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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Deists or Christians?

The story goes something like this.  The Founders of our nation were not Christians, they were Deists.  Let’s forget for a moment that nearly half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence had formal training in a Christian seminary.  Let’s also forget about the fact that the colonization of America in the 1600’s included men like John Winthrop and William Bradford who came to America for the specific purpose of religious freedom, specifically to worship the God of the Bible.  Let’s also ignore the preamble to the Treaty of Paris that concluded the Revolutionary War that begins with the words, “In the name of the most holy and triune God.”  We can also ignore George Washington’s active participation in the Anglican Church where he served as a vestryman.  And, let’s ignore the words of Patrick Henry’s Last Will and Testament which reads…

“This is all the Inheritance I can give to my dear family, The religion of Christ can give them one which will make them rich indeed.”

And, finally, let’s forget about these words by Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and one of the most influential Founders…

“My only hope of salvation is in the infinite transcendent love of God manifested to the world by the death of His Son upon the Cross.  Nothing but His blood will wash away my sins.  I rely exclusively upon it.  Come, Lord Jesus! Come quickly!”

No, instead, let’s just look at the Declaration of Independence itself.  After all, the Declaration is the founding document of our Republic.  The Constitution we now live under came years after the Articles of Confederation and the Declaration itself. 

Moreover, while the US Constitution serves as the law of the land, the Declaration of Independence is a manifesto.  It expresses the thoughts and ideas of the Founders as no other document does.  It tells us more about the thinking of the Founders than any other document of that time.  Created by a committee, Thomas Jefferson is given primary responsibility for its creation.

But, before we dive into the Declaration of Independence, let’s try to gain a better understanding of what it means to be a Deist.  After all, that’s what it is claimed that the Founders were.  My American Heritage College Dictionary defines Deism thusly…

“The belief, based on reason, in a God who created the universe and has since assumed no control over life, exerted no influence on nature, and given no supernatural revelation.”

The Bing Dictionary on my computer provides a similar description…

“Rational belief in God: a belief in God based on reason rather than revelation and involving the view that God has set the universe in motion but does not interfere with how it runs.”

And, just so we have three points of reference, the definition of Deism at is a…

1. belief in the existence of a God on the evidence of reason and nature only, with rejection of supernatural revelation (distinguished from theism ). 2. belief in a God who created the world but has since remained indifferent to it.

I checked several other sources and they all say essentially the same thing.  Some use the example of a watchmaker who winds up a watch and then forgets about it.  The idea being that God created the world, and then walked away and forgot about it.  He doesn’t intervene in it, he certainly didn’t send his Son to save it, and he doesn’t have any sort of personal relationship with people in the world.  He is a sort of absent God.

Now, let’s get back to the Declaration of Independence.  There are four references to God in the Declaration of Independence.  The question is, are these references consistent with a Deist God, an absent, uncaring, unconnected God, or are they consistent with any other sort of God, even a particular God such as the Christian God?

The first reference to God in the Declaration is in the preamble to the document and it reads…

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

In this instance, God is defined as the God of nature.  This could reasonably be interpreted as the watchmaker God in that God created nature.  But, there is a serious problem with that reasoning, because it goes on to say that God entitles them to dissolve their bonds with England.  A Deist would not believe that God was involved whatsoever.  He created the world and walked away.  He would not, in the Deist view, entitle the signers to anything because he would not care about what the signers or any other human believed.  He would be an absent, uncaring God.  So, the argument that the signers, i.e. the Founders, were Deists falls short right in the beginning of the Declaration of Independence.

The next reference to God in the Declaration is in the very next sentence that reads…

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

This is more bad news for those who assert that the Founders were Deists.  If God is an absent God, a watchmaker God, what does he care about rights?  How can a Deist God endow mankind with rights?  And, what would he care about creating humans as equal in his sight or under the law?  There is nothing in the first two references in the Declaration of Independence that is consistent with a Deist God, but both of these two references are consistent with a Christian God or a Jewish God.

