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Never a Christian nation

| Friday, February 19, 2016

In a Viewpoint column, “Threat to our religious roots,” Eddie Damstra claims every American president since Thomas Jefferson has been a Christian, Abraham Lincoln expressed faith in the Christian scriptures and electing a non-religious president would damage the essence of America, although, he generously concedes, “the election of a non-religious president would not destroy America.”

Setting aside the conveniently fact-free nature of Mr. Damstra’s article, I would like to consider its primary implication: What if, throughout history, America elected only Christian presidents? We would likely lose James Monroe and George Washington, whose minister, when asked of the first president’s religious affiliation, replied: “Washington was a deist!”

Thomas Jefferson, whom Mr. Damstra erroneously described as an unorthodox Christian, openly rejected not only the Trinity, but also the miracles of the New Testament, the resurrection of the body and, most importantly, the divinity of Jesus. If the author of the Declaration of Independence was a Christian, he was indeed unorthodox, so unorthodox that he professed deistic beliefs.

Last, but certainly not least, Abraham Lincoln most closely resembled a deist or, dare I say it, potentially an agnostic. Lincoln’s biographer, as well as his closest friends, deny that Lincoln had any Christian faith. By Mr. Damstra’s standards, Lincoln’s Confederate counterpart, Jefferson Davis — who cited verses from the New and Old Testaments to confirm divine support for slavery — would more closely fit with “the essence of America.”

Damstra also mistakenly claims America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles. If support for democracy and the freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights exists within the Bible, it is certainly well-hidden. In fact, Muhammad — yes, that Muhammad — drafted the first written constitution in world history to endorse freedom of religious belief and practice, though it fell short in guaranteeing freedom for non-believers. The secular philosophers of the Enlightenment, not the writings of Augustine and Calvin, inspired our nation’s founders. In short, Americans are mostly Christian, but the United States never has been a Christian nation, and, pardon the phrase, I pray it never will become one.

Sincerely, an indignant non-believer,

Pat Wilson


Feb. 11

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Johnny Whichard

    An indignant non-believer….just what Notre Dame needs. Great job admissions!

    • MJ

      Shouldn’t a Notre Dame education be open to all, including the non-believers? It would seem to me that to think otherwise would be to have little faith in University’s mission.

      • Johnny Whichard

        Of course. Just would have thought a “Non-indignant Believer” would be more in line with “God, Country, Notre Dame”.

        • MJ

          Of course I can’t speak for Mr. Wilson, but I interpreted the “indignant” as being related to the original letter he was replying to, not to belief. But I take your point. 🙂

        • RandallPoopenmeyer

          God, country and notre dame?
          What about, friends, family and love?

          • Johnny Whichard

            Those three fall also fall into my personal set of priorities…but I didn’t carve “God, Country, Notre Dame” into the side of the basilica.

          • RandallPoopenmeyer

            Yea, some idiot did…

    • João Pedro Santos

      “We welcome all people, regardless of color, gender, RELIGION, ethnicity, sexual orientation, social or economic class, and nationality, for example, precisely because of Christ’s calling to treat others as we desire to be treated.”
      So yes, non-believers (freedom of religion also means freedom of having no religion) also have the right to study at Notre Dame. Deal with it.

  • MC

    There is a great amount of evidence that George Washington was affirmatively not a deist in the current sense of the word, nor was Jefferson at the end of his life. The book Washington’s God explains that his God did not mirror the Christian conception of God, but that it saw God as more than just the person who set the world in motion. Washington believed in God as an active participant in the workings of the world, and he made a point to include prayer and public invocation during his time in office. Jefferson did go through a definitively deist phase, but it is unclear whether he was a deist at the end of his life. There are records professing an adherence to the teachings of Christ, if not to the idea of miracles or the mystical nature of the faith, and his rejection of labels or denominations does not override the fact that he expressed at points a conviction that God was acting in the modern world. The founders, most of them Christian, envisioned a country at the very least guided by religious principles; religious freedom exists so that we might render homage to a Creator, the same Creator explicitly invoked in the founding documents. Furthermore, Western philosophy is deeply rooted in the intellectual foundations of Christianity.
    Cherrypicking a few founders and a few statements about them does not make them deists. Even if the country was founded on deism only, that still denotes a religious foundation that is affirmatively not of the atheist variety. The roots of religion are extremely strong in this country, and the idea of a God and the duty to live in accordance with his existence, is the source from which the founders derived the rest of our natural rights. The first author may not have been correct in his evaluation of the founding, but unfortunately, neither are you.