Search Blog Posts

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Did James Madison Encourage Abandonment of Christian Religion?

Saturday, 03 May 2014 15:30

Written by Joe Wolverton, II, J.D.

On May 1, Lauren Becker, director of marketing at the Center for Inquiry, declared that “we need to lose religion to save America.”

As part of her plea, Becker makes several significant mistakes in her review of history of the supposed irreligiousness of our Founding Fathers.

Becker’s primary source of support is a proposal to the Virginia General Assembly written in June 1785 by James Madison.

As so many leftists do when they try to hide behind the skirts of the Founders, Becker takes one step too many in her interpretation of the intent of the speaker she summons from history.

In describing what compelled Madison to write “A Memorial and Remonstrance,” Becker claims:

It’s 1784 and James Madison has a problem: the General Assembly of Virginia has just proposed a bill that would establish a special tax to pay for “teachers of the Christian Religion.” The bill has wide support because the Episcopal Church — the dominant church — will benefit greatly from having taxpayers pay for its teachers. Madison, however, knows better. He knows the bill is an attack on the principle of freedom of conscience and a threat to the liberties so recently wrenched from King George III.

So what does he do? What does the future Founding Father, Father of the Constitution, Father of the Bill of Rights, and fourth president of the United States do? He sits down and writes out a list of fifteen reasons why Virginians should reject the bill and any other attempt to mix religion and government.

Well, that’s partially correct. Madison did indeed oppose the establishment of a state religion. This advocacy for the principle of religious liberty was not something Madison developed after learning of the General Assembly’s attempt to continue subsidizing the Episcopal Church. This event was not at all the catalyst Becker claims.

In fact, James Madison played a prominent role in drafting Article XVI of the Virginia Declaration of Rights passed nearly a decade before the events listed by Becker. In this influential statement of rights, Madison (and George Mason) wrote:

That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity toward each other.

That hardly sounds like the angry, reactionary rant of a man determined to keep religion out of the public marketplace of ideas, or, as Becker writes, to establish “the first secular republic in history.”

To her discredit, Becker goes on to springboard from the “Memorial and Remonstrance” to a setting straight of the “countless people who think America is a Christian Nation founded on biblical principles.”

While the men who helped craft our constitution and Declaration of Independence held different interpretations of the characteristics of God, of His Son, Jesus Christ, and of the most correct way to worship them, they unanimously and sincerely believed that God was an all-powerful Creator and providentially interceded for mankind, particularly in the quest for liberty and the freedom of conscience that permitted diversity of worship.

Despite the claims of Becker and other designing detractors furthering their own transparent anti-religious agendas, none of our Founding Fathers abhorred religion. To the contrary, they embraced piety and encouraged others to do likewise.

Almost unanimously, these men fervently believed in a merciful Creator who took notice of the affairs of men and took, at times, a very active role in aiding the fight for American freedom.

For example, Benjamin Franklin was the most well-known American of his day. Although raised in the Calvinist environment of New England, young Benjamin was exposed at an early age to the writings of renowned English Whigs and deists, John Locke and Joseph Addison.

Franklin learned from these tutors that the principles of liberty were best promoted by personal piety and public virtue. He drank draught after draught from this cool, clear stream of thought and feasted freely from the cornucopia provided by these thoughtful promoters of freedom.

The more Franklin learned the lessons of the laws of nature and man’s place in the universe of ideas, he understood that not only was religion not an enemy of freedom, but was often its most ardent ally.

The famous Philadelphian witnessed many manifestations of the interest of Providence in the affairs of man. The stories of timely storms, favorable fogs, and other “acts of God” are well known to students of the American War for Independence. God, wrote Franklin, “sometimes interferes by His particular providence and sets aside the effects which would otherwise have been produced by … causes.” Hardly the words of a man who saw the Creator as a hands-off deity. FINISH READING…