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Did Your Founding Father Go to Church? | davelovell.net
Aug 052010

another repost from a few months ago…

Don’t think mine did…

I’m guess­ing that it’s a sad day in the Gra­ham house­hold this morn­ing, what with being dis-invited from speak­ing at the Pen­tagons’ National Day of Prayer Prayer-a-palooza.  Maybe some­thing like “…oh shoot, Dad never got dis-invited, …double-shoot!”  I sup­pose the use of such lan­guage is tol­er­a­ble if your dad was Billy Gra­ham (for­mer Amer­i­can pope) and the Pen­ta­gon just gave you the ole…let’s just be friends, line.  Franklin Gra­ham can at least be com­forted in the knowl­edge that Sis­ter Sarah Palin is spring­ing to his defense.

I’ve never been all that com­fort­able with the whole National Prayer Day any­way, par­tic­u­larly with it being at the pen­ta­gon — a lit­tle too much God & Guns for me.  The National Prayer thingy got started, like so many mil­i­tantly christian-america odd­i­ties, in the early 1950’s, right after the godd­less com­mies had det­o­nated their own A-bomb.  We added “In God We Trust” as a motto, “under God” to the pledge and began lin­ing up to attend the Billy Gra­ham CRUSADE! (hey, didn’t Pres­i­dent Bush use that metaphor for some­thing a few years ago…?)

So, I ask again, did your found­ing father (FF) go to church?  You’re right… it’s a trick ques­tion, and depends on which of the FF’s you claim to have descended from (polit­i­cally, not biologically).

In the big pic­ture con­text of the found­ing of our lit­tle exper­i­ment in rep­re­sen­ta­tional democ­racy, we should keep a cou­ple of things in mind.  First and fore­most, Amer­ica was the first attempt at apply­ing the intel­lec­tual tra­di­tions of the Enlight­en­ment (oh god… not the French again).  John Adams may have been the polit­i­cal engine of our found­ing, but Thomas Jef­fer­son was its brain, and his brain was stuffed to over­flow­ing with Enlight­en­ment thought.  And they both thought that old Ben Franklin was some crazy lefty…

…some crazy lefty

In pre-revolutionary Amer­ica, the reac­tion against the Enlight­en­ment came in the form of the Great Awak­en­ing and the scary as hell preach­ing of Jonathan Edwards, et.al.  This was the first get back to jesus move­ment in Amer­i­can His­tory, and in its wake we were left with a uniquely Amer­i­can “ism,”

Denom­i­na­tion­al­ism.  It’s not so much which church you go to, as long as you go (well, OK, maybe not so much for catholics and jews…).  By the 1950’s, a per­fectly accept­able ques­tion on a job appli­ca­tion read: Do you attend church reg­u­larly?  With “church” clearly meant to limit itself to the accepted denom­i­na­tions of main­line Amer­i­can Protes­tantism. No snake-handlers, no popes and cer­tainly no Hebrew.

FF Jef­fer­son wrote the pre­am­ble to the Dec­la­ra­tion, and most of what fol­lowed, from within this cul­tural milieu (crap…more french, sorry).  Try­ing to cram Enlight­en­ment thought and the warn­ings of the Great Awak­en­ing into the birth of a new democ­racy… well, why don’t you go try it some­time.  While their solu­tion may not have been the most ele­gant, it seemed the most prag­matic — just sep­a­rate the two.  Sep­a­ra­tion of church & state, the anti-establishment clause and on and on.

All of this is part of why I cringe when politi­cians offer up their mantras of the FF’s being men of god who founded this coun­try on the basis of their reli­gious beliefs.  That would only be true if they meant that the FF’s founded the coun­try with the belief that orga­nized reli­gion should be kept as far away as pos­si­ble from the work­ings of the state.

So did your FF go to church? Maybe, but he never brought it to work with him.

  One Response to “Did Your Founding Father Go to Church?”

  1. awe­some thank you

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