Robert Meyer
Was America the creation of deism? Part 2
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By Robert Meyer
December 23, 2015

Phrases used in the Declaration of Independence are said to be of deist nomenclature. The fact is that many of the phases used in the Declaration had fixed meanings in Christian theology or philosophical thought long before any deists were born. The English statesman, Edmund Burke, observed that Blackstone's Commentaries were nearly as commonly purchased in the colonies as they were in Britain itself. Blackstone's understanding of the phrase "The laws of nature and nature's God," represented the revelation of natural law and the revelation of scripture respectively. Most American's understood the phrase in accordance with Blackstone. Dr. Gary Amos produced an excellent book entitled "Defending the Declaration," which is a brilliant historical analysis showing the Declaration's key phrases originated in Christian polemics.

Jefferson was the draftsman of the Declaration, more than it's progenitor. He was under the direct scrutiny of a five-man committee, who were in turn accountable to the whole of congress. He declared that the document was a reflection of the American mind. That mind collectively was predominately Christian. Those who were not orthodox Christians couldn't escape using Christian language, principles and concepts, when they expressed themselves on politics, law, philosophy. etc.

One classic example to illustrate this is Benjamin Franklin's speech at the Constitutional Convention.

"...In this situation of this Assembly groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. – Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance.

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 they labor 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 be become a reproach and a bye word down to future age. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter 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."


Notice that Franklin, who in his youth, referred to himself as a deist, makes several references to the Bible that might not be obvious to secularists unfamiliar with less common biblical passages or allusions

"A sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice(Matthew 10:29)."

"except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it(Psalm 127:1)."

"The builders of Babel(Genesis 11)."

"The sacred writings"

In his treatise, "Common Sense," Thomas Paine offers his polemic for American independence using biblical illustrations. A quotation below from page 40 of that book sounds incredibly evangelical.

"But where says some is the king of America? I'll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve of monarchy, that in America the law is king..."

Whether or not Paine was a fully-orbed deist at the time of this writing I do not know, but in either case it is clear that he saw the necessity of using biblical examples to appeal to the populous.

With that, let's reiterate our thesis: America was founded as a Christian nation if by that claim we infer "founded" means that the ideas that grounded the nation's founding were steeped in a history of Christian political and philosophical thought, and such was the general zeitgeist of the population.

© Robert Meyer

 

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Robert Meyer

Robert Meyer is a hardy soul who hails from the Cheesehead country of the upper midwest... (more)

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