The Declaration of Independence—A Christian Document?

The Declaration of Independence—A Christian Document? October 28, 2013

Is America a Christian nation? Some Christians eagerly point to the word “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence (1776) as evidence:

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.

Who is this “Creator”? Is it Yahweh, the Christian god? Is it a placeholder into which you can imagine any god so that Muslims can imagine Allah or Hindus can imagine Brahma?

No—the opening sentence clarifies: it’s not Yahweh but “Nature’s God.” At the time, this phrase was understood as the deist god of Enlightenment philosophers like Spinoza and Voltaire. Deism was popular in Revolutionary America, and Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, and other founding fathers were either deists or inspired by the movement. Deism imagines a hands-off god, a creator who, once the clock is built and wound up, leaves it to tick by itself.

The role of this “Creator” is clarified in the Declaration:

Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

In other words, the Creator has no role in government. We’ve turned our back on the divine right of kings, where the king was God’s representative who served at God’s pleasure. God isn’t the foundation on which authority rests. No—it’s the consent of the governed. The buck stops here, which is very empowering.

Remember that the purpose of the Declaration was to inform Britain that the colonies wanted to become independent. When government becomes abusive, the recourse isn’t to appeal to God:

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.

Again, we see that the government rules at the pleasure of the people, not God.

While the Declaration of Independence doesn’t give Christians what they may imagine it does—an acknowledgement of the existence of the Christian god and his sovereignty over this country—this exercise is largely irrelevant. The Declaration isn’t the supreme law of the United States. That’s the Constitution, and it’s secular. Like the Declaration, it makes clear where the buck stops. In huge letters, it begins, We the People.

Watch out for Christian revisionist historians bringing up the Declaration. They’d bring up the Constitution, the document that actually matters, if they could. But they know they can’t, and that’s the white flag of surrender.

I think of myself as a militant agnostic:
I don’t know, and you don’t either.
— Michael Shermer

(This is a modified version of a post that originally appeared 2/10/12.)

Photo credit: Wikimedia

"Does it sound like overt prediction to you? It does not to me, except as ..."

Silver-Bullet Argument #26: Jesus Was Wrong ..."
"Stay on topic. Whining about humans' imaginary response to slavery isn't the point; rather, it's ..."

What Is Anti-Gay Speech? And How ..."
"Oh, you think I'm talking about the child sex abuse pic. No, I'm talking about ..."

What Is Anti-Gay Speech? And How ..."
"What does YOUR PIC have do with anything I said?Show me where I blamed a ..."

What Is Anti-Gay Speech? And How ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Y. A. Warren

    Well done! Bravo! This is the most intelligent argument for separation of church and state I have yet seen. Thank you!

  • arkenaten

    Over on WordPress there is a mini war going on over this issue. Not being American I am watching from the sidelines but I have linked this piece and I suspect you will get one or two visits.

    Another succinct explanation of an oft debated and misunderstood topic, Bob. Thanks.

    • I hadn’t heard of that debate about Lincoln. Thanks for the link.

  • smrnda

    Something I find odd – Christians can seem like real nitpickers when it comes to whether a person or document is *really Christian.* The Mormons believe in Jesus, but there are a decent number of Christians who think the Mormons aren’t Christians. Some Catholics maintain that only Catholics are really Christians. Christians argue that particular translations of the Bible aren’t adequately Christian, and that Christian music isn’t adequately Christian. It’s as if you can’t be Christian unless you lay it on very thick and explicit.

    But yet, when they get to the Declaration of Independence, even the slightest wording that can be taken as anything like Christianity is taken as proof of its thoroughly Christian nature by many Christians who are otherwise extremely skeptical of whether a document is Christian or not.

