Christianity in the Foundation of America
America shines as “one nation under God”, a nation built upon the principles and standards of Christianity; however, if we take a closer look at some prominent figures in the development of our nation, it appears that Jesus Christ was not the cornerstone. There can be little doubt, as we analyze their writings, men such as St. John De Crevecoeur, Benjamin Franklin and even Thomas Jefferson did not seem guided or inspired by the hand of God. In fact, they seemed more interested in their own agendas and plans. A nation truly built upon the principles and ideals of Christianity would have flown in the face of Franklin’s time management and Jefferson’s belief in the value of slavery. De Crevecoeur acknowledges that religion in the New World seems to broken down into an amalgamation of many differing beliefs, leaving little room for any great value in God as a foundation. Yet, to this day, no President of the United States of America has ever denounced Christ. One of the foundations laid forth by our founding fathers seemed to be feigning religion and piety for the sake of personal gain.
The breakdown in true aspiration of Christian ideals starts at the base definition of what it means to be called an American according to J. Hector St. John De Crevecoeur. A nation that would eventually pride itself on being a melting pot would serve itself ill if it based the foundation of that nation on the ideals of one religion. De Crevecoeur states, “as Christians, religion curbs them not in their opinions” (313). There is a shift in the New World which allows people to adapt, not just a religion but a form of Christianity entirely. This new way of thinking “leaves everyone to think for themselves in spiritual matters” (313). As America is defining its people, it is also setting parameters of religious acceptance and tolerance. For the most part, these parameters are still in place in today’s America. As long as the tenants of any faith do not disturb the peace, then it is of little consequence to the American what divinity is worshipped. According to De Crevecoeur, “religious indifference becomes prevalent” and the American quickly becomes “allied to all[W1] ” (315).
With Christian toleration of whatever religious belief felt right for the individual, it is no surprise that Benjamin Franklin seemed to ground this nation in the ways of God. However, in reality, Jesus was on the same level as Socrates in the mind of Franklin. He writes in his Thirteen Virtues, “Imitate Jesus and Socrates” (301). Nowhere else in these virtues will you see the name of Jesus or any mention of daily prayer or devotion. Thomas Jefferson also believed that Jesus was a wonderful philosopher. In his sixth virtue, industry, Franklin seems to challenge the idea of spending time in worship. He writes, “cut off all unnecessary Actions” (301). Franklin is certain to practice what he preaches, for he “went no more to the public Assemblies” (300). Franklin went to the sermon with great expectations and his hopes set high; however, the pastor failed to impress. In fact, Franklin preferred to spend the Sabbath in the printing house. He believed that he could simply not afford to lose the time.
As a De Crevecoeur-defined American, Benjamin Franklin was entitled to create his own Christianity. “These might be all good Things, but as they were not the kind of good Things that I expected from that Text, I despaired of ever meeting with them from any other, was disgusted, and attended his Preaching no more” (300). Instead of relying on Christ for salvation, Franklin seemed to believe that it was up to the individual to pull themselves to whatever heights they wished to achieve. Every man could be self-taught, and pull himself up by the boot straps. Franklin even sets up his own list of necessary virtues, which parallel with the Ten Commandments handed down by Moses. Franklin’s ideas of self-education do not seem to fall in line with the canon of Christianity or the edicts of the church. The church seemed more interested in its followers giving up their identities in favor of becoming one with the church. However, this was a nation that allowed a man to create whatever religion best suited his desires.
Thomas Jefferson, in his attempt to create a religion just for him, literally took the New Testament and cut the pieces he did not like from the book. Still, as an American, Jefferson called himself a Christian despite the fact that he did not believe in the miracles of Jesus. In much the same manner as Franklin, Jefferson sees Jesus as a great moral philosopher. He snipped all miracles from his Bible, including the resurrection. Jefferson writes, “all men are created equal” which ring in our ears as a very Christian concept (340). However as we delve deeper and pull back the layers, we see that Jefferson meant only that all men possess a moral compass. These ideas fall in with Enlightenment ideals. The interesting twist on Jefferson’s form of self-religion is that it morphed as he became more financially dependent on his slaves. The very words which inspired a nation to revolt could not possibly be used to show that slavery was wrong.
Thomas Jefferson certainly did not believe that all men were created equal, and in fact viewed the Africans as something less than human. This is clearly evidenced by his writing from Notes on the State of Virginia. These passages are disturbing to me now, and certainly would have unsettled the black slaves. These slaves were inspired by Jefferson’s powerful words, and believed that they held the key to their eventual freedom. However, Jefferson dashes those hopes as he compares whites and blacks. He writes of the blacks that they are “in reason much inferior” (764). Jefferson goes on to say “that in imagination they are dull, tasteless, and anomalous” (764). In stark contrast to the words, “all men are created equal” come the words “blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind” (765). These horrific descriptions of other men and women fly in the face of Jesus’ teachings of love and acceptance.
Unfortunately, as we look into the minds and writings of our founding fathers, we cannot help but come to the conclusion that not only was God not the cornerstone of our nation but more may be likely a stepping stone allowing these men to ascend to the heights of personal gain. Franklin and Jefferson were both accused of atheism, but were able to escape any ramifications. More likely, these men believed in Deism. This is the belief in a Creator, based on reason and observation. It does not, however, lend any credence to miracles. Both of these men knew the Bible verses, and understood that religion was a powerful tool in swaying the masses. If one were to go against Christianity, they would meet with heavy resistance. This is still true in today’s America. It is much easier to create for yourself some semblance of Christianity that suits your need, and let others do the same.
[W1]When you revise, you’ll simply need to discuss more evidence from De Crevecoeur. In other words, broaden and deepen your argument about the American conditions de Crevecoeur describes.