President ends with, “That which you have taken and so solemnly repeated on that venerable spot, is an ample pledge of your sincerity and devotion to your country and its government.”

The letter was written as an honoring of the officers of the Brigade who commanded “two thousand eight hundred men, consisting of such substantial citizens” who were self-supporting in terms of uniforms and weapons.

It is important to note that the President makes a distinction between “morality” and “religion.” As a student of John Locke, of the Christian Bible and of philosophy, Adams understood that morality is not sectarian based. There is little to justify that Adam’s quote was meant do anything more than this. It does not, either on the surface or otherwise, justifies the Christian nation proponency.

Opponents are found of also quoting Adams; “This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.” This quote comes from a letter Adams wrote to Jefferson after both retired from public life and renewed their friendship. Like many other quotes, this too is out of context.

“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.”

Adams was a Unitarian, did not believe in the Trinity and was an ardent proponent of a secular government. In much of his writings, he comments as to the problems if the new nation was anything but secular in nature. He also supported, without hesitation, Jefferson’s Virginia Act for Religious Freedom before their famous falling out. That departing of friendship was not due to religious values but between the philosophy of the two immerging political parties, the Federalist and Anti-federalists.

The argument for Christian nation advocacy use, at best, misquotes and quotes out of context as to justify a specific positions. I have found that few have read the documents or have done extensive research into their existence. A lack of due diligence.

David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com and New York Journal of Books.

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About David Rosman

David Rosman is an award winning editor, writer, professional speaker and college instructor in Communications, Ethics, Business and Politics. You can read more of David’s commentaries at ColumbiaMissourian.com, InkandVoice.com and NYJournalofBooks.com.
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3 Responses to Adams and Jefferson and a Christian Founding

  1. Tyree Byndom says:

    Hello David,

    Long time no hear and as always, uncovering the truth, with sound research, an unbiased presentation of the facts, and a slight hint of Jewish humor and collegiate wit. I love it.

    Americans – the land of misfits and miscreants. The lowest of the low, who faced sure death, to have a breath of freedom, no matter how cold, or slim the odds. Only after these individuals experienced slight success, did the Cavaliers, and many other glory seekers, resource mongers, and nation discoverers, make their way, in luxury and little mystery to this new land. The movie “King of New York” is a good example to consider.

    On my Facebook page I share that my political stance is Divine Civilization. The reason that I share that is because all of our systems of government, stem from the Educators that have come to teach humanity.

    For instance, America is Christian in tradition and culture, but Islamic in Foundation. The very system that we currently espouse as superior to the Middle Eastern countries, stems from Muslim contributions to the world. Based on the book by Stanwood Cobb, “Islamic Contributions to Civilization” he shares the following points in detail, with facts and proofs.

    http://bahaistudies.net/bahaiworks/cobb.html

    “The truth is that the advance of science owed very little to the influx of classical models and classical texts from the Eastern Empire. That the fruits of Alexandrian science were harvested by the Arab learning and gradually introduced into northern Europe, was largely due to the influence of Jewish physicians who founded the medieval schools of medicine; and to the development of scientific navigation and its influence upon Europe, before the tradition of the Moorish universities had finally been extingiushed.” *

    * Lancelot Hogben-Science for the citizen, w. w. Norton, N.Y.C.

    So you share that our nation is not a Christian Nation. I agree with you wholeheartedly and think that your book will stimulate alot of discussion and unveil a lot of ignorance.

    In light of the things that I shared, I feel that America has a Jewish/Christian heritage and traditions, an Islamic value system, and a Bahai imprints in it’s legacy. All of these are the Abrahamic religions, which constitute about 54% of the World’s population.

    America does have a spiritual destiny to fulfill. I will end with a prayer from the Center of the Covenant from the Bahai Faith.

    Prayer for America

    O Thou kind Lord! This gathering is turning to Thee. These hearts are radiant with Thy love. These minds and spirits are exhilarated by the message of Thy glad-tidings.

    O God! Let this American democracy become glorious in spiritual degrees even as it has aspired to material degrees, and render this just government victorious. Confirm this revered nation to upraise the standard of the oneness of humanity, to promulgate the Most Great Peace, to become thereby most glorious and praiseworthy among all the nations of the world.

    O God! This American nation is worthy of Thy favors and is deserving of Thy mercy. Make it precious and near to Thee through Thy bounty and bestowal.

    – `Abdu’l-Bahá

    http://www.bahai.us/bahai-faith-in-america

  2. Oize Errotitua says:

    =====”I can say, without hesitation, that the Christian nation premise is false. Why? Because I am writing a book (A Christian Nation? An objective evaluation to objective evidence) concerning this very subject and have done extensive research into the matter.”=====

    So your supporting evidence for the justification of this article is based on you writing a book that opposes the Christian Nation that you have written no doubt with evidence that, for the majority, supports your belief? Yet there are those who frown upon a man who would defend his belief in the Bible and its ties to the founding of this nation for using the Bilbe as a source.
    In what way does your researching a subject and writing from your own unique perspective validate an alleged universal fact that you are attempting to establish?

    • David Rosman says:

      Oize Errotitua – Actually, I went into the writing of this book with no preconceived notion as to what I would find. I asked Christian nation advocated for their proofs and examined each based on three criteria: 1) Did the proofs actually exist? In every case, bar one, they were retrievable either through the Internet or Library; 2) Was the proof presented in full and in context of the document, time written and location? Here I found that nearly 80-percent were not complete quotes or were misquoted; 3) Did the proof support the Christian nation theories? The answer was difficult, but can be stated simply, “No.” Because the proofs were either misquoted, not fully quoted or out of context, not one met the criteria of support.

      I also found that most individuals had not actually read the entire quote. I also found that most had learned this from others and did not question the authority in terms of critical thinking. A majority said that they refuse to read a different version of the Christian Bible (NIV, KJV, AIV, etc.) because it was not “their” version. Because there are so many different English translations alone with numerous differences, I believe that reading and comparing would make one a better “scholar” of biblical writings.

      The reviews I received from the Christian press have been very supportive of my research and conclusions. I am not saying Christianity was bad, but the ideas of a democratic-republic are simply not found in Jewish, Christian or Muslim scriptures. It was expressed by Plato and Greek civilization, by the Roman Senate and by secular philosophers of the 17 and 18 centuries. Many of the Founders freely quote Voltaire and Locke, Plato and Socrates as their inspiration of the great american experiment. And though most were of one of the many Christian faiths, only Patrick Henry suggested a national religion.

      I urge you to read the book before you set off to criticize it, as I have read at least five versions of the Christian bible, the Qur’an, Torah and Talmud, and the writings of Buddha. I also urge you to read the “Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” which I found a spiritually satisfying.

      I do hope this finds you well and in great spirits.

      David

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