The Myth of America as a Godless Void
The contentiousness of the recent elections underscores how there are conflicting visions of what our nation should be. Are we a brave new world in a secular mold or are we endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights?
Secularists have tried to change America into a godless void. And they have recruited a caricature of our third president to do so.
Thomas Jefferson did have some serious doubts that he harbored about core Christian doctrines, privately, near the end of his life. But did he and the other founding fathers intend America to drive God out of the public arena?
Dr. Mark Beliles, co-organizer of Healing4Charlottesville.com, is a pastor in Jefferson’s hometown, and he and I wrote a book together on the faith (or sometimes, the lack thereof) of Jefferson. Doubting Thomas (2014) makes two points overall: 1) Jefferson was not a lifelong skeptic. 2) Jefferson did not believe in the separation of God and state.
In our book, we point out the following facts, which dispel the myth that Jefferson favored America being some sort of godless void. This list compiled by Beliles is abridged and does not include, for example, his references to God in both of his Inaugural Addresses:
- 1768. Jefferson voted for chaplains to the House of Burgesses (Virginia’s legislature).
- 1774. Jefferson advocated a resolution “Designating a Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer” that was adopted by the House of Burgesses.
- 1776. While in the Continental Congress, Jefferson proposed a national seal with a Biblical image “expressive of the divine presence, and…[the] Motto: Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”
- 1777. He prepared laws on religion in Virginia “…for Punishing Disturbers of Religious Worship and Sabbath Breakers,” and “…for Appointing Days of Public Fasting and Thanksgiving.”
- 1777. He advocated a bill “…for Establishing General Courts” which required oaths and a prayer “so help me God.”
- 1779. As Governor he issued a Proclamation for a Public Day of Thanksgiving and Prayer.
- 1800. Vice President Jefferson, as leader of the U. S. Senate, approved (at least tacitly) that the Capitol building be used for Christian worship services. He personally attended many times during his years in Washington.
- 1802 and 1804. As President, he asked for certain evangelical ministers to preach in the Capitol services.
- 1803. He presented a Treaty with the Kaskaskia and other Indian Tribes, which provided federal funds for the construction of churches and salaries for Catholic priests and missionaries.
- 1803. He promised the Nuns of the Order of St. Ursula at New Orleans “the patronage of the government it is under. Be assured it will meet all the protection which my office can give it.”
- 1804. He had $300 in federal funds given to help Presbyterian Rev. Gideon Blackburn build a school for the Cherokees in Tennessee.
- 1804. He signed an act that approved the payment of chaplains for the government.
- 1806. He “Gave…50 Dollars to the order of Governor Wilkinson or other acting governor of Louisiana for building a church there.”
- 1807. He said an accusation that he “wanted government to be without religion” was “a lie.”
- 1807. He wrote that “the councils of the General Government in their decisions…[were drawn from] the…precepts of the gospel.”
- 1807. He wrote that “liberty to worship our creator…[is] deemed in other countries incompatible with good government, and yet proved by our experience to be its best support.”
- 1808. He signed an Act Appointing a Chaplain to Each Brigade of the Army.
- 1817. He wrote: “Our right to life, liberty…is not left to the feeble and sophistical investigations of reason, but is impressed on the sense of every man. We do not claim these under the charters of kings or legislators, but under the King of kings.” Note: the King of kings refers to Jesus Christ.
- 1822. He praised the use of the Albemarle County (Virginia) courthouse by churches and personally attended their services.
- 1817. Jefferson and the board of Central College (which became the University of Virginia) approved the program for the laying of the cornerstone that included prayer and Scripture reading by Episcopalian Rev. William King.
- 1818. While Jefferson advocated “no professor of divinity” at the University of Virginia which he founded, he did stipulate that students would learn of “the proofs of the being of a God, the creator, preserver, and supreme ruler of the universe, the author of all the relations of morality.”
Why would Jefferson want God to be taught in the school he founded? He said that God is the foundation of our liberties. Remove Him, and we end up with chaos (kind of like modern America): “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God?”