Listening to conservative talk radio before Christmas, to hear what the uninformed and clueless have to say, I wasn't disappointed when the subject turned to how the founding fathers of the United States supposedly were devout Christians.
That's a bunch of hooey. The main evidence that usually is dragged out for this crock of historical B.S. is the reference in the Declaration of Independence to the Creator.
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.
It's well known, of course, that Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin were deists who believed in reason, not revelation, and in a God detached from the creation, not a God who intervenes and takes an interest in human affairs.
Columnist David Ignatius echoes this truth in an excellent piece I read today, "Wisdom From The Founding Rationalists: What Jefferson and Adams Might Tell Mitt Romney."
A bracing text for this Christmas week is the famous correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Their letters are a reminder that the Founders were men of the Enlightenment -- supreme rationalists who would have found the religiosity of much of our modern political life quite abhorrent.
It's not that these men didn't have religious beliefs: They were, to their deaths, passionate seekers of truth, metaphysical as well as physical. It's that their beliefs didn't fit into pious cubbyholes. Indeed, the deist Jefferson took a pair of scissors to the New Testament to create his "Jefferson Bible," or, formally, "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth," which cut out the parts he regarded as supernatural or misinterpreted by the Gospel writers.
Yes, the founding fathers were not Christians. At least, not in any sense even remotely connected with the hateful, closed-minded, dogmatic, anti-science Christianity prevalent in the United States today. Ignatius has it exactly right.
One theme in this year's political campaign has been whether the United States will move from the faith-based policies the Bush administration has celebrated to a more rationalist and secular approach. In this debate, religious conservatives like to stress their connection to the Founders and to the republic's birth as "one nation under God." But a rereading of the Adams-Jefferson letters is a reminder that in this debate, the Founders -- as men of the Enlightenment -- would surely have sided with the party of Reason.
Interestingly, it seems that the original draft of the Declaration of Independence didn't use the word "Creator." The language said: "…that all men are created equal and independent; that from that equal creation… ."
Sure, we're all created. In our mother's wombs. Out of physical matter and energy. Which comes to us courtesy of the Big Bang some 13.7 billion years ago.
If you want to call whatever lies behind the grand unfolding of the universe "Creator," I've got no problem with that. Just don't expect me to equate this force with any religious entity, Christian or otherwise.