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Christian Lies

January 2008


Pandering and prevarication are, of course, an inevitable part of presidential elections. Leading candidates say and promise what they deem necessary to win, for in their moral calculus winning is everything. While it is possible to stomach a certain amount of such disingenuous opportunism, this year’s Republican field is particularly odious in their kowtowing to the Religious Right, especially in their fantastic and dishonest claim that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.


Mike Huckabee, a Baptist minister, has made the absurd suggestion that “a majority” of the 56 signers of the Declaration were ordained clergy (when in fact, only one was). Mitt Romney, seeking to reassure the fundamentalists that make up the Republican base about his Mormonism, made a speech often compared to John F. Kennedy’s address to Protestant ministers wherein he spoke of his Roman Catholicism. But whereas Kennedy vigorously defended separation of Church and State, and explicitly acknowledged the rights of non-believers, Romney was out to trumpet his Christian credentials; he overtly attacked secularism, and maintained that “our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people.” And John McCain, along with almost all the rest of the Republican field, has baldly stated, “America is a Christian nation.”


The Founders would recoil at such claptrap, for the United States was unambiguously and purposefully founded as a secular, non-religious country. Indeed, none of the founders would qualify as good Christians as judged by today’s Religious Right.


Drafted under Washington, signed by John Adams, and approved unanimously by the Senate, America’s first treaty with a foreign nation (under the new Constitution) was with Tripoli; it noted, “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”


Washington was careful to avoid mentioning “God” or religion in public pronouncements. Adams noted that Christian fundamentalists, if not restrained by law, would “whip and crop, pillory and roast” non-believers; he also told friends that the Bible was full of “whole cartloads of trumpery.” Jefferson termed the New Testament a “dungheap,” and excised from it all the magic and miracles to create his own secular account of the moral lessons to be gleaned from the gospels.


Indeed, the great majority of the Founders did not believe in the special divinity of Jesus nor the Bible as divinely revealed scripture. As deists of the Enlightenment, they believed the way to know “the Creator” was by study of the creation. They saw themselves as men of science and rationality, and generally held conventional Christianity in contempt (blaming it, for example, for the downfall of glorious Rome).


The attempt by today’s Religious Right to appropriate the Founders as early exemplars of Christian crusaders is worse than simply being false. Whereas a secular appreciation of the creation, with all its diversity and multiplicity of forms and types, leaves room for minorities and freethinkers (sexual and otherwise), rigid adherence to fundamentalist dogma does not. Religious orthodoxy inevitably leads to some being branded as ungodly and “other,” not deserving the rights enjoyed by virtuous believers — or, indeed, meriting damnation, incarceration, or even execution.


The next time you hear anyone claiming that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, understand that your are listening to either an ignoramus or a liar. Take to heart the words of Founder Thomas Paine, the Revolution’s greatest polemicist: “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian, or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions set up to terrify people and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”


Amen, Thomas, amen.


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