The title to this blog suggests a startling revelation, or a shocking and perhaps outrageous insult. It is also a theme of a new book called Apollyon Rising 2012 by Thomas Horn, an American evangelical Christian.
Before we go on, a little Christian theology is in order. An “antichrist” means a person who “denies that Jesus is the Christ”: (1 John 2:22). To call the Founding Fathers “antichrists” therefore is to say that they did not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.
The preface to Apollyon Rising 2012, by Christian J Pinto, begins as follows:
“Many Christians are repeatedly told by their pastors, teachers, and church leaders that America was founded as a Christian nation. This assertion would not be so bad if it were confined to the arrival of the Puritans at Plymouth and the early development of the new world. … The problem arises when one marks the foundation of our country at the American Revolution and the establishment of the United States.”
Mr Pinto then reviews the known statements of beliefs by a number of prominent leaders of the Revolutionary Era, and demonstrates by quoting their own words that they were skeptics or agnostics on certain key religious issues, or held unorthodox views as Deists(1), but were not Bible-believing Christians that modern-day evangelicals would recognise as being like themselves. He demonstrates that Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and even George Washington ranged from being overtly hostile, to skeptical, to unsupportive of many the key claims of Bible-based Christian orthodoxy, including such elements as the divinity of Christ or the uniqueness of the Christian faith as a path to salvation.
Now, the 1700s was the era of the Enlightenment, and the impact of the Age of Reason on Western Christianity was to make it fashionable, among the cultured class at least, to seek to rationalise the precepts of the Christian religion and demythologise it. Thomas Jefferson, for example, published his own edition of the New Testament, which removed the narratives of Christ’s miracles, which Jefferson thought were bogus additions. Jefferson and Washington, in being Deists, were following the intellectual fashion of their day, and probably thought that theirs was a modernised version of Christianity that would eventually replace the older version.
Thomas Horn, however, sees something very sinister and even conspiratorial behind the widespread ignorance of the non-biblical views of the Founding Fathers. He writes: “Naivete and blind acceptance – especially of specific, controlled versions of American history – had kept me in the dark, blinded from the actual course that a frightening network of hidden powers had set our nation upon years before.” Mr Horn claims that the Founding Fathers had a deceptive, hidden, antichristian agenda that they embedded in the foundations of the American governmental system and which continues in operation to this day, unbeknownst to most godfearing Christian patriots.
The myth of America’s Christian founding that Mr Pinto refers to in his introduction to Mr Horn’s book is believed and promoted by many prominent American Christians. For example, the Republican presidential aspirant, Michele Bachmann, is quoted (in another book) as saying this:
“I also believe that … the Christian God and the Bible were central to the founding of the United States and its cultural and historical mission. I am certain that Christian nation builders founded the United States and intended this country to have an essentially Christian character. I believe that the Founding Fathers of this country acknowledged the primacy of Christian faith and values in America and intended that Christianity be recognised as the fundamental basis of the nation and society they established. If these Founding Fathers were alive today, they would agree with me about the role that biblical Christianity should play in law, government, and public policy.”(2)
Perhaps Ms Bachmann is referring to Thomas Jefferson, who according to Mr Pinto believed the book of Revelation was “the ravings of a maniac”, who said about the books of the Old Testament that “we have a right to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine” and who referred to St Paul as “the first corruptor of the doctrines of Jesus”? Or perhaps she was referring to that virtuous Christian, Benjamin Franklin, who according to Mr Pinto joined a group of libertines in London called the Hellfire Club, the all-male members of which engaged in mock religious rituals and orgies with prostitutes? Or perhaps she was referring to John Adams, who Mr Pinto says described the Cross, the central theological element of evangelical Christianity, as “an engine of grief” which had produced “calamities” for mankind? Or perhaps to George Washington, whose friend the Rev Ashbel Green, who dined with him weekly – says Mr Pinto – regarded President Washington as having no belief at all in the divine origin of the Bible, even though he respectfully attended church services every Sunday and refrained from explicit criticism of the Christian faith.
I do not repeat these descriptions to condemn the Founding Fathers as hypocrites. They were men of their age, and the discrepancies between their private beliefs and public behaviour may have reflected a tension between a modern – in their view – personal philosophy and an antiquated prevailing public culture. I repeat these descriptions to demonstrate the confused view of the history of their country apparently held by many American Christians today.(3)
Does it matter? In one way, yes, because the American “religious Right” claims a mantle of authority for its moral agenda by linking it to people who in fact did not share their religious views. But, in another way, it doesn’t matter. Presumably, Christian American voters will support that moral agenda on principle, and other voters will have their own views. And President Washington will continue to give us his Mona Lisa smile from the front of the US one dollar bill. And if he were alive today, he certainly would agree with me that it is wise to remain silent regarding all manner of things.
(1)See the Wikipedia article on Deism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deism
(2) This quote appears in Michelle Bachmann’s America (2011) by William Prendergast and Christopher Truscott.
(3) It is worth noting that there is a debate on the question of whether the Founding Fathers were Christians, with ‘evidence’ cited on either side. See, for example, the article presented on this webpage and the comments by the reader “onegoodwoman”: http://pay2cem.hubpages.com/hub/Americas-Christian-Founding-Fathers
The discrepancy may simply be the result of taking the set of beliefs of modern people as definitive and applying it to people of earlier eras.