Christian Pinto and Adullum Films have produced a DVD titled The Hidden Faith of the Founding Fathers (http://www NULL.adullamfilms NULL.com/HiddenFaith NULL.html) in which they argue that America was not founded as a Christian nation. Rather, Pinto says, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were the products of Enlightenment thinking and the influence of Freemasonry, the Illuminati, and other secret conspiracies.
As one who as studied and written extensively about the Founding Fathers and the Founding Era (http://johneidsmoe NULL.homestead NULL.com/books NULL.html), I have been asked to comment on Pinto’s message.
First, I believe Pinto has engaged in the “straw man” fallacy, suggesting that defenders of America’s Christian heritage are making claims that they have never made.
For example, Pinto focuses upon five Founding Fathers (Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and George Washington) and says,
“You have people who try to defend the idea of America as a Christian nation, and they hold up Thomas Jefferson as an example of a Founding Father who had a faith that any of us who are Christians should embrace.”
I know of no defender of America’s Christian heritage who believes Paine and Franklin were orthodox Christians, and none (with one possible exception) who believes Jefferson was an orthodox Christian. As for Adams and Washington, I simply disagree with Pinto’s analysis, as I will explain later.
Second, Pinto’s use of quotations by these men is extremely selective, so much so that the film is more notable for what it doesn’t include than for what it does include. These selective, often out-of-context quotations, presented with a background of ominous-sounding music, create a sense in the viewer’s mind that something very sinister is afoot. Pinto tends to cite a single quotation as though it represents the person’s thinking over a lifetime; he fails to consider the fact that as people grow and study and think, their ideas change over the years. It is particularly fascinating to trace the changes in John Adams’s thinking over the years. Pinto has obviously studied the Founding Fathers’ writings at some length. I therefore find it difficult to believe that he is unaware of the mountains of evidence that refute his position.
Third, Pinto presents these five Founders, or rather his caricature of them, as though they speak for the Founding Fathers as a whole. Other leading Founding Fathers, such as Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Patrick Henry, Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson, James Madison, John Witherspoon, John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Roger Sherman, Elbridge Gerry, the Pinckneys, George Mason, George Wythe, Noah Webster, and so many others, are virtually ignored. In fact:
- Of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, at least 51 belonged to orthodox Christian churches and expressed clear Christian convictions. These include 28 Anglicans, 8 Presbyterians, 7 Congregationalists, 2 Dutch Reformed, 2 Lutherans, 2 Methodists, and 2 Roman Catholics.
- The Bible accounts for fully 34% of all of the writings of leading American political thinkers from 1760-1805. In addition, the human authors they quoted were overwhelmingly Christian, including in order of frequency Baron Montesquieu (Roman Catholic), Sir William Blackstone (Anglican), and John Locke (essentially Protestant).
- Most of the Founding Fathers gained their basic learning at home or in church schools, using the Bible and the thoroughly-Christian New England Primer as their principal texts. Those who pursued higher education were trained at Christian colleges; of the first 108 colleges founded in colonial America, 106 were founded to train pastors and to provide others with a thoroughly Christian education.
- The average person in colonial New England (and only slightly less elsewhere) heard approximately 7,000 sermons during his lifetime, a total of about 15,000 hours of preaching (no, that’s not a misprint; sermons of two or more hours in length were standard fare in those days). The pastor was commonly the best-educated person in the community, and his sermons covered a wide variety of topics. Around election time, pastors commonly preached “election sermons” (often in a town hall for the entire community) in which they addressed the Christian duties of citizens and often commented on issues from a Biblical perspective.
- Pinto seems to agree that America’s early founding in the days of the Pilgrims were Christian; however, 156 years passed between 1620 and 1776, and during this time the Christian faith of the Pilgrims and Puritans was replaced by Enlightenment thinking. In the early 1700s some slide away from Puritanism did take place, but this slide was arrested by one of the greatest religious revival in Christian history, the First Great Awakening of the early 1740s. The American colonies emerged from the Awakening with a renewed religious fervor, perhaps not strictly Calvinist but definitely evangelical Christian.
- The Continental Congress adopted as the official song of the American Revolution, not “Yankee Doodle,” but “Chester,” which begins:
Let tyrants Shake their Iron rod
And slav’ry Clank her galling Chains
We fear them not we trust in god
New England’s god for ever reigns.
- It was commonly said during the War that in America there was “no king but
- One thing about conspiracy-thinking is that it is self-proving and susceptible to circular reasoning. Conspiracies by their nature are secret, so the very lack of evidence can be cited to prove the effectiveness of the conspiracy. I could just as easily argue that the Founding Fathers were really Moonies, but they kept quiet about it because the country was not ready to accept that yet – and the very fact that I can’t present any proof, proves the conspiracy by showing how effective they were at keeping the conspiracy secret. But even if Pinto is right that these Founders were Masonic Enlightenment thinkers, the very fact that they felt the need to be circumspect about expressing these ideas, demonstrates that there must have been a Christian base in America that these Founders didn’t dare offend.