    • wtfwjtd

      I noticed, among a lot of my fundie friends during this last election cycle, an interesting turn of events. The religion that I grew up in, the Nazarenes, insisted that Mormonism was a cult and that Joseph Smith was a fraud. Suddenly, with Mittens as the Republican nominee, Mormons were good Christians like every one else and insisted I need to vote for this good Christian man as well. I was floored at how quickly and easily partisanship trumped religious belief; as long as a man had a “R” behind his name that’s all that mattered. Unsurprisingly, after Mitt was shellacked last November, many of those same people have gone back to insisting that Mormonism is indeed a cult, and try to tell me that was their feeling all along.
      And they just can’t understand my cynicism about their religious and political beliefs; in fact, in the last several years, the two have become indistinguishable.

      • Reminds me of that scene in 1984 where the country with which England is allied changes. A speaker, informed of this mid-speech, changes the names of the ally and enemy and continues with his foaming-at-the-mouth speech.

        The people listening look up at the banners (now wrong), are outraged at the treachery of their enemy, and change them while the speech continues.

        • wtfwjtd

          The crazy things people will do in the name of religion(disguised as politics) is astounding! Compromising core personal beliefs and ethics isn’t given a second thought if it’s done by and for the party faithful and its cause of the moment. Hitchens is right, “religion poisons everything”.

        • RandomFunction2

          To Bob the broken, yet somehow fabulous, atheist,
          It’s funny that you bring up 1984, because the book makes clear that the governement of Oceania is atheistic and wants to wipe out all memories of God, and even the very possibility of conceiving God.
          1984 is many things, but it’s certainly not a case for atheism.

        • Kodie

          Christians are in a delusional epic battle for control and righteousness. They want a theocracy but they fear an Islamic domination. They want to dominate, nobody else. They don’t want an atheistic domination. They think if they are not in the dominant position, that there is nobody at the switch, and another group will seize the opportunity. You may be right about 1984 but you also like to miss the point. Christians project a lot of their fears of another group taking what they think is their chosen place at the top. They will grasp at any whiff of a chance to demonize another group so they can fight for good and anyone else is evil. They are paranoid.

        • smrnda

          The world of 1984 appears to be devoid of religion, but so does the world of Star Trek.

          Orwell was also very much against religion, so I have a hard time believing he was making a case for theism. I suspect he just considered religion more or less irrelevant so it didn’t pop up in his book. The lack of religion in the book could possibly be inferred as a sign that religion had been forcibly eradicated, but given the whole of Orwell’s work, I don’t think that he had a positive opinion on religion.

          Another issue is many people have read 1984 but nothing else by Orwell. It’s certainly a pretty sparse volume built around making a small points very well, but reading his essays and other novels will provide anyone with a much clearer idea of where Orwell stood on issues. I find 1984 lends itself to people who are right-wing libertarians to appropriate Orwell, something that

        • RandomFunction2

          I am not saying that Orwell had a positive view of religion. But in 1984 he made clear that a society which had eradicated religion would not automatically become the paradise on earth, contrary to the view of some clueless atheists, as if religion were somehow the root of all evils.

        • I agree that religion isn’t the root of all evil. It’s also the case that cigarettes aren’t the world’s only health risk. Nevertheless, the world would be better without both of them, it seems to me.

        • RandomFunction2

          That’s debatable. Without some varieties of religion, certainly. Without religion in its most benign forms, I’m not so sure.
          Let’s take an example. Christianity did not destroy the Roman Empire. Barbarians did. But Christianity was what saved some bits of classical culture, including pagan culture, from oblivion.

        • The question is whether religion is a net positive or not. If your point is that religion has some good points, I agree.

        • RandomFunction2

          But there is a big problem in the way you are framing the question to begin with! Why should we lump all religions together Under the label “religion” as if they had the same essence? Why should we study such an abstract essence as “religion” instead of specific religious movements or thinkers? Why should islamic fundamentalism and liberal protestantism, or the Dalai Lama and crazy cults, be calculated on the same sheet? Even within roman catholicism, which is supposed to be united Under a single head, there are different trends which don’t amount to the same strengths and shortcomings.

