A Critical Response on Our Founding Fathers 3

A Critical Response to Bernard Katz

by Robert E. Nordlander

Part III

   Perhaps the premise from which flows the conclusion that our
Founding Fathers wanted our country to be a Christian nation advanced
by Bernard Katz ought to be examined. He stated that premise quite
succinctly in Part III of his effort to Christianize the Founding
Fathers. According to Katz, "They all accepted the new synthesis of
Newtonian science, Lockean psychology and politics, and Calvinistic
theology as it worked out in practice in the New Israel." (My emphasis).

   No one can deny the importance of Newtonian and Lockean thought
to the leading intellects of the colonial and the revolutionary period
of our history. But to suggest that the Founding Fathers of this
country also accepted "Calvinistic theology as it worked out in
practice in the New Israel" is to suggest that which is simply not
true. Katz started his discussion by pointing to some very significant
political documents in order to prove his thesis. He starts his tour de
force with The Mayflower Compact, a political constitution obviously
drawn up by people who received their theology from John Calvin and
finishes it with the Constitution of the United States of America with
an aside to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. Along the way, he shows us
various political documents that are obviously permeated with
expressions of dogmatic Christian belief such as the Fundamental Orders
of Connecticut and various state constitutions written after 1776.
There is no doubt that these documents quite explicitly promote what we
know is historic Protestant Christianity loosely called "Calvinism" by

   It is when Katz moves on to political documents that have a
reference to a god or Supreme Being that he resorts to a little
theological LEGERDEMAIN. He immediately tells us that it is the god of
Christianity that is being cited. When Katz cites the promotion of
religion in these documents, he claims that it is Christianity that is
being promoted. Nothing could be further from the truth. In my earlier
discussion of The Declaration of Independence, I have already shown
that "it was not Cotton Mather's God to whom the authors of the
Declaration of Independence appealed." Is Bernard Katz seriously trying
to tell us that Thomas Jefferson had the historic Christian deity in
mind when he wrote The Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty or that
Jefferson had reference to Calvinism when he cited religion as one of
the virtues to be cultivated in The Northwest Ordinance of 1787? Katz
is quite quick to label as Christian or Judeo-Christian andy general
reference to a god that he finds in a political document drawn up
during the historical period under discussion.

   That Katz was enunciating nonsense in his discussion of The
Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty will be obvious when we review a
comment of Jefferson on the preamble to this statute which Katz quoted
in an effort to prove that it was "flooded with Christianity, including
a veiled reference to Jesus Christ." This is what Thomas Jefferson, the
author of the statute, had to say about this subject:

   "Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from
the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed
by inserting the words `Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion.'
The insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they
meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and
the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of
every denomination."

   Apparently those who wished to insert the words "Jesus Christ"
into the statute did not think the preamble contained "a veiled
reference to Jesus Christ" nor that it was "flooded with Christianity."
The generic god, the god of brand "x" - if you will - or the god of
Deism was the god mentioned in The Virginia Statute of Relgious
Liberty. The Christian God had no place in it whatsoever.

   It would seem that Bernard Katz is most insistent upon
subjecting us to the myth that Benjamin Franklin actually read a prayer
to the Constitutional Convention, a version of the Lord's Prayer
composed by Frankling himself. In my earlier discussion, I pointed to
Leo Pfeffer's discussion of what actually happened at the Convention.
Perhaps it might be better to invoke the testimony of a person who was
present at the Convention, a person who can tell us what actually
happened. James Madison is being called as a witness at this point in
order to put forever at rest the nonsense that has been written about
the Constitutional Convention with respect to Benjamin Franklin's
suggestion that prayer be a part of the daily ritual. The entire report
of the incident by Madison is being presented and also to create
another reference source for those interested in this particular topic.
We first have Franklin's plea as recorded in Madison's notes on the
Convention, a plea which was made on June 28, 1787.

   "The small progress we have made after four or five weeks close
attendance and continual reasonings with each other - our different
sentiments on almost every question, several of the last producing as
many noes as ayes, is methinks a melancholy proof of the imperfection
of the Human Understanding. We indeed seem to feel our own want of
political wisdom, since we have been running about in search of it. We
have gone back to ancient history for models of Government, and
examined the different forms of those Republics which having been
formed with the seeds of their own dissolution now no longer exist. And
we have viewed Modern States all around Europe, but find none of their
Constitutions suitable to our circumstances.

   "In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the
dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when
presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto
once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate
our understandings? In the beginning of the struggle with Great
Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this
room for the divine protection. - Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and
they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the
struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending
providence in our favor. To that kind of providence we owe this happy
opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our
future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful
friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have
lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing
proofs I see of this truth - that God governs in the affairs of men.
And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it
probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured,
SIr, in the sacred writings that 'except the Lord build the House they
labour in vain those that build it.' I firmly believe this; and I also
believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this
political building no better than the Builders of Babel: We shall be
divided by our partial local interests; our projects will be
confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down
to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this
unfortunate instance, despair of establishing Governments by Human
wisdom and leave it to cahnce, war and conquest.

