Homework Help

Was the foundation of America Christian or secular?We are having a debate in school...

user profile pic

andrea4 | Student, Grade 10 | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 15, 2009 at 1:18 PM via web

dislike 3 like
Was the foundation of America Christian or secular?

We are having a debate in school and I need some proof that it is secular. But if you want to give me proof it is Christian then by all means go for it.

12 Answers | Add Yours

user profile pic

pmiranda2857 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted April 15, 2009 at 2:41 PM (Answer #2)

dislike 0 like

The first settlers came to America in search of religious freedom.  The Pilgrims who traveled to America on the Mayflower were fleeing England and the inability to practice their religion which is Christianity.  From these roots, the American colonies grew and were based on the principles of Christianity, not the required belief in the faith.  The morals, ethics and organization of government was based on a belief in freedom. The Founding Fathers were guided by their Christian beliefs to form a government that would serve the people.

It was because of their Christian beliefs that the Founding Fathers were able to write the Declaration of Independence, seeking freedom for the colonies from the rule of the English King.  It is necessary to understand that the right of man come from God or the Creator, and therefore, cannot be taken away, reduced or granted by any man, whether he be king or commoner.  Without an acceptance of God as the center of the universe, the Founding Fathers could not embrace this belief. 

"The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God."
--Adams wrote this on June 28, 1813, in a letter to Thomas Jefferson.  

It might be hard for modern individuals to understand how integrated religion was to behavior.  References to God and to freedom are inexorable.  Particularly, words spoken by Thomas Jefferson, who is often misinterpreted as being the Founding Father who wrote about the separation of church and state.  He did this to preserve the individual's right to worship as he chose, not to protect the state, but to protect the freedom of the individual.  The government shall make no religion.  Jefferson and others were determined that there be no state religion, but the founding principles are based on Christian morality.  For example consider Jefferson's words:

"The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them."  (Jefferson)

George Washington's faith sustained him as the Commander of the Continental Army.  He believed that Providence, God was on the side of the colonists who sought freedom from English tyranny.  Washington's first inaugrual address gives thanks to God for the new job that he has been summoned to, President of the United States. 

"Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiary improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe; who presides in the councils of nations; and whose providential aid can supply every human defect; that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the People of the United States" (Washington)

 

user profile pic

drmonica | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted April 16, 2009 at 11:12 AM (Answer #3)

dislike 0 like

Of course the foundation of this nation was secular. It was the initial effort to establish a "city on a hill" theocracy in Boston by the Puritans that led to such abuses as the Salem witchcraft trials.

Several of the Founding Fathers were avowed deists rather than Christians. They saw clearly the peril of permitting a majority religion to rule the country and wrote the Constitution's establishment clause specifically to prevent this from happening.

Did Christianity influence the founding of the country during the eighteenth century? Of course; however, the Christian influence was predominantly moral and ethical rather than specifically religious. Christianity does not hold a monopoly on ethics and morals.

user profile pic

jilllessa | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted April 16, 2009 at 6:18 PM (Answer #4)

dislike 0 like

I have to agree with pmiranda2857.  The concept that all men are created equal comes from the belief that God created us and that we are all made in his image so no one man is more valuable in His eyes than another.  Many of the concepts of the Declaration of Independence were derived from the writings of John Locke who strongly believed that representative government and the freedom that it engendered would only be successful in its citizens observed Biblical standards in issues of morality.  While the concept of Freedom of Religion was important, the thinking of the founders was that Americans should be free from having a state church that prevented men from worshipping God as their conscience dictated, not that we should be guaranteed freedom from religion.  Our society as it is now with its insistence that children not be taught Christian values and virtues in schools would have shocked them.  Indeed the reason our country valued education in its early days was so that all men could read the Bible and interpret its words for themselves.

user profile pic

drmonica | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted April 18, 2009 at 4:15 AM (Answer #5)

dislike 0 like

With respect to jillessa and pmiranda2857, and notwithstanding the fact that I am a Christian myself, I challenge the statement, "[t]he concept that all men are created equal comes from the belief that God created us." Christianity does not have a monopoly on this concept. It is completely possible to be an atheist or agnostic and believe in the inherent equality of all men.

