I read a comment in the post recommending the book Self Evident Truth and felt that it deserved a detailed reply. The comment reads as follows:
It sounds like it may be a bit slanted. During the enlightenment when our country was founded it was believed by many founding fathers that religion was on the way out (much like slavery -- and they were mistaken on both counts). The primary author of The Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson also coined the phrase, "wall of separation between church and state," and edited his own personal version of the Bible (which would not be very highly regarded by most Christians).
In reading the writings of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Paine, and James Madison, to name four, it becomes clear that they did not endorse many religious views.
I am not saying Mr. Gordon's book is wrong -- I haven't even read it. I will as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. I would merely suggest it may not be entirely balanced on it's own.
This brief comment certainly opens up a number of topics of conversation. While I respect this person's willingness to post his opinions on this subject, I'm sorry to say he is quite incorrect on a number of points; that is assuming that he doesn't have access to materials written about or by the founders that I haven't had the privilege of reading.
I'd like to discuss these points in order.
"...it was believed by many founding fathers that religion was on it's way out."
I find this conclusion would be very difficult to substantiate. Indeed, if all of those who signed the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution are combined with the non-signing Constitutional Convention delegates, and then added to all of the congressmen in the First Federal Congress, you will have a total of 204 "Founders" (discounting those that appear multiple times). These 204 Founders' self-declared religious affiliations come out as:
3.7% Dutch Reformed
Now you might make the argument that those affiliations were a requirement of the time and a political necessity. And I'd have to agree that no one can really know someone else's relationship with God. But since all we can know for sure ARE these proclaimed affiliations and the words these men wrote, I must disagree with the commentator's contention. There is essentially no evidence that many (or even a significant minority) of the Founders thought that religion was “on its way out.” In fact, even the Declaration of Independence mentions or refers to God at least seven times.
Now as to the statement, "Thomas Jefferson coined the term 'wall of separation between the church and the state...'"
Well, as a believer in Christ, I must say that I'm quite glad that he did. Oh, not in the way that so many today misuse this statement, nor in the way that it is removed from the context in which it was said. No, I fully support Mr. Jefferson’s statement because of his original context.
President Jefferson wrote those words in a reply to a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. The Danbury Baptists were a religious minority in Connecticut, and their complaint to the president concerned the RIGHT to worship as they desired, rather than their style of worship being a granted privilege by their State, or as they put it - as "favors granted." Jefferson was very careful in his reply; especially so because at that time the preeminent position of the Federal government over the powers of individual states was not yet enthroned. So, in writing to the Association, he could honestly address only the Federal role (or lack thereof) with regards to religious freedoms.
Jefferson wrote, "Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,; thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."
He finished his letter with, "I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association assurances of my high respect & esteem."
(signed) Thomas Jefferson
As the letter attests, Mr. Jefferson was a firm believer in the right of the free exercise of religion. In fact, he is famously quoted as saying, "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are 20 gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
So was Mr. Jefferson a believer?
Again a quote: "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice can not sleep forever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference!"
So what did Jefferson mean by a wall of separation? Let's ask him.
"Religious institutions that use government power in support of themselves and force their views on persons of other faiths, or of no faith, undermine all our civil rights. Moreover, state support of an established religion tends to make the clergy unresponsive to their own people, and leads to corruption within religion itself. Erecting the 'wall of separation between church and state,' therefore, is absolutely essential in a free society."
Mr. Jefferson was extremely concerned about the idea of a coercive State Religion, a concern I share. But he was never opposed to such things as prayer in school or the ten commandments carved on a stone at a county court house.
How do I know this?
In 1774, in the Virginia Assembly, Jefferson introduced a resolution calling for a Day of Fasting and Prayer.
In 1779, then Virginia Governor Jefferson decreed a day of “Public and solemn thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God.”
On March 4, 1805, President Jefferson offered “A National Prayer for Peace,” which petitioned:
“Almighty God, Who has given us this good land for our heritage; We humbly beseech Thee that we may always prove ourselves a people mindful of Thy favor and glad to do Thy will. Bless our land with honorable ministry, sound learning, and pure manners.
Save us from violence, discord, and confusion, from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitude brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues.
Endow with Thy spirit of wisdom those to whom in Thy Name we entrust the authority of government, that there may be justice and peace at home, and that through obedience to Thy law, we may show forth Thy praise among the nations of the earth.
In time of prosperity fill our hearts with thankfulness, and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in Thee to fail; all of which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”
Now as to the statement: "...his own personal version of the Bible (which would not be very highly regarded by most Christians)..."
This no doubt refers to the so-called Jefferson Bible. I say so-called because Jefferson never called it that. His title for the work he created was "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth." It was never published in his lifetime. It was left to some later individual to call it "The Jeffersonian Bible."
Now I have a confession. I have done much the same as Mr. Jefferson. But fortunately I've been able to use a word processor and a less "destructive" method of cutting and pasting various translations of the words of Jesus of Nazareth. Why would I do this? I assume for the same reasons as Thomas Jefferson: to learn, to the best of my abilities, the thoughts and commandments of the Word of God.
Jefferson's "Bible," as it was referred to, was 46 pages long and dealt in its entirety with those portions of the New Testament that concerned Jesus. There is no doubt that Jefferson was a seeker. Well so am I. There are portions of the Bible I do not understand. There are things within its pages that I doubt. That lack of understanding and those doubts are mine. And like Jefferson, I believe those doubts and misunderstandings to be "a matter which lies solely between Man & his God." I will continue to search for answers to my questions just as Mr. Jefferson did. And ultimately, I'll ask God for greater illumination when I finally arrive Home. But like Jefferson, the words of the Savior are to me the most important portion of the Bible. And I constantly read them so as to gain greater insight. (One thing I've discovered is that Jesus has a tremendous sense of humor.)
Jefferson’s "Bible" was a study guide. He never used it as a replacement for the Bible. It was created as a learning tool for greater knowledge.
Finally the comment: "In reading the writings of Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Paine, and James Madison, to name four, it becomes clear that they did not endorse many religious views."
First off, why should they? None of them were preachers. They were lawyers, scientists, farmers, and revolutionists.
Second off, How do we know that they didn't? If the commenter is, like me, a product of the government schools, he probably wasn’t taught a lot of what these men said, especially with regards to religion.
But just a little research will demonstrate that they said enough. For example:
Ben Franklin: “The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?”
“My dear friend, do not imagine that I am vain enough to ascribe our success [Revolution] to any superiority...If it had not been for the justice of our cause, and the consequent interposition of Providence, in which we had faith, we must have been ruined. If I had ever before been an atheist, I should now have been convinced of the being and government of a Deity!”
Thomas Paine: "I believe in one God, and no more; and I hope for happiness beyond this life."
James Madison: "Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offense against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered."
“Believers who are in a state of grace, have need of the Word of God for their edification and building up therefore implies a possibility of falling."
“To neglect the means for our own preservation is to tempt God: and to trust to them is to neglect Him."
So as you can see, our Nation was created by men who believed strongly in “Divine Providence/”
And John Adams, another Founder on the list, said: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
I hope this helps the commenter in his continued study of both God's word and the founding of our great nation. There's a lot more to discover - always.