The Declaration of Independence—A Christian Document?

Does God exist?  Weak Christian apologetics don't make much of an argument.Is America a Christian nation?  Some Christians eagerly point to the word “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence (1776) as evidence:

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.

Who is this “Creator”?  Is it Yahweh, the Christian god?  Is it a placeholder into which you can imagine any god so that Muslims can imagine Allah or Hindus can imagine Brahma?

No—the opening sentence clarifies: it’s not Yahweh but “Nature’s God.”  At the time, this phrase was understood as the deist god of Enlightenment philosophers like Spinoza and Voltaire.  Deism was popular in Revolutionary America, and Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, and other founding fathers were either deists or inspired by the movement.  Deism imagines a hands-off god, a creator who, once the clock is built and wound up, leaves it to tick by itself.

The role of this “Creator” is clarified in the Declaration:

Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

In other words, the Creator has no role at all in government.  We’ve turned our back on the divine right of kings, where the king was God’s representative who served at God’s pleasure.  God isn’t the foundation on which authority rests.  No—it’s the consent of the governed.  The buck stops here, which is very empowering.

Remember that the purpose of the Declaration was to inform Britain that the colonies wanted to become independent.  When government becomes abusive, the recourse isn’t to appeal to God:

Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Again, we see that the government rules at the pleasure of the people, not God.

While the Declaration of Independence doesn’t give Christians what they may imagine it does—an acknowledgement of the existence of the Christian god and his sovereignty over this country—this exercise is largely irrelevant.  The Declaration isn’t the supreme law of the United States.  That is the Constitution, and it’s secular.  Watch out for Christian revisionist historians bringing up the Declaration.  That’s the white flag of surrender because they know that they have nothing where it really counts—the Constitution.

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The U.S. Constitution is 100 Percent Secular—or Is It?

A novel focused on atheism and Christian apologeticsIn other blog posts, I’ve made the point that the secular U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from getting involved with religion, which makes the best environment for both atheists and Christians.  However, on several occasions, I’ve gotten pushback that the Constitution isn’t secular.

Let’s first consider a historic document that is easily seen to be religious, the Mayflower Compact (1620).  It’s quite short, and the majority of the body is here:

Having undertaken, for the Glory of God, and advancements of the Christian faith and honor of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents, solemnly and mutually, in the presence of God, and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic.

This is one of the documents that David Barton likes to use while bending history to take on his preconception of America as a Christian nation.  There are also several federal Thanksgiving declarations that acknowledge the Christian god.  For example, George Washington in 1789 created the first national Thanksgiving Day with this statement:

[Congress requests that the president] recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God.

The constitution of the Confederate States (1861) was adopted with few changes from the U.S. Constitution, one being the addition of “invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God” in the preamble.

When we read the U.S. Constitution, this overtly Christian language isn’t there.  Neither is the vaguely deist language, as was present in the Declaration of Independence.  It’s 100% secular.  It’s not God making this constitution; it begins, in big letters, We the People.  In fact, Article 6 says in part, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

But is it secular?  Some Christians assert that it’s not.  The first example is from Article 1:

If any Bill shall not be returned by the President within ten Days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him, the Same shall be a Law.

In other words, it recognized Sunday as a holiday.  The second example is the wrapup in Article 7:

done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven.

In other words, it replaces AD (Anno Domini—“in the year of our Lord”) with its English translation.

That’s it??  Those are the powerful counterexamples?  Compare this to the Mayflower Compact—a constitution with some balls that not only acknowledged God’s existence but said that the entire project was for his glory.

That Sunday was a holiday simply acknowledges the custom of the people of the time.  Spelling out AD and saying that this acknowledges Yahweh is like saying that the use of the names Thursday, Friday, and Saturday acknowledges the gods Thor, Frigg, and Saturn, respectively.  Or that the use of the names May and June acknowledges the Roman goddesses Maia and Juno.  “AD” is just another part of the same calendar.

The final irony is that “in the year of our Lord” isn’t even correct from a Christian standpoint.  The few clues we have of Jesus’s birth in the gospels make clear that he wasn’t born in the year 1 but probably around 5 BCE.

So, yes, the Constitution does reflect the customs and calendar of the people of the time.  But it’s still obviously and boldly secular.  And isn’t that the best for everyone who is governed by it?

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James Dobson Needs My Money (and an Education)

Big wad of US currencyJames Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, was good enough to send me a letter a few days ago.  Not a personal letter—he basically just wants me to give him some of my money—but a letter nonetheless.  He outlined some of his views about the Christian foundation our country was built on, reported how our country is going to hell in a jet-propelled handbasket, and made the irresistible swipe at homosexuality.

In case he forgot to send you one, I’ve highlighted a few interesting bits of his letter to reply to.

Our Founding Fathers clearly understood the relationship between Christian Truth and the stability of our (then) new nation. Here are just a few quotes that express that essential connection.

