In this week's New York Times Magazine, Russell Shorto
examines a hotly debated question: "How Christian were the Founders?" Christian activists want the United States proclaimed a "Christian nation" in textbooks and curricula to convey "the country's roots and the intent of
the founders." Intent is a tricky matter, though, and proclaiming the U.S. "Christian" isn't just about textbooks, but also how we interpret the Constitution.
- How Christian? Not Christian Enough for Abstinence
"Just off the top of my mind," comments The Detroit News' George
Bullard, "I can say that Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were
first-class womanizers. Franklin wrote an infamous letter advising a
friend on choosing a mistress. Go for older women, he suggested."
- Christian, but Cautious In his dive into the matter in The New York Times Magazine, Russell Shorto
is careful. He says it's clear "how thoroughly the colonies were shot
through with religion and how basic religion was to the cause of the
revolutionaries." That said, while "the founders were rooted in
inheritors of the entire European Christian tradition ... at the same
time they were steeped in an Enlightenment rationalism that was, if not
opposed to religion, determined to establish separate spheres for faith
and reason." In short, he seems to find convincing the argument of
Randall Balmer, a professor of American religious history at Barnard:
"'[One activist] says the phrase "separation of church and state" is
not in the
Constitution. He's right about that. But to make that argument work you
would have to argue that the phrase is not an accurate summation of the
First Amendment. And Thomas Jefferson, who penned it, thought it was.'"
- So Were They Relying on the Religiosity of Others? Is it possible the Founding Fathers, though, were "free-riders"? New York lawyer and blogger Rosita thinks so: "The
Founding Fathers were relying on the premise of a Christian society as
their framework in which to think free." Western civilization depends
on Christianity, she argues: "I think they were kind of counting on others being more devout than themselves."
- A Debate in Indiana, Too At Fort Wayne's The News-Sentinel, two concerned citizens, Donna Volmerding and B. J. Paschal,
are having their own debate on the matter. Paschal maintains that the
Founding Fathers sought to "separate Caesar and God" partly based on
the theories of John Locke. Volmerding counters that, in a study at the
University of Houston of Founding Fathers' writings, political science
professors found "thirty-four percent of the quotes came directly from
the Bible," while the French philosopher Charles de Montesquieu was
also quoted more frequently than Locke.
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