For resolution: In what way are the Founding Fathers religious?

(Cross-posted at WritingUp, originally posted 1-11-06). To adbullock – I don’t agree with your views about how we in America are unfree today, although I do like your use of quotes. The first quote you picked, by Rabbi Sherwin Wine, probably merits some examination:

“There are two visions of America. One precedes our founding fathers and finds its roots in the harshness of our puritan past. It is very suspicious of freedom, uncomfortable with diversity, hostile to science, unfriendly to reason, contemptuous of personal autonomy. It sees America as a religious nation. It views patriotism as allegiance to God. It secretly adores coercion and conformity. Despite our constitution, despite the legacy of the Enlightenment, it appeals to millions of Americans and threatens our freedom.

The other vision finds its roots in the spirit of our founding revolution and in the leaders of this nation who embraced the age of reason. It loves freedom, encourages diversity, embraces science and affirms the dignity and rights of every individual. It sees America as a moral nation, neither completely religious nor completely secular. It defines patriotism as love of country and of the people who make it strong. It defends all citizens against unjust coercion and irrational conformity.

This second vision is our vision. It is the vision of a free society. We must be bold enough to proclaim it and strong enough to defend it against all its enemies.”

– Rabbi Sherwin Wine


Rabbi Wine has a lot right. He has so much right that I want to ask you readers to indulge in a fantasy, a scenario that is wishful & probably not true in the sense of fact we have today.

Here goes: What if the Puritans and the Fathers are both Founders of America? I should say that Rabbi Wine’s view can be used one way only – the Fathers have a vision that must exclude the Puritan vision, which was mistaken from the start. After all, the Puritan vision appeals to millions of Americans so much so that they want to destroy their own freedom; the only Puritan contribution to America is a disease that must be wiped out.

The Founding generation was composed of people who lived in cities when commerce thrived. They could explore the frontier (back then, Ohio) because of roads and technologies; they could fight the British because of fraternal and political institutions.

Where did all that stuff – that “stuff” which comprises “civilization” – come from?

It would seem the Puritans, who struggled against a harsh wilderness, who established town meetings in order to rule themselves and schools like Harvard for the ministry, had a lot to do with creating the conditions that allowed the Founding to take place. Again, this is just a fantasy. We all know modern science only needs itself and rational secular ethics to thrive. There never was a state like that one in which the mythical Puritans existed, where, in the face of an untamed chaos, the pure strength of human will had to be harnessed to create a liveable order.

And such Puritan concepts like “industry” and “thrift,” which contributed to the rise of capitalism and made the Puritans frown on slavery, so much so that their descendants had that righteous anger against slavery in their blood when they became abolitionists — all of that is mere fantasy, as is the notion that perhaps it was their religion that gave them the strength to do what I would consider superhuman: not merely found a nation, but refound civilization.

It could be that the secular is a subset of the sacred. It is because a religion emphasizes a change of heart, ultimately, that one can argue for the freedom of others. The order that the political attempts to preserve does not require freedom. If men were animals, they could be ruled far easier, treated like herds. And science and technology emphasize an individual’s (or a group of individuals’) empowerment over the freedom of everyone else, always: notice how we are all outraged over pharmaceutical companies trying to make money off drugs that we depend on. Imagine how much power they would wield if they weren’t constrained by the want of money.

Rabbi Wine is quite right to emphasize the secularism of the Fathers, though, and again, these observations are mere fantasy on my part.

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