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Edward Rutledge: “this great nation was founded not by religionists …”

3 October 2019

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“I find that I agree fully with my good friend Patrick Henry when he said it cannot be emphasized too strongly or to often that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians, not on religions, but on The Gospel of Jesus Christ”

Edward Rutledge, youngest signer of the U.S. Declaration of Independence





5 Comments leave one →
  1. Spazzy-McGhee permalink
    3 October 2019 3:33 pm

    Just take a step back for a moment. Christianity is the belief that a super being created the universe 6000 years ago, damned an entire species to disease and death because one woman bit a fruit, that he closely watches one species on one planet out of trillions upon trillions of worlds (I’m not exaggerating the size of the universe either) to make sure we all follow the strict guidelines on how he thinks homo sapiens should live, the entire world flooded killing everything but one family and two of every species of animal on Earth who lived on the same boat for 40 days, and a virgin gave birth to a guy with super powers who then died and came back to life. That is what the Bible says.

    Though most other religions aren’t much more logical it is ludicrous to say one’s form of insanity is better than another.

  2. 3 October 2019 5:49 pm

    Some colonies were commercial enterprises, not religious efforts. The God in the Declaration of Independence is the God of the Enlightenment, not of Christianity, The new nation was not Christian legally, through some states retained established churches. Some founders were hardly Christian. Christ and God appear no where in the Constitution which, with its first amendment, protects religious liberty. Washington’s famous letter to the Newport synagogue makes clear the multi-faith embrace of our nation. Article II of the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, ratified by the Senate in 1797, begins, ” As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion . . . .” The question of the religious character of the founding of the USA is complicated and disputed. It is not helpful to ignore competing and misleading claims with categorical statements such as the one above from Rutledge. Questions of Civil Religion, Public Religion, and such are fraught with difficulties, as scholars such as Robert Bellah, Robert Wuthnow, Forrest Church, Martin Marty, and many others make clear.

    • 4 October 2019 12:42 pm

      The Founding Fathers, almost to the man, clearly identified themselves as Christians. In 1776, the year of the Declaration, every European American, with the exception of around 2,500 Jews, identified himself or herself as a Christian. Of those, approximately 98 percent of the colonists were Protestants, with the remaining 1.9 percent being Roman Catholics.
      Some of these men and women might have been bad Christians, they may have been Christians significantly influenced by non-Christian ideas, such as the enlightenment, such as deism, such as freemasonry, or they may even have been Christians self-consciously attempting to create a secular political order. Many people today who identify as Christian are influenced by equally non-Christian ideas, such as the prosperity gospel, such as the LGBTQ ideology, such as syncretism.
      A handful of Founding Fathers such as Benjamin Franklin, Ethan Allen, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams were influenced by bad ideas like deism. But many other Founding Fathers such as Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Jay, Roger Sherman, and John Witherspoon were clearly orthodox Christians. Nearly every single one of the Founding Fathers would have identified himself as a Christian, and they recognized in their writings and public statements the importance of the Christian faith for the good health of the country they founded.

  3. 9 October 2019 1:19 pm

    I am a Christian, and specifically an Episcopalian. I believe Jefferson was a member of an Episcopalian vestry for a time (a cathedral dean told me), but he was also a Unitarian in theology (so were the two Adamses). His breath of understanding was like that of Washington, which embraced religious diversity, which was in fact forced upon the new nation by competing established churches in some states, previous colonies. I have no argument at all that a number of the founders were “Christians” of various sorts. The question is not whether they thought the nation was founded on Christian principles but whether the nation was in fact, that is legally, Christian. The answer to that is clear. The Constitution is absolutely secular, with no religious preference.

    — An authoritative textbook that might be useful in exploring this complicated and rich question is Catherine L. Albanese’s “America: Religions and Religion,” which has gone through many editions. I have already referred to the work of scholars in this area who would find both that the Christian impulse was one significant factor in shaping this country and also that the civil and governmental system actually created was secular. Even the carvings on the Supreme Court eastern pediment exhibit an expansive understanding of our tradition with carvings of Moses, Confucius, and Solon. Jesus is not there.

    — The nature of “Civil Religion” deserves more attention than it has recently received. I deplore our desacralized society and secularized religion, but government can only make religion worse. I welcome the stimulation we Christians can receive by encountering other faiths as gifts, as aids to respond to the three great crises of our time — in the environment, in personhood, and in society — by bringing the treasures of the Primal, Asian, and Monotheistic traditions for healing so that we may be restored with nature, the self made whole, community in covenant, and the sacred found afresh.

    — I believe that folks of all faiths, welcome in America — Jews and Muslims and American Indians and others as part of our nation since the beginning — are now called upon to marry deep and abiding commitment to one’s own faith with utter openness to those of other faiths so that, by purposely and respectfully rubbing against each other, we may be polished for the divine light to shine within and through us more clearly.

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