In part 2, I quoted Dinesh D’Souza claiming, as he did over and over in his debate with Susan Jacoby, that, “If you were to subtract the influence of Christianity from the west, what would be left? If you were to subtract it from America, no founding, no Declaration of Independence.” But he did little to support that point. He repeatedly talked about Jefferson grounding inalienable rights on a “Creator” without bothering to mention that Jefferson rejected every important element of Christianity.
That was his primary equivocation, of course, conflating Jefferson’s theistic rationalism with Christianity. The other two primary authors of the Declaration, John Adams and Ben Franklin, had similar views. Were there Christians there as well? Of course there were. The majority of the men who wrote the Declaration and the Constitution were Christian (though the frequent claim about 52 or the 55 framers being ministers is just nonsense). But to claim that there would be no founding without Christianity, that the core principles of America’s founding were based upon a Christian viewpoint is absurd. And if I had been able to question D’Souza directly I would have asked questions like these:
1. If America is “founded on Christian principles,” where are they found in the Constitution? If this claim is true then it shouldn’t be difficult to point to particular provisions of the Constitution and find clear analogs to those ideas in the Bible. Where is the Biblical support for the idea of inalienable rights? Where is the Biblical support for freedom of religion? Or for the concept of political liberty at all? Where is the idea of democracy found anywhere in the Bible? The answer, of course, is that not only are none of those ideas in the Bible, there is a good deal of argument against most of them in the Bible.
2. If America is founded on Christian principles, then why did it take 1700 years for those ideas to appear? There is not a single example of a Christian country, from the time of Constantine’s conversion and the ascendance of Christianity as the religion of the Roman empire to all of the governments of Europe, that had anything resembling freedom of religion or conscience. All were Christian establishments that had none of the ideas that animated, on paper if not in practice, the founding of this country. If those ideas were part of Christianity to begin with, why was they never discovered to be there until the Enlightenment?
3. If America is founded on Christian principles, why were the only people quoting the Bible and Christian tradition at the time of the founding on the wrong side of those principles? Almost the only ones who were quoting the Bible at the time were the Anti-Federalists who opposed the passage of the Constitution, and they did so often on explicitly Christian grounds. At the ratification conventions, the religious right of that day railed against the ban on religious tests for office and ministers all over the country delivered sermons and wrote pamphlets about the evils of not requiring officeholders to be not only Christian, but the particular flavor of Christian that they preferred. Absent religious tests, they argued, a “papist” or a Quaker or even — gasp! — a Jew might be elected. An article that appeared in newspapers in several states in 1788 gave a list of those who might hold office if the Constitution was passed with that provision in Article 6:
“1st. Quakers, who will make the blacks saucy, and at the same time deprive us of the means of defence – 2dly. Mahometans, who ridicule the Trinity – 3dly. Deists, abominable wretches – 4thly. Negroes, the seed of Cain – 5thly. Beggars, who when set on horseback will ride to the devil – 6thly. Jews etc. etc.”
Attempts were made to change this in many of the state conventions. In Virginia, a proposal was made to change the wording of Article 6 to say that “no other religious test shall ever be required than a belief in the one only true God, who is the rewarder of the good, and the punisher of the evil.” Also in Virginia, an amendment was offered and defeated that would have required the establishment of academies “at every proper place through the United States” for young people to learn “the principles of the Christian religion without regard to any sect, but pure and unadulterated as left by its divine author and his apostle.”
And it wasn’t just the ban on religious tests. The fact that the Constitution broke with tradition by not making any statement at all of fealty to God in its preamble was also a major concern at the time. Without it, declared many ministers and delegates to the ratification conventions, we risked bringing down the wrath of God. As historians Isaac Kramnick and Laurence Moore said in their book The Godless Constitution:
No surprise, then, that a frequent claim heard in 1787 and 1788 was that the Constitution represented a deistic conspiracy to overthrow the Christian commonwealth. This view was most powerfully put by the Carlisle, Pennsylvania, pamphleteer “Aristocrotis” in a piece aptly titled “The Government of Nature Delineated or An Exact Picture of the New Federal Constitution.”
