Anyway, here's the essay - worth a read:
The Republican Party has created a public dialogue that is profoundly disrespectful of those Americans who don’t share their political perspectives but who have every bit as much of a claim to the mantle of “American” as they do. Newt Gingrich fears that his grandchildren will live “in a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.” How it is possible for radical Islamists to be the conveyers of secular atheism is a riddle I can’t solve, but clearly he sees his political opponents as demonic traitors to both God and country.
Rick Santorum has taken this strand of accusations to a new level of intensity, claiming that mainline Protestantism has “gone from the world of Christianity” and that President Obama’s faith is fraudulent, based on a phony theology that gives him no right to claim to be Christian. These are not accusations among theologians in the contexts of worship or devotional explorations of authentic faith. These are political attacks in the midst of a political campaign. The relevance of these religious charges to American politics has a simple foundation for those who make them. According to them, our Founding Fathers created an Evangelically inspired Christian nation and state. Democrats, liberals, President Obama, humanists, and secularists have betrayed our Founding Fathers and their good work. In their betrayal, they are neither authentic Americans nor authentic Christians.
Well, let’s hold on a bit. I am an American. At this historical juncture, I am especially proud to not be a Christian. This configuration of my identity is one of the possibilities for me as an American. I am no less of an American than my fellow citizens who are Christians – or, for that matter, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, or Deists. Because so-called “conservatives” have made matters of faith matters of politics, they need to be publicly challenged on their exclusionary attacks. And I will. I am also an academic. That simply means that in confronting their attacks I will rely on information and understandings that can be accessed by anyone, evaluated by everyone, and legitimately dismissed out of hand by no one. So, let’s consider our “Founding Fathers.” Let’s consider three questions – who are they, how unified were they as founders, and what religious traditions were they attached to that may have informed their founding work.
Who are the “Founding Fathers” of the United States? There are various lists that could be created and defended with varying measures of reasonableness. Certainly one of the most reasonable lists would be that of the 343 men who were elected to be members of and at some point actually attended meetings of the Continental Congresses and Constitutional Convention that provided the United States with its four founding documents – the “Continental Association” of 1774, the “Declaration of Independence” of 1776, the “Articles of Confederation” of 1778, and the “Constitution” of 1787. A subset of these 343 men is, perhaps, even more appropriate. It is the set of 139 men who actually supported and signed at least one of these four founding documents.
What generalizations can we make about these Founding Fathers?
1. 59% of those who were elected to participate and who did participate in these founding meetings never signed any of the founding documents. There were many reasons for this, but the chief political reason was that many remained British loyalists and opposed with various degrees of intensity the entire “founding” project. Also, many Quakers withdrew support because of their Christian opposition to war. They knew the course being charted would almost certainly lead to war.What can we say about the religious traditions that informed our Founding Fathers? If we examine the biographies of the 139 men who signed at least one of the four major founding documents, this is what we find.
2. There is only 1 (that is ONE!) of the 343 founding fathers and the139 who signed founding documents who signed all four founding documents. He is Roger Sherman of Connecticut.
3. Of the 56 signers of the “Declaration of Independence,” two-thirds did not sign either the first constitution (the Articles of 1778) or the second constitution (the Constitution of 1787).
4. Only 4 of the 56 “Declaration” signers also signed the “Constitution” although 17 did sign the “Articles.”
5. There were 48 signers of the “Articles.” Only 5 of them also signed the “Constitution.”
6. Of the 39 signers of the “Constitution,” only 6 had previously signed the “Articles.”
7. Of the 87 Founding Fathers who were responsible for giving us our two constitutional systems, 81 were in explicit opposition with one another regarding the kind of constitutional order they wanted for America – the Articles’ “United States” or the Constitution’s “United States.”
8. It is reasonable to say that the Founding Fathers had significant political differences among themselves. To represent them as a unity with one voice is not just a technical imprecision of concern only to pin-headed intellectuals, it is a knowing lie or an unknowing illusion that creates false understandings of our heritage for ordinary citizens and corrupts conversations about the impact of that heritage on the political life of America today.
1. Although standard biographical information is available for all 139 of these founders, forty-two, or 30%, of them include no reference to any religious affiliation, commitment, or identification. I do NOT assume that this means such linkages were absent in their lives, but I do assume that whatever the reality was for each individual it did not manifest itself in ways that were clear and relevant for standard biographical portraits of them in their role as Founding Fathers.This has been a largely aggregate picture of our Founding Fathers. Let me close by mentioning four individuals who were significant to the founding of the United States – Thomas Paine, James Madison, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. No one was more effective in rallying ordinary American citizens to support American independence than was Paine. He was a crude and aggressive anti-Christian. Read “Common Sense,” “Age of Reason,” and “Rights of Man” and ask yourself how those writings could have been so powerfully persuasive to a broad base of Christian Americans in the 1770s.
