In the Beginning, graphite on paper, Bryan Anthony Moore, 2013.
When the concerns came in, from multiple people, and that had weight too, we were trying to sort things out, said Thomas Nelson Senior Vice President and Publisher Brian Hampton. Were these matters of opinion? Were they differences of interpretation? But as we got into it, our conclusion was that the criticisms were correct. There were historical details — matters of fact, not matters of opinion, that were not supported at all.
— NPR, August 9th, 2012.
Critique of David Barton
Author’s such as David Barton, one of the “experts” that advised the Texas State Board of Education on it’s textbook standards, portray our nation’s Founders as political conservatives that drew their ideas from uncritical obeisance to biblical principles. If “Founders” is meant to refer to the entire generation that lived through the Revolutionary War years and is also inclusive of the latter period in which the Constitution was ratified, then the Founders would in reality, be a very diverse group including men of many religious sects and those that rejected organized religion completely. However, the most notable of these Founders (those that penned the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and served in the top tiers of leadership), were for the most part, liberal revolutionaries inspired by John Locke and the Baron Montesquieu. These Founders were men steeped in rational discourse and the questioning of authority that was so crucial to the Age of Reason.
Barton’s latest book, The Jefferson Lies, was pulled from publication by its conservative Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson, whose representative Brian Hampton, cited the lack of “basic truth” in the book as the reason for the publisher’s extremely rare decision to withdraw the book from the market:
“When the concerns came in, from multiple people, and that had weight too, we were trying to sort things out,” said Thomas Nelson Senior Vice President and Publisher Brian Hampton. “Were these matters of opinion? Were they differences of interpretation? But as we got into it, our conclusion was that the criticisms were correct. There were historical details — matters of fact, not matters of opinion, that were not supported at all.” The book has already been pulled off the Thomas Nelson website, and the publisher is in the process of pulling down its availability as an e-book from retail partners. Publishing rights are being reverted to the author, and the physical copies of the book are in the process of being removed from bookstores. “The truth is, the withdrawing of a book from the market is extremely rare. It’s so rare I can’t think of the last time we’ve done this,” Hampton said. But, he said, “If there are matters of fact not correctly handled or the basic truth is not there, we would make a decision based on that.”
David Barton’s education consists of a Bachelor of Arts degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University. Through his appearances on Fox News, Barton is chief among the self styled historians serving fictional historical fare to the adult population even as he contributes to the downfall of historical texts for children. Though his book on Jefferson has been withdrawn by Thomas Nelson Publishing, he offers it for sale, along with his other works, from his personal website. Many libraries have already stocked the Thomas Nelson edition of the book. I had to request the book by being placed on a waiting list at my local public library due to high demand.
In The Jefferson Lies, with a foreword by Glenn Beck, David Barton sets out to “debunk” what he says are six “lies” about the life of Thomas Jefferson. These “lies” are not attributed to any specific sources and are often such an exaggerated version of what Barton claims are “liberal beliefs,” that they essentially serve as dominoes that Barton can then easily knock down, though he often resorts to misinformation to do so.
Among the chapters is one titled LIE #3 Thomas Jefferson Wrote His Own Bible and Edited Out the Things He Didn’t Agree With. Here in the chapter title, as elsewhere in the chapter, Barton accuses those with views divergent from his own (though he doesn’t name those that hold these beliefs) of exaggerated beliefs that, indeed, in some cases are not true; Jefferson, of course, didn’t technically write his own Bible, he edited only the gospels of the New Testament and he titled the work The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, rather than the “Jefferson Bible” as it is colloquially called. However, Barton makes his argument with the mistaken assumption that any view on the subject of Jefferson’s faith consists of one of only two possible options: one being that Thomas Jefferson was a conservative Christian with beliefs that one would find orthodox in any mainstream protestant denomination today, with the only other possibility being that Jefferson was an Atheist that disliked Christianity, Jesus, and the Bible.
In doing so Barton completely ignores the Deist worldview that many Enlightenment era thinkers espoused. This precludes the possibility that Jefferson appreciated Jesus as the best example of moral doctrines he had found, yet thought that much that had been ascribed to him had been done so in error or to purposely corrupt his teachings. To understand that Jefferson was a Deist with very unorthodox beliefs, requires a subtlety of understanding that not all beliefs fall within a strict religious/atheist divide, meaning that beliefs reside on a continuum rather than existing in a strict dichotomy. An eighteenth century American’s individual’s beliefs could be Anglican, Christian Deist, Deist, Baptist or Atheist, among other possibilities.
