General Question

TaoSan's avatar

Why should the US be "one nation under god", when the founding fathers were in fact not really religious and strongly emphasized the separation of church and state?

Asked by TaoSan (7103points) February 17th, 2009

“Lighthouses are more useful than churches”
Benjamin Franklin

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

“Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man”
Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson even wrote his own bible, without all the miracle humbug.
You can tell, I just watched “Religulous” :)

But seriously, how was it, that despite the fact that everything is constitution this, constitution that the church was able to “infiltrate” the state to this extent?

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42 Answers

davidshoukry's avatar

American conservatism is strongly linked to fundamentalist Christianity. The Republican party is strongly bankrolled by Christian churches and organisations – it therefore gets an indirect say in laws that are passed. Bush’s administration abused this to the full. In America perhaps more than anywhere else, money talks in politics, hence the power Christians hold there.

Jeruba's avatar

“Under God” was added in 1954.

TaoSan's avatar

Yeah, that’s about my line of thinking.

How do you feel about that?

LKidKyle1985's avatar

I’m pretty sure you are taking those quotes out of context. And also, don’t confuse the dislike of religion for being the same thing as not being religious or spiritual at all. The founding fathers may of had their own opinions about religion but they by no means were atheist. And I don’t think the church has infiltrated the state that much. We don’t have bishops and cardinals running the show or preachers etc. look at some Muslim countries and how religion has infiltrated their countries.

TaoSan's avatar


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

I’m sorry, but I don’t know what you can take out of context there, lol

LKidKyle1985's avatar

well it could very easily be referring to organized religion. not belief in god in general. Remember a lot of the founding fathers were Masons, and you in fact have to believe in god to even be considered as a member.

TaoSan's avatar


I agree on the “spirituality” part.

Just a note about freemasons though. You are not required to believe in the Christian god to become a mason, but in “any” sort of higher power.

LKidKyle1985's avatar

@TaoSan well then I guess we agree on that. But you should also be careful using exceptions like that I mean there were a lot of founding fathers and I am sure the ones who didn’t like religion or didn’t believe in god or what ever are a small percentage of the actual group.

TaoSan's avatar


But you’ll agree that the constitution itself strongly emphasizes the separation of state and church, “church” being replaceable by religion, yes?

Jeruba's avatar

Well, @TaoSan, since you asked: I was a schoolgirl at the time, and like every American my age and older, I had learned the pledge the original way. I remember being a little bit shaken by the notion that it could change. I was soon to be even more disturbed by the realization that Eisenhower wouldn’t always be president.

The change was celebrated in my school system, heralded as a wonderful expression of faith. We were all encouraged to think well of it. As I recall, Junior Scholastic praised it as well. PC had not been invented then, and this was simply the prevailing attitude. I had a very religious upbringing (which is why I observe no religion today), and in that context I believed it was fine and right and good.

From my present perspective I think it is altogether unnecessary. It was fine before, without those two words, and it would be fine again without them. I don’t think the pledge is any more pledgeful with God in it. I don’t think we have to join religion and patriotism together in that way. I don’t think we need to foster, even subtly, the notion that “nonbelievers” are somehow less American than others. (And I did not like hearing Obama use that term in his inauguration speech. I am not a nonbeliever. To be a nonbeliever implies that there is a thing to be believed in and that I decline to believe in it; it sets me up in opposition to a thing whose existence is implicitly asserted. I am an atheist, and by that I mean that I don’t think there is any such thing as a God to believe in or not believe in. I don’t “not believe in God.” I believe “there is no God.” I am a believer in that.)

But I also fear that to try to take it out would give rise to terrible divisions of the sort that only religiously based zeal can produce, and that is just about the last thing we need right now. I’d rather go ahead and mouth the words, recognizing in them benign intent without meaning, than give cause for factional strife that can only be destructive.

TaoSan's avatar

That was a wonderful answer! Thank you.

It would be interesting to know what percentage of the population experienced this in a similar way, because more and more it feels like religion really being shoved down our throats.