- In fact, the shaping of America’s institutions was not the work of a secret group of five “insiders.” It was the entire 55-person Constitutional Convention, the 56 members of Congress who signed the Declaration, the members of the other Continental Congresses, the thirteen governors, the hundreds who served in the various state legislatures and the state ratifying conventions, the local mayors, aldermen, vestrymen, clergy, and others who shaped American opinion. The idea that five people – or, more accurately, three – could have pulled off a conspiracy of foisting a Masonic Enlightenment system of government upon an entire unsuspecting populace, is, at best, highly dubious, especially since only two of these five were actually Masons and only two of these five even attended the Constitutional Convention.
Now let’s look at the five persons Pinto identifies as Enlightenment thinkers who shaped American institutions. Interestingly, three of these five (Paine, Jefferson, and Franklin) are the very Founders modern secular humanists present as though they are typical of the Framers as a whole. Their motive is clear. Pinto’s motive is enigmatic.
It is difficult to think of Paine as a leading American Founding Father. He came to America from England in 1774, never held public office except for a brief term as a corresponding secretary for the Continental Congress, went to France to participate in the French Revolution and fell out of favor there, alternately claiming or renouncing his American citizenship depending upon which was to his advantage, returned to America late in life, and died in 1809; the fact that only six persons attended his funeral says something of the extent of his following.
But without question Paine was one of the most eloquent writers in American history. His pamphlet Common Sense (http://www NULL.constitution NULL.org/tp/comsense NULL.htm) sold widely and did much to persuade Americans to support independence.
Pinto correctly notes the anti-Christian ideas Paine expressed in his later writing The Age of Reason (http://www NULL.constitution NULL.org/tp/agereason NULL.txt), and he quotes these in great detail. But Pinto does not mention the thoroughly Biblical nature of Common Sense:
Government by kings was first introduced into the world by the heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom. It was the most prosperous invention the Devil ever set on foot for the promotion of idolatry. … Monarchy is ranked in Scripture as one of the sins of the Jews, for which a curse in reserve is denounced against them. … All anti-monarchical parts of Scripture, have been very smoothly glossed over in monarchical governments, but they undoubtedly merit the attention of countries which have their governments yet to form. … But where, say some, is the king of America? I’ll tell you, friend: he reigns above, and does not make havoc of mankind like the royal brute of Britain. … The Jews, elated with success [in Gideon's victory over the Midianites], and attributing it to the generalship of Gideon, proposed making him king, saying: “Rule thou over us, thou and thy son and thy son’s son.” Here was the temptation in its fullest extent; but Gideon, in the piety of his soul, replied: “I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you. The Lord shall rule over you.” …Gideon doth not decline the honor, but denieth the right to give it. … These portions of Scripture are direct and positive. They admit of no equivocal construction. That the Almighty hath here entered his protest against monarchical government is true, or the Scriptures are false.
Paine further argued that independence was God’s plan for America:
“There is something absurd in supposing a continent to be perpetually governed by an island. Even the distance at which the Almighty hath placed England and America is a strong and natural proof that the authority of one over the other, was never the design of heaven. … The Reformation was preceded by the discovery of America, as if the Almighty graciously meant to open a sanctuary to the persecuted in future years, when home should afford neither friendship nor safety.”
Why would an Enlightenment thinker base his case for American independence so squarely upon the Scriptures and upon the plan of the Almighty? Either (1) Paine believed the Bible in 1776 when he wrote Common Sense and embraced Enlightenment ideas sometime later; or (2) Paine didn’t believe the Bible in 1776, but he wrote as though he did because he knew he could not sell independence to the American people without making his case in Biblical terms.
Many Americans were critical of Paine after he wrote The Age of Reason (published in three parts in 1794, 1797, and 1807). Samuel Adams wrote to Paine in 1802,
“When I heard you had turned your mind to a defence of infidelity, I felt myself much astounded and more grieved, that you had attempted a measure so injurious to the feelings and so repugnant to the true interest of so great a part of the citizens of the United States.”
Gouverneur Morris wrote to Thomas Jefferson on 21 January 1794 about Paine’s confinement in France, saying “Thomas Paine is in prison, where he amuses himself with publishing a pamphlet against Jesus Christ,” and again on 6 March 1794, saying that “in the best of times, he had a larger share of every other sense than of common sense, and lately the intemperate use of ardent spirits has, I am told, consider ably impaired the small stock, which he originally possessed.”
John Adams called Paine an “insolent Blasphemer of things sacred and a transcendent Libeller of all that is good,” adding that “It is indeed a disgrace to the moral Character and the Understanding of this Age, that this worthless fellow should be believed in any thing. But Impudence and Malice will always find Admirers.”
Pinto’s contention that the Founding Fathers turned on Paine because he “spilled the beans” about their Enlightenment/Masonic conspiracy, has no supporting evidence whatsoever.
Although Paine once wrote an essay about the origins of Freemasonry, there is no evidence that he was ever a Mason.
One thing is clear: During the War for Independence, while many Americans held Paine in high esteem, the public had little reason to doubt that Paine was a Bible-believing Christian.
Pinto asks, “Was Thomas Paine sent by God to inspire a Christian revolution?”
I can only answer, possibly. “He who maketh the wrath of man to praise Him” (Ps. 76:10).
