Tag Archives: Declaration of Independence

Christian nation or a ‘nation of Christians’?

A former colleague and critic of this blog made a fascinating — and legitimate — point while participating in an exchange about a post I wrote about a guest columnist whose work appeared recently in the Amarillo (Texas) Globe-News.

I asserted in my own critique of the essay that the nation’s founders established a “secular government” when they wrote the U.S. Constitution.

My former colleague/critic pointed out that the nation comprises a population “of Christians” and that the nation was founded on “Judeo-Christian principles.” I agree with his assertion about the nation and that the founders likely were motivated by their deep religious faith.

However, that doesn’t dissuade me from insisting that the Constitution is as secular a document as it possibly can be.

The founders were direct descendants of people who migrated across the Atlantic Ocean to escape religious persecution, among many other repressive actions brought on them by their European rulers.

They launched a revolution in 1775. They gathered in July 1776 to sign a Declaration of Independence, which does contain a reference to the “Creator” and to “Nature’s God.” Neither term, though, is specific to Christianity. Each of them could — if one were to interpret them liberally — refer to any of the world’s great religions. Some of us today, though, choose to ascribe Christian theology to any reference to the Creator or to God.

Eleven years later, after we won our independence from the British Empire, our founders crafted the Constitution. They specifically avoided using the term “Christian” or “Jesus Christ” or even “God” or “Creator.” Did they bicker and quarrel among themselves while putting this governing framework together? Of course they did.

I remain committed to the document they produced, the one ratified by the 13 states comprising the United States of America. I have scoured it repeatedly over many decades and I have yet to find any reference to religion, other than in the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion … ”

Are we a nation “of Christians”? Certainly. Are we a “Christian nation”? Certainly not.

There. Does that settle it? Hah! Hardly.

‘All men are created equal … ‘

I hope the debate over the nation’s founding documents continues for a good while. We need, as Americans, to remind ourselves of what the founders wrote and try to parse what they meant when they wrote these words.

While steering away from specific mention of the current controversy swirling around the nation, I feel a need to examine briefly this particular passage from the Declaration of Independence.

“All men are created equal.” 

I suppose you can look at that phrase and take it one of several ways. Yes, all “men” were “endowed with … certain unalienable rights.” That, of course, excludes women, who were left out of that formula. They couldn’t vote; indeed, it took the United States of America until the early 20th century to get around to granting women that right.

There’s a discrepancy worth noting here. “All men” didn’t really mean “all.” You see, we had this portion of our population at the time the Declaration of Independence was written that wasn’t even considered fully human. They were the slaves. They were kept in bondage by many of the men responsible for founding the nation.

I will try to insert myself into Thomas Jefferson’s skull for a moment. The principal author of the Declaration perhaps intended for it to mean “all.” Whatever his intent or his idea at the time he put that thought down on paper, it doesn’t negate for one instant its fundamental truth.

All men — and eventually all women — are endowed by the rights laid out in the Declaration of Independence.

Fast-forwarding to the 21st century, it is preposterous in the extreme to accept the presence of those who pretend to be members of a “superior race” of human beings.

We’re in the midst of yet another national discussion about hate groups, about so-called “white supremacists” and those who adhere to a political philosophy against which we entered a world war. 

They will insist that they are the patriots among us. That they know the meaning of our nation’s founding.

They … know … nothing.

The founders didn’t get everything quite right when they penned those cherished words. Those who came along later have sought to amend and improve that high-minded language.

We’re not quite at the point of pure perfection. But we’re a lot closer to it now than we were at our nation’s beginning.

The preamble to the U.S. Constitution declares our intention to “form a more perfect Union.” I read that to mean that we’ll never quite reach the finish line. That does not mean we should stop reaching for it.

NPR sought to pay tribute, and then …

National Public Radio has this tradition of delivering the words of the Declaration of Independence to its listeners.

Its intent is to pay tribute to the very foundation of this great nation. Ol’ Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration to inform King George III of the many grievances the colonies had against his ham-fisted rule.

