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July 7, 2001
Column #1036

THE FAITH OF OUR FATHERS

     I spent the Fourth of July reading two books that make it clear that the American Revolution was not inevitable. ''Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation'' by Joseph Ellis reports how fiercely contested many issues were between the giants of that time: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton and Aaron Burr.

     However, the book which is downright inspirational is ''America's God and Country: Encyclopedia of Quotations'' by William Federer. (Order from Amazon.com) It revealed the faith of our fathers which was a driving energy for most of them.

     Washington's faith grew on the battlefield. In a 1755 French & Indian battle, every officer but Washington was shot down. Two of his horses were shot beneath him and bullets punched four holes through his coat. He wrote his brother, ''By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation.''

     Fifteen years later he met an aged Indian chief who recalled the battle vividly: ''A power mightier far than we shielded you ... Washington was never born to be killed by a bullet. I had 17 fair fires at him with my rifle and after all could not bring him to the ground...

     ''Seeing you were under the special guardianship of the Great Spirit, we immediately ceased to fire at you. I am old and soon shall be gathered to the great council fire of my fathers...but ere I go there is something bids me to speak in the voice of prophecy:

''Listen! The Great Spirit protects that man (pointing at Washington), and guides his destinies. He will become the chief of nations and a people yet unborn will hail him as the founder of a mighty empire.''

     That was in 1770, years before the American Revolution. 

     Washington's little army lost a number of battles against the world's mightiest military power and barely escaped extinction several times. He wrote: ''The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this (the war) that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith.''

     John Adams, the firebrand who led the battle in the Continental Congress to break with England, asked Jefferson to write the Declaration of Independence and argued for it July 1, 1776: ''Before God, I believe the hour has come. My judgement approves this measure, and my whole heart is in it. All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it. I leave off as I began, that live or die, survive or perish, I am for the Declaration.''

     As President in 1798, he addressed the military: ''We have no government armed with power capable of controlling human passions, unbridled by morality and religion...Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.''

     Thomas Jefferson was furious that he and other Virginians had to pay taxes to support Anglican clergy before the Revolution, and that competing Baptist and Quaker preachers were imprisoned. 

     He wrote the Statutes for Religious Freedom in Virginia, which begins, ''Well aware that Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens...tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness...that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical...''

     Therefore, ''no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship...''

     In his Autobiography Jefferson says his fight to enact the law was ''the severest contest in which I have ever been engaged.'' Indeed, it was not passed for years. Jefferson considered it one of his three greatest achievements, more important than being elected president!

     It was the precursor of the First Amendment guaranteeing religious freedom.

     Jefferson was not a Christian, but a Deist who considered Jesus's teachings to be ''the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.'' But he edited his own New Testament, cutting out all references to the virgin birth, miracles and the Resurrection.

     Ironically, religion in America flourishes because of Thomas Jefferson, while Christianity languishes in Europe. Why? By abolishing the state church, and creating what he called ''a wall of separation between Church and State,'' American clergy have had to compete with one another. 

     In England, where Anglican bishops sit in the House of Lords, Gallup polls report less than 10 percent attend services weekly; while 43 percent go to church or synagogue weekly in America. 

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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