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7/21/2005                                                                                       View Comments

The Founding Fathers - Christian?

GEORGE WASHINGTON

Episcopalian minister Bird Wilson remarked in 1831 that “Washington is no more than a Unitarian, if anything.”

Washington was, by his own admission, an irregular church-goer, although he was a vestryman. When he did attend services, he studiously avoided taking Communion. Wrote his adopted daughter of him, “My father was not one of those to act or pray so that he ‘might be seen by men.’ He communed with his own God in secret.”

In his lifetime, Washington never gave personal affirmation that Jesus was the Son of God. There is no evidence that he ever encouraged his children to read the Bible, attend church, believe in Christ or practice religion in any manner whatsoever.

As he approached death, the Father of Our Country never mentioned religion or an afterlife. There are no religious references in his last will and testament.

In reality, George Washington expressed little religious sentiment at all and, in fact, never told anyone what his personal religious beliefs were. His life seemed to indicate, as writer W.E. Woodward noted, that he “had no instinct or feeling for religion.”

Historian Franklin Steiner summed up Washington on the subject of religion this way: “He died like an ancient pagan Greek or Roman.”

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WASHINGTON QUOTES

In looking for good servants, Washington declared that any would be acceptable, "be they Mohammedan, Jew, Christian, or atheist."

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“Religious controversies are always productive of more irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause.”

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“Every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinion, ought to be protected in worshiping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.”

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The Treaty of Tripoli, drafted while Washington was still the nation's chief executive, was unanimously ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1797. Article Eleven of that treaty states:

“As the government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself not character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musslemen [Muslims] . . . it is declared . . . that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”

Author William Edelen makes the following observation about the Treaty of Tripoli:

“Let me make this very clear, underlined, in five colors, with a spotlight bathing it in light: The United States of America, according to the founders, was not in any sense founded upon the Christian religion, and this fact is in the Constitution . . . Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution made this treaty doubly binding by saying this: ‘All treaties made, ,or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States shall be bound thereby, anything in the laws of any state to the contrary notwithstanding.’

"Thus was Article Eleven [of the Treaty of Tripoli] made valid for the United States. It should today be treasured as the supreme document for the American doctrine of the absolute separation of church and state."

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THOMAS JEFFERSON

Jefferson was a Renaissance man, a freethinker who was interested in a broad range of topics, including science, philosophy, government and politics. He bitterly opposed orthodox religion and regarded Christianity as nothing but a crude fable. He is best described as a Rationalist.

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JEFFERSON QUOTES

"It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg . . .

"Millions of men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch toward uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites; to support roguery and error all over the earth."

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"I am a Christian in the only sense in which he [Jesus] wished any one to be; sincerely attached to the doctrine in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; and believing he never claimed any other."

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"Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one he must more approve of the homage of Reason than of blindfolded fear . . . [N]aturally examine, first the religion of your own country. Read the Bible . . . For example, in the book of Joshua we are told the sun stood for several hours . . . it is said that the writer of that book was inspired.

"Examine, therefore, candidly, what evidence there is of his having been inspired. The pretension is entitled to . . . inquiry, because millions believe it.

"On the other hand . . . it is contrary to the laws of Nature . . . [R]ead the New Testament. It is the history of a personage called Jesus. Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions: 1, Of those who say he was begotten of God, born of a virgin, suspended and reversed the laws of Nature at will, and ascended bodily into heaven; and 2, Of those who say he was a man of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who wet out with pretensions to divinity; ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition, by being gibbeted, according to the Roman law . . .

"Do not be frightened from this inquiry by an fear of consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comfort and pleasantness you will feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you.

"If you find reason to believe there is a God, a consciousness that you are acting under his eye, and that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that Jesus was also a God, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven; and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but uprightness, of the decision."

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"The Christian priesthood, finding the doctrines of Christ leveled to every understanding, and too plain to need explanation, saw in the mysticisms of Plato materials with which they might build up an artificial system, which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order and introduce it to profit, power and preeminence."

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“The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and ingrafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.”

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"The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter."

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“The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God, like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, has its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs.”

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“It is too late in the day for men of sincerity to pretend they believe in the Platonic mysticism that three are one, and one is three, and yet, that the one is not three, and the three are not one. But this constitutes the craft, the power, and the profits of the priest. Sweep away their gossamer fabrics of fictitious religion, and they would catch no more flies.”

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"If we could believe that he [Jesus] really countenanced the follies, the falsehoods, and the charlatanisms which his biographers [Matthew, Mark, Luke and John] father on him, and admit the misconstructions, interpolations, and theorizations of the fathers of the early, and the fanatics of the latter, ages, the conclusion would be irresistible by every sound mind that he was an impostor."