And he goes on to quote mine the founding fathers’ writings to find their most pro-Christian statements.

When pundits bring up quotes from the founders, you know that they’re out of arguments.  The U.S. Constitution is the law of the land, regardless of what the founders thought, wrote, or wanted.  They had their chance to define how the country should be run, and they seized it.  That document was revolutionary at the time and now, with a few amendments, effectively governs us more than two centuries later.  It supersedes the other writings of the founders.

Thomas Jefferson, … revisionists tell us, wanted a “wall of separation” to protect the government from people of faith.

No need for revisionists—Thomas Jefferson himself talked about “a wall of separation between church and state.”  And, to be precise, the First Amendment protects the people (whether or not of faith) from the government, not the other way around.

Dobson then goes on to give a long quote by Abraham Lincoln.  Well, not really by Lincoln.  This was a Senate resolution for a National Fast Day signed by Lincoln.  And this was the same Lincoln who said, “When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad.  That’s my religion.”

This was the same Lincoln who said, “The Bible is not my book, and Christianity is not my religion.”

This was the same Lincoln who said, “My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.”

The private Lincoln wasn’t the strong Christian that Dobson imagines.  (And it wouldn’t change the Constitution if he were.)

We are witnessing an unprecedented campaign to secularize our society and “de-moralize” our institutions from the top down. …  Most forms of prayer have been declared unconstitutional in the nation’s schools. The Ten Commandments have been prohibited on school bulletin boards. …  In this wonderful Land of the Free, we have gagged and bound all of our public officials, our teachers, our elected representatives, and our judges.

Again: read the Constitution.  Prayer should never have been allowed in schools.  Ten Commandments in courthouses or in schools?  Clearly out of step with the Constitution.

I don’t want to see Christian citizens gagged; I want them to have the same public speech rights that I do.  But when you’re acting as a public official, teacher, or elected representative, the rules are different.  The First Amendment demands that you create an unbiased environment.  Evangelism with prayer or religious documents is forbidden.  Dobson somehow finds this a shocking new realization, but the First Amendment was adopted in 1791.

As a secularist, I know when to stop.  I’m only asking that the First Amendment be followed.  I want no Christian preferences—such as “In God We Trust” as the motto, prayers before government meetings, Creationism in schools, crosses on public land, and so on—but when we have that situation, I will stop.  I’m not striving for a society where Christianity is illegal.  (See what a good friend a secular Constitution is for the Christian?)

But I see no stopping point on the other side, no fairly unambiguous standard that Christians are pushing for.  If they got prayer back in schools, what would be next?

Since we have effectively censored their expressions of faith in public life, the predictable is happening: a generation of young people is growing up with very little understanding of the spiritual principles on which our country was founded. And we wonder why so many of them can kill, steal, take drugs, and engage in promiscuous sex with no pangs of conscience.

I wonder what happens when Christianity fades away?  Does that society devolve into the post-apocalyptic Mad Max world that Dobson imagines?

Let’s compare other Western societies to find out.  Looking at quantifiable social metrics (homicides, incarceration, juvenile mortality, STDs, abortions, adolescent pregnancies, marriage duration, income disparity, and so on) in 17 Western countries, a 2009 study concluded: “Of the 25 socioeconomic and environmental indicators, the most theistic and procreationist western nation, the U.S., scores the worst in 14 and by a very large margin in 8, very poorly in 2, average in 4, well or very in 4, and the best in 1.”1

Ouch—religiosity is inversely correlated with social health.  Sorry, Dr. Dobson.

It is breathtaking to see how hostile our government has become to traditional marriage, and how both Democrats and Republicans are increasingly antagonistic to parental rights, Christian training, and the financial underpinnings of family life.

I assume that “hostile … to traditional marriage” refers to same-sex marriage.

Help me understand this.  At a time when Christian traditionalists like Dobson lament the high divorce rate and the acceptability of couples living together and even having children without the benefit of marriage, they dismiss a group that is actually embracing marriage.

Same-sex marriage is a celebration of marriage, not an attack.

The hope of the future is prayer and a spiritual renewal that will sweep the nation. It has happened before, and with concerted prayer, could occur again. …  If we continue down the road we are now traveling, I fear for us all.

Yeah, following the rise in Christian fundamentalism does sound like a worrisome future.  We’ve seen that secular, gay-loving Europe eclipses the U.S. in social metrics.

Candidly, this ministry continues to struggle financially, and our very survival will depend on the generosity of our constituents in the next two months.

Translated: “Give me some money.”

Please pray with us about the future of this ministry.

Translated: “Give me some money.”  (I’ve written before about how prayer requests of this sort admit that prayer is useless.)

I suppose that this kind of lashing out at other people brings in the money.  But it’d be nice to see more credible arguments.

1Gregory Paul, “The Chronic Dependence of Popular Religiosity upon Dysfunctional Psychosociological Conditions,” Evolutionary Psychology, www.epjournal.net (2009).  7(3): 416.

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