The Religious Significance of the Fourth of July

Independence Day

Many of the Founders of the United States believed in a Supreme Being or God. That can be demonstrated by reading America’s “Birth Certificate,” the Declaration of Independence.

References to a Supreme Being in the Declaration of Independence

Belief in God shaped the very wording of the Declaration. The first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence refers to “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.” The second paragraph says,

“[A]ll men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The last paragraph refers to God as “the Supreme Judge of the world.” In the paragraph, there is also an indirect reference to God in the words “a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.” It is clear, then, that the Founders of America believed in God. To deny that is to revise American history.

A Creator-God as the Basis for Human Equality

The Declaration, then, teaches the “self-evident truth” that “all men are created equal.” In other words, God is the Creator of the human race (cf. Genesis 1:26-27), meaning that all human beings are endowed with the same nature, namely, a human nature. Because all humans have the same nature, no one, specific human being can be more human than other human beings. In that respect, all humans are equal. The Founders did not believe that some races had evolved to be superior to others. That view, in the 20th century, led to the Holocaust.

Three Basic Inalienable Rights

The Founders believed that God had given all human beings, in the words of the Declaration, “certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Christian political philosopher John Locke summarized the God-given rights as “life, liberty and property.” In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson expanded “property” to include “the pursuit of happiness.”

The right to life is taught in the commandment “You shall not commit murder” (Exodus 20:13). The right to liberty is suggested in the command to Pharaoh, who enslaved the Israelites, “Let my people go” (Exodus 4:23). The right to private property is expressed in the commandment “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15).

A Creator-God as the Basis for Human Rights

For the Founders of the United States, the basis for human rights is God. For example, engraved on the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D. C. are Jefferson’s words:

“God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed their only sure basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that those liberties are the gift of God?”

For Jefferson and the Founders of America, the answer is “no.”

Three 18th Century Deists: Jefferson, Paine and Franklin

However, not all the Founders had the same concept of God. Nor were they all Christians. In fact, three of the Founders – Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine and Benjamin Franklin — were not believers in the Christian notion of God. Rather, they were deists, who believed in a Creator-God, a Supreme Being, but not the God of the Christian Scriptures.

I shall provide the reader with only three examples of the deism of America’s Founders. First, Franklin believed “in one God, the creator of the universe.” However, Franklin, referring to Jesus of Nazareth, said, “I have … some doubts as to his divinity.” Second, in his book the Age of Reason, Thomas Paine attacked biblical Christianity, especially the accounts of miracles in the Bible. Third, in the Jefferson Bible, he attacked the divinity of Jesus and the biblical accounts in which he performed miracles. Denying the Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus, Jefferson ends his Bible with the words:

“Now in the place where he [Jesus] was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.”

A Nation’s Historical Blind Spots

Yes, many laws and policies of early America were shaped by Christian values. However, like every country, America suffers from its own historical blind spots, not being able, as it were, to rise above itself, see its errors and correct them. For example, Thomas Jefferson himself, one of the primary authors of the Declaration of Independence, owned slaves, thus failing to live up to the Declaration’s phrase “all men are created equal.”

In fact, in early America, many believers in God did not include Blacks in the phrase “all men are created equal,” thus perpetuating grave injustices against Black men, women and children. For example, in the Civil War, many Christians in the North and South did not believe in racial equality. Thus, Christians were divided over the issue of slavery and because of that, they killed each other.

America: Not Necessarily a Christian Nation

Although there are Christians who want to return to the so-called Christian philosophy of the Founders of America, I am not one of them. America (even the so-called Christian version of it) was flawed in the past, as it is in the present. America is no more God’s country than are the nations of Iraq, Afghanistan and Egypt. The reason is that “God does not show favoritism” (Acts 10:34, NIV).