Different View Of
Dear Mr. Walker,
I have sent the following letter to a local paper here in Florida in response to one which had been published. Since much of my material is from your web site without attribution, I'd appreciate your reaction to it.
April 28, 2001
Dear Mr. Casselberry:
Since you apparently are so starved for material to print in your Opinions and Views section that you find it necessary to publish the nonsequiters contained under the titles of Careless Mistakes, Return to God, Stop Oil Drilling and All Created Equal, I feel compelled to respond to these foolish suggestions which are mostly confused platitudes that are insulting to intelligent readers.
Let me briefly point out that some of us, too few I'm sorry to say, have a different view of America's heritage and connection with Christianity. Mr. Vincequerra claims that we are a Christian nation, and in terms of the majority of Americans' viewpoint today, that is probably true, although the term "Christian" embraces a wide variety of meanings and beliefs from literal interpretation of the Bible to Unitarian Secular Humanism. But to suggest that the intent of the Founding Fathers was to establish a Christian Nation is to grossly misunderstand history and display total ignorance of the beliefs of the people who founded this democracy. I'd like to briefly offer some evidence that suggests the contrary.
In Albany, New York, in 1836 Episcopal minister Reverend Bird Wilson set the general tone of the opposite view of the beliefs of our eighteenth and nineteenth century leaders in a sermon saying "The founders of our nation were nearly all infidels and that of the presidents who have thus far been elected (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Jackson) not a one of them had professed a belief in Christianity." Most of these great men were highly ethical and moral thinkers, who had varying degrees of spirituality, but none were Christians in the sense of the word as used by Mr. V. Some of them were even Agnostics. Jefferson was almost certainly a Deist, and in arguing against incorporation of Christian ideals in government, Thomas Jefferson wrote to Dr. Thomas Cooper in a letter dated February 10, 1814 "Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law."
Gouverneur Morris, one of the principal drafters of the Constitution of the United States and a Freethinker, told Thomas Jefferson (as quoted in Jefferson's private journal) that General Washington believed "no more in the system of Christianity than he (Morris) did. Morris and many American leaders of the time believed in the system of French Skepticism and were very far from traditionally Christian in their religious philosophy. Many were convinced that it would be a serious mistake to mingle Christian practices with state function and were therefore opposed to even the hint of sectarian influence in state affairs, hence our doctrine of "the separation of church and state". They feared a repetition of the brutal religious conflicts in Europe on this side of the Atlantic.
James Madison opposing the use of government land for churches in 1803 was clear in his view of the church's value in affairs of state saying, "The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries." In agreement, John Adams, in a letter dated December 27, 1816, asked "How has it happened that millions of fables tales and legends have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed?"
These few examples (and there are thousands of others) refute the ridiculous pontification that "our nation has to turn back to our God of our fathers." Since Mr. V's diatribe includes the comment that "our nation has had Christianity for more than 500 years plus", I assume he means the Christianity of Columbus and the other conquistadores, which included genocide of the Native American and slavery of the African American in their repertory of achievement.
A really worthwhile exhortation for Mr. Vincequerra would be to have every American practice his or her private philosophical beliefs so that the most noble ethical and moral principals of each were extended publicly to each other, including non-believers. In that way believers of all persuasions including non-believers would be able to have their cake and pass some of the sweets around to others as well.
Dr. Gil Gaudia
From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff's Writings
Date: Saturday, April 28, 2001 11:56 PM
The only thing I would point out is that we have not been "our nation" for 500 years. We have been "our nation" for a little over 210 years. Before then, we were part of the United Kingdom, which was then and still is a Christian nation.
Part of why we became "our nation" in 1789 was to eliminate the elements of monarchy and theocracy from our government. The abuses inherent in such a system became only too apparent when settlers tried to change things from within that system. Only by developing a new constitution -- from scratch -- did we begin to reduce the abuses that come from organized religion having too much power.
We did not eliminate organized religion's power, and very quickly (by the time of the Grant administration, but against Grant's stern opposition), gave her more power than she needs by granting her a tax exemption. Later, during the Eisenhower administration (and with Eisenhower's approval), we endorsed the Christian religion by placing the words "under God" into our Pledge of Allegiance and writing the words "In God We Trust" onto all currency (rather than on a few incidental coins here and there). Most importantly, we replaced the original motto of Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin, "E Pluribus Unum" (which means, "Of Many, One" -- a multicultural sentiment if I've ever heard one) with "In God We Trust" -- referring, of course, to the Christian god, as becomes clear when one examines the arguments made in favor of this change.
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