A favorite tactic of many
evangelical Christians today who embrace the myth of America being
founded as a Christian nation, is that of pronouncing that almost all
- if not all! - of America's founding fathers were Christians.
Such a claim, however, is
phony history - unless one wishes to argue that any vague belief in
some kind of nebulous deity could be construed as Christianity. Very
few, if any, of America's founding fathers shared the same Christian
convictions of today's evangelical Christians who so desperately want
to co-opt the founders for their own purposes.
Indeed, unorthodox, liberal
religious (broadly speaking) views were far more characteristic of the
founding fathers than evangelical Christian sentiments ... as
conservative Christians of that day well understood.
For example, Thomas
Jefferson, upheld as a godly Christian by many modern evangelicals,
was - in his day and among his conservative contemporaries -
widely considered as a heretic, infidel, and even an atheist.
Many (if not most)
historical volumes about Thomas Jefferson at least mention the accusations, from
conservative Christians and politicians of theocratic persuasions
during Jefferson's lifetime, of the founding father and president being an atheist, heretic and/or infidel.
To be certain, Jefferson did
sometimes attend church, and occasionally spoke favorably of religion.
Yet, his religious beliefs were deist at best, and he consistently
spoke harshly against the Bible and Christianity. (See Jefferson
quotes on religion
The Religious Life of Thomas Jefferson (1984) provides lengthy
evidence from many contemporaries of Jefferson.
He references the hundred or so pamphlets and newspapers that accused
Jefferson of being an atheist, infidel and/or heretic, as well as numerous
sermons declaring that if elected, Jefferson would ruin religion,
overthrow Christianity, and ban the Bible from the United States.
Conservative Christians considered him thus throughout his life. Long after
his presidential tenure, in 1830, the
Philadelphia public library refused to include books about Jefferson
on its shelves because he was considered an infidel and heretic.
Charles Lerche’s 1948
volume, Thomas Jefferson and the Election of 1800, further
explores the popular Christian conception of Jefferson as atheist,
heretic, and infidel. Here is a
newspaper illustration from the 1800 election period.
For examples of Christian
preachers condemning Jefferson as a liberal, atheist, infidel and
heretic, see pages 9 and 10 (including footnotes) of
Thomas Jefferson and Political Preaching: Two Case Studies of Free
Religious Expression in the American Pulpit. Some conservative
preachers vilified Jefferson for (among other things) his
Virginia Bill (Act) For Establishing Religious Freedom, on which
Jefferson allied with the (also heretical and liberal) Baptists to
pass in 1786; the Bill served as a model for the religious clause of
the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Also see these online
articles that explore Jefferson's atheism:
The Fascinating History of the “Jefferson Bible”
Jefferson’s First Inauguration
Thomas Jefferson: “Atheist and Leveler From Virginia”
The Story of Jefferson's letter to Danbury Baptists