LKidKyle1985's avatar

@TaoSan it does, but it isn’t because they didn’t like religion, its because it was not too long ago that the catholic church and the pope ruled over Europe. And because of this caused some very destructive wars such as the 30 year war and this is what made them realize that they had to ensure in their constitution that religion would never have serious sway over the governing of a country like it did in the 1600s. Yes you inevitably have people vote for representatives who share their values, but nothing like what took place in the century before the revolution.

TaoSan's avatar


I think you underestimate the power the church has in the political affairs of this country.

Show me one atheist in office. Therein lies the problem.

Franklin Pierce was the only president ever, to end his oath with “I affirm” instead of with so “help me god”. It is a de facto requirement to at least purport to be Christian if you want to run for any “higher” office.

augustlan's avatar

It shouldn’t be. Since it is, I’m going to have to agree with Jeruba. We have much bigger fish to fry at the moment.

TaoSan's avatar


Yeah, certainly not one of the most pressing issues these days :)

LKidKyle1985's avatar

I think you are missing the point. The founding fathers put that church separate from state thing in the constitution because they wanted to insure their sovereignty from religion, not remove religion as a vice or virtue of a politician. I think there is nothing wrong with voting for your values and having your values represented in government. There isn’t an atheist politician because atheist do not represent the majority in this country. Thankfully we have separation of church and state which allows us to have freedom of religion. If the founding fathers really didn’t like religion they could have removed the right of religion all together and no one would be practicing a major religion. The Chinese did it.
And I am not sure but I thought Teddy Roosevelt also did not end his oath with so help me god.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

—“Lighthouses are more useful than churches”
Benjamin Franklin—
Old Ben didn’t realize that churches ARE lighthouses.

“This would be the best of all worlds, if there were no religion in it!”
John Adams
As of yet, it is the best of all worlds anyway being that we haven’t found any other worlds..

“Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man”
Thomas Jefferson
*You forgot to include the rest of the text that came with this “quote”.. here it is..
False Quotes

In fairness to Thomas Jefferson, some of the modern quotes attributed to him are false. The following quote is not found among the writings of Thomas Jefferson; therefore, it should be considered false…

“Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.”*

Anyway, quoting just a few random things doesn’t tell a whole story. In fact, there isn’t even really a plot. I could just as well quote: “John Quincy Adams, said, “The highest glory of the American revolution was this: it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.” – John Wingate Thorton, The Pulpit of the American Revolution (Boston, 1860)”

Simply being in a position of power or fame does not auto-validate an opinion.

Maverick's avatar

@NaturalMineralWater How’s the kool-aid? Honestly, that was the worst rebuttal I’ve ever seen.

LKidKyle1985's avatar

@Maverick in all fairness your response is probably one of the worst responses I’ve ever seen.

Blondesjon's avatar

I believe Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson answered this one better than I ever could.

TaoSan's avatar

Oh dear :s

TaoSan's avatar


more ‘bout this tomorrow. zzzZZZzzz now

fireside's avatar

Here’s an excerpt from Jefferson’s letter that set up the separation of church and state:
Mr. President

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man & his god, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state. [Congress thus inhibited from acts respecting religion, and the Executive authorised only to execute their acts, I have refrained from presenting even occasional performances of devotion presented indeed legally where an Executive is the legal head of a national church, but subject here, as religious exercises only to the voluntary regulations and discipline of each respective sect.] Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection and blessing of the common Father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves and your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

(signed) Thomas Jefferson

Sounds to me like Jefferson was recommending against calling America a Baptist state. The words in the Constitution also read to me that Congress shall not establish a religion, much as the King had created the Anglican church.

NaturalMineralWater's avatar

@Maverick I know you are but what am I?

cak's avatar

Compared to what is on this thread, mine is a more simplistic view. America is know for it’s freedom of religion (meaning you can pick your own religion). If that is in fact true, why are we one nation under God?

I live in an area where people petition to have the ten commandments posted in schools, I oppose it, because of the fact that there is supposed to be freedom of religion. If we post the commandments, then it needs to be a big wall, we need to make space for all other religions and their basic beliefs.

