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Is Constitution based on Judeo-Christian principles?

Discussion in 'Campfire Chat - General Discussions' started by Nick Fury, Nov 2, 2011.

  1. Nick Fury

    Nick Fury Cadet

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    I've heard this from many sources, mainly conservative commentators like Rush and Glenn Beck. In fact, it was listening to Beck this morning that got me interested. He claims that the Founding Fathers used Judeo-Christian principles as the blueprint for the framing of the Constitution and had a guest who I guess is an expert on this subject back him up. I am not convinced because the main FF like Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and the very influential Thomas Paine were Deist at best. IMO, the framers were more influenced by English common law tradition and by the Enlightenment.

    Getting back to Beck. He goes on to claim that the US is a Christian nation and that the FF intended this to be so. Is Beck off base here or right on?
     

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  3. jpeter

    jpeter 1st Lieutenant Retired Moderator

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    Well you've come to right place. It just so happens I had an argument that lasted well over a year about this subject on a religion forum. That's right... a year!

    In my response, I would ask that we not bring our current political baggage in here to discuss it. It's an argument that's being used by the far right to forward an evangelical political agenda. But as a point of fact, it should exist only as a historical argument. That's how it's being set up by Glenn Beck and others, and that's the landscape we should work from - historical IMHO.

    The odd part about the argument, is that historically speaking nobody is actually right or wrong. Yes, much of the written work that formed this country was based on typical Christian beliefs from that period. Deism was certainly a player, but a minor one really. Most of the founders were not Deists (although four of the first five presidents all qualify). I love the background on Colonial Deism and, as a religious belief, almost adhere to it myself. But if you look at the signers of both the Constitution and the DoI, most were either Anglicans or Puritan\Unitarian stock.

    On the other side of the coin, much of the Constitution was written specifically to address the issue of NO national religion. Period. No religion should get special consideration. That was the argument as it was issued. Patrick Henry would have liked to have seen a small tax to aid the Protestant majority, but it was voted down. People had seen too much of that in Catholic Europe.

    Your comment was probably the most accurate. The framers were more influenced by English Common Law.

    What I most dislike about the "Christian Nation" argument is that it's a packaged argument. If you're politically and religiously bent toward a certain ideology, you get to pick up this argument at no extra cost to you! You don't even need to know history! My utter disdain for this argument of Beck's, in general, knows no bounds.
     
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  4. donna

    donna Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    A very interesting site on the Religious Affiliation of the Founding Fathers is at:

    http://www.adherents.com/gov/founding_fathers_religionhtml

    This article list all the persons who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the U.S. Constitution, and members of Constitutional Convention. It breaks down what Churches they were affiliated with at the time of each signing.

    However, if you want to know their actual beliefs, have to review many sites. A good one on George Washington and Religion is at:

    http://www.virginiaplaces.org/religion/religiongw.html

    A good site on Thomas Jefferson and his beliefs is on Thomas Jefferson's Monticello site.

    Most of their beliefs are complicated and do not fit in particular Church doctrine. This is especially true of Washington and Jefferson..
     
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  5. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy 1st Lieutenant

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    Not to mention Benjamin Franklin who attended a wide variety of churches but also supported Philadelphia's synagogue.

    R
     
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  6. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy 1st Lieutenant

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    An ironic point of Beck's argument is that many evangelical Christians don't consider him a Christian.

    R
     
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  7. jpeter

    jpeter 1st Lieutenant Retired Moderator

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    I know, but he sure thinks he is!
     
  8. reddcorp

    reddcorp Private

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    Mainstream Catholics and Protestants do not consider LDS as Christians according to most polls on the matter.
     
  9. Nick Fury

    Nick Fury Cadet

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    Very thoughtful response, jpeter. Thank you. The clincher for me is in bold above as it appears to you also. Besides this there's also the Treaty of Tripoli - I believe it's called - the treaty that ended a war with the Bey of a North African kingdom in 1802 or so, which specifically states the US is not a Christian nation. Those who are more of a cynical bent would say the document is of use only for practical purposes but I beleive it does represent the framers thinking.
     
  10. rpkennedy

    rpkennedy 1st Lieutenant

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    My question for Mr. Beck would be, what exactly do you consider Judeo-Christian principles? To my mind, there is nothing in the Constitution that one could point to and say "A-ha, this is clearly a Christian principle!" In my experience, people that want the Constitution to have been based on these principles are using it as an attempt to make their particular belief system supreme over other belief systems in regards to politics.

    R
     
  11. jpeter

    jpeter 1st Lieutenant Retired Moderator

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    The funny thing about the argument - and I think I know it pretty well by now - is that those arguing don't know exactly how to stop. I was perfectly willing to accept things like "In God We Trust", swearing on the Bible, and a million other things we brought with us to this country as evidence of a Christian Nation.

    But this "Christian Nation" argument is not really about history. It's about teaching creationism, having prayer in public schools, and essentially standardizing our federal laws with a national religious view. It's disguised as a historical argument, but that's a subterfuge. Its intent is to diminish secular thought and promote a kind of Protestant-Christian legacy that fits the evangelical new world order in the here-and-now.

    Of course the whole thing falls apart when you start asking the question about which Protestant religious viewpoint is the model for our government. Any place for Jews? Catholics? Mormons? Buddhists? I used to get beat senseless with this argument on the religion forums but I wasn't giving an inch. If they're going to whip out a historical argument, they better be ready to fire real bullets if they're arguing with me.

    The only history these people ever knew who argued this idea was the pre-packaged argument given to them on a web site... which is a web site I can find if given some time.
     
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  12. Freddy

    Freddy 2nd Lieutenant

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    Except for "In the year of our Lord" there is nothing religious in the document. It is neutral on religion from Article VI: Clause 3, "but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States" to the First Amendment with the establishment and free exorcise clauses.
     
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  13. jpeter

    jpeter 1st Lieutenant Retired Moderator

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    For those needing a point of reference, the "Christian Nation" argument is packaged much like a "Lost Cause" argument. It needs no factual history to sustain it. The only difference is that it gets interpreted through the lens of religious belief instead of sectionalism.

    The originator and crusader for the argument is David Barton. His web site is called Wallbuilders. He's had so much press, he's even been on Jon Stewart's show. Google him for more info.
     
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  14. Nick Fury

    Nick Fury Cadet

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    Thanks for the link, donna. I got a 404 message on the founding fathers link though. Washington was a man way ahead of his time, wasn't he! Our nation was very lucky to have had him available to lead the nation in it's crucial infancy.
     
  15. Nick Fury

    Nick Fury Cadet

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    I think Mr. Beck believes the DoI and the Constitution reflect the moral principles derived directly from a divine source - God. There's no question that God is mentioned in the DoI but to men of Beck's faith, and others who are probably more of the fundamentalist bent, he is the Judeo-Christian God. The FF were divinely inspired, according to my understanding of what Beck, Rush and others who see the Judeo-Christian influence on the DoI and the Constitution.
     
  16. donna

    donna Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    Nick Here is the site again http://www.adherents.com/gov/founding_fathers_religion.html

    If that doesn't work go to goggle put in Religious Affiliation of the Founding Fathers of United States of America. There are also related sites on religious affiliation of the First U.S. Congress, modern U.S. Congress, U.S. Presidents, and Supreme Court Justices.

    This site is part of adherents.com homepage. If you like statistics, this great site.
     
  17. jpeter

    jpeter 1st Lieutenant Retired Moderator

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    By the way, Donna, that link still doesn't work. I'm not sure why. It looks perfectly good.

    Just to add more history to this.... and to show how simplistic the "Christian Nation" argument is....

    In determining the religious views of the Founding Fathers, it's not always easy to get perfect clarity about how to judge the extent of one's Deistic beliefs or even one's Christian beliefs at that period. It's entirely possible to have hybrid beliefs between conventional religion and Deism or hybrid beliefs about atheism and Deism. So I'm not sure we can say with certainty which Founding Father was a Deist - since there is really no religious principles one needs to adhere to in order to call himself a Deist.

    It would be much easier to determine which of the Founding Fathers was, say, a Freemason rather than trying to define a Deist.

    It's also worth mentioning that by this time in the mid-1700s, New England Puritan religious beliefs had morphed into a wide spectrum of emerging churches, including many that were quite liberal. John Adams, for example, was a practicing Unitarian who did not believe in the Holy Trinity - which would almost eliminate him from today's Christian churches. Rpkennedy mentioned Benjamin Franklin's wide support of pluralism even though he certainly qualifies as a Deist. Jefferson gave huge amounts of money and much of his library to William and Mary college - a religious institution. Jefferson's interpretation of the Bible would almost make him a heretic in today's world. Plus, many of those Christian religions in the 1700s, like the Moravians, are long gone from our own history books.

    The early 1700's was an amazing period of religious diversity. There was even a short period where almost 1/5th of the population was Quaker.

    I think we also have to keep in mind that America's guiding laws were Protestant-based from the outset of the first Puritan colonies in New England. They had almost 150 years of seasoning the legal system with the idea of religious pluralism before the Founding Fathers ever came to power. While we tend to see these communities sometimes as witch-burning theocracies, I think most of us would be surprised at how liberal many of the Puritan laws were and how much they contributed to legal system that the Founding Fathers finally incorporated.

    The Christian Nation argument is a manufactured argument for today's evangelical movement. It's not history-based. That's why it galls many historians.
     
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  18. donna

    donna Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    I don't know why that link doesn't work. If you want to go to it, goggle as I posted. I been in the site several times. Its the round about way, but sometimes I find that is the only way one can get to certain sites.
     
  19. jpeter

    jpeter 1st Lieutenant Retired Moderator

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    I just figured it out.

    The words Founding, Fathers, and Religion need to be capitalized.
     
  20. donna

    donna Lt. Colonel Forum Host

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    Thanks for figuring out. Usually I never capitalize and it always goes into links. I guess this one very particular. I am sorry, will make sure I capitalize when they posted that way.
     
  21. jpeter

    jpeter 1st Lieutenant Retired Moderator

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    And finally, you won't see those espousing the Christian Nation argument ever use these quotes.... (we need to view these in context. Many of the founders had ancestors who were persecuted in Europe for their religious beliefs)

    Founders Quotes

    George Washington:

    "I am persuaded, you will permit me to observe that the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction. To this consideration we ought to ascribe the absence of any regulation, respecting religion, from the Magna-Charta [Constitution] of our country" (George Washington, 1789).

    John Adams:

    "Where do we find a precept in the Bible for Creeds, Confessions, Doctrines and Oaths, and whole carloads of other trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days?"


    Just six years after the First Amendment became an official part of the Constitution, the U.S. Senate read (in the English language) and ratified a treaty with Tripoli which included in Article 11 the following assertion: "The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion" (John Adams, 1797, Hunter Miller, ed., Treaties and other International Acts, 2:365).

    Thomas Jefferson:

    "I have examined all the known superstitions of the word, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature. They are all alike founded on fables and mythology. Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined and imprisoned. What has been the effect of this coercion? To make one half the world fools and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth."

    "Christianity...(has become) the most perverted system that ever shone on man. ...Rogueries, absurdities and untruths were perpetrated upon the teachings of Jesus by a large band of dupes and importers led by Paul, the first great corrupter of the teaching of Jesus."

    "The clergy converted the simple teachings of Jesus into an engine for enslaving mankind and adulterated by artificial constructions into a contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves...these clergy, in fact, constitute the real Anti-Christ.

    Jefferson's word for the Bible? "Dunghill."


    James Madison:

    "What influence in fact have Christian ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In many instances they have been upholding the thrones of political tyranny. In no instance have they been seen as the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty have found in the clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate liberty, does not need the clergy."

    Benjamin Franklin:

    "I believe in one God, Creator of the universe.... That the most acceptable service we can render Him is doing good to His other children.... As to Jesus ... I have ... some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble." - Benjamin Franklin (Alice J. Hall, "Philosopher of Dissent: Benj. Franklin," National Geographic, Vol. 148, No. 1, July, 1975, p. 94.)


    "When a Religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its Professors are obliged to call for help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one." - Benjamin Franklin (from a letter to Richard Price, October 9, 1780:wink:

    Thomas Paine:

    "I would not dare to so dishonor my Creator God by attaching His name to that book (the Bible)."
    "Among the most detestable villains in history, you could not find one worse than Moses. Here is an order, attributed to 'God' to butcher the boys, to massacre the mothers and to debauch and rape the daughters. I would not dare so dishonor my Creator's name by (attaching) it to this filthy book (the Bible)."

    "It is the duty of every true Deist to vindicate the moral justice of God against the evils of the Bible."

    "Accustom a people to believe that priests and clergy can forgive sins...and you will have sins in abundance."

    And; "The Christian church has set up a religion of pomp and revenue in pretended imitation of a person (Jesus) who lived a life of poverty."
     
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