Sunday, July 3, 2011

Faith Of Our Founders

“Happy is the nation whose God is the Lord….” (Psalm 33:12)
As we celebrate our nations founding, it is good for us to also recall the faith of those who were our founders. By no means could all of them be consider stalwart and orthodox church-goers. However, most of them did espouse and presume a Judeo-Christian spiritual context for America that is often either ignored or downplayed today. For example, consider some of the writings/sayings of our founders:

--George Washington’s First Inaugural Speech (April 30, 1789): “It would be peculiarly improper to omit, in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe... that His benedictions may consecrate to the... peoples of the U.S. a government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes.... No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than the people of the U.S.” [Jared Sparks, ed., THE WRITINGS OF GEORGE WASHINGTON, 12 vols. (Boston: American Stationer’s Company, 1837, NY: F. Andrew’s, 1834-1847), Vol. XII, pp. 2-5]

--Thomas Jefferson’s SECOND INAUGURAL SPEECH (1805): “I shall need the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessities and comforts of life.” [March 4, 1805 in Saul K. Padover, ed., THE COMPLETE JEFFERSON, CONTAINING HIS MAJOR WRITINGS, PUBLISHED AND UNPUBLISHED, EXCEPT HIS LETTERS(NY: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1943), p. 412]]

--Benjamin Franklin: “There is one God, Father of the Universe. That He is infinitely good, powerful, and wise. That He is omnipresent. That He ought to be worshiped, by adoration prayer and thanksgiving both in publick and private. That He loves such of His creatures as love and do good to others: and will reward them either in this world or hereafter... That knowledge and learning is to be cultivated, and Ignorance dissipated. That none but the virtuous are wise, that man’s perfection is in virtue” [Leonard Labaree, ed., THE PAPTERS OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959), Vol. I, p. 213]

In response, some have argued that statements such as these represent only pro-forma (i.e., “politically correct”) acknowledgements of religion from their authors, and do not therefore represent their personal views. However, the fact that they were written or said at all is significant – their authors must have believed enough truth about them to write or state them, whether they believed everything in them personally or not. As historian Noman Cousins explains, “Not all of the founders acknowledged a formal faith, but it was significant that their view of [humanity] had a deeply religious foundation.” [Norman Cousins, ‘IN GOD WE TRUST: THE RELIGIOUS BELIEFS AND IDEAS OF AMERICA'S FOUNDING FATHERS (Harper and Brothers, 1958), p. 10]

The point here is that regardless of their own personal beliefs, our founders obviously recognized the truth that nations are only as strong as the moral and religious life that undergirds them, and that when that is threatened, the fabric of society begins to unravel.

So, as we celebrate our nation’s birthday, may we celebrate by also remembering the God who has made it all possible, and by each of us helping to keep firm our commitment to being “one nation, under God.” Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

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