The USA was founded on Judaeo Christian values
“Lest anyone try to convince you that God should be separated from the state, our founding fathers… were believers. Hearing any leader declare that America isn’t a Christian nation… It’s mind-boggling to see some of our nation’s actions recently, but politics truly is a topic for another day.”
If we want to split hairs, the governor was correct that the founders overwhelmingly were believers. But were they Christians, and did they found a Christian nation? R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, mildly chastises both sides in the long-running debate:
“America is not Christian by constitutional provision or creedal affirmation — but its people are overwhelmingly Christian by self-affirmation. Thoughtful evangelicals will not overestimate the convictional character of this self-identification. Secularists ought not to overestimate its superficiality.”
But in Faith of Our Founding Fathers, Tim LaHaye, co-author of the Left Behind series, claims that Americans are being robbed of their spiritual heritage by revisionist secularists (Gregory Koukl disagrees, writing, “The sad fact of the matter is that cultural authority was not stolen from us; we surrendered it through neglect”). The Founding Fathers were not, as secularists claim, mostly deists or agnostics. Only a few were deists and even fewer agnostics. LaHaye’s Faith examines the values and beliefs of thirty-eight of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention. Through their writings, LaHaye makes a case that America’s founders built their nation on religious principles (though John Eidsmoe makes a more effective argument in the similarly-titled Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of our Founding Fathers). Other authors trying to make the opposite case have ruled out some of the most compelling evidence — the letters and journals of the Founding Fathers. By affiliation with religious denomination, only three of the more famous founders — Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine — were in fact Deists, yet even Jefferson, who was raised as an Episcopalian, donated a significant amount of money to building Episcopal churches and even attended services in Episcopal parishes. It is significant to note that Jefferson had an Episcopal minister come to his bedside before he died. It was Franklin’s views which are usually considered the least orthodox of the founders, but even he attended church and tithed. But Franklin believed religion was a positive force in society, and he said, in a motion before the Constitutional Convention:
I have lived, Sir, a long time, and 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? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest. I therefore beg leave to move-that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that Service.
So much for the separation of church and state… But there is a denomination, often overlooked by those who write American History texts, that was significant in the nation’s founding, though none of the major Founding Fathers were among its members. In an excellent essay which is part of his “Crash Course in Jewish History,” Rabbi Ken Spiro notes the influence of Jews on the Founding Fathers. One of their most important contributions to the American Revolution was that Jews financed a considerable portion of it:
The most important of the financiers was Haym Salomon who lent a great deal of money to the Continental Congress. In the last days of the war, Salomon advanced the American government $200,000. He was never paid back and died bankrupt. President George Washington remembered the Jewish contribution when the first synagogue opened in Newport, Rhode Island in 1790. (It was called the Touro Synagogue and it was Sephardic.) He sent this letter, dated August 17, 1790:
“May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in the land continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants. While everyone shall sit safely under his own vine and fig-tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
Note the reference to the “vine and fig-tree.” That unique phrase is a reference to the words of Prophet Michah prophesying the Messianic utopia:
But in the last days it shall come to pass, that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains, and it shall be exalted above the hills; and people shall flow to it. And many nations shall come, and say, ‘Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, and to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths; for Torah shall go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.’ And he shall judge between many peoples, and shall decide concerning far away strong nations; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more. But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; and none shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken it.
Rabbi Spiro points out that when the War of Independence broke out, there were an estimated 2,000 Jews living in America, yet their contribution to the cause went far beyond their numbers. Nearly every adult Jewish male fought on the side of the Americans in Charleston, South Carolina. And the first patriot to be killed in the war in Georgia, Francis Salvador, was a Jew. But the Jewish influence in the founding of the United States was deeply ingrained in the faith of the new nation:
The creation of the United States of America represented a unique event in world history – founded as a modern republic, it was rooted in the Bible, and one of its earliest tenets was religious tolerance. This is because many of the earliest pilgrims who settled the “New England” of America in early 17th century were Puritan refugees escaping religious persecutions in Europe. These Puritans viewed their emigration from England as a virtual re-enactment of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. To them, England was Egypt, the king was Pharaoh, the Atlantic Ocean was the Red Sea, America was the Land of Israel, and the Indians were the ancient Canaanites. They were the new Israelites, entering into a new covenant with God in a new Promised Land.
Not only in the reliance on the Old Testament was the Jewish impact on America evident, but also in the symbolism adopted by the young nation:
Numerous examples can be found which clearly illustrate to what a significant extent the political struggles of the colonies were identified with the ancient Hebrews. * The first design for the official seal of the United States recommended by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas [Jefferson] in 1776 depicts the Jews crossing the Red Sea. The motto around the seal read: “Resistance to Tyrants is Obedience to God.” * The inscription on the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall in Philadelphia is a direct quote from Leviticus (25:10): “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” * Patriotic speeches and publications during the period of the struggle for independence were often infused with Biblical motifs and quotations. Even the basic framework of America clearly reflects the influence of the Bible and power of Jewish ideas in shaping the political development of America. Nowhere is this more evident than in the opening sentences of the Declaration of Independence: * “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 them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Whereas, these words echo the ideas of the Enlightenment… without a doubt, the concept that these rights come from God is of Biblical origin.
Considering the rich contribution of Jews to not only the American revolution but the nation’s culture, it is clear that the United States is not just a Christian nation, but largely a Judeo-Christian one, or at the very least a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles. And as such, it is unique in the world. Which brings us to the present day. Are we still a Judeo-Christian nation? According to a Newsweek’s own poll taken one year ago, a majority (62 percent) of Americans disagreed with President Obama’s statement that the U.S. is not a Christian nation. The majority of Americans who considered their country a Christian one was even higher during the Bush Administration at 71 percent. But look beyond religious denominations, and Newsweek’s survey confirms that we are overwhelmingly a nation of believers:
The number of Americans with faith in a spiritual being—nearly nine in 10—has not changed much over the past two decades, according to historical polling. Seventy-eight percent said prayer was an important part of daily life, an increase of 2 points since 1987. Eighty-five percent said religion is “very important” or “fairly important” in their own lives—a number that hasn’t changed much since 1992. Nearly half (48 percent) described themselves as both “religious and spiritual,” while another 30 percent said they were “spiritual but not religious.” Only 9 percent said they were neither religious nor spiritual.
David Waters, editor of On Faith, the Washington Post religion blog, writes that in her statement to the Women of Faith, Gov. Palin may have meant that a majority of Americans are self-professed Christians. We’re confident that she did not mean that America is a Christian nation in the way that Iran is an Islamic nation, that the primary purpose of America is evangelical or that the primary allegiance of every American is to Jesus. Or, she may have meant something else entirely, such as that America was founded by mostly Christians on Judeo-Christian principles, and it remains overwhelmingly a nation of the faithful, although the recent actions of its government clearly demonstrates that in the purview of foreign policy at least, those principles are no longer being applied. We can’t speak for the governor, but unless she says differently, we assume that the latter of those concepts was the essence of what she was talking about.