I also challenge the assertion that "society insists that children not be taught Christian values and virtues in schools." I am a public school administrator and I have yet to work in a school where there is no emphasis or instruction on values such as honesty, hard work, treating others kindly, etc. What is prohibited, and rightly so, is the teaching of these values as specifically Christian.

The Establishment clause was certainly not designed to be a guarantee of freedom from religion. And public schools are not devoid of religious faith. What they are devoid of, or should be, is organized, state-sponsored and government-enforced religious practice.

user profile pic

dbello | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted April 19, 2009 at 10:33 PM (Answer #6)

dislike 0 like

andrea4, Although all the previous posts are well argued, I would suggest that you clarify your topic. The topic generalizes the foundation of America, and needs to be more specific   so that the answer has revelance.  The foundations of colonial America differ depending upon the geographics of the colonies. There is no doubt that the New England colonies had a religious agenda, however their southern counterparts came here to make money, it was business that motivated them not the piety of religion. Furthermore, look at the colony of Georgia, the sole purpose for its creation was to rid England of those 'unsavory sorts...hardly a Christian mentality.

Having said that, the Puritan theocracy in New England had a profound influence in America. Since your post asks to support secularism, I think it could be argued that the Great Awakening that spread through colonial New England in the 1740's led to religious factions within the movement thus paving the way for a more secular society. In the end those factions ended up creating a new view of religious tolerance in America. It was this new view that helped to initiate a new and totally 'American Philosophy' with regard to religion.

Remember, Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence was a testament to Locke's political philosophy of God given natural rights, but it was devoid of the fire and brimstone of the Cotton Mather, Jonathan Edwards damnation to hell.

If you seek the time period of America to the period of the founding fathers (1765-1776) my previous statement makes a strong argument in the defense of a secular America. Simply because the founders support their arguments as far back as Magna Carta. They concentrate their efforts on the good that man has to offer to the world instead of focusing on what they would call worthless damnation.

 

 

user profile pic

linda-allen | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted April 22, 2009 at 6:38 AM (Answer #7)

dislike 0 like

It was both. People emigrated to North America for both religious and economic reasons. The men who "founded" the United States of America were both Christian and secularists.

user profile pic

frizzyperm | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted April 22, 2009 at 7:33 AM (Answer #8)

dislike 0 like

America is founded on The Constitution. The bedrock of America is The American Constitution. It is a legal document, not a religious document.

The American Constitution specifically describes itself as secular. It marks itself as not connected to any religion whatsoever. It recognises religions as a free expression, but it rejects all religious beliefs and values as irrelevant to American political and legal process.

No mater what half-truths the Christian fundamentalists try to tell you about 'America's Christian Heritage', America is based on the values of the Enlightenment, NOT the Bible. The Enlightenment made America.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_enlightenment

The Pilgrim Fathers were not Americans, they did not want to found America and they would be horrified by America's melting pot of faiths. They were ill-prepared, intolerant, religious extremists and their belief system was opposite to America's tolerant values.

The Founding Fathers, on the other hand, espoused tolerance for all religions by expressing preference for none. And the supreme ruler of America is not God, nor the President nor The People; The supreme ruler of America is The Rule of Law. The Law is written by Man, without the influence of God. The Law is separate from God. And it is above God. And we forget that at our absolute peril.

The moment you let any Godclaim 'special status' over America, we will fall into anarchy and chaos.

user profile pic

marilynn07 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted April 22, 2009 at 9:43 AM (Answer #9)

dislike 0 like

America is founded on The Constitution. The bedrock of America is The American Constitution. It is a legal document, not a religious document.

The American Constitution specifically describes itself as secular. It marks itself as not connected to any religion whatsoever. It recognises religions as a free expression, but it rejects all religious beliefs and values as irrelevant to American political and legal process.

