September 15, 2019

The Myth of the Christian Nation Divides Us

While our politicians get on with the work of plundering our wealth, planning our lives, and preparing their next war of aggression, they remain comfortably insulated from criticism of any of these substantive actions because they have successfully distracted average Americans with issues that should not involve government at all. There is none more divisive than religion.

The left reads into the First Amendment of the Constitution an active role for government in prohibiting the acknowledgment of religion or God in any public setting. The right reads into our Declaration of Independence a requirement of belief not only in God, but in the Christian God, in order for one to claim the unalienable rights that are “endowed by our Creator.” Neither position is correct.

If there was one thing that our founders made clear, it was their belief that each person’s inner life belonged wholly to him or her. They referred to this as the “right of conscience,” and they revered it above all other rights. They believed that each human being had the right to answer for himself the questions of whether there is a God and what the nature and will of God might be. They believed that reason was the means for man to do so. Regardless of the conclusions that any individual might reach, he was still entitled to all of the same unalienable rights. This is the true meaning of “religious freedom.”

Among the growing minority that has recognized our loss of liberty and the importance of regaining it, there are many who mistakenly say that the United States was “founded as a Christian nation,” and that only returning to Christian principles will solve our problems. Others may not require that one believe in Christ, but do insist that belief in God is necessary in order to give authority to the law of nature and the natural rights. These positions not only alienate atheists, who are admittedly a small minority, but also a large contingency of Christians and other believers in God who do not want government – which is an institution of force – to play any role in their inner lives. This is an unnecessary division among people who might otherwise unite to fight for their liberty.

It is long past time to answer some fundamental questions about our history once and for all. Did the founders of the United States believe in God? Was the United States founded as a “Christian nation?” Was the Constitution based upon Christian or Judeo-Christian laws as found in their scriptures? Did the founders believe that belief in God was necessary to claim the unalienable rights?

The answer to the first question is a resounding “yes.” Even Jefferson, arguably the most “liberal” of the founding fathers, believed in a supreme being, despite the accusations of atheism made against him by political rivals. He also revered Christianity as the greatest religion in human history, as did his “conservative” counterpart, John Adams. However, neither Adams nor Jefferson believed that Jesus Christ was the son of God or even a divine being. Most people are familiar with Jefferson’s bible, which he cut apart and reorganized to eliminate all of the miracles. However, John Adams, a Unitarian, was even more hostile towards the idea that Jesus Christ was God. In a letter to Jefferson, he wrote,

“They all believe that great Principle which has produced this boundless universe, Newton’s universe and Hershell’s universe, came down to this little ball, to be spit upon by Jews. And until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world.”[1]

Neither Adams, Jefferson, Washington, nor Franklin believed that Jesus was literally the son of God or otherwise a divine being in any way. Rather, they admired most of the moral principles of Christianity, although not all of them. For instance, they disagreed with Jesus’ doctrine to “turn the other cheek.” They believed that self defense of one’s life, liberty, and property was not only a right, but a duty. However, it was the Christian principles of love and non-aggression that are espoused in virtually all religions that inspired John Adams to say, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”[2] This will become even more apparent shortly.

In any case, the answer to the first question is “yes.” Most of the founders believed in God. They revered the moral teachings of Christianity, although most of the philosophical leaders among them did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Our second question is, “Was the United States founded as a Christian nation?” In 1796, the United States signed a treaty with Tripoli, promising a monetary gift in return for a cessation of hostilities. That treaty was unanimously ratified by the senate and signed by President John Adams. Among its articles resides the answer to our second question.

“Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan 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.”[3] [emphasis added]

Thomas Jefferson confirmed this statement in his autobiography when commenting on a Virginia bill to establish religious freedom.

“Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.”[4]

Next, there is the question of the philosophical basis for the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and original system of laws of the United States. According to Thomas Jefferson, that philosophical basis was most directly the enlightenment philosophers, specifically John Locke and Algernon Sydney. In 1825, Jefferson actually got a resolution passed by the Board of the University of Virginia to make this point clear.

“Resolved, that it is the opinion of this Board that as to the general principles of liberty and the rights of man, in nature and in society, the doctrines of Locke, in his ‘Essay concerning the true original extent and end of civil government,’ and of Sidney in his ‘Discourses on Government,’ may be considered as those generally approved by our fellow citizens of this, and the United States.”[5]

Despite this and other unqualified statements by the founders regarding the philosophical basis for our founding principles, there are many that claim that the founders drew their philosophy from Judeo-Christian scriptures or teachings. While there is much common ground between these teachings and the enlightenment philosophers, the founders were clear that where scripture or dogma conflicted with the enlightenment philosophy of liberty, it was the non-aggression philosophy of liberty that prevailed. Regarding the scriptures, Jefferson wrote,

The whole history of these books is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills.[6]

The founder’s skepticism about man’s knowledge of the will of God was not confined to the scriptures themselves. John Adams makes clear that at least he recognized that human beings had no ability to definitively determine the will of God.