Again: With one possible exception, no defender of America’s Christian heritage contends that Thomas Jefferson was an orthodox Christian. That one exception bases his argument upon Jefferson’s 1816 statement that “…I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus… .” However, Jefferson probably meant only that he believed in and tried to follow Jesus’s moral teachings, not that he believed Jesus is the Son of God Who died for the sin of the world.
Jefferson cannot have been a classical Deist, because he believed in a God Who is actively involved in human affairs. He wrote in 1781, “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever.” In his Second Inaugural Address (1805) he declared,
“I shall need … the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old, from their native land, and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with His providence, and our riper years with His wisdom and power; and to whose goodness I ask you to join with me in supplications, that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures, that whatsoever they do shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations.
In Jefferson’s view, God did not simply create the universe and let it operate on its own according to natural laws; rather, He is actively involved in sustaining it:
We see, too, evident proofs of the necessity of a superintending power to maintain the Universe in its course and order. … were there no restoring power, all existences might extinguish successively, one by one, until all should be reduced to a shapeless chaos.
Jefferson’s convictions seem similar to Unitarianism, although, so far as I have been able to determine, he never called himself a Unitarian and never attended a Unitarian church. Perhaps he himself said it best in 1819, “I am of a sect by myself, so far as I know.”
Although Jefferson probably was not a Christian in the orthodox sense of the term, his attitude toward Christianity was less hostile than Pinto suggests. Taken in context, many of the quotations cited by Pinto refer more specifically to either Roman Catholicism or to Calvinism than to Christianity in general.
Jefferson believed Christianity could serve as the moral basis for the nation, and his grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph wrote of him,
He was regular in his attendance [at] church, taking his prayer book with him. He drew the plan of the Episcopal church in Charlottesville, was one of the largest contributors to its erection, and contributed regularly to the support of its minister. I paid, after his death, his subscription of $200 to the erection of the Presbyterian church in the same village. A gentleman of some distinction calling on him and expressing his disbelief in the truths of the Bible, his reply was, ‘Then, sir, you have studied it to little purpose.’ He was guilty of no profanity himself, and did not tolerate it in others. He detested impiety, and his favorite quotation for his young friends, as a basis for their morals, was the 15th psalm of David. He did not permit cards in his house; he knew no game with them.
Pinto speaks of the so-called “Jefferson Bible,” but Jefferson never used that title. The work was titled “The Life and Morals of Jesus,” and it was simply a compendium of Bible verses that Jefferson recommended for personal study or for use in converting the Indians to Christianity.
Pinto acknowledges that it is “disputed whether Jefferson was a Mason.” According to the Scottish Rite Journal, in 1960 “William R. Denslow, Masonic scholar and editor of the Transactions of the Missouri Lodge of Research, concluded that Jefferson was not a Mason, saying all claims for his membership are based on association or insinuation, with no proof by records.”
Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence, although others contributed to it as well. But he was not a delegate to the Constitutional Convention; he was in France during the Convention and the ratification debates, and he was also out of the country while the Bill of Rights was adopted. What role he could have played in a Masonic conspiracy to draft the Constitution is therefore unclear.
Pinto quotes the Declaration’s reference to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” as evidence that the Framers worshipped some pagan god of nature rather than the God of the Bible. He ignores the significance of the phrase. Like many others, Blackstone spoke of the Revealed Law, which he said is “found only in the Holy Scriptures,” and the Law of Nature, which “is dictated by God Himself:”
“Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is, no human law should be suffered to contradict these.”
There is nothing at all unorthodox about these expressions; see Psalm 19, Romans 1:18-25; 2:14-16.
Like Jefferson, Franklin probably was not a Christian in the orthodox sense of the term, but he moved much closer toward Christian faith as he grew older. He was raised in Boston and sat under Puritan preachers: many of his sayings, like “A penny saved is a penny earned” and “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise” are secular versions of the Puritan work ethic.
In the 1740s, during the First Great Awakening, Franklin was a good friend of the leading preacher George Whitefield, attended his sermons, did his printing free of charge, and contributed generously to his work. He was impressed by the beneficial effect Whitefield’s preaching had on individuals and entire communities and therefore supported it, regardless of whether he believe all of Whitefield’s doctrines. He wrote in his Autobiography (http://books NULL.google NULL.com/books?id=3UGggmrlRy4C&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false),
“It was wonderful to see the change soon made in the manners of our inhabitants. From being thoughtless or indifferent about religion, it seemed as if all the world were growing religious, so that one could not walk through the town in an evening without hearing psalms sung in different families of every street.”
During the Revolution Franklin worked closely with Calvinist patriots and grew to admire their character and zeal. He wrote that he was sending his grandson to Geneva for an education, because “I intend him for a Presbyterian and a republican.”
On 28 June 1787, while the Constitutional Convention was beset by strife and bickering, 81-year-old Ben Franklin stood up and reminded the delegates that years earlier, when they had met in the same Independence Hall as the Continental Congress, “we had daily prayers in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard – and they were graciously answered:”
“I have lived, Sir, a long time; and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that GOD GOVERNS IN THE AFFAIRS OF MEN. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that, without his concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.”