        • Why should islamic fundamentalism and
          liberal protestantism, or the Dalai Lama and crazy cults, be calculated on the same sheet?

          Because they believe in the supernatural without sufficient
          evidence? Or am I missing your question?

        • wtfwjtd

          RF, I think you may have missed the point there. Using the government in an effort to dictate thought is just as oppressive when atheists do it as when religious zealots do it. The point I was trying to make in my post is that I know plenty of the religious that want to hypocritically pretend that when they use the government force their beliefs on others, then somehow it’s not oppressive.
          Most atheists I know want a government that is religion-neutral, not one that will ban religion. I know of very few religious people who are content to allow the government to be religion neutral. There are a few, maybe, but in my recent experience there are unfortunately very few.

        • RichardSRussell

          Nor did anyone contend it was. Bob’s comment was directed toward the ability of the mind of the True Believer to blindly follow the party line, whatever it is. Suspension of critical faculties is certainly an essential feature of religion, but religion doesn’t have a monopoly on it.

        • Loren Petrich

          So it’s switching between “Eurasia, our great ally in the fight against Eastasia and all its evils” and “Eastasia, our great ally in the fight against Eurasia and all its evils”.

          George Orwell imagined Britain and other Anglo nations turned into Oceania, with English Socialism (IngSoc) as its official ideology. He imagined it to be a Stalinist nation, complete with a Stalin-like Big Brother and a Trotsky-like villain named Goldstein who daily suffers a “Two Minutes Hate”. His story’s central character was someone with a job rewriting history, something that Communists have been notable for. It even extended to painting over pictures of Party officials who had fallen out of favor: “The Commissar Vanishes”.

          He also imagined a super Soviet Union as Eurasia with neo-Bolshevism, and a super Communist China as Eastasia with Death-worship / Obliteration of Self. Three Stalinist empires perpetually fighting each other and temporarily allying with each other as they do so. Isaac Asimov had considered 1984 rather contrived, but he conceded that 1984 was right about international power politics, with its continually shifting alliances.

          This is not the first time that GO had taken a swipe against Communism. He had served in the Spanish Civil War on the side of an anarchist faction, but when it came under siege by a pro-Soviet one for not being subservient to Moscow, he fled.

          Before 1984, he wrote Animal Farm, an animal allegory about Soviet Communism up to Stalin. Religion appears in it as Moses the Raven, who tells the other animals about the pie in the sky when they die.

      • smrnda

        Just look at the way that anti-contraception has become an evangelical AND catholic thing, even when that was a position that distinguished catholics from protestants in the past. The catholics and protestants are uniting around regressive social policies.

        • wtfwjtd

          Just one more reason I left organized religion a long time ago; for them, the more regressive, the better, these days.

      • Kodie

        They are willing to count all of them when it works in their political favor, but disown them when it comes to who is actually favored by the god they believe in. Something like 75-80% people identify as Christian, but they’re also a persecuted minority because most of those people are just frauds or fools or in it for the copious amounts of shrimp cocktail… or whatever. We’re not sheep but the rest of them are doing it wrong, for whatever reason, but they count because our mission is also their mission.

        All we want is to put a nativity scene on the courthouse lawn every December, and then force all the store cashiers to say “Merry Christmas” because I celebrate one of the holidays, and it’s called Christmas, and I won’t be happy on my holiday unless everyone names it by name. But you can’t tell stores owned by Christians what we have to sell for whom and for whatever or what kind of medical coverage we have to lawfully provide. We also want war memorials to be in the shape of a cross, and to have things shaped like a cross wherever we want to put them, no matter if it’s public land or not. And we want to make it illegal to be an atheist openly, and also make it illegal to be gay. Like, is it so hard for someone to get excited by a vagina? But don’t get too excited by vaginas. Rather than outlaw abortion, we’re going to make it easy and just lock them up with voice recognition and fingerprint security. If a girl’s father dies before she is old enough to marry, her father’s index finger will be amputated, preserved, and entrusted to her uncle. We just want to be able to go camping alone with other guys and none of them checking us out like we’re a woman or something, and the law is they can only check us out if they notify us before the camping trip that they like guys. And we want to also say that evolution is crazy talk but a talking snake is perfectly normal. Snakes talk all the time! You don’t know!