The third reference to God is found after a recitation of all the grievances that the colonists expressed in regard to the King of England.  This is, in fact, the actual declaration of independence from the Crown, the line in the document that put their lives at risk.  It was an incredibly brave and daring statement that is virtually impossible to appreciate.  The Founders, men of consequence, of learning, and wealth, were putting their lives on the line so that they, their families, their fellow Americans from all walks of life, and you and I could live in freedom. 

This third reference to God reads…

“We, therefore, the representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by the authority of the good people of these colonies, solemnly publish and declare, that these united colonies are, and of right ought to be free and independent states;”

There is nothing in this statement, declaring their freedom and independence, consistent with a Deist God, nothing at all.  Why would the signers appeal to an absent, uncaring, watchmaker God?  That would have been silly, and these were not silly men.  Why would they have called God the “Judge of the world” if they believed that he was totally uninvolved with them and their lives?  However, if you were Christian or Jewish, and read the New Testament and/or the Old Testament, you would have understood that God is indeed the “Judge of the world.”  You would have believed that God was totally righteous, without fault.  And, if you were a Christian, you would have believed that this God sent his one and only son, Jesus, as prophesied in the Old Testament and written about in the New Testament, to rescue us from God’s judgment.  Once, again, this reference in the Declaration of Independence to God is totally inconsistent with a Deist God, but totally consistent with a Judeo-Christian God.

The fourth reference to God in the Declaration of Independence follows almost immediately on the heels of the third reference.  It reads…

“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

Those who assert that the Founders were Deists like to point out that almost all of the Founders used the term “Divine Providence” when referring to God, a term that is out of fashion today.  In fact, the idea of God as the “Divine Providence” comes from a number of Bible verses in the Old Testament such as Psalm 47:8 (God’s Word version)…

“God rules the nations. He sits upon his holy throne.”

It is the concept that while we have free will as Christians, God still mysteriously governs the course of nations and of men.  Or, as George Washington put it…

“It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.”

But, the point is, if you are a Deist who believes God is absent and uninvolved, you can’t rely on “the protection of Divine Providence” since you don’t believe that God is involved in the world.  And, while this idea of an involved God is inconsistent with the definition of Deism, it is totally consistent with the Old and New Testaments.  It is totally consistent with the Christian and Jewish faiths.

In summary, the idea of the Founders being Deists is simply made up out of whole cloth.  It doesn’t stand up to even a cursory reading of the Declaration of Independence.  If you still believe that the Founders were Deists, you must first reject the Declaration as a statement of the Founders.  Second, you can cling to the belief that some of the Founders were Deists, and that may be true.  But, for all of the signers of the Declaration to agree with the wording of the Declaration, it has to mean that they were, by a vast majority, men who believed in a God who was personally involved in their lives.  And, if you dig deeper into the books they read, the churches they founded, the churches they attended, their writings, and their speeches it is difficult to rationally conclude that they were not Christians.  This is not to say that each and every Founder was a Christian, nor is it to say that anyone can say with absolute certainty what they believed in their heart.  That’s up to God.  What we can reliably conclude is that their faith was so important to them that they included references to a specific, involved God four times in the most important document they signed in their lives.

Before I conclude, I want to acknowledge a speech that my wife and I were recently privileged to hear that was given by Kirby Wilbur, the Director of the National Journalism Center ( a group operated by Young America’s Foundation (, a client of Eberle Associates (  It was from Kirby that I received the concept and inspiration for this blog.  I hope that you have found it to be enlightening.

You and I must not let the wishful and misguided thinking of those that reject our Judeo-Christian heritage alter history.  Volumes have been written by serious scholars on our American History.  These scholars do not skip over or minimize the powerful impact of Christianity upon our history.  To eliminate the influence of Christianity upon the Founders and upon their understanding of human nature is to totally and dangerously distort history.

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