left biblioblography: AMONG THE FOUNDING FATHERS, WHO WOULD THE REPUBLICANS ELECT AS PRESIDENT?

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

AMONG THE FOUNDING FATHERS, WHO WOULD THE REPUBLICANS ELECT AS PRESIDENT?

The answer is surprising.

I chanced across this article which appears to be extremely well-researched. So brain-cells, they were a-percolatin'. I got extremely incensed a little earlier about this Norris noise where only 'Godborgs' need apply for public office. (Lately, the phrase 'Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated' has sorta lost all its funny for me.)

Let's do this then: subtract the obvious sexism and racism that all of them were heir to (to different extents), and let's examine the religious undertones of each of these gentlemen, and see who the Neocons would vote for, shall we? [Author's note: for the sake of brevity, I will only address five out of the list - but they were the BMOC's of Constitutional history, no doubt.]

First up - Benjamin Franklin:

"Benjamin Franklin was a leading disciple of the European Enlightenment and America's first Renaissance man. He was a person of complete versatility, who made original contributions in many areas of science and humanities. As to matters of religion, Franklin was America's first great liberal. Preferring to study on Sundays, he seldom went to church. When he did attend, he was generally disappointed, because, as he observed in his Autobiography, the preachers seemed more intent upon making people good Calvinists than good citizens.

In the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776, there were clauses concerning religion to which Franklin took strong exception. The document contained a general statement of religious freedom and tolerance, but it was the specific qualifications for office holders that angered Franklin. An official was compelled to "acknowledge the being of God," and to affirm the following: "I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked; and I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration."(13) Franklin lost this battle at the convention and had to be content with a compromise over the status of Roman Catholics."

Let's add, that he and the French had a wonderful relationship, so much so that he borrowed money to aid America in its revolution. So let's see, rubbed shoulders with the French, objected to religious oaths, completely utterly liberal in his viewpoints?

BWWANNNK!! Disqualified.

Next up - Thomas Paine:

"Although not a native American, Thomas Paine did more for the success of the American Revolution than any other thinker. As Lafayette once said, "Free America without Thomas Paine is unthinkable."(18) Practically every literate American read Paine's "Common Sense." The illiterate, among whom were many of Washington's soldiers, were indirectly inspired by it. Paine was truly revolutionary America's vox populi.

A later book by Paine, Age of Reason: Being an Investigation of True and Fabulous Theology, was also widely read in America, but this time Americans, in an incredible display of religious intolerance, turned against the great patriot. Paine quickly realized that, contrary to his prediction, the revolution for complete religious liberty and freedom of thought had not followed upon the heels of the political revolution. Even a religious liberal like John Adams rejected him; the sponsor for his return to America, Thomas Jefferson, shunned him out of political expediency; and his own Quakers refused to bury him. Paine's reputation did not improve as Americans, who knew Age of Reason, looked back in retrospect. Theodore Roosevelt called Paine "that dirty little atheist" and provided this additional description: "There are infidels and infidels, but Paine belonged to the variety ... that apparently esteems a bladder of dirty water as the proper weapon with which to assail Christianity."(19) "

Let's see, intolerant of Christianity, not to mention highly spoken of by a famous Frenchman?

BWWANNNK!! Disqualified.

Next up - George Washington:

(Snip)"Washington was not an intellectual but a man of action. He was not naturally given to deep reflection or detailed analysis of thought or belief. While Adams and Jefferson spent their last years reading philosophy and theology, and frequently writing to each other about it, Washington retired to the country and occupied himself with strictly non-intellectual pursuits. It was James Madison's opinion that Washington never "attended to the arguments for Christianity, and for the different systems of religion, [n]or in fact ... [had he] formed definite opinions on the subject."(24)

"There is virtually no evidence in Washington's writings to indicate a firm commitment to the Christian religion. He always I has something positive to say about religion in general. But there are a few remarks in his private correspondence and diaries, which have a touch of cynicism. He once wrote in his diary that he would have liked to have collected his rents on Sundays, but he declined because the people living on his land were "apparently very religious."(25) Writing to Lafayette with regard to religious toleration, he states: "Being no bigot myself, I am disposed to indulge the professors of Christianity in the church with that road to Heaven, which to them shall seem the most direct, plainest, easiest, and least liable to exception."(26) (Snip)