For the record, I am a Christian. This discussion is what lands me in the bad Christian column for many – because I don’t believe that religion has a place in government.

bodyhead's avatar

No one is pointing out that there is evidence to suggest that the founding fathers were pagan, not Christian. Under God was added so all believers could rejoice together. Really, the only people that this excludes are the dirty dirty atheists. So exclude them, their demands of proof before they believe, and their silly logical thinking.

When the president gets a gut feeling, we go to war. We don’t need no stinking actual proof of weapons of mass destruction. We don’t need proof to believe in anything.

dynamicduo's avatar

It shouldn’t.

fireside's avatar

Critiques against the actual premise aside, I think that it seems to have been added simply as a way to differentiate America and Democracy from the Communist threat, not as a way to alienate atheists.

It does seems to be ironically placed between “one nation” and “indivisible” considering the divisiveness it seems to stir up.

bob's avatar

Here’s the context of that Adams quotation:

“Twenty times in the course of my late readings, have I been on the point of breaking out, ‘This would be the best of all worlds if there were no religion in it!’ But in this exclamation I should have been [...] fanatical. [...] WIthout religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company—I mean hell.” Source

This particular quotation is just absurdly distorted without the context. The separation of church and state is a serious subject, but Bill Maher is not a serious person.

TaoSan's avatar


I don’t think it is distorted at all. Just because a mitigating qualifier is provided in the second half, the sense of “best world world without religion” is not removed unless you want to interpret the man said something and then heeled to completely revise himself.

And for Bill Maher, the man is a) extremely intelligent, and b) addresses valid issues with very valid arguments, just packed in a nicely amusing package

bob's avatar

@TaoSan. Taking that Adams quote out of context is, in fact, a distortion. The passage that it comes from expresses exactly the opposite idea of what John Adams meant. He did completely reverse himself, in the same passage, as quoted above. Everything quoted above is from the same letter to Jefferson.

Suppose I write the following: “Sometimes lately I’ve almost wanted to say ‘I hate orange juice and I wish it didn’t exist’ — but I’d be wrong to say that, and I realize that orange juice is awesome and I’m glad it exists.”

If you or Bill Maher quoted me as saying “I hate orange juice and I wish it didn’t exist,” and implied that that statement was an accurate expression of my feelings on orange juice, you would be deliberately distorting my position. In fact, even in the context above, I am not expressing that I hate orange juice and want it to not exist. Rather, I am saying that I almost want to say that, but am stopping myself, AND I’m reaffirming my belief that orange juice is awesome.

Not the best example, but I hope you see my point. Taking that truncated quotation as evidence of John Adams’s thoughts on religion amounts to seriously misleading your audience. And building an argument on the basis of distorted quotations is intellectually dishonest and unserious. Now, that’s fine if you want to entertain people, and distorting the quotation has no bearing on the actual substance of the separation of church and state. But the self-righteousness about the intentions of the founding fathers is a little much.

Jeruba's avatar

@bob, that’s a great tactic for cover blurbs on paperback novels, too. My publisher sends you my book for review, and you write, “This is the farthest thing from a great read that I have ever seen.” My publisher then puts “A great read!—Bob.” on the cover of my book.

TaoSan's avatar


I see your reasoning, but I interpret Adams differently. I believe that he indeed was against religion, but merely acknowledged that in fact it was the root of all order in the world at that point in time. To elaborate:

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, letter to Thomas Jefferson, June 20, 1815

As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?
—John Adams, letter to FA Van der Kamp, December 27, 1816

When philosophic reason is clear and certain by intuition or necessary induction, no subsequent revelation supported by prophecies or miracles can supersede it.
—John Adams, from Rufus K Noyes, Views of Religion, quoted from from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

Cabalistic Christianity, which is Catholic Christianity, and which has prevailed for 1,500 years, has received a mortal wound, of which the monster must finally die. Yet so strong is his constitution, that he may endure for centuries before he expires.
—John Adams, letter to Thomas Jefferson, July 16, 1814, from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

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, letter to Thomas Jefferson, from George Seldes, The Great Quotations, also from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