Well, this year, NPR’s tweeting of the Declaration met some angry response. Some fans of Donald J. Trump thought NPR was calling for insurrection against the government led by the 45th president of the United States.

Seriously, I do not know whether to laugh, cry, scream, slap the side of my noggin, just throw up my hands in disgust … or just, well, throw up.

Check out the reaction

Some supporters of the president flipped out. They didn’t recognize the words of Declaration of Independence.

You’ve heard the saying about how “No good deed goes unpunished”?

Well. There you go, NPR.

 

Yep, the founders got it (mostly) right

Two hundred forty-one years later, it’s good to look back on what the nation’s founding fathers signed.

They stated in that document of independence declaration that “all men are created equal.” They put their names on the Declaration of Independence, many of them picked up their muskets and then went to war against the British Empire.

The fighting stopped in 1781. Then the founders went to work crafting a governing document we now know as the U.S. Constitution.

Did they get it 100 percent right when they signed off on that framework? Not really. I can think of two egregious errors of omission in that document.

The founders did not grant “all men” equal rights. Black men were enslaved. They were considered to be three-fifths of a human being. All men were created equal? No. The Emancipation Proclamation would set the slaves free in 1863, but it would take the nation two more years to ratify the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that abolished slavery once and for all.

Nor did the founders grant women full rights of citizenship, although they likely thought they were doing so at the time. Women couldn’t vote. They were mere spectators. It took the government a good bit longer to correct that error. In August 1920, the 19th Amendment was ratified, granting suffrage to women.

Thirty or 40 years ago, I might be inclined to dwell on those negative elements of our nation’s history. Today, I choose to concentrate on what the founders did right.

Their forebears came to this new land to escape religious persecution. Thus, the founders created a secular Constitution. They granted every citizen religious freedom, which also means they were free to not worship if they chose.

The founders separated the government into three co-equal branches, granting equal power to each of them. The president proposes laws; Congress disposes of them; the courts ensure their constitutionality.

The great Winston Churchill famously declared that representative democracy is the worst form of government ever created, but is superior to anything else. The founders, of course, didn’t anticipate such wisdom coming from the British Bulldog.

I also am quite certain they would agree with him.

Therefore, I choose to salute the founders’ success today. Their government is being tested yet again. I remain confident it will continue to function as those great men intended.

Let’s enjoy the nation’s birthday … and wish ourselves well

I make no secret of my dismay and disgust at the state of our national government.

It starts at the very top of the political food chain.

Here’s the thing, though. We’re about to celebrate the 241st year of our nation’s existence, or at least when it declared itself to be independent of the English monarch, King George III. Our revolution already was underway when those men signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776.

It would be another decade before our Constitution would be written and ratified.

Over the many decades since then, we’ve been through hell as a nation. Four of our presidents have been murdered while in office; others have died from other causes. We endured the Civil War, two world wars, and various conflicts that tore at the nation’s soul.

We have been hit twice — real hard — on our soil by our enemies. We have mourned the deaths of Americans we did not know.

Two of our presidents have been impeached. One of our president was on the verge of impeachment — and then he resigned. Congress has suffered through myriad scandals of varying types.

Our economic life has been imperiled. We had the Great Depression and something that we recently have referred to as the Great Recession. 

All this turmoil and tumult we’re going through today only serves to remind me of something most of have known all along: We are a resilient nation; we are filled with resolve and grit.

On this national birthday, I am driven to think of who we are, the journey we’ve taken, the wounds we have suffered and the healing that has occurred.

I plan, therefore, to set aside my disgust for a day at what is unfolding at this moment in the halls of power. I plan to cherish what I know to be true: We continue to be the greatest, most indispensable nation on Planet Earth.

Are we perfect? Of course not. We’ve been through hell as a people and we’re still standing tall.

Those men who signed that declaration knew what they were creating. Despite all that has transpired since that signing, I am as certain as I am writing these words that those men would proud of what they created.