Tag Archives: Paine

Equality, Deism and Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence

A long-running feature of America’s “culture wars” is the Religious Right’s assertion that the United States is a Christian nation founded on Christian principles. Unfortunately for them the Constitution does not invoke “God” (though Christians sometimes point in desperation to a mere dating convention, the signatures being dated “In the Year of our Lord”). The authority for the constitution is not God, it is “We the people”. This is not a top-down authority from an anointed King ruling by Divine Right, it is a bottom-up authority, the idea that legitimate government arises from the “consent of the governed”.

Contrary to Religious Right claims, God’s absence in the constitution was not an oversight — reference to God was not something regarded as too obvious to need stating — it was considered and deliberate. We’re told, by Luther Martin, Attorney General of Maryland and delegate to the Constitutional Convention, that those regarding the United States as a “Christian nation” were an unfashionable minority who did not prevail and were outvoted by the “great majority”. Reporting back to Maryland Legislature he commented on Article 6:

The part of the system which provides, that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States, was adopted by a great majority of the convention, and without much debate; however, there were some members so unfashionable as to think, that a belief of the existence of a Deity, and of a state of future rewards and punishments would be some security for the good conduct of our rulers, and that, in a Christian country, it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism. [Farrand’s Records–CLVIII. Luther Martin: Genuine Information.3]

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