   "I therefore beg leave to move - that henceforth prayers
imploring the assistance of Heaven and its blessings on our
deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed
to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this City be
requested to officiate in that Service."

   "These were the exact words of Benjamin Franklin at the
Constitutional Convention as recorded by James Madison. No prayer at
all was uttered or read by Franklin. Now let us take a look at the
final scene of this comedy as recorded for posterity by James Madison.

   "Mr. Sherman seconded the motion.

   "Mr. Hamilton and several others expressed their apprehensions
that however proper such a resolution might have been at the beginning
of this convention, it might as this late day, 1. bring on it some
disagreeable animadversions, and 2. lead the public to believe that the
embarrassments and dissensions within the Convention had suggested this
measure. It was answered by Dr. Franklin, Mr. Sherman and others, that
the past omission of a duty could not justify a further omission - that
the rejection of such a proposition would expose the Convention to more
unpleasant animadversions than the adoption of it: and that the alarm
out of doors that might be excited for the state of affairs within,
would at least be as likely to do good as ill.

   "Mr. Williamson observed that the true cause of the omission
could not be mistaken. The Convention had no funds.

   "Mr. Randolph proposed in order to give a favorable aspect to
ye measure, that a sermon be preached at the request of the convention
on [the] fourth of July, the anniversary of Independence, and
thenceforward prayers be used in ye Convention every morning. Doctor
Franklin seconded this motion. After several unsuccessful attempts for
silently postponing this matter by adjournment, the adjournment was at
length carried, without any vote on the motion."

   It should be obvious that the delegates had been put in an
embarrassing position by Franklin. They obviously didn't want prayers
but they did not wish to offend Franklin or those of their political
constitutents who might have looked with favor on Franklin's proposal
for prayer. Pleading poverty might have been the way out of the
dilemma, as one delegate suggested. It is obvious that Williamson's
suggestion was not adopted as Katz implies in his article for the
excuse would not have been believed by anyone. True, the Convention may
not have had public funds for such an expenditure of funds for the
services of a clergyperson but most of the members were wealthy and
affluent individuals in their own right, and they could easily have
paid for the services of a clergyperson out of their own personal
resources if they had really believed such services were really
necessary to launch the new "empire." Moreover, it would appear that no
search was made for a clergyperson whose patriotism would have been
insulted had he been offered money for the privilege of calling upon
"God" to bless the new "empire" in its birth-pangs. Finally, it should
be noted that Katz was mistaken when he said that "Edmund Pendleton,
governor of Virginia and delegate to the Convention, suggested that on
the 4th of July they all could go to church. As noted in Madison's
Notes, Randolph suggested that a sermon be preached at the Convention's
request on the fourth of July in conjunction with daily prayers for the
rest of the Convention. This motion remains in parliamentary oblivion
to this very day. The deficiency of the scholarship of Bernard Katz in
this instance should be obvious.

   We have already noticed how Franklin felt about religion in
general and Jesus in particular. In light of the plea Franklin made at
the Constitutional Convention for daily prayer, it might be helpful to
our understanding of this complex personality to note his attitude
towards governmental financial support of religion as expressed in a
letter to Dr. Richard Price on October 9, 1780.

   "When a religion is good, I conceive it will support itself;
and when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to
support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for the help of
the civil power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one."

   Turning to Bernard Katz's discussion of the religious clauses
of the First Amendment, we again find him deficient in his research. To
gain a proper understanding of those clauses, we have to understand the
historical circumstances of the people involved in the authorship of
the First Amendment. It is not an accident that the religious clauses
of the First Amendment read as follows:

   "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of
religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

   James Madison had been recently victorious in preventing the
State of Virginia  from taxing the people of that state for the support
of all Christian denominations. This would have had the practical
effect of making a legal establishment of the Christian religion had
not Madison and Jefferson, along with the support of Christians who did
not wish to be forced to pay for churches they did not attend and the
dissemination of religious doctrines with which they disagreed, been
successful. The distinction between Christianity in general and
Christian sects in particular was made very explicit by James Madison
in his Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religous Assessments.

   "Who does not see that the same authority, which can establish
Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with
the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all
other sects? That the same authority which can force a citizen to
contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one
establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in
all cases whatsoever."

   Bernard Katz's citation of Wilbur Katz's contention that "it is
very difficult to say what the Senate finally intended when it approved
the version which was ratified by the states" is ludicrous. Although
the Senate did on one occasion turn down one version of the First
Amendment which only prohibited the congress of this country from
establishing a particular sect or denomination as a national religion
and then later passed another version of this concept, common sense
would direct us to the final version dealing of the clauses dealing
with religion in the First Amendment as we know those clauses today.
The First Amendment, in its final version came about as a result of a
joint House-Senate conference committee in which James Madison was one
of the principal participants. Why just the opinion of the Senate
appears to perplex Wilbur Katz and by inference, Bernard Katz, is hard
to understand. Why not discuss the attitude of the House of
Representatives? In the final analysis, one can reasonably infer that
the Senate was was ultimately brought around to the perspective of that
delegate from the House of Representatives to the Joint House-Senate
conference committee, James Madison, who is said to have written the
committee report.

