As I mentioned in a previous article, Katherine Franke, who also serves as the director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law at Columbia University, “claimed that conservatives’ belief in ‘natural law’ is leading to a ‘radical theocratization of the Constitution.’” Not only did our nation’s constitutional founders believe in Natural Law, but many of them believed that the Bible offered guidance on the basics of governance.
The claim has also been made that deism was the prevailing theological worldview during the constitutional era. Deism is a philosophical belief system that claims that God exists but is not involved in the world. While God created all things and set the universe in motion, He no longer oversees its operation. Given this definition of deism, which of the founding fathers were deists? Which documents express the fundamental tenets of deism? Official congressional and presidential documents, written before and after the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution, mention Jesus Christ, sin, the need for forgiveness, and the justice of God. These are neither Natural Law nor deistic proclamations.
For example, Pres. George Washington, at the request of Congress, called for a day of “General Thanksgiving” where the Providence of Almighty God would be recognized and the duty to “obey his will.” The Proclamation was called for soon after the drafting of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights.
With all the historical evidence to the contrary, it’s Thomas Paine who is singled out by historical revisionists as America’s true philosophical founder. Can this be proven? Paine’s Common Sense put forth arguments for independence from Great Britain, but how did he argue his case? What were his sources? Did he follow deistic lines of argumentation like those of the French revolutionaries? “He constructed his arguments from materials that were familiar to the average colonist, favoring allusions to popular history, nature, and scripture rather than Montesquieu, Tacitus, and Cicero.”1
J. Ayer remarks that “the first argument that Paine brings against the institution of kingship is scriptural.”2 Ayer remarks that Paine’s appeal to the Old Testament is curious “in view of the want of respect he was later to show for the Old Testament” (Ayer, Thomas Paine, 40). Paine declared that “government by kings was first introduced into the world by the Heathens, from which the children of Israel copied the custom…. As the exalting of one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature, so neither can it be defended on the authority of scripture; for the will of the Almighty, as declared by Gideon and the prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by kings. All anti-monarchical parts of scripture have been smoothly glossed over in monarchical governments, but they undoubtedly merit the attention of countries which have their governments yet to form. ‘Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s’ is the scriptural doctrine of courts, yet it is no support of monarchical government, for the Jews at that time were without a king, and in a state of vassalage to the Romans.”
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