        • JohnH2

          ” a talking snake is perfectly normal. Snakes talk all the time! You don’t know!”

          You just have to be a parseltongue to understand the language in which they are speaking.

        • randomfactor

          Eve was a witch! That explains everything!

        • wtfwjtd

          Ugh, I’m already starting to hear that “Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays” nonsense among some of the fundies around here, I guess they think it’s time to hyperventilate over another non-issue again. As for putting up crosses, don’t the Christians have a god-given right to clutter up public property with their crosses and symbols? Never mind that 20 per cent of land in the U.S. falls under tax exempt status for religion, not to mention miles and miles and miles of available private property, and offers plenty of visible space for their toys.
          It’s like an annoying little dog, that has to go around the house and pee on the drapes, furniture and other stuff, ’cause going outside just ain’t good enough.

        • The 20% sounds high. There’s a lot of national park land.

          Maybe it’s 20% of a particular subset.

        • wtfwjtd

          I’ll see if I can find a source for that Bob, I remember a prof in college throwing around that number pretty confidently(and I doubt it’s went down since then). Actually, I should have said 20 per cent of taxable real estate–which is still a lot of free range to put stuff on.

        • smrnda

          With all that tax free land, they need tax funded land to put up these crosses? This is clearly just some kind of pissing contest.

        • smrnda

          I typically say neither myself, since I don’t see why I should assume that everybody is celebrating something. It’s like putting up a happy birthday sign somewhere every day since the odds of someone having a birthday soon is high enough…

        • “Happy Solstice!” doesn’t naturally spring to your lips?

  • ElderMusician

    Bob: your arguments are arguably rational; your sources invariably impeccable; your tone straight forward and not condescending. Hence, you’ll have every Christian in the nation wanting your head! g

  • RichardSRussell

    The likelihood that America is a Christian nation is directly proportional to the number of occurrences of the words “Jesus”, “Christ”, “God”, “Bible”, and “Christianity” in the US Constitution.

  • Sven2547

    The “their” in “their Creator” is also key. It notably does not say “the Creator”, or “our Creator”. Each person’s rights are endowed by their respective “Creator”, whomever that might be.

    I, for one, was created by my parents.

    • Good point. Yet another example that the D of I isn’t trying to impose. (Contrast that with some state constitutions and foundational documents like the Mayflower Compact that were extremely Christian.)

    • “Their” refers to “all men’s” Creator, i.e., all of humanity’s. So it assumes that all people are created by the same being, i.e. “nature’s God.”

      • RichardSRussell

        Does not follow from the language that they all had to share a single creator. All cars I’m familiar with have been endowed by their creator with a rear-view mirror. Does that mean there’s only one poor over-worked slob installing rear-view mirrors on every car in existence?

        • I’m basing this off deist belief partly, which did posit one creator deity. More broadly though, if you mean creators plural, it would be good to specify that. Otherwise usual inference would go to the singular.

        • RichardSRussell

          It may be good to do it that way, but it’s not required by the rules of grammar, and I think you’re trying to use the rules of grammar to say what must have been intended. I was simply pointing out that there’s at least one other way of reading the same words.

          Another example: “Each child attending 1st grade in Miss Meriwether’s class had been endowed by her or his mother with a backpack.” Do you find it natural to infer from this that all those kids had but a single mother? Or would you have preferred the construction “endowed by her or his mothers”?

        • It isn’t required, no, and I’m not saying that it must be. Rather, going by deist belief, and the intent of establishing that all people had natural rights (if some people weren’t created by “Nature’s God” they wouldn’t have such rights presumably). The mother example is different as we know it’s not commonly believed that all people possess the same mother. In contrast, it *is* commonly believed regarding a putative creator.