“That there is an active principle of power in the universe, is apparent; but in what substance that active principle resides, is past our investigation. The faculties of our understanding are not adequate to penetrate the universe.”[7]

Finally, there is the most important question. Did the founders assert that belief in God was necessary to claim the unalienable rights? As with the other questions, they answered this one quite unambiguously. In a letter to Peter Carr, Thomas Jefferson advised his young friend,

“Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because if there be one he must approve of the homage of reason more than that of blindfolded fear.”[8]

“Do not be frightened from this enquiry by any fear of its consequences. If it ends in a belief that there is no god, you will find incitements to virtue in the comforts & pleasantness you 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, & that he approves you, will be a vast additional incitement; if that there be a future state, the hope of a happy existence in that increases the appetite to deserve it; if that Jesus was also a god, you will be comforted by a belief of his aid and love. In fine, I repeat that you must lay aside all prejudice on both sides, & neither believe nor reject anything because any other persons, or description of persons have rejected or believed it.” Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable not for the rightness but uprightness of the decision.”[9] [emphasis added]

There are those who argue that without God, there is no authority to base the natural rights upon. This was not the assertion of our founders and it directly contradicts our Declaration of Independence, which reads,

“We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” [emphasis added]

While the founders believe that our rights came from our Creator (whomever or whatever the Creator might be), they explicitly said that these truths are self evident. They are truths that can be observed directly. This is directly inspired by Locke’s empiricism. While he, too, believed in God, he based his philosophy only upon what he could directly observe in nature or reasonably conclude from those observations. Therefore, his philosophy recognized the existence of God but did not depend upon it for its validity.

Consider a useful analogy. If a priest and an atheist were both to consider a rock lying upon the ground, both would agree that the rock exists. They could see it, touch it, and hear its sound if they picked it up and then dropped it from their hand. The priest would say that the rock was created by God. The atheist would explain its existence with scientific theories. They may disagree vehemently on this point, but no third party would have to decide who is correct. All can see that the rock exists, for its existence is self evident. The same is true of our natural rights. Our Declaration of Independence says so explicitly.

The only authority that the founders recognized as the basis for our laws was the non-aggression principle, which they recognized as the fundamental law of nature. The beauty of this idea is that it transcends religion and thus welcomes members of all religions, as well as those with no religious beliefs at all. The non-aggression principle allows each individual to use his reason to answer the most important philosophical questions of life for himself, without being forced to assent to any beliefs that he does not hold. It allows people to believe in God voluntarily, or to not believe, as their reason dictates. The only restriction upon them is that they commit no aggression against anyone else, regardless of their beliefs. Jefferson expressed this beautifully when he wrote,

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.[10]

If all of America’s founding principles, including freedom of religion, could be summed up in two sentences, no better than these could be found anywhere. If we could agree to live by this one statement alone, the number of people no longer divided along partisan lines would be staggering. Our politicians are wasting trillions of our dollars and assuming un-delegated powers over us that apply to believers and non-believers alike. We must grant each other the ability to exercise the right of conscience freely within the boundary of non-aggression. Only then will we see clearly where the true source of our crisis lies – in a government whose every act contradicts the reason for its existence and perpetuates a state of war with its people. We must unite together to eliminate this earthly threat in order to resume the pursuit of our happiness, both in this world and the next.

[1] Adams, John Letter to Thomas Jefferson January 22, 1825 from The Works of John Adams Second President of the United States Vol. X Charles C. Little and James Brown Boston, MA 1851Pg. 415

[2] Adams, John To the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachussetts 11 October 1798 from The Works of John Adams Second President of the United States Vol. IX Charles C. Little and James Brown Boston, MA 1851Pg. 229

[3] Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary June 17, 1797 from The Avalon Project Yale Law School Lillian Goldman Library http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/bar1796t.asp. There has been some debate on whether the language in Article 11 was translated correctly from the original Arabic in which the treaty was written. However, this is irrelevant. It was the English translation containing these exact words that the Senate reviewed and ratified, making the question of translation irrelevant on this point.

