Not as Straightforward As You Think


Jon Rowe

Jon Rowe is a full Professor of Business at Mercer County Community College, where he teaches business, law, and legal issues relating to politics. Of course, his views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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7 Responses

  1. Avatar MFarmer says:

    Can you explain why your understanding of the FF history and their individual Christian beliefs are so important to you? Since no one now is suggesting that the FF intended a Theocracy, what difference does it make what each FF actually believed regarding Christianity?Report

    • Avatar RTod says:

      I’d second the question from MFarmer, and wish I could throw it out to a big chunk of our society in general. What, after all, is so important about discerning exactly what the FF had in mind about anything? It’s not as if they were Biblical prophets and we must parse their writings to find the True Word of God; why must we treat them that way?

      Regarding the question of religion, I’m pretty darn certain that if we could go back in time and find out what they all thought about the idea of, say, a Muslim or Jew being president, they would have a very un-modern opinion. That wouldn’t make them right, anymore than it would for them to show the horror I know they would to see that we’ve gone and elected a “Negro.” (And are even generally OK eating with his kind.)

      We don’t sit around saying “What did they think about slavery; we want to make sure we do it just like they would have!” Why do we do this about their religious belief?Report

      • Avatar Jon Rowe says:


        We operate under the assumption that their beliefs have some kind of strong authority for the kind of society America “ought to be.” If, on the other hand for instance, one is “down with America” then I understand writing off their beliefs. And I also understand their beliefs on race, gender, etc. can operate as “poison pills” so whatever is we value about what they believed, we have to find ways around that.

        They were liberal for their time.Report

        • Avatar RTod says:

          Jon –

          I’m not sure if you’re misunderstanding me or just making a general comment; on the possibility it’s the former, let me say:

          I don’t find the FF’s beliefs about race, gender, etc. to be poisoned pills. To do so wouldn’t, I think, be entirely fair. After all it’s just been in the past generation or two (if at all) that we as a people have decided that its really, really ok to be a Jew, or black, or gay. My point isn’t that what the FFs did was bad, its that what they did was so great that it transcended whatever limitations they might have had. But what they were really for or against seems, I don’t know, somehow irrelevant.

          Here’s a metaphor for what I’m saying: When I was growing up, my dad used to impress upon my sister and I that the color of a person;’s skin was not important; their character was. But as we got older, in high school and college, and inter-racial dating and marriage started happening, he had a real problem with that. And it led to arguments between us and him. He wasn’t a bad man, he was just wrong. But here’s the thing: my sister and I recognized that interracial marriage was OK precisely because my Dad raised us with the values he had about race. Just because we took them to heart and took them a step further doesn’t mean that his main message wasn’t spot on. Nor, however, was it necessary for us to consider later what his original opinions were about race to discern what was right or wrong.

          The same holds true with the FFs and religion. They created a State (and society) that had a blanket no holds barred freedom of religion written into it’s constitution. That they would have been freaked out be Jewish president doesn’t make the possibility of a Jewish president a sin; rather, the fact that we can discuss it and see the value of tolerance to a degree that even they couldn’t speak to the greatness of their idea.

          Freedom of religion is a great, great thing. And it is manifestly so; it should not require a thorough reading of what ANYONE in the eighteenth century thought about the subject to grant it.Report

  2. Avatar Jon Rowe says:

    1) I find the history fascinating. Don’t know why it does, but it does.

    2) On why I find it relevant, this is what I wrote that Cato reproduced in their symposium on political theology:

    “As someone who sees danger in excessive religious passions in politics, I often stress, in my writings, this tension between America’s founding and traditional Christianity. I hope that millions who believe in the Christian nation myth will understand America was founded to be more pluralistic and less authentically Christian than they have been mislead to believe by the clownish figures who specialize in propagating the myth. Such traditional believers, more aware of the tension, may resolve it by either a) accepting the non-Christian character of America’s founding institutions, and stop trying to transform the republic into something it never was — a “Christian Nation,” or b) questioning the legitimacy of liberal democracy/republican government itself and attempting to overthrow it. As an optimist, I hope they choose the former.”

  3. Avatar Simon K says:

    I always thought the fact that the senate unanimously ratified the Treaty of Tripoli, including the words “the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion” was pretty decisive evidence and basically closed the debate. If someone wanted to argue that the United States is a Christian nation, they can’t base the argument on the idea that the founders wanted it to be.Report

  4. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    As I understand it, the only nations that made Christian religious doctrine an overt part of the government were crazy-Catholic nations like Spain and Portugal. If that’s the definition of “Christian nation” then I can certainly see how the FF would not want that.Report