   We have already commented previously on Bernard Katz's
contention that Thomas Jefferson had reduced the wall of separation
between church and state to a "curbstone." It might be instructive to
view the language of James Madison as applied to this subject as it
reflects his broad view of the issue ofgovernmental involvement in

   "Strongly-guarded as is the separation between religion and
government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of
encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies may be illustrated by precedents
already furnished in their short history." (Detached Memoranda).

   It is only fair to point out that Madison did not have a naive
faith in constitutional or legal guarantees. He was always conscious of
the realities of political power and the threat that the misuse of
political power posed to our civil and religious liberties. Speaking of
religious liberties in a letter addressed to Thomas Jefferson on
October 17, 1788, Madison made the following observation:

   "I am sure that the rights of conscience in particular, if
submitted to public definition, would be narrowed much more than they
are likely ever to be by an assumed power. One of the objections in New
England was that the Constitution by prohibiting religious tests,
opened a door for Jews, Turks and infidels....In Virginia, I have seen
the bill of rights violated in every instance where it has been opposed
to a popular current. Notwithstanding the explicit provisions contained
in that instrument for the rights of Conscience, it is well known that
a religious establishment would have taken place in that State, if the
Legislative majority had found, as they expected, a majority of the
people in favor of the measure; and I am persuaded that if a majority
of the people were now of one sect, the measure would still take place,
and on narrower grounds than it was then proposed notwitstanding the
additional obstacle which the law has sice created. Wherever the real
power in a government lies, there is the danger of oppression."

   To what then can we truly attribute religious freedom? Madison
answered this question in an earlier letter to Patrick Henry dated June
12, 1788.

   "This freedom arises from that multiplicity of sects, which
pervades America, and which is the best and only security for religious
liberty in any society. For where there is such a variety of sects,
there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the

   James Madison knew that it was unlikely that one sect would be
able to gain the exclusive support of government; hence, his support of
the religious clauses of the First Amendment that could serve as an
obstacle to a collective support of all religions on the part of
government. Needless to say, the Bernard Katz view of the religious
clauses of the First Amendment is the view of the Roman Catholic
hierarchy, the Moral Majority and other reactionary religionists who
believe government ought to aid their efforts in imposing their
particular sectarian religious perspectives upon the rest of society.
Until very recently, we have been most fortunate in having a Supreme
Court that rejected, for the most part, the Katz view of the First
Amendment. The spirit of James Madison lives on!

   Bernard Katz concludes his essay with a number of quotes from
George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison,
arguing that their "godtalk" was Christian "godtalk." The truth of the
matter is that. with the exception of the quotation attributed to John
Adams, the "godtalk" is generic "godtalk" delivered by people who were
essentially Deist in their theological outlook.

   As for the explicitly Christian statement made by John Adams
during his inaugural address, we are obliged to remember that it was
made shortly after the reign of Robespierre and Madame Guillotine in
France for which Dame Reason and her critique of religious orthodoxy
were given the blame. It was a period in history comparable to the
1950's when "God" became America's ally in the Cold War. We have to
remember that the Christianity of John Adams was Unitarianism. When he
was not on public display, he expressed himself quite explicitly on the
subject of orthodox Christianity in a letter addressed to Thomas
Jefferson dated April 19, 1817.

   "From the bottom of my Soul, I pity my Fellow Men. Fears and
Terrors appear to have produced a universal Credulity. Fears of
Calamities in Life and punishments after death, seem to have possessed
the Souls of all Men. But fear of Pain and Death here, do not seem to
have been so unconquerable as fear as to what is to come hereafter.
Priests, Hierophants, Popes, Despots, Emperors, Kings, Princes, Nobles,
have been as credulous as Shoeblacks, Boots, and Kitchen Scullions. The
former seem to believe in their divine Rights as the latter. Autos da
fé in Spain and Portugal have been celebrated with as good Faith as
Excommunications have been practiced in Connecticut or as Baptisms have
been refused in Philadelphia.

   "How is it possible tha Mankind should submit to be governed as
they have been is to me an inscrutable Mystery."

   It should be obvious that the Christianity that John Adams was
talking about in his inaugural address was not the familiar species of
Christianity which has plagued humanity for centuries.

   The Katz thesis that our Founding Fathers were essentially a
species of Christian created by Newtonian science and Calvinism is
essentially humbug. It should be instructive to note how Calvin was
really perceived by one of the Founding Fathers - Thomas Jefferson -
and also to note that the person with whom he was corresponding - John
Adams - was in essential agreement with him. This is how Jefferson
disposed of John Calvin in a letter to John Adams on April 11, 1823.

   "I can never join John Calvin in addressing his god. He was
indeed an Atheist, which I never can be; or rather his religion was
Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did. The being
described in his five points is not the God whom you and I acknowledge
and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world; but a
daemon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in
no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of

   Thus Atheism was preferable to belief in the god of Calvin,
according to Thomas Jefferson. So much for Bernard Katz's effort to
saddle the Founding Fathers of our country with even the shadow if not
the substance of John Calvin. In the words of Jefferson, they did not
subscribe to his religion of "daemonism." They created a secular nation
as a result. Ours was not to be a Christian nation!