No mater what half-truths the Christian fundamentalists try to tell you about 'America's Christian Heritage', America is based on the values of the Enlightenment, NOT the Bible. The Enlightenment made America.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_enlightenment

The Pilgrim Fathers were not Americans, they did not want to found America and they would be horrified by America's melting pot of faiths. They were ill-prepared, intolerant, religious extremists and their belief system was opposite to America's tolerant values.

The Founding Fathers, on the other hand, espoused tolerance for all religions by expressing preference for none. And the supreme ruler of America is not God, nor the President nor The People; The supreme ruler of America is The Rule of Law. The Law is written by Man, without the influence of God. The Law is separate from God. And it is above God. And we forget that at our absolute peril.

The moment you let any Godclaim 'special status' over America, we will fall into anarchy and chaos.

Good post Frizzyperm. I agree with you that the enlightenment was probably the greatest influence on the founding fathers.  However, they guarantee freedom to practice of religion not freedom from religion.  I think that is a fairly important guarantee for those who desire to practice their faiths openly and in public.

I think that the majority of the founding fathers had a sense that there was a Supreme Being.  Many were Unitarian or Deists. I do not espouse the notion that the founding fathers were athiests. Nor can I find any proof that any of the founding fathers were athiests.  I do not espouse the notion that the founding fathers intended for athiests to insist that this nation be athiestic. I do not get the sense that the founding fathers wanted any type of restrictions on the practice of one's religion so long as it did not harm another.

I do get the sense that the founding fathers would not deny a person the right to practice his or her religious faith because one or another might be offended by this practice of faith in a public place.

America was to many of the early colonists a "light on a hill" "a utopia" or a "New Jerusalem". Due to various persecutions of protestants by Catholics, or of Catholics by protestants or disagreements between protestant denominations, many sought to travel to the "New World" and set up communities where they could practice their faith in unity.  Therein lies the problem. How could the entire country made up of such a diverse religious population get along under one flag?

http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/rel01.html

If Maryland was Catholic, could a Deist live there?  If Virgina was plainly Anglican/Puritan, would a Catholic be welcome there? Would a Quaker be welcome in catholic Georgia or Presbyterian North Carolina?

In order to establish a more perfect union between all of the states, the founding fathers used the secular views of the time and ideals gleaned from The Enlightenment. The founding Fathers put in the words "freedom of religion" so that any person of any belief could practice his or her religious faith without fear of persecution by any other religious group or the government. There is no religious test to hold public office. And it is against the law to persecute persons because of their religious faith.

http://www.earlyamerica.com/review/summer97/secular.html

The other thing is that by declaring freedom of religion, the American government is firmly separating itself from the English government which is a monarchy/theocracy as the King is also the "Defender of the Faith" or "king of the church of England".  The founding fathers plainly declared that the government would be run by the people rather than by a king or by a king who claimed to be head of a church. This declaration boldly rebelled against the "divine right of kings" as proclaimed by James VI.

I think that the Founding Fathers held up the freedoms of man as more important than the establishment of a state religion.  I am not so sure that the Law is necessarily separate from God as much as some would like.

I realize that there are some "fundamenatlists" who would deny the right for someone to practice his or her faith, but that is prevalent in all religious faiths.

http://www.earlyamerica.com/review/summer97/secular.html

Is it possible that there are athiest fundamentalists?

 

 

user profile pic

Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted April 22, 2009 at 6:16 PM (Answer #10)

dislike 0 like

Hmmmm, . . . I hesitate to say that the foundation of America is Christian because that denotes a focus on Jesus Christ.  There is simply no evidence of that:  a wonderful point for you to make in your debate.  However, there is definitely a focus on monotheism.  "One nation, under God."  "In God we trust."

user profile pic

frizzyperm | College Teacher | Valedictorian

Posted April 23, 2009 at 1:33 AM (Answer #11)

dislike 0 like

Is it possible that there are atheist fundamentalists? Marylinn07

It's often said that, "Atheism is a belief system" and religious people often claim atheists have 'faith' in a 'creed'. This is similar to claiming that not collecting stamps is a hobby!

