Monday, 2 April 2012

Founded On Christian Principles?

Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
I have a problem.

I have in front of me a copy of the American Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776. Firstly, I have to say I think it is one of the most significant documents in the English language, laying down as it does a fundamental framework for the basic principles of democracy, government and civil liberties; a magnificent product of the Age of Reason and of thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, etc, etc.

It is remarkable also in another respect: it is probably the first, and maybe the only time, a revolutionary committee (and provisional government in waiting) has not only not immediately sought to establish itself in power in perpetuity, but specifically made it constitutionally impossible for it to do so. Having taken power in the name of the people, they immediately handed power to them, including the power to remove them from office if the need arose. This is a testament to their sincerity, their honourable intentions and to their good faith with the people they served. It rightly still serves as a model for democratic government of the people, by the people and for the people.

However, my problem lies not with the Declaration but with claims that are made about it today. It is claimed by some to be based on Christian principles; a claim which is used to justify the assertion that the United States is a Christian country, founded on Christian principles.

My problem is that I just don't see the Christian principles in this remarkable document and can find no biblical justification for that assertion. I'll go though the relevant statements of principle one by one:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

This looks very much like Deism, a belief subscribed to by many of the signatories to this document, but again I'm open to persuasion. Where in the Christian Bible is there a reference to 'Laws of Nature and of Nature's God' and their determination of an entitlement to 'separate and equal station' for different peoples?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

These look remarkably like Humanist principles to me but I'm willing to be persuaded otherwise. Where in the Christian Bible is this egalitarian principle established and where is this entitlement to 'Life, Liberty and pursuit of Happiness' spelled out? Nowhere in the Bible is there even a hint that 'all men are created equal'.

— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

This clause establishes the purpose of Governments and the principle that their power is derived from the consent of the governed. From which passages in the Christian Bible is this purpose of Governments and principle of democratic accountability and permission to govern derived? There is no allusion to democracy or elections in the Bible and without exception, all Judaic governments in it were absolute monarchies or despotisms.

— That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

This passage establishes the right (the duty even) of the people to overthrow a Government which is destroying the basic rights established above and especially if the Government is becoming despotic.

Which passages in the Christian Bible establish the right of the people to overthrow their government if it damages their rights and/or is becoming despotic? Which biblical prophets and teachers ever urged the people to overthrow a despotic government and replace it with a democratically accountable one? Indeed, which democratic states are approvingly referred to in the Bible and which despotisms are ever condemned for despotism per se? In fact, it appears to be in direct opposition to the directive from Paul in Romans 13:1-7 that all governments are ordained by God and Christians should therefore always obey and support them.

There then follows a list of grievances and outlines the measures taken to have them redressed, without success, so establishing the justification for the revolution as a last resort in the face of an indifferent colonial administration. I won't list these but a list may be found here. If there are any Christian principles as established by the Bible in this list, please spell them out and cite the relevant biblical passages.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

This passage is the actual declaration of independence and of the formation of a provisional government with authority to make war and peace, to make treaties and carry out trade and 'to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do'. I can see no basic principles being established in this paragraph, but if you can see any Christian principles and can show the supporting passages from the Christian Bible, please do so.

So, if the United States of America was founded on Christian principles, it should be possible to find those principles in the Christian Bible and to show how they formed the basis for this founding document - the document upon which the entire constitution and form of the United States is founded.

Conversely, if the Declaration of Independence was not based on Christian principles derived from the Christian Bible, what basis is there for claiming the USA was founded on Christian principles?

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  1. Great post, Rosa, and a great question. You need to understand one crucial thing about Christian Fundamentalists here in the USA; they simply don't care if something makes sense or is empirically true.

    Their spiritual world view is based on adherence to dogma as transmitted by their selected religious leaders. It is a simple step to extend this mode of thought to the realm of politics where their political world view becomes based on dogma as transmitted by their chosen radio and TV personalities.

    Sounds really stupid, right? Well, most Christian Fundamentalists in America are profoundly stupid, close minded, dogmatic and proud of it.

    But from my point of view these types of religious claims are just a side-show. More ominous are secular assaults on the founding principals of our country. The Declaration of Independence declares that the People are Sovereign and government is derived solely from the consent of the People.

    And, as you quoted, the People have the right and the authority to overthrow any form of Government that is abusive. Yet our Mr. Obama has decreed that he, at his sole discretion, has the right to summarily execute any citizen who even thinks about exercising such a right. So far have we fallen!