2. Of the 97 men for whom a religious identity can be ascribed, 3 were Roman Catholics, 4 were Deists, and 90 were Protestants.
3. Of the 90 Protestants, 86 (96%) were affiliated with what Santorum calls “mainline Protestant” denominations – Episcopalian , Presbyterian , Congregational , and Quaker . The other four were simply identified as “Protestant.”
4. There were twice as many of these Founding Fathers whose biographies explicitly identify them as anti-Roman Catholic as there were Roman Catholics, and three times more identified as freemasons than as Roman Catholics.
5. Although there are numerous individuals remembered as loving husbands and fathers and as honest men, some raised in homes of “liberal tastes,” there is not a single one of these Founding Fathers who is identified in association with the Anabaptist/Evangelical tradition of Protestantism.
6. As a graduate of Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law, Santorum might reflect on a Founding Father, Benjamin Rush, who also founded Dickinson College. Rush saw himself as a deeply committed Christian who eventually classified himself as a “Christian Universalist.” He described his faith as the joining of “my ancient Calvinistical and my newly adopted Arminian (universalist) principles.” Now, would that pass Santorum’s test for authenticity?
7. Before Santorum trashes Reinhold Niebuhr (one of the most significant Christian theologians of the 20th Century who has been quite influential for President Obama) as an inauthentic Christian, one would hope he takes some time to examine the extraordinary compatibility between the theology of Niebuhr and the expressed religious understandings of many of the 86 Founding Fathers with “mainline Protestant” affiliations. Their 18th and 20th Century voices are profoundly congruent. This is not at all surprising if you remember that Niebuhr’s theology was not a form of “Liberation Theology,” as suggested by Santorum, but a form of “Neo-Orthodoxy” anchored in the New Testament’s concern about human accountability, presumption, and sin.
8. A brief 20th Century note of interest should be considered. In 1960 many Americans still doubted the appropriateness of a Roman Catholic serving as President. That was a legacy connected to our country’s Founding ethos. Transcending that legacy was, in part, a contribution of the “phony theology” of tolerance and brotherly love that Santorum and his Republican supporters are so quick to trash today.
9. All of this presents a rather strange picture. Mainline Protestants, who didn’t include Evangelicals and who marginalized Roman Catholics at the time of the founding in the 18th Century, are now being pushed aside as inauthentic by Evangelicals and Roman Catholics in the name of the Founding Fathers
James Madison, the primary author of the “Constitution of 1787” and the “Bill of Rights,” and fourth president of the United States, never expressed affiliation with any Christian tradition, consistently voiced sentiments reflective of Deism, and was steadfast throughout his entire legal and political career in his insistence on a strong separation between church and state and on the profound dangers of establishing Christianity as the state religion.
Washington, whose military and political accomplishments are foundational, was an outspoken leader in calling for religious liberty and tolerance, and used his prestige as general and president to promote good will among Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. He sought to create a national ethos that would enable every American to, in his paraphrase of the Book of Micah, "sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid." Privately and publicly he strongly rejected any sign of intolerance, prejudice, and "every species of religious persecution," while hoping that "bigotry and superstition" would be overcome by "truth and reason" in the United States.
Jefferson was the primary author of the “Declaration” and the third President of the United States. In the context of his day, it is most reasonable to call him a Deist. But let’s permit him use of the designation “Christian” as contemporary revisionists prefer and as even he claimed in a private letter to Benjamin Rush in 1803. What then do we know about Jefferson’s Christianity? Throughout his life he was intensely interested in theology, biblical studies, and morality. He explicitly rejected the orthodox, institutional Christianity of his day and was especially hostile to clergy and to the Roman Catholic Church. He admired Jesus for his “human excellence.” He did not endorse Jesus’ spiritualism, claiming instead to be a materialist. Among the sayings imputed to Jesus, Jefferson says he finds many “of fine imagination, correct morality, and…lovely benevolence; and others, again, of so much ignorance, of so much absurdity, so much untruth and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being.”
There is more that could be considered, but surely this is enough for Santorum and his Republican supporters and imitators to inform us that these men must be Founding Fathers who are fraudulent and phony Founding Fathers! For the rest of us, when will we stand up and say, “Enough is enough?"
February 23, 2012