Aristocrotis contends that the delegates in Philadelphia have created a govemment that for the first time in world history removes religion from public life. Until 1787 “there was never a nation in the world whose government was not circumscribed by religion.” But this was no problem for the Constitutional Convention intent on creating “a government founded upon nature.” What, he asks, “is the world to the federal convention but as the drop of a bucket, or the small dust in the balance! What the world could not accomplish from the commencement of time till now, they easily performed in a few moments by declaring that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, under the United States? ” This, Aristocrotis suggests, “is laying the ax to the root of the tree; whereas other nations only lopped off a few noxious branches.” He argues that the “new Constitution, disdains . . . belief of a deity, the immortality of the soul, or the resurrection of the body, a day of judgement, or a future state of rewards and punishments,” because its authors are committed to a natural religion that is deistic nonreligion…An Anti-Federalist writer wamed in a Boston newspaper on January 10, 1788, that since God was absent from the Constitution, Americans would suffer the fate that the prophet Samuel foretold to Saul: “because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee.” In short, if Americans in their new fundamental law forgot God and His Christian commonwealth, God would soon forget them, and they would perish. The same apocalyptic theme was picked up by the Massachusetts Anti-Federalist Charles Turner, who feared that “without the presence of Christian piety and morals the best Republican Constitution can never save us from slavery and ruin.” …
Like this Virginian, those opposed to the godless Constitution did not just complain; their advocacy of a Christian commonwealth led them to propose specific changes in the Constitution at various state ratifying conventions, all of which were rejected. In Connecticut, William Williams, a delegate, formally moved that the Constitution’s one-sentence preamble be enlarged to include a Christian conception of politics, He proposed that it be changed to read, “We the people of the United States in a firm belief of the being and perfection of the one living and true God, the creator and supreme Governor of the World, in His universal providence and the authority of His laws: that He will require of all moral agents an account of their conduct, that all rightful powers among men are ordained of, and mediately derived from God, therefore in a dependence on His blessing and acknowledgment of His efficient protection in establishing our Independence, whereby it is become necessary to agree upon and settle a Constitution of federal government for ourselves, and in order to form a more perfect union, etc., as it is expressed in the present introduction, do ordain, etc.”
For more than a century after the Constitution was ratified, attempts were made over and over again to add a “Christian nation” amendment to that document; all of them failed. The conservative Christian position from the very start was that the Constitution was a godless document that would bring down God’s wrath upon us all. The National Reform Association tried for decades to add language to the Constitution to avoid that inevitable result. In 1863, they held a conference and proposed the following language be added to the Constitution:
We, the People of the United States [recognizing the being and attributes of Almighty God, the Divine Authority of the Holy Scriptures, the law of God as the paramount rule, and Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior and Lord of all], in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
The following year, they submitted a slightly different version:
We, the people of the United States, humbly acknowledging Almighty God as the source of all authority and power in civil government, the Lord Jesus Christ as the Ruler among the nations, his revealed will as the supreme law of the land, in order to constitute a Christian government, and in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the inalienable rights and the blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to ourselves, our posterity, and all the people, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
This went on from the late 1700s to the late 1900s; the last attempt to add a Christian nation amendment to the Constitution was in 1980. So the opposition to the Constitution at the time was largely Christian. What of the advocacy of it?
4. If the Constitution is based on Christian principles, why did the men who wrote it, advocated and explained its meaning to the people during the ratification debates ever say so? We have the Federalist Papers, written by John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison to explain each provision of the Constitution. In those essays they explain the origin of many of those provisions and there is not a single reference to the Bible or to Christian theology. Given that the Federalist Papers were written to explain and defend the provisions of the Constitution to a predominately Christian populace, it would certainly have helped their cause to cite Biblical support for those ideas; they could not, because none exists. The men who wrote the Constitution referred to many sources, most of them Enlightenment philosophers like John Locke, Montesquieu, Algernon Sydney and others, and also to Cicero, Plato and other Greek and Roman thinkers. The entire process was an exercise in the use of reason, as John Adams made clear in an essay called A Defense of the Constitution of the United States:
The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses…
Once again, D’Souza is shown to have ignored nearly all of the relevant history in order to make a blatantly dishonest point.