Newt Gingrich says that he could not vote for an atheist because they would lack the moral grounding to guide America. Well, we certainly don’t want a morally ungrounded person to be navigating our ship of state. Now Newt, is a paragon of moral behavior — as we know.
Well, what about George Washington? Nominally, George Washington was a deist. That is not very popular today, but all that is, is the belief that there is/was a god, he set things in motion, and then stepped aside. President Washington used terms like “supreme architect of the universe” to describe him. His god was not at all like Jesus. He did, at times, go to church but tended to leave before the services ended.
George Washington was famous for, among other things, his letter to Touro Synagogue in 1790. In this letter, Washington assured America’s Jews that they would enjoy complete religious liberty in America.
Stories of Washington’s deep religiosity, such as the tales of him praying in the snow at Valley Forge, can be ignored. They are legends. General Washington was not a religious man at all.
OK, today’s Republicans would reject Washington, what about John Adams? At an early age Adams rejected belief in the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus. In his writings (he was a prolific writer) he makes it clear that a lot of Christian dogma was simply incomprehensible.
So, alright then, it looks like Adams would not be a good fit, what about Thomas Jefferson? Well, not exactly. As he once put it, “I am a sect by myself”. Indeed he was. I have written in a previous blog about the Jefferson Bible which can be obtained from Amazon. He re-wrote the New Testament leaving in only the parts that he believed. It is a very small book!
Jefferson once famously observed to his close friend, John Adams, “And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, with the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.” In plain English, he believed that Christianity was a fairytale.
Imagine what the Republicans would say today if Jefferson were running, “Jefferson hates Jesus!” “Jefferson mutilates Bibles!” Well, it’s all true!
When he was president, he was bothered by religious fruitcakes. They were always asking him to declare a day of prayer for one thing or another. He consistently refused saying that religious duties were not part of the job of the President.
So Jefferson is off our list, how about James Madison? Madison, like his fellow founding fathers was a prolific writer. He simply would not discuss religion. To this day, scholars who know his writings well, debate his religious beliefs. Madison opposed government-paid chaplains in Congress and the military. As president he rejected the census because it involved counting people by profession. He did not want the government to even acknowledge clergy by counting them. As president, he vetoed legislation granting federal land to a church. I am sure that the Republicans would claim, “James Madison is an anti-religious fanatic. He even opposes prayer proclamations”.
What about Thomas Paine? Paine never held elective office but he was an important writer. His writings helped rally Americans to the cause of independence. Paine, using his pen and paper, attacked Christianity with a vengeance . He rejected the prophecies and miracles and called readers to embrace reason instead. He always referred to the god of the Old Testament as “wicked” and the entire bible as the “pretended word of god”.
Lesson to be learned: better think twice before tossing someone aside just because he or she is skeptical of orthodox Christianity. “Skeptical of Christianity” describes some of our nation’s greatest leaders. “Absolute acceptance of Christianity” describes some of our worst.
Unfortunately, it looks like none of them would be acceptable in today’s Republican party. What about if they were to run on the Democratic ticket? Well, they are all bright, they keep their religion to themselves. So, yes, absolutely.
(This originally appeared at Alternet.org. (C) 2012)