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"Question with boldness the existence of God. I do not believe any of the Christian doctrines. The greatest enemies of Jesus are the doctrines and creeds of the church. It would be more pardonable to believe in no God at all then to blaspheme him by the atrocious writings of the theologians. John Calvin was a demon and malignant spirit."

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"I have recently been examining all the known superstitions of the world, and do not find in our particular superstition [Christianity] one redeeming feature. They are all alike, founded upon fables and mythology."

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“We have most unwisely committed to the Hierophants [a priest in ancient Greece] of our particular superstition the direction of public opinion—that lord of the universe. We have given them stated and privileged days to collect and catechize us, opportunities of delivering their oracles to the people in mass, and of molding their minds as wax in the hollow of their hands.”

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“If anybody thinks that kings, nobles and priests are good conservators of the public happiness, send him here [Paris]. It is the best school in the universe to cure him of that folly. He will see here with his own eyes that these descriptions of men are in abandoned confederacy against the happiness of the mass of people.”

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“The Presbyterian clergy are the loudest, the most intolerant, of all sects; the most tyrannical and ambitious, ready at the word of the law-giver, if such a word could not be obtained, to put their torch to the pile, and to rekindle in this virgin hemisphere the flame in which their oracle Calvin consumed the poor Servetus, because he could not subscribe to the proposition of Calvin, that magistrates have a right to exterminate all heretics to the Calvinistic creed! They pant to reestablish by law that holy inquisition which they can now only infuse into public opinion.”

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“I know it will give great offense to the clergy; but the advocate of religious freedom is to expect neither peace nor forgiveness from them.”

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“In our Richmond there is much fanaticism, but chiefly among the women. They have their night meetings and praying parties, where, attended by their priests, and sometimes by a hen-pecked husband, they pour forth the effusions of their love to Jesus, in terms as amatory and carnal, as their modesty will permit to a merely earthly lover.”

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"Of this band of dupes and apostles, [the Apostle] Paul was the great Corypheus, the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus."

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In refusing to issue a Thanksgiving proclamation during his eight years as U.S. President, Jefferson declared:

"I consider the Government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution of the United States from meddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises . . . But it is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe, a day of fasting and praying. That is, I should indirectly assume to the United States an authority over religious exercises, which the Constitution has directly precluded them from . . . Every one must act according to the dictates of his own reason and mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given the President of the United States, and no authority to direct the religious exercise of his constituents."

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“Certainly, no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the General Government.”

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“Believing . . . that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between church and state.”

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"[W]e may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law."

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“I rejoice that in this blessed country of free inquiry and belief, which has surrendered its creed and conscience neither to kings nor priests, the genuine doctrine of the only true God is reviving; and I trust there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian.”

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“To talk of immaterial existences, is to talk of nothings. To say that the human soul, angels, God, are immaterial, is to say they are nothings, or that there is no God, no angels, no soul. I cannot reason otherwise. But I believe that I am supported in my creed of Materialism by the Lockes, the Tracys, and the Stewarts.”

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“All eyes are opened, opening, to the rights of man. The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind have not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately by the grace of God.”

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“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection of his own.”

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“Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a ‘censor morum’ over each other.”

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“I am for freedom of religion and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another.”

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In composing his own “Jeffersonian Bible,” he gave his reasons for eliminating the entire Old Testament, calling it “disgusting” and “degrading.”

In eliminating from his revised scriptures the writings of Paul and the New Testament not directly attributable to Jesus, Jefferson described its authors as “ignorant men.”

In assembling the few remaining teachings of Jesus, he wrote to a friend that he had extracted a few “diamonds [from the] dunghill.”

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THOMAS PAINE

Paine was described by Thomas Edison as “the founder of the great American Republic.”

Paine’s work, “The Rights of Man,” was praised by James Madison as “the clearest written exposition of the principles on which the United States of America is founded."

Jefferson said of Paine, “[He was] alike in making bitter enemies of the priests and Pharisees of [his] day. {He was an] honest [man]; [an] advocate for human liberty.”

Paine was an outspoken and relentless antagonist of Christianity. Historian Steiner observed that if Paine were alive today, he would probably be “a Unitarian of the most conservative kind.”

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PAINE QUOTES

"Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and tortuous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we call it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind."

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“The character of Moses is the most horrid tale that can be imagined. Moses was a wretch that committed the most horrible atrocities that can be found in the literature of any nation. ‘For Moses said unto them (according to the Bible), kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known a man by lying with him, but all the women that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.’