[4] Jefferson, Thomas Autobiography from Jefferson Writings edited by Merrill D. Peterson, Literary Classics of the United States, New York, NY 1984 pg. 40

[5] Thomas Jefferson, Writings, ed. Merrill Peterson (New York, N.Y.: Library of America, 1984), p. 479

[6] Jefferson, Thomas from The Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Vol. 14 edited by Albert Ellery Bergh and Andrew A. Lipscomb The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association 1904 pgs. 71-2

[7] Adams, John Letter to Thomas Jefferson January 22, 1825 from The Works of John Adams Second President of the United States Vol. X Charles C. Little and James Brown Boston, MA 1851Pg. 414

[8] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to Peter Carr August 10, 1787 from Jefferson Writings edited by Merrill D. Peterson, Literary Classics of the United States, New York, NY 1984 pg. 902

[9] Jefferson, Thomas Letter to Peter Carr August 10, 1787 from Jefferson Writings edited by Merrill D. Peterson, Literary Classics of the United States, New York, NY 1984 pg. 903-4

[10] Jefferson, Thomas Notes on Virginia from Jefferson Writings edited by Merrill D. Peterson, Literary Classics of the United States, New York, NY 1984 pg. 285

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

>False Prophets of Freedom

>One might be tempted to celebrate the “growing” number of people here in America that associate themselves with the “freedom movement.” As encouraging as it may be to see a loss of confidence in the present “neo-con” ruling class, there is certainly no reason to think that what most people would replace them with would result in any more liberty. Sadly, as was the case in Germany in the early 1930’s, the opposition to the present tyranny simply thinks their form of tyranny is better. Using Bastiat’s terms, they don’t object to legal plunder, they just have a different idea of how to divide up the loot.

While professing to be staunchly against tyranny, it is apparent that most people don’t seem to understand what tyranny is, and most importantly don’t understand its motivation. Perhaps many do not WANT to understand, because their solution may not be substantively different. Let me clear the air in the hopes that the 800 pound gorilla hiding in the corner of this tea party we call the “freedom movement” can cease to be politely ignored. In all of human history, there has only been one motivation for tyranny: plunder.

No conqueror in history has gone to the expense and trouble of raising, training, and feeding an army, marching them across vast distances, and risked his own position and wealth for the purposes of suppressing free speech. Neither has he done so to suppress freedom of religion, the writ of habeas corpus, or the right of the people to freely assemble. While he may have attacked all of these rights, he did so only as a means to one end: plunder. Every tyrant that ever lived has violated the rights of his own people and of those he has conquered for no other reason than to gather wealth that he did not earn.

The reason that most people don’t understand tyranny or its sole motivation is that they don’t truly understand liberty, either. If your understanding of liberty ends at freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of association, and the right to due process, then you are omitting the heart and soul of liberty – property rights. Without a right to keep the fruits of your labor, there can be no liberty, no matter how fiercely the other “civil liberties” are protected. The right to the fruits of your labor is the central right, the foundation of liberty. Without controlling the fruits of your labor, you have no control over your life. Whether you have nothing to eat, a little to eat, enough to eat, or enough to save for another day all depends upon your control over the product of your work. However, it is the violation of precisely THIS right that is the sole desire of the tyrant.

This is why Jefferson said that “’the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it” is the “first rule of association.”[1] Samuel Adams called it “self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature.”[2] It is the reason that John Locke devoted an entire chapter of his 2nd Treastise on Civil Government to property, and the reason he said that “The great and chief end, therefore, of men’s uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property.”[3]

Plunder is the violation of this central right. Plunder is the use of force to divest people of the fruits of their labor without their consent. When it is done by individuals or groups outside of the law, it is recognized as a crime. When it is done by government, it becomes what Bastiat called “legal plunder.” Legal plunder by government generally falls into two categories: welfare and warfare. While cosmetically different, these two practices are essentially one and the same. They represent the use of government force to plunder the property of the individual. One merely does so farther away than the other – a relatively minor difference.

Recognizing that the right to property is the most important civil liberty (without which there can be no liberty), and recognizing also that plunder is the only true threat to liberty, Bastiat devoted much of his brilliant essay “The Law” to the subject of legal plunder. Like Locke, our founding fathers, and all philosophers in the liberal tradition, he recognized that government in a free society has only one purpose, beyond which it may not be permitted to go. Its sole purpose is to protect life, liberty, and property. According to Bastiat, the minute that government goes beyond fulfilling this role, it must necessarily attack life, liberty, and property. This is the fundamental principle of government which must be understood before one can begin answering questions of liberty.

Bastiat correctly concluded that there are only three alternatives for a society in determining how to address the question of plunder. Only by choosing the last of these can a society be free. It is not surprising that our two political parties generally align themselves with one of the other two. I will take the “liberty” of inserting their names in parenthesis next to the alternative they advocate:

1. The few plunder the many. (Republicans)
2. Everybody plunders everybody (Democrats)
3. Nobody plunders anybody (Freedom – the position of neither party)[4]

Like the unfortunate child in the middle of a game of “pickle in the middle,” Americans have been running back and forth between the first two alternatives offered by their political parties for decades. It has never occurred to the great majority of people that NEITHER ONE can benefit them in the end. There are only two possible reasons for this. Either the great majority of people do not understand the true nature of liberty and tyranny – that they both revolve around property rights – or the great majority of people DO NOT WANT TO UNDERSTAND. This may be because they secretly do not want to let go of the possibility that THEY ALSO might benefit from legal plunder. This second possibility is even more pathetic than the first. Like the gamblers in Las Vegas, they should know by now that the House always wins.

