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ETpro's avatar

How Christian were the USA's Founders?

Asked by ETpro (34202 points ) February 12th, 2010

Russell Shorto reports that the powerful, and powerfully conservative Texas Board of Education has finished its annual meeting to set next year’s curriculum. School boards all over the country follow Texas’ lead in setting theirs as well, so the board’s action has broad impact on America’s future direction. And this year’s board went far in its efforts to rewrite history along ideological lines. Should education be political indoctrination, and if so, who should get to determine what ideology to teach?

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17 Answers

Qingu's avatar

Some of them were surely Christian.

On the other hand, Thomas Jefferson—the guy who wrote the declaration of independence—once called the Bible a “dung-heap,” compared Jesus’ virgin birth to “the myth of Minerva bursting out of the brain of Jupiter,” and actually wrote his own version of the New Testament with none of the miracles or religious stuff. Jefferson’s “Creator” was a Deist Clockmaker about as far away from the Christian God as outright atheism.

James Madison and Ben Franklin expressed similar statements. So did, more vocally, Thomas Paine, which was part of the reason he died an outcast pauper.

marinelife's avatar

It should not be politcal indoctrination, and it should be determined by educators, a national board.

Snarp's avatar

I was reading this yesterday. I haven’t finished it yet, but it’s an interesting article.

I think it’s important to realize that the Founding Fathers were a whole lot of people who disagreed about a whole lot of things, including their religious beliefs. The key is to look at what they wrote in the constitution and bill of rights (where you will find not one mention of Jesus or God) and apply modern standards and the weight of years of court precedent and interpretation. Some of that interpretation is by the courts, some of it is in the words of Jefferson and in the Treaty of Tripoli in which it is clearly stated that the U.S. is not a Christian nation.

As to whether religion had an influence on the Founding Fathers and on the development of the U.S., of course it did, but the influence was both good and bad. I recommend The Americans: The Colonial Experience by Daniel Boorstin as a source on this, in which he points out the sometimes disastrous consequences of early attempts to govern colonies according to religious beliefs.

As to part II of your question:
Education invariably is political indoctrination, but it should be an unconscious one, in which the norms of society are reflected in its educational materials, not an obviously partisan one as has been taking place in Texas. Surely even those on the Texas School Boards religious right wing realize that they are not being in the least bit unbiased. Educators and subject matter experts should decide, and there should be enough of them picked in an adequately bi- or non- partisan nature to avoid most conscious bias.

ragingloli's avatar

The Vulcan Science Directorate has determined that it is interesting how they rant and produce fear over Obama having a speech at school or a bunch of schoolchildren including Obama in their song about presidents, shouting and screaming that He wants to brainwash them to embrace his evil socialist agenda.
And then they do this.
shakes head

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Most of the “Founding Fathers” were Enlightenment thinkers along the lines of Deism or Freemasonry. They were also very much aware of the failures inherent in colonies based on religion. Connecticut, Rhode Island and New Hampshire were founded by refugees from the theocratic Massachusetts Bay Colony. Maryland had been founded by Lord Baltimore as a refuge for those persecuted because of their religion,Roman Catholics in particular. The hard-line Calvinists were a distinct minority among the founders.

The entire Texas process is highly politicized and unfortunately influences what textbooks are available in other states. As the article states, Texas buys 48 million textbooks each year. Texas has a centralized curriculum, unlike most states and also has a central School Board that is elected. Seven out of the 15 members have a stated agenda of forcing Christian bias into the curriculum. They are trying to rewrite history to fit their political and religious beliefs. Pat Robertson and his crowd have focussed on the Texas School Board elections for the last 20+ years as a matter of stated policy.

Other states don’t so much follow the lead of Texas, but are forced to buy textbooks that meet Texas’ criteria. The textbook publishers are afraid to allow anything in their books that might offend the Texas School Board. Since the textbooks are written to curriculum standards, that goes with the books. Smaller states and states that don’t have centralized curriculum-setting have limited choices in their textbook selection if they don’t want the “Texas PC” curriculum.

Another example of the democratic process being perverted by vested interests.

BhacSsylan's avatar

This, frankly, is scary. It’s always annoying to hear about this or that political agenda being pushed into this or that area, but essentially re-writing history like this, which is what another (republican, even) board member shouted out during the proceedings, is scary. This country is not a christian nation, especially not in the way they mean it. Many of the founding fathers were deist (or possibly atheist, there’s some debate on Jefferson), and this is part of the reason that the constitution was set out to frame inalienable human rights, not religious ones. If this were actually a christian nation, I assure you it would look very, very different.

The point of education is to give truth to the students, not to indoctrinate, as Fox News is quick to say after any study that shows that universities are left-leaning. We should give the facts, and let them decide for themselves. But nooo, we have make sure they learn the right things. Otherwise they may grow up thiking gay marriage is okay *Gasp! *

as you can tell, this sort of thing strikes a rather nasty chord with me. I’m sorry if I offended anyone.

