Jeffersonism: Judeo-Christian language in the foundation of the United States and the Contentious Role of the Christmas Tree.
For many years the United States has battled out and debated the role Christianity plays in the United States governance and education of the populous. The battle carries over to legal battles about evolution, abortion, Ten Commandments in court room, and whether Islam has an equal place in our history of the United States. It has been a battle with constant shifting lines and alliances. One particular legal battle that has a political paradox to it is the battle of the Christmas tree. What is interesting about the Christmas tree is that in some cases it is considered a religious symbol similar to a nativity scene, in other cases it is considered secular symbol and is deemed legal to display on public grounds. What is so interesting about the Christmas tree is that it’s origins are completely unchristian.
“But rather, has been adopted from the early pagan festival, Dies Natalis Solis Invictus, a/k/a Sol Invictus, which celebrated the victory of light over darkness and the lengthening of the sun’s rays at the winter solstice. The pagan festival of Saturnalia was also practiced on the Winter Solstice through December 25 and shared many of the same traditions of the Roman Solis Invictus and included tree worship of the evergreen, merrymaking and gift-giving-all pagan traditions grafted onto the celebration of Christ’s birth by the early church and carried forward through today.”
“The modern Christmas tree is frequently traced to the symbolism of trees in pre-Christian winter rites, wherein Viking and Saxon worshiped trees. The story of Saint Boniface cutting down Donar's Oak illustrates the pagan practices in 8th century among the Germans.”
The extreme irony of the Christmas tree is that many people in the early church tried to ban Christmas and decorating of trees for holidays.
“The second-century theologian Tertullian condemned those Christians who celebrated the winter festivals, or decorated their houses with laurel boughs in honor of the emperor:"Let them over whom the fires of hell are imminent, affix to their posts, laurels doomed presently to burn: to them the testimonies of darkness and the omens of their penalties are suitable. You are a light of the world, and a tree ever green. If you have renounced temples, make not your own gate a temple."”
When most people think of the church banning Christmas, they think of bickering Catholic Church officials in the Roman Empire deciding how to rule their people and establish domain. It is surprising to many people that Christmas was ban as late 1681 in Boston.
"Shocking as it sounds, followers of Jesus Christ in both America and England helped pass laws making it illegal to observe Christmas, believing it was an insult to God to honor a day associated with ancient paganism," according to "Shocked by the Bible". Most Americans today are unaware that Christmas was banned in Boston from 1659 to 1681."
Though the Christmas tree debate will continue to play a role in the greater debate in America’s future. There can be no other debate more contentious in the current political environment over the statement, “Under God” in the Pledge of alliance. For one, the Pledge of Alliance has a very unusual history. For starters, when was “Under God” added to the Pledge of Alliance?
“In 1953, Louis Rabaut, a democrat from Michigan sponsored a resolution to add the words "under God" to the Pledge. It failed. But by then, the decision was up to President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Recently baptized as a Presbyterian, he heard a sermon, arguing the words "under God" from Lincoln's speech set the United States apart from others as a nation. At the time, the Cold War was gaining steam, and Eisenhower was fighting communism across the globe.”
Irony of the decision to add,”Under God” to the Pledge allegations is that it was added to confront the godless communism that was spreading around the world in 1953. What some people today take for granted is that religion is often the subject of mass repression and state control in a socialist state at that time in history. The “Under God” was sort of a way of saying that we will protect people’s right to practice their faith. Though offensive to some secular atheists, “under god” could mean something more all-inclusive for all people, which we will discuss below. It could represent a Jewish God, Christian God, Hindu God, Muslim God, or Native American God or even have more loose interpretations. Obviously, it can mean a Christian god, and for most people in the USA it probably means that. But it can also mean:
“the incorporeal divine Principle ruling over all as eternal Spirit : infinite Mind, a person or thing of supreme value”
In the west the debate of religion symbols or words in public offices and language is often reduced to a debate by a Christian Majority versus Secular Atheists. However, during the cold war Communism was trying to eliminate Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, and indigenous religions. In many countries repression government over site led to millions of people forced into work camps for reeducation and often torture. Putting “Under God” in the Pledge of allegiance was probably more kin to the US government saying they protect the religious freedoms of their people. If we are going to split hairs; think about how wonderful Protestants and Catholics get along in the USA. Even though taken for granted in the USA, those religious splits often drew national boundaries in Europe through civil wars, repression, and massive wars throughout history too similar to the Islam; Sunni and Shia split. What is more paradoxical then adding the words, “Under God” to the Pledge Allegiance is the origin of the Pledge Allegiance itself; a topic too large for this editorial piece today.
So what were the views of God in early United States history by the presidents of the United States? Most of the presidents were affiliated to one Christian Religion or another. Many of the common religions have been Baptist, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholic, and Episcopalian. Many people would argue about the authenticity and sincerity of the politician’s real beliefs or whether their affiliation with church was only a means to garnish support from the voting population. Even though the country was fundamentally a Christian State many of the presidents had a more diverse view of the divine. One of those presidents was Thomas Jefferson. President Thomas Jefferson was sometimes viewed as Unitarian, Epicurean and a Deist. His views on Jesus are seen as follows:
"Most deists denied the Christian concepts of miracles and the Trinity. Though he had a lifelong esteem for Jesus' moral teachings, Jefferson did not believe in miracles, nor in the divinity of Jesus. In a letter to deRieux in 1788, he declined a request to act as a godfather, saying he had been unable to accept the doctrine of the Trinity "from a very early part of my life." In an 1820 letter to his close friend William Short, Jefferson stated, "it is not to be understood that I am with him [Jesus] in all his doctrines. I am a Materialist; he takes the side of Spiritualism; he preaches the efficacy of repentance toward forgiveness of sin; I require a counterpoise of good works to redeem it." In 1824, four years later, Jefferson had changed on his view of the "materialism" of Jesus, clarifying then that "... the founder of our religion, was unquestionably a materialist as to man."
