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5 Founding Fathers Whose Skepticism About Christianity Would Make Them Unelectable Today

Thomas Jefferson believed that a coolly rational form of religion would take root in America. Was he ever wrong.

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One can hear the commercials now: "James Madison is an anti-religious fanatic. He even opposes prayer proclamations during time of war."

5. Thomas Paine. Paine never held elective office, but he played an important role as a pamphleteer whose stirring words helped rally Americans to independence. Washington ordered that Paine’s pamphlet “The American Crisis” be read aloud to the Continental Army as a morale booster on Dec. 23, 1776. “Common Sense” was similarly popular with the people. These seminal documents were crucial to winning over the public to the side of independence.

So Paine’s a hero, right? He was also a radical Deist whose later work, The Age of Reason, still infuriates fundamentalists. In the tome, Paine attacked institutionalized religion and all of the major tenets of Christianity. He rejected prophecies and miracles and called on readers to embrace reason. The Bible, Paine asserted, can in no way be infallible. He called the god of the Old Testament “wicked” and the entire Bible “the pretended word of God.” (There go the Red States!)

What can we learn from this? Americans have the right to reject candidates for any reason, including their religious beliefs. But they ought to think twice before tossing someone aside just because he or she is skeptical of orthodox Christianity. After all, that description includes some of our nation’s greatest leaders.

Rob Boston is senior policy analyst at Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

 
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