    1. All that gobbledygook just to blame it on Obama?
      No doubt in ten years your tune will change.

  2. Hi Rosa,
    There was a reference to religion in the Bill of Rights: the 3rd article, whihc became the 1st amendment, says,

    "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

    This is usually cited as the 'freedom of speech' amendment, but it is interesting to note the context in which this was cited. This is pretty much a secularist statement. I beleive it owes much to Tom Paine who was a deist.

  3. Binko Barnes~

    Let me add some nuance to what you said. If one read the founding documents, one will see that the founding fathers do not favor a pure democracy. This is because sovereignty doesn't reside in the individual but rather in the rights from nature and nature's god that are intrinsic to each individual. So long as governments uphold these rights, they vicariously exercise sovereignty over the population by consent of the governed, and the governed must so consent so long as their rights are upheld. (The founding fathers do not consider revolution just because the people don't like the government to be warranted.) The people, when their rights are not upheld have the right to dissolve and reform a new government, again though not based on what they feel like but based on those intrinsic rights that come from the laws of nature and nature's god. However neither state nor people are sovereign in the sense that rights come from the position of those in authority. Both state and people are bound by an external sovereignty.

    This lets me pivot to Rosa Rubicondior.

    The Judeo-Christian principle that this nation was founded on is that "rights come from the laws of nature and nature's god". Just because many, though not all, of America's founding fathers were deists doesn't mean that they didn't have underlying Christian principles. There is a big difference between the American Revolution, and its founding documents, and the French Revolution, and its founding documents. The French Revolution was predicated upon the tyranny of reason, while the American Revolution is predicated on Christian humanism, which traces is roots back to the anthropology of Aquinas and Augustine amongst others including the great Jewish luminaries of the Middle Ages. Non-Judeo-Christian governments of antiquity were divinized -- that is political power comes directly from the gods instead of being based on intrinsic human rights that come from God. That the individual human person has intrinsic human rights IS the contribution of Judeo-Christianity to American government.

    Btw the US doesn't have a Democratic Government as the founding fathers were not keen on democratic governments. We have a Representative Republic.

  4. Rosa Rubicondior

    You asked several questions that deserve reasonable answers. I don't like proof texting, so instead of "where is that in the bible?" let me answer according to Christian authorities that interpret Christianity to be that way.

    Reference to Laws of Nature and Nature's God. -- FIDES ET RATIO 19. The Book of Wisdom contains several important texts which cast further light on this theme. There the sacred author speaks of God who reveals himself in nature. For the ancients, the study of the natural sciences coincided in large part with philosophical learning. Having affirmed that with their intelligence human beings can “know the structure of the world and the activity of the elements... the cycles of the year and the constellations of the stars, the natures of animals and the tempers of wild beasts” (Wis 7:17, 19-20)—in a word, that he can philosophize—the sacred text takes a significant step forward. Making his own the thought of Greek philosophy, to which he seems to refer in the context, the author affirms that, in reasoning about nature, the human being can rise to God: “From the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (Wis 13:5). This is to recognize as a first stage of divine Revelation the marvellous “book of nature”, which, when read with the proper tools of human reason, can lead to knowledge of the Creator.

    How the above leads to a "separate and equal station" -- Thomas Aquinas By nature all men are equal in liberty, but not in other endowments. One man is not subordinate to another as though he were a utility. Therefore in a state of integrity there would have been no over lordship of dominion such as would have abolished the liberty of subjects, but only an authority of administration without prejudice to liberty. Commentary, II Sentences, XLIV. i. 3.ad1

    1. Entitlement to "Life Liberty and the pursuit of happiness". This is all covered in the respective passages of the Summa Theological. Let me also cite in toto On the Nature of Human Liberty by Pope Leo XIII which has many citates to Aquinas and Augustine.

      Consent of the Governed: The understanding here isn't pure mob consent here. The plurality doesn't have a right to institute whatever form of government it wants, it can only consent to a government that upholds the intrinsic rights and the state has a right to law and cohesive force to put down movements of the populace that would take away such intrinsic rights. This is why US states do not have a blanket right to succeed from the federal government and why the federal government has a right to compel private institutions to adhere to the civil rights act. As to where the idea of the consent of the governed is in in Christian theology, that stems from basic Christian political theory. However there doesn't exist a "biblical" political standard, nor a standard of Christianity, of a political system. Representative Republics can be Christian at their fundamentals but so can Constitutional Monarchies as well is Empires. The idea though that Christianity seeks a specific form of civil government (such as what you find spouted in leftest Liberation Theology and rightest Dominion Theology) is not actually Christian but more so antichrist in tone (cf. early texts that decry utopian goals for christianity such as The City of God).