He wrote to his daughter in 1764,
“Go constantly to church, whoever preaches. The act of devotion to the common prayer book is your principle business there, and if properly attended to, will do more towards amending the heart than sermons generally can do. For they were composed by men of much greater piety and wisdom, than our common composers of sermons can pretend to be; and therefore I wish you would never miss the prayer days; yet I do not mean you should despise sermons, even of the preachers you dislike, for the discourse is often much better than the man, as sweet and clear waters come through very dirty earth. I am the pore particular on this head, as you learned to express a little before I came away, some inclination to leave our church, which I would not have you do.”
And to a youthful admirer he wrote,
“Be a good girl and don’t forget your catechism. Go constantly to meeting – or church – till you get a good husband; then stay at home, and nurse the children, and live like a Christian.”
At age 84, when the President of Yale asked his opinion of Jesus of Nazareth, he replied that “I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see;” but he added that he thought Jesus’ teachings had been somewhat corrupted through the ages and that he had “some doubts as to his divinity.”
What does this mean? It could mean he questioned whether Jesus was divine; but it could also mean he questioned the nature of Jesus’s divinity, whether according to the Athanasian Trinitarian formula (homoousios), or the Eusebian view that Jesus and the Father were of similar (homoiousios) but not the same substance, or the Arian view that Jesus was divine but not equal to the Father (heteroousios), or the modalist view that the three Persons of the Trinity were only masks worn by the one God, or other views.
Franklin was a Mason, but there is little evidence that Freemasonry influenced his thinking. Rightly or wrongly, in 1738 he wrote to assure his mother that Masons were “in general a very harmless sort of people, and have no principles or practices that are inconsistent with religion and good manners.”
Some have claimed that Franklin despised the doctrine of justification by grace through faith, but his writings show that he recognized that man cannot be justified by works alone. He wrote to his sister in 1743,
“And I imagine that there are few, if any, in the World, so weake as to imagine, that the little Good we can do here, can merit so vast a Reward hereafter. There are some Things in your New England Doctrines and Worship, which I do not agree with, but I do not therefore condemn them, or desire to shake your Belief or Practice of them.”
His belief in the Resurrection is reflected in the epitaph he composed for his tombstone in 1728, although it was never used:
“The body of B. Franklin, printer (Like the cover of an old book, Its contents torn out And stripped of its lettering and gilding), Lies here, food for worms. But the work will not be lost; For it will (as he believed) appear once more In a new and more elegant edition, Revised and corrected By the Author.”
A discussion of the Founding Fathers often comes down to a battle of dueling quotations, and nowhere is that more true than with John Adams. Possibly the greatest scholar ever to occupy the White House, Adams read, thought, and wrote extensively, and his views often changed over the years.
In my own book Christianity and the Constitution (http://www NULL.christianbook NULL.com/christianity-constitution-faith-our-founding-fathers/john-eidsmoe/9780801052316/pd/52319) I have emphasized the Christian side of the Founding Fathers that has been neglected over the years, but I have tried to be balanced and present the evidence to the contrary. Many of the Founders’ quotations Pinto employs are found in my book (and many more were deleted by the editor/publisher).
But I find no such balance in The Hidden Faith of the Founding Fathers. Pinto accuses David Barton of quoting selectively and out-of-context, but he himself is a master of selective quotation. For example, he quotes Adams as expressing approval of Voltaire and Rousseau, but fails to mention that on another occasion Adams called David Hume “a greater blockhead than he pronounced Mr. Locke to be” and added, “If there ever existed a wise fool, a learned idiot, a profound deep-thinking coxcomb, it was David Hume. As much worse than Voltaire and Rousseau as a sober decent libertine is worse than a rake.”
Adams’s extensive library is filled with volumes in which he wrote notes and comments. Since these were personal notes intended for no one but himself, they furnish excellent insights into Adams’s thoughts, especially later in his life. In one of those volumes the Marquis de Condorcet praised Greek culture; Adams wrote in the margin, “As much as I love, esteem and admire the Greeks, I believe the Hebrews have done more to civilize the world. Moses did more than all their legislators and philosophers.” When Condorcet complained that creative genius had been suppressed by religious superstition, Adams remarked, “But was there no genius among the Hebrews? None among the Christians nor Mahometans? I understand you, Condorcet. It is atheistical genius alone that you would honor or tolerate.” Where Condorcet claimed that religious liberty existed only for Christians everywhere but in France, Adams wrote, “In France it exists not for Christians or anything else [since] 1798.” And where Condorcet said the “natural equality of mankind” is the foundation of all morality, Adams answered,
“There is no such thing without a supposition of a God. There is no right or wrong in the universe without the supposition of a moral government and an intellectual and moral governor.” Adams’s belief in original sin and his contempt for doctrines of human perfectability led him to regard the French Revolution with utter disgust, sayng “All that astonished me in the whole Revolution was that all the disasters which overwhelmed the empire and destroyed the repose of Europe were not foreseen and foretold by every man of sense in Europe,” and that even primitive man had a better government than that of Revolutionary France.
In another volume by Mary Wollstonecraft, a liberal apologist for the French Revolution, Adams responded to her call for a new morality by noting, “Whence is this morality to come? If the Christian religion and all the power of government has never produced it, what will? Yet this mad woman is for destroying the Christian religion.”
Adams had been raised in a New England Puritan family and had been taught from the Bible and the New England Primer. He once said that he had been a “church-going animal” all his life and would continue that habit as long as he lived. His diary, going back to his early student days, reveals that he often attended several different Christian churches on a Sunday morning and evening, and often attended mid-week services as well. Until well into the 1800s he seems never to have questioned the orthodox Christian teaching of his upbringing, although he may have questioned Calvinist theology.
Later in life – well after his role in the founding of the United States and the framing of the American constitutional system of government had been completed – he seems to have questioned the Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity and the teaching that it is impossible to gain heaven without knowing Jesus Christ. Pinto has quoted Adams extensively to that effect, as have I. But Pinto omits Adams’s 4 November 1816 letter to Jefferson in which, after expressing doubts about these doctrines, he hastens to add,
“Conclude not from all this that I have renounced the Christian religion, or that I agree with Dupuis in all his sentiments. Far from it. I see in every page something to recommend Christianity in its purity, and something to discredit its corruption.”
And in an 1810 letter to Benjamin Rush he declared that
“The Christian religion, as I understand it, is the brightness of the glory and the express portrait of the character of the eternal, self-existent, independent, benevolent, all powerful and all merciful creator, preserver, and father of the universe, the first good, first perfect, and first fair. It will last as long as the world.”
He added that Christianity must be a revelation from God, because “Neither savage nor civilized man, without a revelation, could ever have discovered or invented it.”
Pinto quotes Adams’s 1813 letter to Jefferson in which he says, “Howl, snarl, bite, ye Calvinistic, ye Athanasian divines, if you will; ye will say I am no Christian; I say ye are no Christians, and there the account is balanced.” But Pinto omits the very next sentence of Adams’s letter: “Yet I believe all the honest men among you are Christians, in my sense of the word.” The meaning of this last sentence is unclear, but I cite it to illustrate how selectively Pinto has edited his quotations to suit his purposes. Much more to the point, expressing Adams’s deepest feelings on the subject, is his 1810 letter to Rush,
“Ask me not, then, whether I am a Catholic or Protestant, Calvinist or Arminian. As far as they are Christians, I wish to be a fellow-disciple with them all.”
Pinto says dogmatically, “John Adams was a Unitarian.” But he provides no evidence whatsoever that Adams ever claimed to be a Unitarian or that he ever joined, attended, or contributed to a Unitarian church. Later Pinto says, “As we showed earlier, Adams was a well-known Unitarian.” Saying it is not showing it; Adams’s alleged Unitarianism was “well-known” only to Pinto.
To summarize: Adams appears to have been an orthodox Christian in his earlier years and at all times relevant to America’s founding. Later in life he appears to have questioned or rejected the Athanasian formulation of Trinitarian doctrine, but to the end he firmly embraced Christianity itself.
- What about Washington’s signed and sworn oath, which may be seen in the Pohick church records (part of the Truro Parish) in which he declared under penalty of perjury that subscribed to the doctrine of the Anglican Church, which doctrine included the inspiration and authority of Scripture, the Trinity, the divine and human natures of Christ, substitutionary atonement, justification by grace through faith, the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Calvinistic Thirty-Nine Articles. If Washington was a Deist, a Unitarian, or a skeptic, he could not have in good faith signed this oath. If he did not believe these doctrines, he committed perjury by signing that oath. Pinto does not mention this oath.
- What about his 1783 letter to the thirteen governors in which he resigned his commission now that the War was over, announced his intent to return to private life, and referred to Jesus Christ as “the Divine Author of our blessed Religion”? His biographer Henry Cabot Lodge wrote, “Washington either believed in the divinity of Christ or when he wrote those words he deliberately stated something which he did not believe.” Pinto does not mention this statement.
- What about his 1779 speech to the Delaware Chiefs in which he told them, “You will do well to wish to learn our ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are”? Pinto mentions this but dismisses its significance, saying it was merely a response to the Delawares’ request to be taught the white man’s ways including Christianity. But the fact that Washington said “above all, the religion of Jesus Christ” (emphasis added) demonstrates that this was much more than a formal response.
- What about his address to the Directors of the Society of United Brethren (Moravian) for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen in which he declared that the U.S. Government should “co-operate, as far as the circumstances may conveniently admit, with the disinterested endeavors in your society to civilize and christianize the Savages of the Wilderness”? His use of the terms “civilize and christianize” (emphasis added) demonstrates that he did not equate the two.
- What about his faithful church attendance throughout a lifetime?
- What about his moral lifestyle, thoroughly consistent with Christianity?
- What about his orders to the soldiers of the Continental Army to attend divine services?
These and many more evidences of Washington’s Christian convictions can be found in the chapter on George Washington in my book Christianity and the Constitution, and far more evidence is presented in the 1,179-page book George Washington’s Sacred Fire (http://www NULL.amazon NULL.com/George-Washingtons-Sacred-Peter-Lillback/dp/0978605268) by Peter A. Lillback with Jerry Newcombe (Providence Forum Press 2006). Jared Sparks, author of a twelve-volume biography of Washington and the leading authority on Washington in the 19th century, wrote of him,
If a man spoke, wrote, and acted as a Christian through a long life, who gave numerous proofs of his believing himself to be such, and who was never known to say, write or do a thing contrary to his professions, if such a man is not to be ranked among the believers of Christianity, it would be impossible to establish the point by any train of reasoning.
All of this evidence, at the very least, should establish a presumption that Washington was a Christian.
Pinto attempts to rebut this presumption by showing that Washington did not receive Communion. It is true that Washington sometimes refrained from Communion in Anglican churches for a period of time during the War, and also for a period of time while serving as President. Lillbeck and Newcombe present solid and voluminous evidence that Washington did receive Communion at other times in his life, and at a variety of churches and locations, including during the War in churches of other denominations, and while serving as President.
His reasons for often refraining from Communion during the War are unclear, but significantly, the only churches in which he declined to receive Communion were Anglican churches. The reason for this seems obvious: The Anglican Church was the Church of England, of which the King of England was the head. As General of the Continental Army Washington believed he could not be in total harmony with the Church of England while leading a revolution against the head of that Church. Lillback and Newcombe consider it “virtually a miracle” that Washington remained an Anglican despite this conflict. Other reasons might include the conflict between Low-Church and High-Church Anglicans (Washington supported the Low-Church position which, among other things, practiced Communion less frequently), differences in various Anglican parishes over the frequency of Communion and the manner of receiving it (standing or kneeling), and Washington’s personal interaction with various Anglican clergy. Particularly this was true while Washington was in Philadelphia serving as President (Washington D.C. had not yet been founded) and where the Anglican Bishop, Rev. White, was a man Washington believed had betrayed the Low-Church position. A man who thought little of Christianity would have had no problem conforming to a (to him) meaningless ritual to impress those around him. It is entirely consistent with Washington’s Christian character that he left church services before Communion was served or did not attend on Communion Sundays, and then said nothing about his reasons rather than criticize his Anglican clergyman or become involved in a church conflict in a way that he would have thought unseemly for a man serving as President of the United States.
Pinto next presents quotations from people who lived shortly after Washington’s time who questioned whether he was a Christian. Lillback & Newcombe present testimony from those who affirm that he was a Christian, as do I. Unfortunately, on both sides much of this evidence consists of multiple hearsay (“_______ wrote to me that ________ told him thirty years ago that…,” etc.), because by the time this became an issue this was the best evidence available. Most of the evidence Pinto presents consists of hearsay statements by Anglican bishops who had had no personal communication with Washington but only observed his non-participation in Communion and might have questioned his loyalty to the Church of England while leading the Revolution against the English King. No one has ever produced any statement by Washington in which he either claimed to be a Deist or denied any fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith.
Pinto next trots out the threadbare Treaty of Tripoli with its bogus Article 11 which allegedly states, “…the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion… .” His claim that Washington drafted that article is utter nonsense; the treaty was negotiated in the Middle East and was ratified and signed under John Adams’s administration. I respectfully direct the reader’s attention to my post on this topic, “Tripoli v. Paris: A Tale of Two Treaties,” or to “Appendix 1: Treaty of Tripoli” in Christianity and the Constitution. Quoting from Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America, 1776-1949:
“Most extraordinary (and wholly unexplained) is the fact that Article 11 of the Barlow translation, with its famous phrase, “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion,” does not exist at all. There is no Article 11. The Arabic text which is between Articles 10 and 12 is in form a letter crude and flamboyant and withal quite unimportant, from the Dey of Algiers to the Pasha of Tripoli. How that script came to be written and to be regarded, as in the Barlow translation, as Article 11 of the treaty as there written, is a mystery and seemingly must remain so.”
Why would the U.S. Senate unanimously ratify this treaty? Simply because, as stated in the First Amendment, we do not have an “established religion” in the United States. That does not mean the nation is not founded upon Christian and Biblical principles. Interestingly, the so-called Article 11 does not appear in the Arabic version of the treaty, and nor does it appear in the version of the treaty that was renewed under President Jefferson in 1806. But even if that Article is genuine, there is nothing in that language with which I would disagree.
While there is mystery about the Treaty of Tripoli, there is no mystery about the 1783 Treaty of Paris negotiated by Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. This is a truly foundational document for the United States, because by this treaty England recognized American independence. The Treaty of Paris begins with the words, “In the Name of the most Holy and Undivided Trinity. It having pleased the Divine Providence… .” Pinto doesn’t tell us that.
Next, Pinto says George Washington was a Freemason. There is no question about that. The questions are, how much did Freemasonry influence Washington, and does Washington’s Masonic affiliation mean he wasn’t a Christian?
I cannot recommend that a Christian affiliate with Freemasonry. The Masonic emphasis that one should be faithful to whatever religion he belongs may strengthen some in their Christian faith, but for others it might impel them further on the road to perdition. Also, some of the Masonic rites suggest salvation by works, have Islamic connotations, and/or are permeated with Oriental mysticism.
