An eighth grade American History student asked me a very insightful question. They were going over the Declaration of Independence in some detail and speculating as to how some of those 18th century words might sound in today’s language. The question had to do with the following phrase,
“that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights"
This student was matter of fact in stating that she was fine with the fact that it exhibited a belief in a God who granted them rights that cannot be taken away. Then the teacher threw this student for a loop by stating that many of the authors were very faithful to the Christian faith.
It confused her because even as a mere eighth grader, she “knew for a fact” that the Founding Fathers were Deist and that Deists were not really all that religious. When pressed, her teacher countered that the subject was above her classmates heads and there wasn’t time to get into it.
My young friend thought that was a pretty lame excuse. (Wouldn't you agree?) She asked me if I thought her teacher was “off her rocker” or if the authors of the Declaration really were “Christian” in their faith. I applauded her willingness to question what she had already stated she knew as fact. Here was my answer.
Neither her nor her teacher are "off their rockers". (Which, by the way, is a very interesting euphemism when applied to the study the history ... but I digress). Many people will claim that most of the founding fathers are Deists. While many certainly were (and that debate will go on and on), a Deist is someone who believes in an all powerful being and, especially in that time period, referred to that being as God.
A Deist believes that this being created everything and then kind of took a hands off approach in any specific matter. This being let their creation run on its own without interference in small things but with an overall hand on the wheel in large things.
So calling on the creator would not have been inconsistent with a Deists form of beliefs. Most of the founding fathers, even the ones who specifically claimed to be Deist, intimated that their Deity was the one that is historically claimed by Christianity in the Bible. They might have departed from traditional Christian beliefs in regard to whether the historical Jesus was actually God, which in itself was quite a departure from orthodox Christianity. However, in most, not all but most other instances they felt that what we now call Judeo-Christian ethics and laws represented in the Bible would be the best standard by which a Republican form of government would survive.
These values held great sway even while the Constitution was written but were tempered with the philosophy that everyone should be able to follow their conscience when it came to religious beliefs. Many people today would like us to believe that a Deist was more an Atheist or Agnostic in their view of religion. This could not be further from the truth. A Deist, especially in that day, had a profound belief that there actually was a God that created everything. The difference was that these Deist’s were just less sure that this God had much to do with our day to day lives in a personal way to the extent that traditional Christianity teaches.
I thought it was very interesting that a young eighth grade scholar would have already been so quick to claim that “all of the Founding Fathers were Deists". I think it is very indicative of the secular influence in all areas of Academia today. We are so quick (yes, all of us have to fight this) to color and shade facts to support our own academic bias. I think in this case it is just as important to acknowledge that fact that the religious views of many of those founders were Christian in orientation as it is to fully acknowledge that many were also Deist or even some (though the pervading social-religious views discouraged outward manifestations) were not religious in their outlook at all.
This debate gets so bogged down when we try to make a choice between whether
Does that make this nation Secular? Not any more than the possibility that all of the Founding Fathers were Deist!