I just got back from a recording session with the “Politichicks.” The four lovely young ladies asked me questions about the role Christianity played in the founding of America. In the short time I had, I addressed several topics. In order to answer the question, it’s necessary to get in the mind of a secularist. They depend on the majority of the people who read their works or listen to them on radio and television programs not to know much about our nation’s religious history.
One of them is Brooke Allen. In her article “Our Godless Constitution,” she argues that God was a “very minor player” in the history of the founding of America. How much evidence is necessary to disprove her assertion? Beginning with the founding of Jamestown in 1607, there’s a lot of evidence.
But even if we start with 1776 Allen’s claim is easily disproved since the Declaration includes four direct statements that reference God. Then there is the list of phrases that can be gleaned from the writings of the founders and the documents they drafted. Here’s a sample:
1. Almighty God
2. Nature’s God
3. God of Armies
4. Lord of Hosts
5. His Goodness
7. Providence of God
8. God’s Superintending Providence
9. Supreme and Universal Providence
10. Overruling Providence of God
11. Creator of All
12. Indulgent Creator
13. Great Governor of the World
14. The Divinity
15. Supreme Disposer of All Events
16. Holy Ghost
17. Jesus Christ
18. Christian Religion
19. Christian forbearance, love, and charity
20. Free Protestant Colonies
21. Christian State
22. Our Lord
23. Supreme Ruler of the Universe
24. Supreme Ruler of Nations
This list alone is a direct refutation of Allen’s claim. She does not name any prominent atheists during the Constitutional era that had any impact on America’s founding. She admits that Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and even Thomas Paine believed in God. Six weeks before his death, Franklin wrote the following in a letter to Yale College President Ezra Stiles:
Here is my creed. I believe in one God, Creator of the universe. That he governs it by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them.
It’s obvious that Franklin believed in God as creator and governor of the cosmos. These are hardly the beliefs of a Deist. To choose Franklin as a champion of secularism is rather humorous given the fact that his creedal statement could not be recited in our nation’s public schools because of its many religious statements.
Allen states that Thomas Paine’s “rhetoric was so fervent that he was inevitably branded an atheist.” Of course, Paine was not an atheist in the usual definition of the term. His anti-Christian book The Age of Reason (1793–1794) opened with this statement: “I believe in one God.” Why Paine is singled out as a Founding Father is a mystery since he had no part in any official founding document. Paine’s later religious views forced even unorthodox men like Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams to distance themselves from the political rabble rouser who wrote the 1776 pamphlet Common Sense.
Allen fails to point out that Paine appealed to reason, history, and the Bible in Common Sense, referencing Judges 8, 1 Samuel 8, and Matthew 22:21, to make his case for independence from England.
It was Franklin who addressed the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 to remind the delegates how their prayers to God had been “heard and graciously answered” in their “contest with G. Britain.” He also pointed out “that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured . . . in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel.” These are hardly the sentiments of a Deist.