      The right of the people to revolution -- Let me put forth that idea of armed revolution as a means of political change is not properly Christian. Christian thought focuses more so on working within the system and correcting abuses rather than the distruction of the political system.

      Christian principles as established by the Bible in this list -- it is quite glaring that you are missing "Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions.." I could go on, but that is sufficent evidence.

      I hope that you can see now that the United States was founded by individuals rooted in Christian anthropology and humanism, not by athiestic humanists. The United States comes out of a political philosophy that is rooted in Judeo-Christianity and not a political philosophy that is ambivilant or hostile to foundational principles of Christian theism and philosophy. It can be argued that the United States is not a specifically Christian nation at its founding, but it cannot be argued that the United States was not founded as a theistic nation.

    2. > Summa Theological

      Where in the Christian Bible may that be found, please? You seem to have forgotten to say.

    3. Unfortunately, you seem to have forgotten to say where this stuff can be found in the Christian Bible. Could you give me the relevant chapters and verses, please?

    4. I am not a Protestant Fundamentalist thus I do not believe that what makes something Christian is whether it can be proof texted by a literal and materialistic interpretation of the bible.

      That said, if you read my post I quoted several sources. If you go to those sources, you will find that they use several passages of scripture as part of the evidence that they are putting for. For example, FIDES ET RATIO 19 is drawing from the Book of Wisdom. The others I shall let you look up to see how they use scripture.

      Yes of course it was intentional that I used a source that referred to a deuterocanonical book.

      But you are still faced with that I have shown that America has its founding roots in Judeo-Christian theism and Christian humanism and not something that is hostile or indifferent to theism.

    5. Impressive avoidance tactics again.

      Now, where in the Christian Bible are to be found any of the principles listed in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776, please?

    6. I have already giving you the evidence. If you will not read the sources that I gave you, I cannot help you with what you have asked.

      Please keep in mind that America's founding fathers were men of great conviction and varied faith. They were not men of no faith or who despised faith. What they created was a government that was restricted from forming a national religion or from enforcing religious laws or from imposing itself upon the workings of the various religions. However this didn't make the government a religion free zone which can easily be shown by the various theistic thought and symbolism in founding documents and early American governmental buildings. Just look at the Great Seal of the US with the Eye of Providence.

    7. >I have already giving you the evidence. If you will not read the sources that I gave you,

      Er... except for the small matter of giving me the chapter and verse from the Christian Bible wherein any of the principles listed in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776 may be found - as anyone can see for themselves.

      The clue is that you haven't mentioned them in any of your messages.

    8. He gave you links that led to the verses. If you were truly interested in the answers to the questions you asked, you would be willing to follow the links and do the research for yourself. Recently, I asked you a question and you told me to "google it" then accused me of dishonesty when i asked for more clarification. At least he gave you links.

    9. Perhaps you would be kind enough to remind me what these were, so other readers who, like me, are probably having trouble finding this comment, can see that you are telling the truth.

      Or maybe not...

  5. Lurker....I suggest you read the Treaty of Tripoli where Thomas Jefferson specifically states that the United States is in no way a Christian nation. Also, there is ample literature surrounding the fact that not only were many of the Founding Fathers non-theists (for example, Bejamin Fanklin), but also Freemasons. Check the works of James W. Loewen or simply search the internet since you are half way there by commenting on this blog post. If you are an American, there is no excuse for you to be ignorant to your country's TRUE history because it doesn't align with your personal beliefs. It is a travesty that grown men will, under the threat of dissent from popular belief, try to twist the truth to make themselves feel better about a faith or strenghten their conviction of a god by blatantly ignoring facts. How do you know what the Founding Fathers 'felt' or were 'thinking'? Were you there? Did you talk to them personally? Like I said, you are interpreting in a self-serving manner to fit whatever beliefs you have. Those are extraordinary claims you have made, and you know what Voltaire said about those (or maybe you don't)....they require extraordinary evidence. You've presented none.