Barton states that, “Logic would tell us that if Jefferson wrote his own Bible, he would do so only if he were thoroughly dissatisfied with the traditional Bible, especially its inclusion of the supernatural.” I don’t quite understand Barton’s position that “logic” would impart the knowledge that supernatural elements of the Bible would “especially” be the reason for Jefferson’s undertaking, but as Jefferson stated, “things impossible . . . superstitions” were a significant factor in his editing of the gospels. In a letter to William Short dated 4, August 1820, Jefferson wrote:
We find in the writings of [Jesus’] biographers matter of two distinct descriptions. First a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstitions, fanaticisms and fabrications [emphasis mine]. Intermixed with these again, are sublime ideas of the Supreme Being, aphorisms, and precepts of the purest morality and benevolence, sanctioned by a life of humility, innocence and simplicity of manners, neglect of riches, absence of worldly ambition and honors, with an eloquence and persuasiveness which have not been surpassed. These could not be the intentions of the groveling authors [the authors of the gospels] who related them. They are far beyond the powers of their feeble minds. They show there was a character, a subject of their history, whose splendid conceptions were above suspicions being interpolations from their hands. Can we be at a loss in separating such materials and ascribing each to its original author? The difference is obvious to the eye and to the understanding, and we may read as we run to each his part; and I will venture to affirm that he who, as I have done, will undertake to winnow this grain from the chaff, will find it not to require a moment’s consideration. The parts fall asunder of themselves, as would those of an image of metal and clay.
In The Jefferson Lies, Barton claims that, “There is no ‘Jefferson Bible,’ and Jefferson did not produce any work for the purpose of deleting the miraculous and supernatural.”
Though Jefferson’s work is informally referred to by that title, it is technically debatable whether or not there is a “Jefferson Bible,” as even Jefferson did not call his book by that name – but Barton’s assertion that Jefferson “did not produce any work for the purpose of deleting the miraculous and supernatural,” is completely false. The aforementioned letter to William Short makes it readily evident that Jefferson believed the writers of the gospels had corrupted the gospels, had possessed “feeble minds” and had added “a groundwork of vulgar ignorance, of things impossible, of superstitions, fanaticisms and fabrications” to the story of Jesus’ life.
Lest we should be unclear of Jefferson’s opinion on the veracity of the Bible as a whole, or of the Gospels which he edited, we can read what he wrote to William Short on the matter, in his cover letter to the work dated April 13, 1820 (please note that I have left archaic spellings intact as they are easily decipherable):
This Syllabus is meant to place the character of Jesus in it’s true and high light, as no imposter himself, but a great Reformer of the Hebrew code of religion, it is not to be understood that I am with him in all his doctrines. . . . Among the sayings & discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence: and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth; charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being.
I separate therefore the gold from the dross; restore to him the former, & leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of his disciples. . . . I read them as I do those of other antient and modern moralists, with a mixture of approbation and dissent [emphasis mine].
Thomas Jeffersnowman, graphite on stained paper, Bryan Anthony Moore, 2013.
Critique of Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen
David Barton is far from being alone in his publication of pseudo-historical “facts” tailored to conservative religious propaganda. On page 71 of A Patriot’s History of the United States, a book written by conservative authors Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen and titled as a rebuke to Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, the authors state:
It goes without saying, that most of these men were steeped in the traditions and teachings of Christianity—almost half the signers of the Declaration of Independence had some form of seminary training or degree. John Adams, certainly and somewhat derogatorily viewed by his contemporaries as the most pious of the early Revolutionaries [emphasis mine], claimed that the Revolution “connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.”
In reading the above quote regarding John Adams and his fellow “Founders”, we again encounter this inference that the Christianity of the founders was a monolith rather than a big tent that could and did accommodate Episcopalians, Quakers, Catholics, Christian Deists and Unitarians. If we are to take the description of Adams “as the most pious of the early Revolutionaries,” as a mark of his religiosity, then we must conclude from the letters he exchanged with Jefferson that his was a “religiosity” inclined to question the accuracy of The Ten Commandments, the Gospels, and the rest of the contents of the Bible. We can read this in the following excerpt from a letter to Jefferson, dated November 14, 1813, which I quote at length (please note that I have left the archaic spellings and grammar intact as they are of the period at issue and easily decipherable):
Have you ever met a book, the design of which is to prove, that the Ten Commandments, as We have them in our Catechisms and hung up in our Churches, were not the Ten Commandments written by the Finger of God upon tables, delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai and broken by him in a passion with Aaron for his golden calf, nor those afterwards engraved by him on Tables of Stone; but a very different Set of Commandments? There is such a book by J. W. Goethens Schristen. Berlin 1775–1779. I wish to See this Book. You will See the Subject and perceive the question in Exodus 20. 1–17 . . . &c.
