For over a century, most people believed the United States of America was founded as a Christian nation, but that idea began to wane as academics pushed the view that the US was founded on Enlightenment principles – but now a historian has brought forth evidence concluding that Christianity had the greatest and most widespread influence on the founding of the nation.
The early Americans and Christianity
A survey of roughly 15,000 works from 1760 to 1805 finds that 34% of all citations reference the Bible.
Much of the belief that America wasn’t founded as a Christian nation came via Enlightenment theorists. The earliest Americans freely discussed a variety of issues informing the nation, foremost of which was liberty, rights, principles of social organization and Republicanism.
As the historian notes, though the sincerity and orthodoxy of early Americans and our founding fathers may sometimes be in question, nearly everyone in the new Republic identified as Christian. In the earliest of days, the Bible was virtually omnipresent.
The Deism argument and our founding fathers
One argument people like to bring up with our founding fathers is the belief that most of them were deists. Actually, the historian puts forth, only somewhere. Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine are well-known deists, but despite that, Jefferson remained involved with church and considered himself to be a Christian, as did many other of the founding fathers. Jefferson even created his own edited version of the Scriptures, removing the miracles, that has become known as “the Jefferson Bible.”
In 1776, Jefferson actually proposed a national seal that had an image of the Hebrews safely crossing the Red Sea under God’s protection of a pillar of fire, as well as a depiction of Pharaoh embracing destruction as the waters receded upon him. Both Jefferson and Franklin wanted to give these new United States and national seal that invoked the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Paine, of course, was staunchly opposed to Christianity and released his anti-religious writing Age of Reason.
Separation of church and state
According to the historian, we have the Baptists to thank for promoting separation of church and state, as they were who petitioned Jefferson on the idea. Mayflower Pilgrims were also seeking religious liberty and were concerned with being separatists, as they fled England to get away from the harassment and persecution of the state-established Church of England.
The idea wasn’t to remove religion, but simply make the point that being a Christian was an individual choice – not something assigned to people as a civic religion by a nation.
Religious liberty was something meant to apply to have freedom of choice among all religions, as well as the right to have no religion at all.