Rather than objecting to legal plunder itself, false prophets of freedom frame the debate into organizing opposition to the present ruling class on the assumption that the loot should merely be divided up differently. At the moment, the Democrats position themselves as against the war in Iraq, not because it is wrong, but because the Republicans started it. Their position is no more the position of liberty than was the Republicans’ in objecting to President Clinton’s war in Kosovo, or their ludicrous impeachment of him over a sex scandal. They are merely looking to divide up the loot differently.

However, politicians will be politicians, and I am much more concerned about the average American than I am about them. In the end, politicians can be bought with votes. If the vast majority of voters demand liberty, liberty is what they will get. However, when the vast majority of voters are persuaded to demand legal plunder, then it becomes clear why Madison described democracy as “the most vile form of government.”[5]

For those interested in finding their way through this maze of false assumptions, I offer the following examples of common arguments made on current issues and their implications for true liberty.

If you are (rightly) against the war in Iraq, but go on to say that the money we are spending on that war should instead be spent on providing healthcare to uninsured Americans, you are not against legal plunder. You merely want to divide up the loot differently.

If you are opposed to the recent bailouts of the banks during the mortgage crisis, but like False Prophet of Freedom Lou Dobbs go on to say that the government should instead help average Americans that are in danger of losing their homes, you are not against legal plunder. You merely want to divide up the loot differently.

If you are against the fascist alliance being formed between large corporations and government, but suggest taxing the profits of corporations more heavily to fund some public redistribution of wealth, you are not against legal plunder. You merely want to divide up the loot differently.

If you are concerned that Social Security and Medicare are imminently insolvent, and go on to argue that they must be “reformed,” rather than abolished (or at least phased out), then you are not against legal plunder. You are merely concerned that you won’t get your share of the loot.

These are only a few examples of the lapses in reason so common even among those who claim to be part of the “freedom movement.” Presently, average Americans are running from the Republicans (the few plunder the many) to the Democrats (everybody plunders everybody) in their perennial game of pickle in the middle. They still haven’t noticed that no matter which side they’ve run to over the past century, they never actually get to catch the ball. However, the implications are more ominous than this.

After at least a century of practicing legal plunder in one form or another, the inevitable end to which such a society comes is now in sight. Having given up the central civil liberty – property rights – Americans now see that the government monster they have built is coming to gather up the rest of the rights that people have deluded themselves that they retain. It is vital to realize that the police state measures and the perpetual war that we now find ourselves confronted with are not an aberration of the Bush administration BUT THE LOGICAL END OF DECADES OF LEGAL PLUNDER. This was Hayek’s central point in his classic The Road to Serfdom – that Naziism was the natural result of socialism, and that England’s and America’s socialism of the 1940’s would eventually lead to the same results in decades to come as Germany’s socialism of the 1870’s had led to by 1933. He was not only correct in theory, but seems to have correctly predicted the duration.

In conclusion, there will be no “freedom movement” until Americans recognize and understand the nature of freedom and tyranny. Until Americans cease to marginalize or ignore property rights, and again recognize them as the MOST important rights, as our founding fathers did, we will not move one inch toward freedom. In fact, even if we were able to completely end warfare for several presidential administrations in a row, our practice of welfare would lead us right back to our present circumstances.

Do not look to your politicians to offer you Bastiat’s third alternative. They have seduced free people throughout history with the prospect of sharing in legal plunder, while keeping the majority of the loot for themselves. It is left up to every American to reject the notion of legal plunder on their own, to reject the false prophets of freedom, be they named McCain, Obama, Clinton, Dobbs, Paulson, Bernanke, or Roosevelt, and again take responsibility for their own self preservation, and thus regain the right to determine it themselves. This is the ONLY path to freedom.

Tom Mullen

[1] Jefferson, Thomas Note in Destutt de Tracy’s “A Treatise on Political Economy,” 1816. ME 14:466
[2] Samuel Adams The Rights of the Colonists (1772) The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting, Nov. 20, 1772 Old South Leaflets no. 173 (Boston: Directors of the Old South Work, 1906) 7: 417-428.
[3] Locke Second Treatise Ch. IX, Sec. 124
[4] Bastiat, Frederic The Law (1850) (words in parenthesis inserted by the author of this article)
[5] Madison, James Federalist #10

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