DrMC's avatar

I dunno, but you humans are a very paranoid bunch. I think the founding fathers (and their wives who really ran the show) worshiped freedom from oppression and the freedom of economic and religious opportunity.

They had their biases, as do you silly types that don’t eat bamboo.

Why must you make such divisive arguments when there is enough bamboo for us all?

ETpro's avatar

@Qingu Absolutely right. It seems that John Adams had serious problems with Christian theology and practice as well. George Washington was very private about his religious beliefs, but the best evidence is he too was a Deist. @marinelife Amen. That’s why conservatives are so hell-bent to get the Federal Government out of education—so they can attack and subvert curricula one state at a time. @Snarp Thanks for the link. @ragingloli Ha! Well said. Quite ironic, isn’t it. @stranger_in_a_strange_land Your analysis is spot on, and it makes me fear for the longevity or religious freedom in America. @BhacSsylan True. I’m not sending my son off to fight the Taliban because I disagree with the religion they want to impose, but because I disagree with imposing religion by force of law altogether.

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thriftymaid's avatar

How Christian? That’s just a question with no answer.

Civic_Cat's avatar

Didn’t TJ refer to the Book of Revelations as “the rantings of a lunatic”?
:-D

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

These revisionists are conveniently forgetting that the large evangelical movement in the US didn’t begin to take hold until about 25 years after the Revolutionary War, first and second decades of the 19th century. These evangelicals had little influence in framing the constitution. The “founding fathers” who lived long enough to witness this religious revival generally deplored it.

The traditional primary-school history taught in my childhood told of the Plymouth Colony being founded for freedom of religion. Only partly true; they wanted the freedom to impose their own version of a theocratic state without interference. Refugees from this theocracy founded colonies (NH, CT, RI) based on relgious freedom.

ETpro's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land Indeed Plymouth COlony was a theocracy. It’s worth noting too that the colonies that started as theocracies all had terrible times, and the Founding Fathers wanted no part of any such thing for their new country.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

This country was founded upon the ideals of the Enlightenment.

One of the most common statements from the “Religious Right” is that they want this country to “return to the Christian principles on which it was founded”. However, a little research into American history will show that this statement is a lie. The men responsible for building the foundation of the United States had little use for Christianity, and many were strongly opposed to it. They were men of The Enlightenment first, not men of Christianity. They were a mix of agnostics and deists who did not believe the bible was true. Above all, they were secularists.

“We do not admit the authority of the church with respect to its pretended infallibility, its manufactured miracles, its setting itself up to forgive sins. It was by propagating that belief and supporting it with fire that she kept up her temporal power.”—Thomas Paine

“When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of the civil power, ‘tis a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.”—Benjamin Franklin

“This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.”—John Adams

“I have examined all the known superstitions of the world and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature.”—Thomas Jefferson.

“If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Romish Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. They found it wrong in Bishops, but fell into the practice themselves both here (England) and in New England.”—Benjamin Franklin

“I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved—the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!”—John Adams in a letter to Thomas Jefferson

“Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.”—Benjamin Franklin

“The question before the human race is, whether the God of Nature shall govern the world by his own laws, or whether priests and kings shall rule it by fictitious miracles?”—John Adams

“In every country and every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot… they have perverted the purest religion ever preached to man into mystery and jargon, unintelligible to all mankind, and therefore the safer engine for their purpose.”—Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Horatio Spafford, March 17, 1814

“Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced an inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.”—Thomas Jefferson, Notes on Virginia.

“The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.”—Benjamin Franklin in Poor Richard’s Almanac

“Of all the tyrannies that affect mankind, tyranny in religion is the worst.”—Thomas Paine

“The Bible is not my book, nor Christianity my profession—Abraham Lincoln

Supreme Court Justice David Davis: “He [Lincoln] had no faith, in the Christian sense of the term—he had faith in laws, principles, causes and effects.”

The idea that we were meant to be a Christian theocracy is a rather new fabrication of the Religious Right since the Reagan period, one of their many falsehoods. It is dangerous, and very un-American.

The 1797 Treaty of Tripoli makes it quite clear:

Article 11 reads:

Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

This, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the letters and memoranda of our founding fathers and subsequent leadership, and a plethora of other documentation makes it all quite clear that this country was not founded upon Judeo-Christian heritage.

ETpro's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus Great write-up. Thanks. I guess that statistics prove the case, Statistics never lie, but a lot of liars are right-wing fundamentalist Christians. Apparently they feel their laws and commandments apply to everyone save themselves.

weeveeship's avatar

Well, who exactly should be considered as the “Founding Fathers”? Those who signed the Declaration? Constitution signers? Revolutionary War generals?

ETpro's avatar

@weeveeship I like what Wikipedia says, “The Founding Fathers of the United States were the political leaders who signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776 or otherwise took part in the American Revolution in winning American independence from Great Britain, or who participated in framing and adopting the United States Constitution in 1787–1788, or in putting the new government under the Constitution into effect.”

I know that living in Massachusetts, I consider Paul Revere and others who led the effort for freedom to be among the Founding Fathers.

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