"In summary, then, Jefferson was a deist because he believed in one God, in divine providence, in the divine moral law, and in rewards and punishments after death; but did not believe in supernatural revelation. He was a Christian deist because he saw Christianity as the highest expression of natural religion and Jesus as an incomparably great moral teacher. He was not an orthodox Christian because he rejected, among other things, the doctrines that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the incarnate Son of God. Jefferson's religion is fairly typical of the American form of deism in his day."
"He considered the teachings of Jesus as having "the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man," yet he held that the pure teachings of Jesus appeared to have been appropriated by some of Jesus' early followers, resulting in a Bible that contained both "diamonds" of wisdom and the "dung" of ancient political agendas."
Jefferson used certain passages of the New Testament to compose The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth (the "Jefferson Bible"), which excluded any miracles by Jesus and stressed his moral message. Though he often expressed his opposition to many practices of the clergy, and to many specific popular Christian doctrines of his day, Jefferson repeatedly expressed his admiration for Jesus as a moral teacher, and consistently referred to himself as a Christian (though following his own unique type of Christianity) throughout his life. Jefferson opposed Calvinism, Trinitarianism, and what he identified as Platonic elements in Christianity. In private letters Jefferson also described himself as subscribing to other certain philosophies, in addition to being a Christian. In these letters he described himself as also being an "Epicurean" (1819), a "19th century materialist" (1820), a "Unitarian by myself" (1825), and "a sect by myself" (1819). Upon the disestablishment of religion in Connecticut, he wrote to John Adams: "I join you, therefore, in sincere congratulations that this den of the priesthood is at length broken up, and that a Protestant Popedom is no longer to disgrace the American history and character."
Though if such a man, as Thomas Jefferson, used language such as “Nature’s God” in the Declaration of Independence, what did he mean:
Phrases such as "Nature's God", which Jefferson used in the Declaration of Independence, are typical of Deism, although they were also used at the time by non-Deist thinkers, such as Francis Hutcheson. In addition, it was part of Roman thinking about natural law, and Jefferson was influenced by reading Cicero on this topic.
Was Thomas Jefferson alone in his belief? Five of the US presidents were Unitarians including John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Filmore, and Taft. Unitarians believe Jesus was a person that was inspired by god and not a deity.
"Unitarianism (from Latin unitas "unity, oneness", from unus "one") is a Christian theological movement named for its belief that the God in Christianity is one person, as opposed to the Trinity (tri- from Latin tres "three") which defines God as three persons in one being; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Unitarian Christians, therefore, believe that Jesus was inspired by God in his moral teachings, and he is a savior, but he was not a deity or God incarnate. Unitarianism does not constitute one single Christian denomination, but rather refers to a collection of both extant and extinct Christian groups, whether historically related to each other or not, which share a common theological concept of the oneness nature of God.
While the uncompromising theological monotheism at the heart of Christian Unitarianism distinguishes it from the major Christian denominations which subscribe to Trinitarian theology, Christian Unitarianism is analogous to the more austere monotheistic understandings of God in Judaism.
Unitarianism is also known for the rejection of several other Western Christian doctrines, including the doctrines of original sin, predestination, and the infallibility of the Bible. Unitarians in previous centuries accepted the doctrine of punishment in an eternal hell, but few do today."
What were the crafters of the constitution view about religion in the US? The Constitution itself doesn't even mention god accept in the form of addressing it as a religion in the first amendment, "The first amendment to the US Constitution states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"
This is how Thomas Jefferson might have viewed how the Constitution would play out in political world,
Jefferson held that "acknowledging and adoring an overruling providence" (as in his First Inaugural Address) was important and in his second inaugural address, expressed the need to gain "the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old." Still, together with James Madison, Jefferson carried on a long and successful campaign against state financial support of churches in Virginia. Also, it is Jefferson who coined the phrase "wall of separation between church and state" in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptistsof Connecticut. During his 1800 campaign for the presidency, Jefferson even had to contend with critics who argued that he was unfit to hold office because of their discomfort with his "unorthodox" religious beliefs.
Even then Jefferson was not without his critics,
During the 1800 presidential campaign, the New England Palladium wrote, "Should the infidel Jefferson be elected to the Presidency, the seal of death is that moment set on our holy religion, our churches will be prostrated, and some infamous 'prostitute', under the title of goddess of reason, will preside in the sanctuaries now devoted to the worship of the most High." Federalists attacked Jefferson as a "howling atheist" and infidel, claiming that his attraction to the religious and political extremism of the French Revolution disqualified him from public office. At that time, calling a person an infidel could mean a number of things, including that they did not believe in God. It was an accusation commonly levelled at Deists, although they believe in a deity. It was also directed at those thought to be harming the Christian faith in which they were raised.
Even though the Constitution has no mention of God; God is mentioned as a creator in the Declaration of independence, but is not wholly understood what it means:"
"The genius of the Declaration is the inclusive way the divine is given expression. The appellations of God are generic. Adherents of traditional theistic sects can read the words “Nature’s God,” “Creator,” and “Supreme Judge,” and understand them to mean the god they worship. The claims made on numerous Christian websites attest to this. Yet opponents of dogma read those same words and see an embracive, non-sectarian concept of divinity. This is no small testimony to the wisdom and foresight of the Founding Fathers. All Americans could support the Revolution and independence. All can regard their rights as unalienable, their liberty as inviolable."