The opinions writers to “Letters to the Editor” of the Nacogdoches Daily Sentinel newspaper provide an ongoing source of entertainment, if not knowledge. On Sunday February 23,[i] correspondent Ron Hurst regaled us with the fact that the United States is not a theocracy, supported by half-truths such as:
- “Furthermore, not once is the word ‘god’ mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, or the Constitution.”
- “The majority of our forefathers, including George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and James Monroe were not Christians. Most of them were deists or theistic rationalists.”
On Wednesday Hurst was back, picking Ault’s nits. Assuredly, “the words ‘to which the laws of nature and natures God entitle them’ and ‘that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights’” were not in the Constitution. “They were in the Declaration of Independence instead.”[iii] True enough, though Hurst was not man enough to admit that he had it half-wrong on Sunday just as much as Ault was half-wrong on Tuesday!
The Declaration mentions God. The Constitution does not. The first document tells us why our founders separated from England. The second document establishes the laws of those who separated from England.
The United States is neither a theocracy nor an atheist-ocracy (which seems to be what some like Hurst want). The United States is a Constitutional Republic that guarantees freedom of religion.
The Founders’ religious beliefs are found in their writings. Their religious connections are found in their church affiliations or lack thereof. Read their writings. Look up their church memberships. These facts, found, will not support Hurst’s “most of them were deists or theistic rationalists” theory. The fact that “most of them were Christians” would not mean they started a theocracy. Baptist preachers, in fact, were some of the most avid opponents of anything that smelled like a theocracy. They did not, however, promote the popular nonsense of this day that Christians should sit inside their churches and shut up!
Yes, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were Deists. On the other hand, most signers of the Declaration were active churchgoers, including at least one Christian minister![iv]Here is a quote from one of our founders, President George Washington, at his first inaugural address:
Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station; it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official Act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the Universe, who presides in the Councils of Nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States, a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes: and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success, the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own; nor those of my fellow-citizens at large, less than either. No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency…I dwell on this prospect with every satisfaction which an ardent love for my Country can inspire…Since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained…
Washington’s inaugural address is not quite the blatant rationalistic deism Hurst would have us accept! It is clear that George Washington believed in a Creator, in prayer, in God’s providential dealings in history, in eternal truth – and that he thought most of the citizenry shared his beliefs.
[i] “Founders views on religion,” Ron Hurst, The Daily Sentinel, Sunday, February 23, 2020, page 5B.
[ii] “The Founding Fathers told us their views on religion,” Robert Ault, The Daily Sentinel, Tuesday, February 25, 2020, page 5A.
[iii] “More on church and state,” Ron Hurst, The Daily Sentinel, Wednesday, February 26, 2020, page 6A.
[iv] Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon. Benjamin Rush was co-founder of the Philadelphia Bible Society. Many other such religious connections can be easily discovered by those willing to do so. A good list of the church affiliations of the signers of the Declaration, Articles of Confederation, and the U. S. Constitution can be found at Adherents.com.