“Among the most detestable villains in history, you could not find one worse than Moses. Here is an order, attributed to ‘God’ to butcher the boys, to massacre the mothers and to debauch and rape the daughters. I would not dare to dishonor my Creator’s name by [attaching] it to this filthy book. Men and books lie. Only nature does not lie.”

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"I believe in one God and no more! And I hope for happiness beyond this life. I believe in the equality of man, and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow creatures happy.

"Nothing that is here said can apply, even with the most distant disrespect, to the real character of Jesus Christ. He was a virtuous and amiable man. The morality he preached and practiced was of the most benevolent kind; and though similar systems of morality have been preached by Confucius, and by some of the Greek philosophies, many years before, and by Quakers since, and by many good men i n all ages, it has not been excelled by any."

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"Any system of religion that has anything in it that shocks the mind of a child, cannot be a true system."

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"Persecution is not an original feature in any religion; but it is always the strongly marked feature of all law-religion, or religions established by law. Take away the law-establishment, and every religion re-assumes its original benignity."

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“As to religion, I hold it to be the indispensable duty of all government to protect all conscientious professors thereof, and I know of no other business which government hath to do therewith.”

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JAMES MADISON

Madison’s early ambition in life was to become a minister. There is no indication, however, that as he grew older, he continued down the road of religious belief.

If anything, it appears that Madison jettisoned orthodox religious commitment after entering public service. As President, for instance, he refused the offer of a free pew in St John’s Episcopal Church in Washington.

Moreover, in direct contrast to the popular tradition of his day, he refused to discuss religion at all, unless the subject involved a matter of public policy. (However, in the face of reports that he had given up reading the Bible while Secretary of State, Madison did insist that he studied it regularly as President).

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MADISON QUOTES

"During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has 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."

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“The diabolical, hell-conceived, principle of persecution rages; and to their eternal infamy, the clergy can furnish their quota of imps for such a business.”

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“Religion and government will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

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"Will religion, the only remaining motive, be a restraint? . . . [A]s religion in its coolest state is not infallible, it may become a motive of oppression as well as a restraint from injustice."

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“Every new and successful example of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters is of importance.”

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"If the Church of England had been the established and general religion in all the northern colonies as it has been among us here, and uninterrupted tranquility had prevailed throughout the continent, it is clear to me that slavery and subjection might and could have been so gradually insinuated among us. Union of religious sentiment begets a surprising confidence, and ecclesiastical establishments tend to great ignorance and corruption; all of which facilitates the execution of mischievous projects."

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“Besides the danger of a direct mixture of religion and civil government, there is an evil which ought to be guarded against in the indefinite accumulation of property from the capacity of holding it in perpetuity by ecclesiastical corporations.

“The establishment of the chaplainship in Congress is a palpable violation of equal rights as well as of Constitutional principles.

“The danger of silent accumulations and encroachments by ecclesiastical bodies has not sufficiently engaged attention in the U.S.”

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“Is the appointment of Chaplains to the two Houses of Congress consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principles of religious freedom? In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion. The law appointing Chaplains establishes a religious worship for the national representatives, to be performed by Ministers of religion, elected by a majority of them, and these are to be paid out of the national taxes. Does this not involve the principle of a national establishment . . . ?”

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In vetoing a bill granting public lands to a Baptist Church in the Mississippi Territory, Madison gave his reasons as follows:

“Because the bill in reserving a certain parcel of land in the United States for the use of said Baptist church comprises a principle and a precedent for the appropriation of funds of the United States for the use and support of religious societies, contrary to the article of the Constitution which declares that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting a religious establishment.

"Because the bill exceeds the rightful authority to which governments are limited by the essential distinction between civil and religious functions, and violates, in particular, the article of the Constitution of the United States, which declares that 'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.'

"Because the bill vests in said incorporated church as authority to provide for the support o the poor, and the education of poor children of the same; an authority which, being altogether superfluous, if the provision is to be the result of pious charity, would be a precedent for giving to religious societies, as such, a legal agency, in carrying into effect a public and civil duty."

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“Freedom arises from a multiplicity of sects, which pervades America, and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society.”

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JOHN ADAMS

Adams was a Unitarian, who gave up early studies in the orthodox ministry to pursue a career in law. He did not admire the Jesuits and as a member of the Massachusetts constitutional conventions in 1789 and 1820, was a vigorous advocate for the separation of church and state.

His grandson, Charles Francis Adams, described his grandfather’s religious views this way:

“Rejecting, with the independent spirit which in early life had driven him from the ministry, the prominent doctrines of Calvinism, the trinity, the atonement and election, he was content to settle down upon the Sermon on the Mount as a perfect code presented to men by a more than mortal teacher.”

According to Steiner, Adams “believed all good men are Christians, regardless of their theological belief.”

