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.
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.
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.
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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