  6. Genesis 1:26-27. The Fact that all humans are created in the image of God gives every person an inherent equality. "All men are created equal." Also something to note. Biblical principle does not mean there is a specific chapter and verse that explicitly states something. Knowledge of biblical principle comes with a deep understanding of scripture as a whole, in context, and a knowledge of God Himself. That said, I don't know if I would call the United States a "Christian nation" since it does not endorse a specific religion, but that doesn't mean none of its founding principles were biblical. Another note. "All men are created equal" is not truly a humanistic principle. If we are all simply a result of evolution, someone who is less physically or mentally able than another is not of as much value. To say the weaker person is of the same value is to defy natural selection.

    1. >The Fact that all humans are created in the image of God gives every person an inherent equality. "All men are created equal." <

      Where precisely in the Bible may this principle be found, please? Just the chapter and verse(s) will do...

  7. Good post. I would make one note. Notwithstanding whatever the Declaration of Independence might say about a "Creator," the document is just a declaration. A great one at that but a declaration. It is not a legislative. Thus, Christians have even less of a basis to argue that the Declaration of Independence somehow proves that the U.S. is a Christian nation. For that, they would have to argue from the Constitution. And as we know, the Constitution doesn't mention God, except in the customary way the Founders wrote the date. Hardly a glowing affirmation of faith.

  8. What is a Christian value? Given that the good ones like be kind or do the right thing aren't specifically Christian (in fact predate Christianity) what is there? Only specifically Christian one I can think of is; Fear and obey your unelected celestial overlord.

    1. I agree

      So many of the so-called Christian Values are not exclusive to christianity.
      Many modern religions as well as ancient, espouse certain basic concepts predicated on the general concept of 'Do good to your fellow man, that he may do good to you'

      Then we get to principles that ARE specific to one particular belief group, most of which seem to be variations on a them of 'Kill/Harm/Maim/or otherwise diminish the welfare of, those who are not members of our sect/clan/belief/cause.

  9. I know this is a couple years old, but I happened upon it this morning, and thought I would toss in a thought. I hope you don't mind. Galatians 3:28 indicates an equality, as does Genesis 1:27 which says God created mankind in His own image...male and female. It is this being "created in God's image" that denotes equality. Male and Female created different yet equal - and from them all humanity has descended - equal in value being created in the very image of God. Psalm 139:13 states that every human born continues to be made in the image of God by the very hands of God.
    as another post mentioned, the principle is present in a broad understanding of the nature of God. I know that isn't entirely scientific but it can be corroborated by the readings of great theologians. The problem however, arises when men who claim to be Christian leaders behave in a way that is contrary to the teachings of Jesus. This is a problem of sin and of pride, when humans become deceived and seek to make their own name great and in so doing hide the truth of the gospel, diminishing the value of those who genuinely love God.
    I'm not writing to rile anyone up or to create dissension, rather to be a part of a global conversation that graciously listens to the thoughts of others for the embetterment of all people.

    1. Mattaniah.

      I think you just illustrated how the Bible can be used to produce proof of anything you want if you're skilled at 'interpreting' carefully selected passages.

      It takes real creativity to assume that being 'created' in the image of a man, even if that were possible for a woman, means men and women were intended to be regarded as equal in terms of human and civil rights. The fact that none of the founders of Christianity spotted that connection can be seen from the racism and misogyny they advocated.

      And of course, there is the indisputable fact that nowhere is democracy advocated anywhere in the Bible. The only thing coming anywhere near the subject from Jesus is to "render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's" where he clearly accepts that an autocratic, unelected despot is entitled to that which he has taken. Armed with this anti-democratic tradition, established Christian churches world-wide have normally resisted democracy and given unswerving support to dictators and hereditary monarchs right up to modern times.

  10. I think the kicker is that the Declaration of Independence is not technically a founding document. It is a legal notice to England, and only establishes a provisional government. The Constitution, the actual founding document, comes later and has no references to God. One reason for this could be that the England of the 18th century was still heavily religious, and so talking about God (even framed with the definitive "Nature's"), was a way of appealing to what the British considered to be the authority who had put the king in place. God save the king!

    Our actual governmental type is older than Christianity, and is actually based on the Hellic Greek republic, which was also used by Rome. So, if one wants to get all technical, we are a secular nation build with pagan values and we broke from a Christian nation so had to frame our Declaration in such a way as they would be less likely to object. They did, but how much worse would it have been had it been a holy war?


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