(Snip)"Dr. Benjamin Rush, medical scientist and friend of Franklin, reported to Thomas Jefferson that upon leaving office Washington met with a group of clergy who submitted a number of questions for Washington to answer. Since he had never made any public affirmation of Christianity, one of their questions was whether or not he was a Christian. Washington very kindly answered all of the questions except that crucial one.(31)

The tolerance that Washington showed for all Christian denominations was another sign of his religious liberalism. There is the famous incident when Washington prevented his soldiers from burning the pope in effigy on Guy Fawkes Day. When once looking for new servants, Washington emphasized that any good workmen would be acceptable, be they "Mohametans, Jews, Christians of any sect, or. . . atheists."(32) (End Snip)

Let's see - no firm commitment on his religious beliefs, and a decidedly liberal bent towards education - wishy-washy flip-flopper.

BWWANNNK!! Disqualified.

Next up - Thomas Jefferson:

(Snip)"Thomas Jefferson was one of the most outstanding minds in American history. He was a consummate statesman and thinker. His intellectual prowess could have easily qualified him for a professorship in classics, political science, philosophy, or theology. Judging from the emphasis in his writings, it is conceivable that he might have chosen theology and Biblical studies if he had followed an academic career. Paul Blanshard, in God and Man in Washington, states that "although he was not a church member, Jefferson was probably more interested in religion than any of our other presidents."(40) It is highly ironic then to find that Jefferson was criticized in the election of 1800 as "an atheist and leveler from Virginia." Again we find the religiously orthodox completely unable to understand or to respect religious liberalism.

"In 1787 Jefferson wrote a fatherly letter of advice to his nephew Peter Carr. This provides a valuable insight into the critical method Jefferson himself might have used to come to his own views on religion. The first and principal rule concerns the role of reason: "Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of God."(41) The second rule concerns the Bible and follows from the first rule. Using reason, one should examine the Bible critically. If one considers it a human creation, it will then contain both truth and error. For example, the critical eye will come across events that seem contrary to nature's laws. Reason, says Jefferson, will exclude those as myth.

"Jefferson came out of this critical investigation with a belief in God intact, but with a disbelief in most, if not all, Christian doctrine. He did not believe that Jesus was God; Jesus claimed only "human excellence." He did not believe in the virgin birth or the Trinity. Jefferson found the Trinity especially unintelligible. In a letter to James Smith in 1822 he states: "The Athanasian paradox that one is three, and three but one, is so incomprehensible to the human mind, that no candid man can say he has any idea of it. . . ."(42) He tells Smith to keep this rejection of the Trinity confidential, so that his reputation would not be further defamed by those who thought that strict compliance to Christian doctrine was the mark of a religious person.

"Jefferson still claimed to be a "real" Christian, because he maintained that the major emphasis of Jesus' message was good deeds and not unintelligible creeds. He still thought that Christianity was the best possible religion because of its ethics and its celebration of the human mind. In a letter to Moses Robinson in 1801, he affirms: ". . . the Christian religion, when divested of the rags in which they have enveloped it, and brought to the original purity and simplicity of its benevolent instructor, is a religion of all others most friendly to liberty, science, and the freest expansion of the human mind."(43)

"Jefferson attempted to distill the "original purity and simplicity" of the philosophy of Jesus in a book called The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, commonly known as the "Jeffersonian Bible." Jefferson selected those verses which showed Jesus as a man and a great moral teacher. Carefully excised were any verses that supported the traditional doctrines, Christ's divinity, the virgin birth, the Trinity, and Hell. These doctrines were the political additions by priestly men who wished to increase the power of themselves and the church. "The greatest enemies of the doctrines of Jesus," Jefferson wrote to John Adams, "are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy, absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words."(44) After all, Jefferson might well have argued, it is not necessary to believe in the divinity of Jesus in order to love one's neighbor. "(Snip)

(Snip)"Jefferson's opinion on prayer in public schools was very similar to the views of our own liberal Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas. Following the principles of religious liberty which he and Madison had fought for, he concluded that prayer in the schools should be strictly voluntary and there should be a separate room for that purpose. Justice Douglas' own proposal is similar, but with the proviso that the worship facility be financed from non-tax sources.(46)

"Jefferson believed in the separation of church and state so strongly that he and Andrew Jackson are the only presidents who declined to make the traditional presidential proclamation to celebrate Thanksgiving Day.(47) Washington had started the tradition during his first term. He thought that the proclamation was only a "recommendation"; therefore he had felt that he had not violated the principle. Jefferson argued, however, that the state should not officiate in anything religious, including a day of thanksgiving and prayer.