I will make a Covenant with all this People. Observe that which I command this day.
1 Thou Shall not adore any other God. Therefore take heed, not to enter into covenant, with the Inhabitants of this country; neither take for your Sons, their daughters in marriage. They would allure thee to the Worship of false Gods. Much less Shall you in any place, erect Images.
2 The Feast of unleavened bread, Shall thou keep. Seven days, Shall thou eat unleavened bread, at the time of the month Abib; to remember that about that time, I delivered thee from Egypt.
3 Every first born of the mother is mine; the male of thine herd, be it Stock or flock. But you Shall replace the first born of an Ass with a Sheep. The first born of your Sons Shall you redeem. No Man Shall appear before me with empty hands.
4 Six days Shall thou labour: the Seventh day, thou shall rest from ploughing and gathering.
5 The Feast of Weeks shalt thou keep, with the firstlings of the wheat Harvest: and the Feast of Harvesting, at the end of the year.
6 Thrice, in every year, all male persons shall appear before the Lord. Nobody shall invade your Country, as long as you obey this Command.
7 Thou shall not Sacrifice the blood of a Sacrifice of mine, upon leavened bread.
8 The Sacrifice of the Passover Shall not remain, till the next day.
9 The Firstlings of the produce of your land, thou Shalt bring to the House of the Lord.
10 Thou shalt not boil the kid, while it is yet Sucking.
And the Lord Spake to Moses: Write these Words; as, after these Words I made with you, and with Israel a Covenant.
I know not whether Goethens translated or abridged from the Hebrew, or whether he used any translation Greek, Latin, or German. But he differs in form and Words, Somewhat from our Version. Exod. 34. 10. to 28. The Sense Seems to be the Same. The Tables were the evidence of the covenant, by which the Almighty attached the People of Israel to himself. By these laws they were Seperated from all other nations, and were reminded of the principal Epochas of their History. When and where originated our Ten commandments? The Tables and The Ark were lost. Authentic copies, in few, if any hands; the ten Precepts could not be observed, and were little remembered. If the Book of Deuteronomy was compiled, during or after the Babilonian Captivity, from Traditions, the Error or amendment might come in there . . . I admire your Employment, in Selecting the Philosophy and Divinity of Jesus and Seperating it from all intermixtures. If I had Eyes and Nerves, I would go through both Testaments and mark all that I understand.
Clearly John Adams took a critical view toward the contents of the Bible and many of the teachings of mainstream Christianity, such as the complete infallibility of the Bible, questioning the origin and the accuracy of even the Ten Commandments, which Texas’ textbooks would have students believe, were inspirational to the Founders in drafting our Constitution and in founding our nation.
Adams vs. Jefferson, graphite on paper, Bryan Anthony Moore, 2013.
In the following letter, Adams gives a description of the nature of his faith and his rebuke of Calvinist Christians and believers in the Athanasian Divines (meaning the Holy Trinity), which between them would include all Protestant and Catholic denominations extant in the United States both in Adams’ era and ours. On September 14, 1818, John Adams writes:
God has infinite wisdom, goodness, and power; he created the universe; his duration is eternal, a parte ante and a parte post. His presence is as extensive as space. What is space? An infinite spherical vacuum. He created this speck of dirt and the human species for his glory; and with the deliberate design of making nine tenths of our species miserable for ever for his glory. This is the doctrine of Christian theologians, in general, ten to one.
In the above statement, Adams criticizes the mainstream Christian theology of his contemporaries. He continues:
Now, my friend, can prophecies or miracles convince you or me that infinite benevolence, wisdom, and power, created, and preserves for a time, innumerable millions, to make them miserable for ever, for his own glory? Wretch! What is his glory? Is he ambitious? Does he want promotion? Is he vain, tickled with adulation, exulting and triumphing in his power and the sweetness of his vengeance? Pardon me, my Maker, for these awful questions. My answer to them is always ready. I believe no such things. My adoration of the author of the universe is too profound and too sincere. The love of God and his creation — delight, joy, triumph, exultation in my own existence — though but an atom, a molecule organ-ique in the universe — are my religion.
Howl, snarl, bite, ye Calvinistic, ye Athanasian divines, if you will; ye will say I am no Christian; I say ye are no Christians, and there the account is balanced. Yet I believe all the honest men among you are Christians, in my sense of the word.
Note that “Athanasian divines” refers to those Christians that believe in the concept of the Holy Trinity, considered a central belief of any orthodox or “mainstream” interpretation of Christianity. The “religion” of John Adams did not conform to the conservative Christian worldview of the 18th century, nor does it align with that of the 21st. His beliefs are those, rather, of a Christian Deist, they are extremely heterodox when compared to any conservative definition of Christianity.
But what advantage do authors such as David Barton or Larry Schweikart think that their cause gains by depicting the Founders as Christians with beliefs mirroring those of contemporary conservatives? Could it be the furtherance of an authority/follower mindset? An unquestioning belief in the Bible and the belief in the interconnectedness of religious and civil authorities (church and state) are useful tools in the continuation of the status quo by those in power. These traits are in diametric opposition to those that the revolutionary nature of Enlightenment thought espoused.
In the Deist belief system that was shared by many of the influential founders, questioning and even rejecting authority was encouraged, while science and reason were embraced. Darren Staloff describes Deism thusly:
Deism or “the religion of nature” was a form of rational theology that emerged among “freethinking” Europeans in the 17th and 18th centuries. Deists insisted that religious truth should be subject to the authority of human reason rather than divine revelation. Consequently, they denied that the Bible was the revealed word of God and rejected scripture as a source of religious doctrine. As devotees of natural religion, they rejected all the supernatural elements of Christianity. Miracles, prophecies, and divine portents were all proscribed as residues of superstition, as was the providential view of human history. The doctrines of original sin, the account of creation found in Genesis, and the divinity and resurrection of Christ were similarly castigated as irrational beliefs unworthy of an enlightened age. For Deists God was a benevolent, if distant, creator whose revelation was nature and human reason. Applying reason to nature taught most deists that God organized the world to promote human happiness and our greatest religious duty was to further that end by the practice of morality.
Believing in the unerring authority of religious leaders and religious texts, along with a belief in a God that has predestined you to your appointed place in this world, are very useful tools to control not only religious unrest, but civil unrest as well, especially when you are taught that there is no separation between the religious and the civil authority. By playing into an authoritarian mindset, these beliefs encourage followers to unquestioningly follow. As much as rationalism, whether expressed through Atheism, Deism or any other worldview, rejects such beliefs, it endangers the unquestioned continuation of the current political situation by empowering individuals to take charge of their own destiny. Of course, Deism is not alone in this emancipated mindset, Atheism, and many other belief systems also afford their adherents such freedom of thought. But Deism or Unitarianism was the belief system of many of the prominent founders, and as such, is the belief system that religious conservatives (and those in power that find their beliefs useful) try to argue out of the historical record.
“Founding Father” Ethan Allen wrote in Reason: The Only Oracle of Man:
Such people as can be prevailed upon to believe, that their reason is depraved, may easily be led by the nose, and duped into superstition at the pleasure of those, in whom they confide, and there remain from generation to generation; for when they throw away the law of reason, the only one which God gave them to direct them in their speculations and duty, they are exposed to ignorant or insidious teachers, and also to their own irregular passions, and to the folly and enthusiasm of those about them, which nothing but reason can prevent or restrain; nor is it a rational supposition that the commonality of mankind would ever have mistrusted, that their reason was depraved, had they not been told so, and it is whispered about, that the first insinuation of it was from the Priests.
Known for his capture of Fort Ticonderoga and Benedict Arnold, Allen can be counted as one of the most publicly outspoken Deists among the founders.
The Abominable Statesman, graphite on paper, Bryan Anthony Moore, 2013.
Benjamin Franklin, a self avowed Deist, wrote the following letter to Harvard President Ezra Stiles, shortly before his impending death in 1790:
You desire to know something of my Religion. It is the first time I have been questioned upon it: But I do not take your Curiosity amiss, and shall endeavour in a few Words to gratify it. 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 can 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 Principles of all sound Religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever Sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity: tho’ it is a Question I do not dogmatise upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble [emphasis mine].
In Franklin’s Autobiography, he describes the beliefs he acquired as a young man:
Before I enter upon my public appearance in business, it may be well to let you know the then state of my mind with regard to my principles and morals, that you may see how far those influenced the future events of my life. My parents had early given me religious impressions, and brought me through my childhood piously in the Dissenting way. But I was scarce fifteen when after doubting, by turns, of several points as I found them disputed in the different books I read, I began to doubt of Revelation itself. Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle’s Lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist [emphasis mine].
Thomas Paine, known as The Father of the American Revolution, was a pamphleteer whose booklet, Common Sense, ignited the American public in the run up to the American Revolution. He went on to become a figure of significance in the French Revolution though he was later alienated from the American public due to his criticisms of George Washington.
Thomas Paine said of Christianity:
The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it produces no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion” and “The only religion that has not been invented, and that has in it every evidence of divine originality, is pure and simple Deism.
And as simple government avoids us becoming the dupes of fraud, so simple belief protects us from the fraud of priestcraft, which so often runs hand in hand with despotism.
James Madison, the principal author of the Constitution, wrote in a letter to William Bradford, dated April 1, 1774:
Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize [sic], every expanded prospect.
In the letter, A Memorial and Remonstrance, addressed to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, Madison wrote:
Experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. Enquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest lustre; those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy. Propose a restoration of this primitive State in which its Teachers depended on the voluntary rewards of their flocks, many of them predict its downfall. On which Side ought their testimony to have greatest weight, when for or when against their interest?
In the paragraph above, Madison argues that in other nations, the legal establishment of Christianity as a national religion had led to ignorance, servility, bigotry and persecution. He also points out that Christian clergy claiming their faith needs state subsidies for continued existence are not so much making a case for their church, as an argument against it, as a truly beneficial institution should be able to survive on voluntary donations. Later in the letter, Madison summarizes his views in a scathing critique of “ecclesiastical establishments” (state religions):
What influence in fact have ecclesiastical establishments had on Civil Society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the Civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny: in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty, may have found an established Clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just Government instituted to secure & perpetuate it needs them not [emphasis mine]. Such a Government will be best supported by protecting every Citizen in the enjoyment of his Religion with the same equal hand which protects his person and his property; by neither invading the equal rights of any Sect, nor suffering any Sect to invade those of another.
Clearly, Madison saw the mixture of church and state, as a threat to the very liberties that the Revolution had been fought to ensure.
James Monroe was mentored by and remained a lifelong friend to the Christian Deist Thomas Jefferson. Monroe also secured Thomas Paine’s release from a French prison and housed Paine in his family residence while Paine was writing his anti-Christian, pro-rational, Deist tract, The Age of Reason, in which Paine argued that the Bible was not divinely inspired and that it was the work of men that were intent on remaining in power. In fact, Paine used a Bible borrowed from the Monroes for reference while writing The Age of Reason. James Monroe, like many of the Founders, was also a Freemason, an organization with strong Deist tendencies.
As the above material demonstrates again and again, the principal authors of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution fully endorsed a complete separation of church and state, and the beliefs of the Founding Fathers were much more nuanced, varied and critical than Barton et al would have us believe.
The Treaty of Tripoli
The Treaty of Tripoli is perhaps the most comprehensively damning document for the view that the Founders created a nation based on Christianity. The treaty points out the intention of the first two U.S. Presidents and the early Senate; that the United States ought not to be thought of as a nation founded on the “Christian Religion”. The Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary was begun under George Washington’s presidency. It was submitted to the Senate by President John Adams, and received unanimous ratification from the U.S. Senate. It became law on June 10th. 1797.
From Article 11 of the Treaty:
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion [emphasis mine], – as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, – and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, 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.
This sentiment seems especially timely in the context of our current military involvement in multiple Middle Eastern nations.
There were Giants in the Earth, graphite on paper, Bryan Anthony Moore, 2013.
Which Founders do conservatives refer to when they categorize “The Founders” as Christians? Perhaps they refer to the signers of The Declaration of Independence or the Framers of the Constitution. Of the handful of Founders that the average American can name, Jefferson, Adams and Franklin are demonstrably Deists. Madison and Monroe expressed strongly Deist beliefs as well as being proponents of the complete separation of church and state. Washington’s religious beliefs cannot be definitively proven, though he did not believe in taking communion (a supernatural rite), and he used Deistic or Masonic language when discussing “God”, referring to the deity as “Providence” or “The Grand Architect”. Alexander Hamilton was a long time opponent of organized religion, though on his painful, post-duel deathbed, he did ask for communion.