        • RichardSRussell

          Well, FWIW, I think your interpretation is not only reasonable but likely correct. However, one of Bob’s points here is that we shouldn’t read too much into 237-year-old phraseology as if the words then meant exactly the same as they do today.

          Heck, they didn’t even mean the same thing to everybody at the time they were written. I’d lay serious money on the idea that some of the people who signed the DoI thot that “Creator” meant exactly the Christian God, even tho Jefferson himself almost certainly did not.

        • Oh, we agree there. In any case the Declaration isn’t law, so I don’t think it matters. And you’re right, I’m sure people interpreted the words their way. Later they objected that God wasn’t in the Constitution however. That makes a good point against the “Christian nation” arguments.

  • I don’t think the Declaration uncouples government from religion completely. Not only does it assert the deist God, but assumes our rights come from this entity, and that government is based on this foundation. Otherwise, the argument implies, they would have no basis on which to protest against the British government (not that I or you have to agree with that idea). The issue of church-state separation is never specifically addressed in the Declaration either (although we know Thomas Jefferson’s view of that, as he coined the term).

    • The DoI does talk about “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them.” Sure, it does assume a deist god, though without evidence and compulsion.

  • RandomFunction2

    To Bob the broken, yet somehow fabulous, atheist,
    I know I’m slightly off-topic, but… I’d question the power of “the people” to enact any conceivable civil law. Some laws have to be in agreement with basic moral truths or else they have no legitimacy. A secular government cannot demand that everyone be perfect and holy, but on the other hand the people should know that human whims, fashions and cultural trends are not the highest authority. And I’m not saying that the Bible or the Koran is (and Christians cannot even agree on what the Bible demands anyway). The highest authority is the objective moral order which people are not supposed to mock.

    • Some laws have to be in agreement with basic moral truths or else they have no legitimacy.

      If by “basic moral truths” you mean the widely held moral beliefs within society, I agree. If that’s not what you mean, you’ll have to explain how whatever that is actually exists.

      human whims, fashions and cultural trends are not the highest authority

      No, but human morals are.

      The highest authority is the objective moral order which people are not supposed to mock.

      What is the “objective moral order”? Can we all access it and, if so, can you demonstrate this? Why use that phrasing instead of “universally held moral beliefs”?

      • RandomFunction2

        To Bob the broken, yet somehow fabulous, atheist,
        Do you at least agree that the popularity or unpopularity of a belief is different from its truth?
        Why should widely held moral beliefs be truer than minority beliefs? Have you forgotten the lessons from the past and its primitive, yet nearly universal, moral mindset?
        It is not the sheer universality of a moral belief that legitimizes it. It is backward. Its legitimacy in itself is ground for its universal acceptance.

        • Do you at least agree that the popularity or unpopularity of a belief is different from its truth?

          Of course.

          Why should widely held moral beliefs be truer than minority beliefs?

          We don’t know that they are. If you have a more reliable route to moral perfection, let me know.

          Have you forgotten the lessons from the past and its primitive, yet nearly universal, moral mindset?

          Morality changes. Yes, I realize that. The Bible endorsed polygamy, slavery, and genocide, but we don’t. We think that we’re right (but of course we would, wouldn’t we?). I know of no perfect yardstick against which to measure our moral standards. We think we’re right; maybe we’re not.

          Its legitimacy in itself is ground for its universal acceptance.

          And how does one discover this legitimacy? Study your particular scriptures, I imagine? Pray to your particular god(s)?

        • RandomFunction2

          I don’t think people could really rely on any Scripture to get moral guidance. People get their morals from their society, but they could be challenged to some extent by reading Scriptures, other religious texts or philosophy.
          But most of the time, it is contemporary people that challenge the message of the Bible because it doesn’t square with their understanding of ethics.

