The American Enlightenment 6

John Adams said:

The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

Thomas Paine said:

The study of theology, as it stands in Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on nothing; it proceeds by no authorities; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing and admits of no conclusion.

The Bible: a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalise mankind.

The Christian system of religion is an outrage on common sense.

The Church was resolved to have a New Testament, and out of the loads of rubbish that were presented it voted four to be Gospels, and others to be Epistles, as we now find them arranged.

This is the rubbish called Revealed Religion!

Thomas Jefferson said:

I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.

Religions are all alike – founded upon fables and mythologies.

History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.

In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.

Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.

George Washington said:

Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause. I had hoped that liberal and enlightened thought would have reconciled the Christians so that their religious fights would not endanger the peace of Society.

James Madison said:

During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

In no instance have the churches been guardians of the liberties of the people.

Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.

Benjamin Franklin said:

I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absented myself from Christian assemblies.

Theodore Roosevelt said:

To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any church, is an outrage against that liberty of conscience which is one of the foundations of American life.

  • Liz

    Great quotes!!! 
    The fact that the founders can be quoted to support both sides of the issue of separation of church and state is an indication that the issue was just as controversial then as it is now – it was a matter of debate between Christians and those more influenced by Enlightenment ideas, some of whom were also Christians, some Deists, etc.
    Christians then and ever since have tried to obscure the principle of separation to their “sheeple” and replace it with the idea that Christians have a right impose their beliefs and preferences on everyone else through the means of government because “we  are a Christian Nation”, “the founders were all Christians”, etc. 
    Since Christians are not taught to think critically, but in fact the opposite – to swallow whatever doctrine is spooned out to them – they fail to see that this separation benefits them just as much as it does those of other religions or no religion.
    At the same time, some secularists take it too far in the other direction, trying to impose restrictions on the religious liberty of individuals, which aggravates the conflict.
    I would also agree with Jacks comment about Muslims (below), except I suppose there are many Muslims who are so nominal that they don’t take the jihad commands any more seriously than Christians and Jews take seriously the Old Testament commands to kill infidels.  (But how do you tell which ones they are?)     

  • You have some garbled inaccurate quotes in there.

    • Jillian Becker

      Jon Rowe, please be so good as to correct them. 

  • Jack

     I like these quotes but with the Founders you can always find quotes that show pro-religious sentiments also. Washington, for example, was a big believer in “Providence” and being on good terms with the Creator. Many of the things he said would be considered Fundamentalist type things today.

    I agree that the Founders were remarkably less religious than you would think given their date in history but they were still cultural Christians. And I would bet that pretty much all of them would reject atheism. A totally naturalist worldview would have been considered impossible to them.

    • These thinkers perhaps had not transcended religion entirely, but it’s possible to reject religions (plural) and still believe in God. That seems to be the state they were in. People have noted the apparent Deism in Jefferson many times.

      Several of the quotes above come from arguments against theocracy — civil rule by religious clergy — to justify separation of church and state. The implicit standard was that the State would sanction no particular Church, yet guarantee freedom of worship; meanwhile the Church would have no official role in running the State. That is a founding principle and these quotes are all part of the dialog at the time. In the ancestral homeland — Great Britain — the King and the Archbishop of Canterbury were linked by both law and tradition, mutually granting each other legitimacy in the monarchic system. The American branch of the family saw both — monarchy and theocracy — as direct threats to freedom. So they wrote both completely out of the Constitution.

      This did not prevent Jefferson by appealing to the Creator as the source of inalienable rights — but that particular appeal demonstrates the American attitude specifically: we need no Church between the people and the creator; our rights are universal, not contingent upon the arbitrary interpretations of clergy or peerage; if our rights come from any source above the citizen, then they come from God, not Man.

      But at the same time, it was not — and is not — the State’s place to interfere with freedom of conscience, religious or secular; one therefore may speak, write, and assemble freely and also believe and worship as one pleases, without political repercussions. We tend to take these ideas for granted, but actually they are what made the USA such a revolutionary system. Power is vested in the people, more than in the leaders, through a democratic rather than theocratic or autocratic process.

      Still I agree with you, to the Founders, atheism probably would have been a step too far. As it turns out, atheism wasn’t necessary to get us the Constitution. Instead, only anti-establishment was necessary, leaving us all free to believe and disbelieve as we prefer.

      • Jack

         Good reply. But I wonder if Islam is a different animal altogether. I am leaning towards the view that Islam is a military ideology at root and that organized Islam is a war movement aimed at conquering the West. I seriously lean towards the view that the 1st Amendment shouldn’t apply to Islam and that it should be banned and Muslims should be removed from the West. Islam represents a perpetual solicitation to wage war on infidels.  I don’t think the Founders ever intended freedom of religion to apply to such a phenomenon. That would make the Constitution a suicide pact.