Jefferson variously referred to Jesus’ teachings as the “most perfect” and as “flawed”. John Adams, like Jefferson, considered himself a Christian Deist or Rational Christian. As such, Adams criticized Paine for his unbridled criticisms of Christianity. Though Paine was a Deist, he was not a Christian Deist like Adams. These men were free thinkers, none perhaps believing exactly alike but all feeling empowered to question the very veracity of the Bible or even of religions themselves. There was no monolithic set of beliefs among Deists just as there was no monolith of beliefs among all sects of Christians, and there were shades of thought between the two systems. To try and pigeon-hole the Founders as devout Christians, one must, in order to be honest, admit that these were “Christians” that often rejected the divinity of Christ, the existence of the Trinity, the infallibility of the Bible, revelation, communion, miracles, immaculate conception, etc. For contemporary Christian conservatives to categorize the founders as Christians, and in doing so, associate the founders’ beliefs with those of contemporary religious conservatives, is a wantonly fallacious act.
In attempting to portray the nation’s founding as a conservative Christian enterprise and in attempting to cast doubt on the separation of church and state while violating that separation by introducing religious belief as “fact” in our public school texts, the Tea Party, along with its allies and corporate sponsors (a coalition I call “Founding Faithers”), is seeking to portray conservative Christian churches as a national institution. In the words of Thomas Paine “All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.”
 “Publisher Pulls Controversial Thomas Jefferson Book, Citing Loss Of Confidence.” NPR.org. Accessed February 24, 2015. http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/08/09/158510648/publisher-pulls-controversial-thomas-jefferson-book-citing-loss-of-confidence.
 Barton, David, and Glenn Beck. The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson. Book Club. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012.
 Barton and Beck, “Thomas Jefferson Wrote His Own Bible and Edited Out the Things He Didn’t Agree With”, 67.
 “Founders Online: From Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 4 August 1820.” Accessed January 11, 2015. http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-1438.
 Barton and Beck, “Thomas Jefferson Wrote His Own Bible and Edited Out the Things He Didn’t Agree With”, 67.
 Founders Online: From Thomas Jefferson to William Short, 13 April 1820.” Accessed January 11, 2015. http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/98-01-02-1218. The full quote is as follows:
But while this Syllabus is meant to place the character of Jesus in it’s true and high light, as no imposter himself, but a great Reformer of the Hebrew code of religion, it is not to be understood that I am with him in all his doctrines. I am a Materialist; he takes the side of spiritualism: he preaches the efficacy of repentance towards forgiveness of sin, I require a counterpoise of good works to redeem it Etc. Etc. it is the innocence of his character, the purity & sublimity of his moral precepts, the eloquence of his inculcations, the beauty of the apologues in which he conveys them, that I so much admire; sometimes indeed needing indulgence to Eastern hyperbolism. My eulogies too may be founded on a postulate which all may not be ready to grant. Among the sayings & discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence: and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth; charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I separate therefore the gold from the dross; restore to him the former, & leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of his disciples. Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. These palpable interpolations and falsifications of his doctrines led me to try to sift them apart. I found the work obvious and easy, and that his part composed the most beautiful morsel of morality which has been given to us by man. The Syllabus is therefore of his doctrines, not all of mine. I read them as I do those of other antient and modern moralists, with a mixture of approbation and dissent.
 Michael Allen and Larry Schweikart, A Patriot’s History of the United States,
(New York: Penguin, 2004), 71.
 “Founders Online: John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, 14 November 1813.” Accessed October 25, 2014. http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/03-06-02-0476.
 John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, September 14, 1818, in The Founding Faith Archive, http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/73/Letter_from_John_Admas_to_Thomas_Jefferson_1p.html.
 Staloff, Darren. “Deism and the Founding of the United States.” Divining America, TeacherServe©. National Humanities Center. April 26, 2015. <http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/tserve/eighteen/ekeyinfo/deism.htm>
 Franklin, Benjamin, William Temple Franklin, and William Duane. Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin. (Derby & Jackson, 1859) 623.
 Franklin, Benjamin, William Temple Franklin, and William Duane. Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin. (Derby & Jackson, 1859), 23-24.
 Nicolson, Harold. The Age of Reason (1700-1789). (Indo-European Publishing, 1962), 167-168.
 Philp, Mark. “Thomas Paine.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Winter 2013., 2013. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2013/entries/paine/.
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