The text of the U.S. Constitution makes no mention of God, Jesus Christ, or Christianity.
The founding fathers’ religion wasn’t always worn on their sleeves. Looking back, it’s quite difficult to tell where some of our nation’s great leaders fell on the religious scale. Deism was popular at the time – the belief in God as the creator of all things, but not as a miracle worker or one that answers to prayer.
Sure, there are the books written and speeches given. But often personal letters and eyewitnesses are a more accurate gauge of belief. As with any time period, there are sometimes those who aren’t what they seem or claim to be on the surface.
These are the men that fought for religious freedom and the separation of church and state. In fact, God, Jesus Christ, and Christianity are not stated once in all of the Constitution, and it is clearly done so on purpose.
The Constitution even bars all laws from “respecting an establishment of religion,” while also protecting “the free exercise thereof.”
Remember, the founding fathers understood their history. They’d seen how the Christian governments of Europe took advantage of the individual freedom of its citizens. They’d seen they constant internal bickering and wars amongst Christian factions.
Even though the Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” today some of these very men would be deemed unfit to lead on their respective platforms. To hold them up as a Pinnacle of Christianity is likely as false as George Washington’s teeth. Here are some of the surprising faiths of our founding fathers.
The man that composed the Declaration of Independence was more interested in protecting religious freedom than imposing religion upon anyone else. It was this very freedom that allowed Thomas Jefferson to cut up his bible and take out anything he didn’t like. Mainly, that included any mention of miracles or things that were “contrary to reason.” This aligned his beliefs more with Deism than Christianity – of which he was baptized into at birth.
Jefferson’s custom assemblage of bible passages was never meant to be published; it was strictly for his own use. However, it acquired a name; The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Almost 70 years after he died, Jefferson’s great-granddaughter sold the book to the Smithsonian Institution.
“I am of a sect by myself, as far as I know,” Jefferson once said. This stance caused a slight ruckus in the Presidential election of 1800 when the Federalists attacked him as being atheist. Nevertheless, Jefferson won that election running under the Democratic-Republican party.
In 1823, Jefferson wrote to John Adams, famously remarking:
“The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. … But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding…. “
“The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
These words, placed in the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli by founding father and first vice-president John Adams, are often used as a springboard for debate.
While those words are printed in black and white, there is some underlying context to consider. The treaty goes on to say that “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.” Which gives the context of religious opinions as an invalid excuse to go against the treaty.
So, perhaps that snippet of one document doesn’t prove Adams’ reluctance to full-heartedly embrace Christianity, but later he recognized the “rise of sects and schisms, heresies and bigotries, which have abounded in the Christian world,” and reportedly used deist language in his speeches.
Whatever religion John Adams identified himself as throughout his life, a letter to his wife says quite the mouthful on Catholicism. “This afternoon’s entertainment was to me most awful and affecting,” he wrote. “The poor wretches fingering their beads, chanting Latin, not a word of which they understood…”
Another founding father with an unclear belief system was none other than our very first President, George Washington. To say his religion is unclear simply brings notice that there are many books written about Washington, and all of them put him anywhere in the spectrum between Orthodox Christian and strict Deist.
Washington used terms such as “Providence” or “supreme architect” when making speeches or writings. These are Deist terms – but not exclusively so. Washington did not use the names “Jesus” or “Christ” in public appearances; but again, many at the time did not.
Born unto Protestants, Washington certainly frequented church as a child, but reportedly did not attend regularly as an adult, or participate in religious rites. He often left services before communion – and when called out on it, stopped attending that church on communion days.
At any rate, Washington was a staunch advocate for religious freedom. Perhaps the most telltale indication of how religious Washington was came at the end of his life. On his deathbed no priest was called; no minister summoned. In life, he’d imparted to his children the importance of honesty and character, but no mention of religion.
A proponent of free thought and reason, Paine had one of the more defined belief systems. He lamented institutionalized religion – and Christianity in particular. In his younger days, some of the hardships he endured would sway others to the comforting arms of the church. Paine’s wife died in childbirth, and his child died as well.
But Thomas Paine made no qualms about his radical Deism; calling the bible the “pretended word of God”. And we know he’s read it because he tears it a new one book by book in his writing The Age of Reason.
“Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God,” he writes.
Paine may have never held public office but is deemed a founding father nonetheless. There weren’t many American Revolutionary rebels who didn’t read Paine’s pamphlet Common Sense which shaped the demand for independence from Great Britain. Without Paine, The United States might still be under British rule.