        • Right, and when people (strong enough to challenge religion) point out those areas where the Bible is wrong, society can improve.

    • ansuz

      …wait. Not supposed to mock? I’m sorry, what? It’s against my religion* to hold things unmockably sacred. Also, life is way too important to take seriously.**

      *no, really, kind of.
      **paraphrasing Oscar Wilde.

    • smrnda

      My view of morality is pragmatic – it’s about making life livable for people, and to prevent anyone from being too pissed and shat on. It’s really just giving people the society that they want, without giving the majority the power to oppress a minority because they feel like it. In that case, the authority has to rest with the people whose lives are affected by those law.

      Governments don’t demand people be holy, perfect, or even good – they demand that you don’t break the rules that society has agreed to follow, which include things that are considered by most to people but also include plenty of whims and such (and whether an issue is a whim or something serious is up to debate.) I cannot make a lot of noise or else I am in violation of the noise ordinance because we’ve decided that people can’t be too noisy. There are some rules I think are silly and pointless (why must alcohol not be sold after 2am?) but so far, I haven’t been so inspired as to launch a campaign against them.

      Since I view morality as something done for human welfare, that means I don’t think morals outside of human’s conception of morality can exist or even make sense.

    • tyler

      this is entirely off topic but i have to ask where the “broken yet somehow fabulous” thing comes from

      i assume it’s a cross examined in-joke from like a billion years ago but it’s such a strange and random salutation that i just have to know what the story behind it is

      • The “broken” part you’ll have to get from RF2. I confess that I never understood it and assumed it was a reference to atheists being fallen or incomplete or something.
        A bit frustrated at the repeated salutation, I edited it once to read “fabulous” (yes, I can do that; I can also control the horizontal and the vertical), and RF2 was apparently amused enough with it to keep them both.

      • RichardSRussell

        I believe it’s more accurately characterized as an “out joke”.

    • wtfwjtd

      A secular government cannot demand that everyone be perfect and holy,

      Nor should it. This is what gives me the shivers, when religious folks try and convert,then use, that secular government to demand that everyone be perfect and holy, according to the dictates of their particular flavor or brand of holiness. It’s this kind of horror show that most of us wish to avoid.

  • Ricker

    For an extremely detailed list of rebuttals to some of the Christian revisionists’ ideas, try reading Liars for Jesus. Summaries and exerpts from various chapters can be found here:

  • Alexander

    The issue is actually a little subtler. There’s a view of natural law underlying the Declaration that is rooted in part in Christian thought and the idea of God without being based in the Bible. Yet there is a way for atheists (like me) to embrace the key ideas, as I explain in my webinar:

    • ZenDruid

      I contend that the natural law underlying the Declaration is strongly rooted in Stoicism. I get the impression that someone took Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations seriously, as well as Epictetus, Cicero and Seneca.

      • Jason

        Actually, the Epicureans were closer to deists.

  • Good piece, Bob. Yes, we need to remind people that there really is a bit of theology in there, just not what the revisionists want; it rejects the Divine Right of Kings.

  • randomfactor

    I’ve come to view the Constitution as the operators manual for the government. The Declaration of Independence is the sales brochure. Very different intents.

    To sell the product, you appeal to people’s desires. The religious can see a mention of a capital-G God and think it’s an appeal to their particular faith. Deists see “Nature’s God” (also capitalized) and the Enlightenment fans see language that appeals to THEM.

    But you don’t operate the equipment by reading the sales brochure. (“Ah, you saw the DEMO,” as the old joke goes.)

  • fsda

    Let’s see what John Adams had to say about it:

    “There is nothing in which mankind have been more unanimous [founding nations upon superstition]; yet nothing can be inferred from it more than this, that the multitude have always been credulous, and the few artful. 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… [T]he detail of the formation of the American governments… may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had any interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the inspiration of heaven… it will for ever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses… Thirteen governments thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favour of the rights of mankind.”

    [A Defence of the Constitutions of the United States of America, 1787]

    What about George Washington?

    “The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period. The researches of the human mind after social happiness have been carried to a great extent, the treasures of knowledge acquired by the labors of philosophers, sages, and legislators, through a long succession of years, are laid open to our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily employed in the establishment of our forms of government.”

    And of course, much more of the same for Jefferson, but to an even greater degree.

  • james81

    Here we have yet another internet intellectual who would like to disjoin the Constitution from its underpinnings in the Declaration of Independence.

    And here we have, once again, the faux intellectualism that is the hallmark of the Patheos website.

    • Greg G.

      And here we have, once again, the faux intellectualism that is the hallmark of the Patheos website.

      Perhaps you are pointing the wrong way. The point of the article is that “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence is not what Christians would like to assume. Whether there are underpinnings of the DoI in the Constitution are not relevant to the discussion.

      Since both documents come from common authors, their common underpinnings come from the same earlier writings rather than from each other.

    • The Constitution is not based on the DoI. It is the supreme law of the land, while the DoI is an important historical document. Both important, but they are in two very different domains. The DoI has nothing to say about how the US should be governed today.

      And, as I made clear in the post, the DoI isn’t much of a friend to the Christian anyway. It makes clear where the power resides, and it’s not Yahweh or Jesus.

    • Michael Neville

      The Declaration of Independence was a political and propaganda document written by Jefferson. The Constitution is a legal document, written over ten years later when Jefferson was the ambassador to France. The two have nothing to do with each other, despite what certain conservatives may claim.

  • jp-opinion

    I agree that the founding fathers, if not all deists, were at least mostly deists.

    “The Declaration isn’t the supreme law of the United States.”

    Maybe it isn’t the supreme law, but it is the context in which we are to understand the constitution and for that reason, is not to be disregarded. If you disregard the part about how the Creator gave us those rights, then you also disregard the part about how those rights are not subject to be taken away by any person. The introduction of the creator in that document is fundamental to why our rights cannot be taken away. Without it being included, the entire point about our rights becomes a matter of opinion.

    • The simple fact remains that the Constitution defines the law. The DoI doesn’t.

      Anyway, focusing just on the word “Creator” doesn’t get a Christian much, as the post explains.

  • Mountain Man

    I like how this article skips right over the first two sentences of the Declaration of Independence which lay the foundation for everything that follows, and then the author deceptively leaves off the first five-words from the part he does quote. Here’s how the third sentence of the Declaration of Independence starts, with the words the Patheos author “forgot” to include: “_That to secure these rights_, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” What rights are being referred to? The answer, obviously, is contained in the preceding sentence: “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.”

    In other words, if we have no God given rights then there’s nothing for us to secure through the institution of government.

    And in case you’re wondering, the phrase “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God” is a reference to the writings of Lord Bolingbroke who wrote: “You will find that it is the modest, not the presumptuous enquirer, who makes a real, and safe progress in the discovery of divine truths. One follows nature, and nature’s God; that is, he follows God in his works, and in his word.” Which is to say that the Declaration of Independence is not referring to the impersonal watchmaker god of deism but specifically to the God of the Bible. This is reinforced in the closing paragraphs which appeal to “the Supreme Judge” and “the protection of Divine Providence”.

    • The answer, obviously, is contained in the preceding sentence: “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.”

      Uh huh. I quoted that in the beginning of the post.

      The founding fathers must’ve kicked themselves when they realized they forgot to put in the stuff about being subservient to God and Jesus and all that. Ah well–it turned out for the best.

    • Michael Neville

      How do you know that a fictitious, imaginary, non-existent critter gave anything to anyone? First you need to show that “Nature’s God” even exists before you can claim that he, she, it or they gave rights or anything else to people. Until you’ve shown that this god critter isn’t a figment of the imagination, we can dismiss Jefferson’s rhetoric as merely that, a figure of speech.