"In many places in his writings, Jefferson suggests that we judge a religion not on the basis of its scripture or its doctrine, but on the ethical result of its practice. In a letter to Miles King, Jefferson states: "I must ever believe that religion substantially good which produces an honest life. ... "(48) Jefferson's utilitarianism is not of the same theoretical purity as that of Bentham or Mill, as he believed that God endowed all men with a moral sense of judging right from wrong. But as Adrienne Koch has observed: "Jefferson held the theory of moral sense in an unorthodox form, giving ground to historical change and social 'refinement' of our moral judgments."(49) In true utilitarian style, Jefferson extols the "social advantages" of the moral-sense theory. There are conceivably many exceptions to any moral rule and when such "is wanting, we endeavor to supply the defect by education, by appeals to reason and calculation ... [e.g.] demonstrations by sound calculation that honesty promotes interest in the long run."(50) Koch concludes that, with some qualifications, Jefferson emerges as "a full-fledged altruistic utilitarian."(51)

"Perhaps the ultimate test for such a utilitarian would be the question: Can the atheist be moral? In at least two passages in Jefferson's writings the answer is clearly affirmative. The first is found in the letter to Thomas Law cited above. Here Jefferson respects the atheism and firmly defends the morality of the French philosophes, Diderot, D'Alembert, D'Holbach, Condorcet, who "are known to have been among the most virtuous of men. Their virtue then must have had some other foundation than the love of God." The second reference is in the letter to his nephew Peter Carr which was mentioned above. Jefferson quite frankly suggests the possibility that the young Carr, using the critical method he proposed, might become an atheist. The following is Jefferson's advice: "If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you."(52) "(End Snip)

So let's see: modified the bible, rejected the Old Testament (called it barbaric trash, if memory serves), rejected Jesus' divinity.

BWWANNNK!! Disqualified.

Next up - John Adams:

(Snip)"A first impression of our second president may lead us to conclude that he does not belong with the religious liberals discussed in this essay. The Adams family had a strong Calvinistic background, and John Adams was a regular churchgoer and Bible reader. As a student at Harvard, Adams faithfully attended daily prayers in the campus chapel. As an adult he regularly attended Sunday services, sometimes three times in one day. Adams' favorite texts were the Bible and Cicero and he studied the Bible on Thursday through Sunday mornings every week.  

"After seeing Franklin in action in Paris, Adams stated that Franklin "has no religion ... [and] all the atheists, deists, and libertines as well as philosophers and ladies are in his train."(53) Furthermore, Adams reacted violently to Paine's Age of Reason and scolded him in person for stating such "ridiculous" things about the Old Testament. Although he would come to agree more and more with Jefferson in later years, the younger Adams simply could not understand Jefferson's objection to federally approved fast day that came before the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.  Why, wrote Adams to Benjamin Rush, was he making himself out to be an enemy of Christianity? (53a)

"Adams held a firm belief in God and contended that such a belief was necessary for morality. He also recognized the role of human reason in morality, but in contrast to Jefferson and Franklin, he deemphasized human perfectibility through reason alone. He believed in God's providence and in miracles, and he thought that the Bible contained "the most perfect philosophy, the most perfect morality, and the most refined policy."(54) Adams explicitly stated that the principles of the American Revolution were the same as the general principles of Christianity.(55)

"But this same man signed the Treaty of Tripoli with its notorious Article Eleven which began: "As the Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion. . . ." Is this not a direct contradiction to the views expressed above? If we understand clearly what Adams meant by general Christian principles, the contradiction dissolves. Like the religious liberals of his time, Adams believed that the essential message of Jesus was ethical, not doctrinal. Truth, justice, liberty, and brotherhood are the principles of Christianity, and it is these which Adams felt coincided with the principles of the American Revolution. The American Revolution was certainly not fought on the basis of Christ's divinity, the Trinity, or the Virgin Birth. Therefore, to return to the Treaty of Tripoli, it would have been perfectly legitimate to state that the U.S. government is founded on Christian principles of liberty and justice, but not on the dogmas of orthodox religion."

(Snip)"Adams believed firmly in the first principle of religious liberalism: that Christian morality is separate and distinct from Christian doctrine. Like Jefferson, Adams was convinced that in the Bible one can find ethics only. As he states: "Where do we find a precept in the Gospel for ... Creeds, Confessions, Oaths ... and whole cartloads of other trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days?"(58) Adams was a solid intellectual and enjoyed exchanges with people like Benjamin Rush and, later on, with Thomas Jefferson. He read the classics, philosophy, and theology voraciously and initiated studies in the areas of the sociology of religion and comparative religion. He thought that we should study the other religions of the world thoroughly and accept these other views if they could prove themselves in the court of reason and common sense.(59) He concluded that anyone practicing Christian morality should be called a Christian, even though that person may not believe in Christ's deity or the Trinity. In a letter to Jefferson in 1813, he puts it very simply: "Yet I believe all the honest men among you are Christians, in my sense of the word."(60)"

Omigosh, a Christian liberal with an open mind? Allowing extra-curricular corrections from other religions? Horrors! Didn't care if a Christian strictly followed scripture? Oh, the humanity!

BWWANNNK!! Disqualified. Oh wait: the Democrats might let him in.

Next up - James Madison:

(Snip)"Our fourth president, along with Thomas Jefferson, did more than any other American to promote the principles of complete religious liberty. The problem of religious intolerance vexed Madison "the worst of anything whatever." Madison believed that one owns one's thoughts and conscience in the same way that one owns private property. Following the philosophy of John Locke, our founding fathers believed that by mixing labor with things, by making or buying, a person has a natural right to hold those things as private property. Madison concluded that the same holds for a person's thoughts and opinions, be they political, economic, or religious. As Madison stated in 1792: "As a man is said to have a right to his property, he may be equally said to have a property in his rights."(63) An American would have the right to believe in a king, or to disbelieve in God. Madison seems to imply that a person even has the right to hold the false belief that private property is not a natural right.

"The state constitutions of Revolutionary America contained many clauses that did not conform to the Madison formula. Many states had provisions that discriminated against Roman Catholics. Many states had "established" churches, that is, one denomination that was state-supported. In the Franklin section we saw that Pennsylvania required office-holders to be orthodox Christians. Similar religious tests for officials were found in New Jersey, Delaware, North and South Carolina.(64) In contrast, the federal Constitution (as amended) expressly forbade the establishment of religion and the use of religious tests for office-holders. Many states, however, continued with established churches and religious tests.

"In Virginia, where Madison and Jefferson were to make their great contribution, the Episcopal Church was established. During 1744 Baptists and other sectarian Christians were being persecuted and arrested. With regard to this situation, Madison wrote: "That diabolical, hell-conceived principle of persecution rages among some; and to their eternal infamy, the clergy can furnish their quota of imps for such business. This vexes me the worst of anything whatever. There are at this time in the adjacent county not less than five or six well-meaning men in close jail for publishing their religious sentiments . . . . "(65)(Snip)

(Snip)"During his presidency, Madison stood firm on his principles, including the principle of the separation of church and state. Madison objected to state-supported chaplains in Congress, and to the exemption of churches from taxation.(69) Both traditions have persisted until the present despite Madison's criticisms. Oddly enough. President Madison did give official sanction to Thanksgiving Day, something which President Jefferson declined to do. In February of 1811, Madison vetoed a federal land grant to a Baptist church and a bill which would have established an Episcopal church in the District of Columbia.(70) In each veto message there is a stern reminder about the Constitution's explicit provision that the "Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment."

In his famous "Memorial and Remonstrance," Madison argues that the establishment of Christianity "is a contradiction to the Christian religion itself; for every page of it disavows dependence on the powers of this world: it is a contradiction to fact; for it is known that this religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them."(71) Throughout history we have found that where politics and religion intermingle, there has always been trouble. And both politics and religion have suffered because of it. In a letter of July, 1822, Madison states that "such indeed is the tendency to such a coalition, and such its corrupting influence on both the parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded against . . . religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together."(72)

So let's see - big proponent of separation of Church and State? Objected to church chaplains in Congress? Against church tax-exemption?

BWWANNNK!! Disqualified.

Next up - Benjamin Rush:

(Snip)"Benjamin Rush was born in 1745 in Byberry, Pennsylvania, approximately twelve miles from Philadelphia, where he died in 1813. In 1761, Rush began a medical apprenticeship with a distinguished physician, Dr. John Redman in Philadelphia, and he completed his training at the University of Edinburgh, where he studied with William Cullen and was exposed to the philosophies of the Enlightenment. Upon obtaining his degree, Rush returned to Philadelphia in 1769 and became a professor of Chemistry at the College of Philadelphia's medical school, where he instructed approximately three thousand American students between 1779 and 1812. Being very determined to advance the human condition, Rush formed the first dispensary for medical relief for the poor in the United States. Later in his life, he focused on diseases of the mind. He approached mental illness as a disease as significant as those that attacked the body. While his theory of causation was representative of the limitations of medical theory of the time, his advocacy of humane facilities, his use of occupational therapy, and his belief that mental illness could be understood through systematic study have led him to become known as the father of American psychiatry.(Snip)"

Sounds good so far, doesn't it?

(Snip)

"Controversial theories

"Rush was an advocate of forced psychiatric treatment. According to psychiatry historian Thomas Szasz, one of Rush's favorite methods of treatment was to tie a patient to a board and spin it rapidly until all the blood went to the head.[5] He even placed his own son in one of his hospitals for 27 years, until he died. Rush also believed that being black was a hereditary illness, which he referred to as "negroidism"; further, he believed that, since it was merely a skin condition, slavery and racial discrimination should be abolished. He was also an advocate of bloodletting."(Snip)

Ahead of his times in some ways, still a man of his times in others.

(Snip)"Constitutional ideas

"Rush believed that Americans should enshrine the right to medical freedom in their Constitution, much as the right to freedom of religion is expressly guaranteed in that document.

Rush is reported to have argued that "Unless we put Medical Freedom into the Constitution, the time will come when medicine will organize into an undercover dictatorship . . . to restrict the art of healing to one class of men, and deny equal privilege to others, will be to constitute the Bastille of Medical Science. All such laws are un-American and despotic and have no place in a Republic ... The Constitution of this Republic should make special privilege for Medical Freedom as well as Religious Freedom."(Snip)

One more addendum, for good measure:

(Snip)""Religious views and vision

He is generally deemed Presbyterian, and was a founder of the Philadelphia Bible society.[6] He was an advocate for Christianity in public life and in particular in education. In line with that he advocated Scriptures as a text­book in the public schools.[7]

That stated he may have had Universalist leanings, as the following quote on education seems to imply.[8] It states, "Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mahomed inculcated upon our youth, than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place, is that of the New Testament."

So, let's summarize: in favor of socialized medicine [raspberry], Christian education in public schools [DING!], but a distinct liberal open-mindedness towards other religions [raspberry] ?

BWWANNNK!! Disqualified.

In summation: holy crap! None of these guys make the grade by today's Neocon standards! Un-freaking-believable! Wow, the 'original intent' argument sure took a beating on that one, didn't it?

So feel free to use this troops, if some bibble-totin' yahoo starts yammering at ya about how we're founded as a 'Christian nation' (hey, they can't even standardize what a 'true Christian' is, and they've had how long to figure this out?), and give them a solid thwap! upside the head with it.

Except Chuck. You may want to consider moderating your tone with that guy. On the other hand, America is the land of the lawsuit...so use your own disgression.

Till the next post, then.

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4 comments:

beepbeepitsme said...

Great post. I might need to use this for reference purposes.

A "true christian" is anyone who belongs to the same cult that they do.

Krystalline Apostate said...

BBIM - sure, feel free to use it as reference, if you so desire.
A "true christian" is anyone who belongs to the same cult that they do.
Until they misbehave, that is. Then it's, 'he/she's not w/us!'

BaconEating AtheistJew said...

How about King George? Or Johnny Tremaine? I know they aren't founding fathers, but you've run out of those.

Krystalline Apostate said...

BEAJ - errr, ummm, no, there were actually 54 in all. Just wanted to avoid writing a lengthy thesis on the matter. I could, but most Americans have a short attention span (meself included).