But Atheists and apostates are more vocal. Mainly because we feel safer than before. And perhaps we are angry. In the past, Christians regularly killed people who disagreed with them. Hopefully, at the moment, we've corralled the church enough to speak freely without fundamentalists 'punishing the unGodly'. But what guarantee do we have that Christians won't reimpose their beliefs on society? No-one could deny that within the resurgent fundamentalist movement there are dangerous and aggressive people. We just had a president who openly and repeatedly boasted he was a deeply committed Christian, but he deliberately lied to the American people to start an unprovoked war. Such shocking hypocrisy creates a deep mistrust of religious people and their claims to innate goodness.

If Christians get a firm grip on the American administration (and they are trying to do so), how long before our constitutional right to freedom from religion would be eroded? The reason America is special is because it is a new country with a new system. It is based on logic and tolerance. We tolerate religion, but religion has no authority here.

America is not a religious country. It is a free country.

user profile pic

hi1954 | Teacher | (Level 1) Associate Educator

Posted April 24, 2009 at 12:54 AM (Answer #12)

dislike 0 like

As to the original question, America was based on both secular and religious foundations.  In early Virginia, people came to the New World for land and to have more freedom in general, to make their way in the world unfettered by the social class system of Europe.  The Pilgrims came here specifically for religious freedom, but possibly not in the sense we might think.

In Britian at the time one could not hold public office of any sort unless one took the sacraments of the Anglican Church.  In other words, Catholics, Anabaptists, Puritans, etc. could not hold any elected or appointed public position.  And, by inference, any elected or appointed official would probably not be too sympathetic to any petitioner not an Anglican.  So the Pilgrims got a Crown Charter to have their own colony for their religious freedom- they did not necessarily want anyone else.  That's why they had the trouble later with the Quakers.  As for the Salem witch trials, that was not really conditioned by Puritanism but by the typical superstition of the times.  We tend to forget today the frequency of witch trials in the 17th century.  While in America less than 50 people were executed for witchcraft in that century, in Europe thousands were executed for the same crime.

Many people fled Europe from religious persecution, Catholics, Orthodox, Jews, Huguenots, etc., but for the freedom to believe what they want without being necessarily second class (or less) citizens because of it.  Many other people came to America to find a land where they could pursue their own business without constantly being involved in some war or another between this king and that one.  Some came here to avoid the kind of social control that European powers were becoming interested in.  For instance, in much of Europe even by the 17th century citizens traveling had to report to local authorities and show identification.

As to modern trends in "religion", I do see how the Religious Right and neo-conservatives would give people a bad impression, since they all claim to be "Christian."   On the other hand, since nothing they've been doing seems to line up too well to the teachings of Jesus, I just don't judge Jesus by these politicians.  I don't judge Islam by Usama bin Laden, why would I judge Christianity by W?

Fundamentalism has come to mean fanaticism, Christian or Islamic or conservative or whatever, and no matter what it is about it is probably a bad idea.  One of the things some right-wing Christians ignore about their religion is St. Paul writing that God could make men obey if that's what he wanted, but it's not.  The freedom to choose what we believe or don't believe is something that God gave us, he points out, and trying to coerce others to agree with us is ungodly behavior.  Something we could all remember, probably, no matter what we believe.

user profile pic

geosc | College Teacher | (Level 3) Assistant Educator

Posted April 23, 2010 at 1:28 PM (Answer #13)

dislike 0 like

Not to the original question but to some of the answerers:  Do we not misname by the word "Fundamentalism" what is actually "Puritanism?"  Fundamentalism, I think means following the fundamentals, using the written word and not using imaginative interpretations of the written word.  (And, yes, interpreting religious teachings literally rather than as the symbollical representation of great truths through imaginative fiction, that they sometimes are.)  Puritanism, I think means you accept my version of the truth or you are not worthy of tolerance or inclusion.

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes