What the Guys in Wigs Really Thought About God

I know that for some this will be like telling you that your mother isn’t a virgin, but someone’s got to say it

by Hardly Waite

Aug. 31, 2002


A Madrid newspaper recently said that the great Pledge of Allegiance debate in America was especially “emotional.”  And it should be, the paper remarked, “in a country that puts ‘In God We Trust’ on the item most sacred to its philosophy–the dollar.”

It’s funny yet sad to hear Americans–a full half of whom, polls now tell us, would be perfectly willing to give up their First Amendment guarantee to free speech in exchange for having to worry less about getting an anthrax letter or being infected with smallpox by the Evil Ones–to hear these same nervousnelly patriots whimper and whine about not getting to say “under God” when they repeat the “Pledge.”  After all, they always say, it’s what the Founding Fathers intended.

Never mind that the Pledge was dreamed up by someone a hundred years after the Founding Fathers had finished doing their intending,  and never mind that the “under God” part was not spliced into the Pledge until sixty or seventy years later, in the McCarthy years, when people were too afraid of being called Commies to suggest that it might not be quite in keeping with the separation of church and state. (That was around the same time, by the way,  when they started regularly putting “In God We Trust” on our national idol.)

And never mind that when the likes of Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine and George Washington and Benjamin Franklin and Ethan Allan spoke of Nature’s God they weren’t even talking about the same Guy that the Undergodites are evoking–the insecure Almighty who has to be constantly reminded that we trust in Him and Him alone and who, the Bible thumpers admonish, may not be able to make good on all  his Armageddon threats unless America pitches in with some serious Arab ass kicking.

“Water filters, like the circulation of blood, are not a moral issue.” –Benjamin FranklinModel 77–“The World’s Greatest $77 Water Filter.”

Thomas Jefferson said:  “I have examined all the known superstitions of the Word, and I do not find in our particular superstition of Christianity one redeeming feature.  They are all alike, founded on fables and mythology.”

Most of the guys in wigs, the Founding Fathers, whom the Undergodites like to cite as models of Christianity,  weren’t Christians at all in the sense that we use the word today. Not even remotely.   Most were deists, which means that they believed in a God of Nature.  This God is also sometimes called the Divine Clockmaker. He built the universe, wound it up, then went about his Divine Business while the thing runs itself.  He did not give a flip whether people said the Lord’s Prayer before the football game, or, for that matter, whether they coveted their neighbor’s ass or remembered the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

If Ethan Allan were around today, that lusty fellow would probably stop the Pledge in progress to demand an understanding about who exactly this God guy is. That’s what he did at his own wedding  He halted the ceremony at the first mention of God to make sure that everyone understood he was saying his vows before the God of Nature, not the cruel, jealous Old Man of the Old Testament.

As for the Bible, Jefferson liked to call it a “dunghill,” and Tom Paine said it was a dishonor to the Creator to attach his name to “this filthy book.”

Our first president thought Christianity was pretty silly.  Though he didn’t make a big deal about it in public, those who knew him attested that he tolerated it but didn’t believe a word of it.  And our second president, John Adams, called the concept of the divinity of Jesus a “convenient cover for absurdity,” and he signed into law a treaty which declared straightway that “the Government of the United States is not founded in any way on the Christian religion.”

I’ll leave off here with the presidents, except to say that in a sermon of October 1831, Episcopalian minister Bird Wilson was still able to say,  “Among all of our Presidents, from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism.”

So . . . for my part.  if you want to pledge under God or over God or under or over Anything Else, go ahead. It’s your nickel.   But please, spare me the “Founding Fathers” nonsense and the “Christian Nation” stuff. At the time of the Declaration of Independence, just 7% of Americans belonged to a church. Any church. That’s a fact.