But how influential was Freemasonry? The American historian Carl Van Doren wrote that “Freemasonry in America had been social and local, with little influence in politics. In France, it was freethinking and opposed to absolutism.” In early America, as in America today, most of those who became Masons did so for the business contacts, the social friendships, the charitable activities, and the moral instruction Freemasonry provided. Then, as today, most Freemasons were active in churches and considered themselves Christians. Especially at the lower levels, few of them recognized the conflicts between Masonic teaching and Christian doctrine.
Washington was a Freemason, but the extent of his involvement in Freemasonry is open to question. In 1798 he wrote to the Rev. G.W. Snyder that far from “presiding over the English lodges in this country,” as Rev. Snyder had supposed, he had not been in a Masonic lodge “more than once or twice within the last thirty years.”
Finally, Pinto makes the startling claim that Washington may have had secret Roman Catholic leanings, and that on his death bed he received the sacraments of Roman Catholicism from the Jesuits, who were trying to gain a foothold in America to secretly accomplish their goal of making the Western Hemisphere Catholic. I had never heard this before, and at first I thought it was ludicrous. However, Pinto does present some evidence for this, and although I am still very skeptical, I intend to look into it further.
But Pinto fails to mention that Roman Catholicism, and especially the Jesuits, were and still are totally at odds with Freemasonry, Unitarianism, Deism, and Enlightenment thought in general. That Washington could simultaneously be part of both conspiracies, and keep the knowledge of both from each other and from the public, would be a miracle indeed.
Pinto’s next target is “Bartonian History,” an attack upon David Barton (http://www NULL.wallbuilders NULL.com/abtbiodb NULL.asp) and his historical research, writing, and lecturing on America’s Christian foundations. Emphasizing that original documents “can be useful if you quote them in their full context,” Pinto charges that “David Barton presents individual quotes about America’s Founders, but he deletes these quotations from the full context of who those men were and what they believed.” On that subject Pinto speaks with eminent authority: he is a master at that modus operandi.
However, in this respect Pinto is right: we all need to be careful to use only genuine quotations and to present them in full context. I try to do so, although my scholarship certainly isn’t perfect. I am grateful (or try to be grateful) when someone points out an error in my scholarship, and I try to correct it, although sometimes publishers are reluctant to an already-printed text. David, I’m confident, is the same. His scholarship has improved greatly over the years, largely because he has accumulated many old texts for use in research, and he even has a place on his website where he lists alleged quotations of the Founding Fathers that cannot be positively documented (http://www NULL.wallbuilders NULL.com/LIBissuesArticles NULL.asp?id=126) and therefore shouldn’t be used.
On the whole, in my opinion, Barton’s presentation of the beliefs and actions of the Founding Fathers is far more accurate than that of Pinto.
So, in conclusion what do we have here? We have a Masonic conspiracy of five men, only two of whom were actually Freemasons. These five were vehemently anti-Christian, although in my opinion Pinto is correct about only three of them, and even those three had positive things to say about Christianity even though they rejected many of its doctrines. These five men dominated the Constitutional Convention, even though only two of those five were even delegates to the Convention, one of those (Franklin) being 81 years of age and in bad health, and the other (Washington) being an inactive Mason and secretly in league with the Jesuits and their Roman Catholic conspiracy. Does the reader understand why I am not convinced?
Part of my difference with Pinto may relate to our view of Christianity and the two kingdoms, church and state. What is Christianity?
- A relationship with a Person, Jesus Christ?
- A way of salvation?
- A religious doctrine?
- A system of morals?
I would answer yes; Christianity is all of these and more. And although each of these answers cannot be neatly separated from one another, each is important in different ways. As to whether one is born-again and going to heaven, the question is whether that person knows Jesus Christ and is trusting His Finished Work on the Cross for his salvation. As to whether one is an orthodox Christian, the question is whether he believes the correct religious doctrines. As to whether he is fit to be a good citizen or statesman, the question focuses more upon whether his moral values are consistent with those found in the Word of God.
Washington did not consider it appropriate to insert his personal Christian doctrines into his public addresses. But in his Farewell Address (http://ourdocuments NULL.gov/doc NULL.php?flash=true&doc=15&page=transcript) he spoke of the role of religion – a term he used fairly interchangeably with Christianity – in public life:
“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
After the Address, twenty-five clergymen from the Philadelphia area joined together and wrote a letter thanking Washington for his nearly half-century of public service and for his comments about religion in his Address. Washington in turn thanked them and wrote,
“Religion and Morality are the essential pillars of civil society.”
Pinto says “The Bible doesn’t promote freedom of thought” and denounces the Framers concept of religious liberty as a Masonic rather than a Christian ideal, although he does not tell us what form of government he would favor. Maybe the Bible doesn’t promote freedom of thought; but the Bible does limit the power of government to restrict freedom of thought. Do I have a right to be wrong? Maybe not, but the government has no authority to tell me I’m wrong and to force me to change my thinking. Even the concept of separation of church and state, properly understood, is an institutional separation that has its roots in Old Testament Israel, in which the kings came from the Tribe of Judah and the priests from the Tribe of Levi (See 2 Chronicles 19:11).