Jefferson said of Adams, “A man more perfectly honest never issued from the hands of his Creator."

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ADAMS QUOTES

“Twenty times in the course of my late readings, have I been on the point of breaking out, 'This would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it!' But . . .[w]ithout religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company--I mean hell. So far from believing in the total and universal depravity of human nature, I believe there is no individual totally depraved. The most abandoned scoundrel that ever existed never wholly extinguished his conscience, and while conscience remains there is some religion. Popes, Jesuits, Sarbonnists, and Inquisitors have some religion. Fears and terrors appear to have produced a universal credulity--but fears of pain and death here do not seem so unconquerable as fears of what is to come hereafter."

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"The human understanding is a revelation from its maker and can never be disputed or doubted . . . No miracles, no prophecies are necessary to prove celestial communication."

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"I believe in no such thing [eternal damnation]. 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 organique, in the Universe--these are my religion."

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"Howl, snarl, bite, ye Calvinistic, ye Athanasian divines, if ye will. Ye will say I am no Christian. I say ye are not Christians, and there the account is balanced. Yet I believe all the honest men among you are Christians in my sense of the word."

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"I do not know how to prove physically, that we [Adams and Jefferson] shall meet and know each other in a future state; nor does Revelation, as I can find, give us any positive assurance of such a felicity. My reasons for believing it, as I do most undoubtedly, are that I cannot conceive such a being could make such a species as the human, merely to live and die on this earth. If I did not believe in a future state, I should believe in no God. This Universe, this all would appear, with all of its swelling pomp, a boyish firework. And if there be a future state, why should the Almighty dissolve forever all the tender ties which untie us so delightfully in this world, and forbid us to see each other in the next?"

Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli which in Article II begins]: “As the Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion . . .”

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"I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved--the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of greed has produced!"

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"The 'divinity' of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines and whole carloads of other foolish trumpery that we find Christianity encumbered with."

“The priesthood have, in all nations, monopolized learning, and ever since the Reformation where or when has existed a Protestant or dissenting sect who would tolerate a free inquiry or free thought. The most ungentlemanly insolence, the most yahoooish brutality, is patiently endured, countenanced, propagated, and applauded. But touch solemn truth in collision with a dogma of a sect, though capable of the clearest proof, and you will soon find that you have disturbed a nest, and the hornets will swarm about your eyes and hands, and fly into your face and eyes.”

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BENJAMIN FRANKLIN

Franklin, according to Steiner--along with Washington, John Adams and Jefferson—“held substantially [Thomas Paine’s] religious views, though [Franklin and the others] did not shout them from the house top, as did Paine.”

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FRANKLIN QUOTE

"When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, 'tis a sign, i apprehend, of its being a bad one."

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A FINAL THOUGHT FROM AUTHOR WILLIAM EDELEN

“Our first six presidents must be crying in their graves today. Our society is saturated with the lethal disease that they fought so hard against. I speak of the obscene wedding today between many politicians and orthodox Christianity . . .

“[This] would be repugnant to our founders, whether Republican or Democrat. By stark contrast, our first six presidents refused all invitations for church membership. The Constitutional Convention would not even allow a prayer to open the meeting, they so wanted to keep religion out of it. There is no reference to God or Jesus in the Constitution of this country . . .

"Many of those doing all the bellowing today claim that 'humanists' include all those who don't want prayer in public schools, who don't believe that the Bible is the 'word of God,' who don't believe that Jesus was the 'son of God,' and who don't believe that Christianity is the one 'true' religion . . .

"My Webster's 'New Collegiate Dictionary' defines 'humanism' and 'humanist' very simply as: 'The study of the humanities, an attitude of thought entering upon human interests or ideals' . . .

"Now, for those wanting other definitions: If--and I repeat IF--they claim that 'humanists' are those human beings who do not believe in the doctrines and dogmas of orthodox Christianity, and who do not believe that prayer should be in public schools, then it is quite obvious that our great nation was founded by brilliant humanists--and our legacy is humanism."

[Sources: Franklin Steiner, "The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents: From Washington to F.D.R" (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1995); William Edelen, "Spirit" (Boise, Idaho: Joslyn-Morris, Publishers, 1988); "What They Said About Religion," nontract no. 4, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Incorporated, 1988; Albert J. Menendez and Edd Doerr, “Great Quotations on Religious Freedom" (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2002); and Madalyn O’Hair, “Our Constitution: The Way It Was: From the American Atheist Radio Series," (Austin, Texas: American Atheist Press, 1988)]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Webmaster,

Please keep this article front & center for the life of the website.

"Those who forget the past are doomed to be ignorant....(or worse)"