What havoc has been made of books through every century of the Christian era? Where are fifty gospels condemned as spurious by the bull of Pope Gelasius? Where are forty wagon-loads of Hebrew manuscripts burned in France, by order of another pope, because of suspected heresy? Remember the Index Expurgato-rius, the Inquisition, the stake, the axe, the halter, and the guillotine; and, oh! horrible, the rack! This is as bad, if not worse, than a slow fire. Nor should the Lion’s Mouth be forgotten. Have you considered that system of holy lies and pious frauds that has raged and triumphed for 1,500 years.
—John Adams, letter to John Taylor, 1814, quoted by Norman Cousins in In God We Trust: The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1958), p. 106–7, from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

God is an essence that we know nothing of. Until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world.
—John Adams, “this awful blashpemy” that he refers to is the myth of the Incarnation of Christ, from Ira D Cardiff, What Great Men Think of Religion, quoted from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

Now, considering these less ambiguous, and un-truncated quotes, do you still think he believed “the world was hell without religion”, ‘cause I can do this all day :)

fireside's avatar

Here’s more from Faith of our Fathers (same link bob used above), but what’s the point of trading quotations? What is your premise? That our founding fathers didn’t believe in God? or that they had a problem with established religion?
My adoration of the author of the universe is too profound and too sincere. The love of God and his creation – delight, joy triumph, exultation in my own existence – though but an atom, a molecule organique, in the universe – these are my religion.
-John Adams

TaoSan's avatar


The point I’m getting at, or am trying to, is that “One Nation under God” and “In God We Trust” on our money are not really what the founding fathers had in mind.

I’m not musing wether they believed in god or not, but trying to explore how Christianity has become so influential. All the aforementioned quotes just seem very unlike introducing these “creeds” into state business.

Why is that of concern, you may ask? One example would be that ever since I came to this country 12 years ago, I took exception with the free sale of firearms. To this effect everyone calls on the constitution.

But when “The chaplain will now lead the senate in prayer” is announced, which is clearly something that wasn’t envisioned, there is silence.

Just seems so hypocritical to me.

IMHO of course

bodyhead's avatar

There’s free sale of firearms. Solve the problem.

TaoSan's avatar


I’m afraid I can’t follow. Would you elaborate?

fireside's avatar

lol, well maybe the step before starting the revolution would be to look at the situation logically. We’ll pretend that wiki is always right and get a framework:

God is on the money, Why?
During the Civil War, people urged the treasury department to recognize God on our money.

Christians seems to have a lot of influence, Why?
Because they have historically been a big voting block at the polls on election day.

So what can I do?
Organize a petition, ask that we go back to E Pluribus Unum as our national motto and ask that they remove under God from the Pledge. Tell them that this is a country of many beliefs and that adding those words is divisive. Build a website, make it a national campaign, get in touch with Bill Maher and tell him you have a sequel documentary and it’s all about a petition to recognize all people’s beliefs. Show Congress and the President that this is an issue that many people care about and see if they respond.

If democracy doesn’t work, then you can call bodyhead : P

Blondesjon's avatar

This is easier to understand (not swallow) if you understand what One Nation Under God actually means.

One Nation=The U.S. Government (our motto: Of the rich, for the rich, and by the rich)

Under God=Money and Power under the guise of purity.

the whole “god” thing keeps you all arguing amongst yourselves instead of wondering why we’re the only ones who feel the tough times.

Rude_Bear's avatar

Considering the pledge of allegiance was written in 1892 by a minister, for a children’s magazine, and that the “under god” aspect wasn’t added till the 1950’s…. Nothing about it adequately represents the beliefs of the founding fathers.

NomoreY_A's avatar

The whole pledge thing is hokum anyway. I understand that it was initiated after the Civil War, so that the recently reconciled southern states would be reminded of their (coerced) adherence to our Federal Union. And as someone stated above, the Under God bit was added in 1954, a knee jerk response to the Cold War against Godless commies. This was the McCarthy Era, after all.

NomoreY_A's avatar

On edit to the above – although I’m an agnostic, I never really gave a rat’s azz about the In God We Trust on out coinage issue. I could care less if we stamp it with In Elvis We Trust, as long as I can spend it as legal currency. Just my two cents worth. No pun intended.

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