If the Framers spoke of Christianity primarily as a system of morals, the reason is that they were involved with law and government, and they wrote about Christianity in that context. That doesn’t mean they didn’t believe Christianity is also the way of eternal salvation.
I hope that Pinto will see that he has treated these five Founding Fathers unfairly and that he has ignored the rest. I hope his future treatment of them will be more balanced. Even more, I hope The Hidden Faith of the Founding Fathers will stir all of us to study the Founding Fathers more fully, to emulate and be inspired by them, but, above all, to measure them – and ourselves – by the infallible standard of God’s Word.
Thomas Paine, “Common Sense,” 1776; reprinted in Thomas Paine: Representative Selections, with Introduction , Bibliography, and Notes by Harry Hayden Clark (Hill and Wang 1944, 1961) 10-13.
Gouverneur Morris to Thomas Jefferson, 21 January 1794.
Gouverneur Morris to Thomas Jefferson, 6 March 1794.
John Adams, in Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L.H. Butterfield (Harvard University Press 1962) IV:5-6.
One exception was the Rev. John Witherspoon, President of the College of New Jersey and signer of the Declaration of Independence. In his 1776 sermon “The Dominion of Providence Over the Passions of Men,” Witherspoon commented on Paine’s “Common Sense” and asked in a footnote to the published sermon, “Is this man ignorant of human nature, as well as an enemy to the Christian faith?”
Thomas Jefferson to Charles Thomson, 9 January 1815.
Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia 1781, 1782.
Jefferson, Second Inaugural Address 1805.
Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, 11 April 1823.
Jefferson, quoted by M. Richard Maxfield, K. DeLynn Cook, and W. Cleon Skousen, The Real Thomas Jefferson (National Center for Constitutional Studies 1983) 602.
Jefferson, Letter to Miles King 26 September 1814.
Thomas Jefferson Randolph, undated letter to biographer Henry S. Randall, reprinted in Maxfield, op, cit. 321.
Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries; quoted in Christianity and the Constitution 57-58.
Benjamin Franklin to his daughter Sally, 1779; quoted in Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution 206.
Franklin, Speech at Constitutional Convention 28 June 1787; reprinted in Christianity and the Constitution 208.
Franklin, quoted in Christianity and the Constitution 200-01.
Franklin, Letter to Catherine Ray, 1755; quoted in Christianity and the Constitution 201.
Franklin, 1798; quoted by M.Richard Maxfield and W. Cleon Skousen, The Real Benjamin Franklin (The Freemen Institute 1982) 392.
Franklin to Jane Mecom, 28 July 1743; reprinted in Christianity and the Constitution 199.
Franklin, quoted in Christianity and the Constitution 212.
John Adams, handwritten notes on his copy of Historical and Moral View of the Origins and Progress of the French Revolution; reprinted in Zoltan Haraszti, John Adams and the Prophets of Progress (Harvard University Press 1952) 214.
Just so there is no misunderstanding, I believe the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity as taught by Athanasius and as expressed in the Nicene Creed and the Lutheran Confessions, and I believe the blood of Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation. But I believe it is possible to be a Christian even though one is confused or mistaken on certain points of doctrine.
Adams to Jefferson 4 November 1816.
Adams to Rush 21 January 1810.
Adams to Rush 21 January 1810.
Adams to Jefferson 14 September 1813.
Adams to Rush 21 January 1810.
Washington, Circular Letter to Governors 8 June 1783.
Henry Cabot Lodge, Letter to the New York Daily Tribune 26 May 1902.
Quoted in Christianity and the Constitution 142.
Lillbeck and Newcombe. George Washington’s Sacred Fire (Providence Forum Press 2006) 405-36; cf Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution 133-35.
Some claim the American Revolution was an unscriptural revolt against civil authority in violation of Romans 13:1-7. Rather than refute this argument here, I respectfully direct the interested reader to my essay, The Doctrine of Interposition in Christian Theology, which may be found at http://publisherscorner.nordskogpublishing.com/2008/01/eidsmoe-john-doctrine-of-interposition.html, in which I argue that the American Revolution was not an unlawful revolt but rather a justified act of interposition by the duly-constituted leaders of the American colonies against a king who had become a tyrant.
Carl Van Doren, Benjamin Franklin (Viking Press 1938, 1961) 656.
Washington to G.W. Snyder, 1798; quoted by John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799 (U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1931-1944) XXXVI:453. Some have noted that Washington referred to the “English lodges,” leaving open the possibility that he may have been more involved in other lodges; but there is no proof of that.
Actually, of the 55 Constitutional Convention delegates, between 13 (about one-fourth) and 19 (about one-third) were Freemasons. Of these, only George Washington and possibly Edmund Randolph could be considered major figures at the Convention, and Randolph opposed and refused to sign the Constitution although later changed his mind and supported it. This further illustrates the folly of attributing the whole design of the Constitution to a handful of men. According to Madison’s Notes, Gouverneur Morris spoke most frequently at the Convention and also chaired the Committee on Style that prepared most of the final draft of the Constitution, followed by James Wilson, James Madison, and Roger Sherman. But all of the delegates had input.
Christianity and the Constitution 120.