Mandeville, LA – (To characterize Ms. Allen’s writings as “wisdom” would be an insult to Our Lady the Seat of Wisdom, however, this Memorial Day weekend needs a countervailing emission of Truth against the jingoists deifying the Founders and the Constitution that brought forth much of the unJust war, whose casualties we will mourn. – Mike Church, Editor.)
In their fascinating and eloquent valetudinarian correspondence, Adams and Jefferson had a great deal to say about religion. Pressed by Jefferson to define his personal creed, Adams replied that it was “contained in four short words, ‘Be just and good.’” Jefferson replied, “The result of our fifty or sixty years of religious reading, in the four words, ‘Be just and good,’ is that in which all our inquiries must end; as the riddles of all priesthoods end in four more, ‘ubi panis, ibi deus.’ What all agree in, is probably right. What no two agree in, most probably wrong.”
This was a clear reference to Voltaire’s Reflections on Religion. As Voltaire put it:
There are no sects in geometry. One does not speak of a Euclidean, an Archimedean. When the truth is evident, it is impossible for parties and factions to arise…. Well, to what dogma do all minds agree? To the worship of a God, and to honesty. All the philosophers of the world who have had a religion have said in all ages: “There is a God, and one must be just.” There, then, is the universal religion established in all ages and throughout mankind. The point in which they all agree is therefore true, and the systems through which they differ are therefore false.
Of course all these men knew, as all modern presidential candidates know, that to admit to theological skepticism is political suicide. During Jefferson’s presidency a friend observed him on his way to church, carrying a large prayer book. “You going to church, Mr. J,” remarked the friend. “You do not believe a word in it.” Jefferson didn’t exactly deny the charge. “Sir,” he replied, “no nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I as chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. Good morning Sir.”
Like Jefferson, every recent President has understood the necessity of at least paying lip service to the piety of most American voters. All of our leaders, Democrat and Republican, have attended church, and have made very sure they are seen to do so. But there is a difference between offering this gesture of respect for majority beliefs and manipulating and pandering to the bigotry, prejudice and millennial fantasies of Christian extremists. Though for public consumption the Founding Fathers identified themselves as Christians, they were, at least by today’s standards, remarkably honest about their misgivings when it came to theological doctrine, and religion in general came very low on the list of their concerns and priorities–always excepting, that is, their determination to keep the new nation free from bondage to its rule.