By Diane Bederman
Tucker Carlson and Marjorie Taylor Green are two of many Conservatives who talk about America as a Christian country. Is that correct?
How will that sit with people like President Donald Trump? Will President Trump’s family feel welcome in that country? His daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are Orthodox Jews. How could they promote a Christian country? How could President Trump?
I fear if Conservatives start promoting America as a Christian country, they will be undermining the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. They could divide Conservatives over religion and provide Democrats with a sledge hammer. Is that what the Republicans want?
Dividing America on religious lines is exactly what the Founding Fathers wanted to prevent. They intentionally stated America would be a secular country. Period. They had experienced living in countries that had a stated religion and had gone to wars over religion.
Many of the earliest pilgrims who settled the “New England” of America in early 17th century were Puritan refugees escaping religious persecutions in Europe.
These Puritans viewed their emigration from England as a virtual re-enactment of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. To them, England was Egypt, the king was Pharaoh, the Atlantic Ocean was the Red Sea, America was the Land of Israel, and the Indians were the ancient Canaanites. They were the new Israelites, entering into a new covenant with God in a new Promised Land.
Thanksgiving—first celebrated in 1621, a year after the Mayflower landed—was initially conceived as a day parallel to the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur; it was to be a day of fasting, introspection, prayer and gratitude.
The Founding Fathers of America praised the teachings of the Hebrew Bible and understood the deep connection between ethical monotheism and freedom and chose to embed the Constitution in the Jewish ethic from the Hebrew Bible. I know many Christians have trouble with that. But shouldn’t. Jesus was a Jew and shared the ethic which Paul later spread around the Middle East.
Thomas Jefferson and James Madison fought for a separation of religion and state that allows the worship of God in freedom.
George Washington’s 1790 letter to the Touro Synagogue in Rhode Island affirms the American commitment that bigotry would have no place in the US and that Jews would not be a tolerated minority but would “possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.” Unheard of in Europe.
John Adams, a member of the Declaration of Independence committee and second president of the United States (1797–1801), called the Jews “the most glorious nation that ever inhabited the earth.” The Founding Fathers praised the teachings of the Hebrew Bible and understood the deep connection between ethical monotheism and freedom.
“I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of the other sect, who believe or pretend to believe that all is ordered by chance, I should believe that chance had ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty, sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be a great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization.”
Adams, challenged the anti-Semitism of French Enlightenment luminaries like Voltaire, and argued that Jews “have influenced the affairs of mankind more and happily than any other nation, ancient or modern.”
Adams was the first to call for rebirth of Israel in Judea. He predated Theodor Herzl by almost a century. Adams should be known not just as a supporter and defender of Judaism, but one of the first Zionists in the modern era.
He referred to the Hebrews as the most glorious Nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their Empire were but a Bauble in comparison.
The Hebrew Bible also played a central role in the founding of various educational institutions including Harvard, Yale, William and Mary, Rutgers, Princeton, Brown, Kings College (later to be known as Columbia), Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth.
So popular was the Hebrew Language in the late 16th and early 17th centuries that several students at Yale delivered their commencement orations in Hebrew. Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, and the University of Pennsylvania taught courses in Hebrew – all the more remarkable because no university in England at the time offered it. (In America, Bible study and Hebrew were course requirements in virtually all these colleges and students had the option of delivering commencement speeches in either Hebrew, Latin or Greek).
Many of these colleges even adopted some Hebrew word or phrase as part of their official emblem or seal. Beneath the banner containing the Latin “Lux et Veritas,” the Yale seal shows an open book with the Hebrew “Urim V’Timum,” which was a part of the breastplate of the High Priest in the days of the Temple. The Columbia seal has the Hebrew name for God at the top center, with the Hebrew name for one of the angels on a banner toward the middle. Dartmouth uses the Hebrew words meaning “God Almighty” in a triangle in the upper center of its seal.
The first design for the official seal of the United States recommended by Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and Thomas in 1776 depicts the Jews crossing the Red Sea. The motto around the seal read: “Resistance to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”
The inscription on the Liberty Bell at Independence Hall in Philadelphia is a direct quote from Leviticus (25:10): “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.”
The Hebrew Bible gives us the roots of Capitalism, the First and Second Amendment.
Capitalism comes from the story of the Garden of Eden.
God placed Adam and Eve in this beautiful garden and provided them with everything- a promise of care from cradle to grave. All they had to do was stay away from one tree in the Garden. One tree: the Tree of Knowledge. But, Eve, a naïve woman was taken in by the Serpent who convinced her to eat of the forbidden fruit. How was she to know that she was standing face to face with evil? Divine retribution for transgressing God’s command was not long in coming: Eve was cursed with the pain of pregnancy, birth, and childrearing, coupled with subservience to her husband, while Adam was punished with the need to labor the earth to produce bread, and human life.
From socialism to capitalism. One must labour for oneself and one’s family. No more “freebies.”
The Bible is the source of our God-given right to self defensewith the law of Rodef: the right to self-defense and Pikuach nefesh: preservation of human life.
Free speech comes from the Bible. The story of Jeremiah. God says to Jeremiah, “for wherever I will send you, you will go, and whatever I will command you, you will speak. Don’t be afraid of them, for I am with you to protect you. Jeremiah, who was arrested, flogged, abused, put on trial and only narrowly escaped with his life. It is said Jeremiah was stoned by his compatriots in Egypt because he reproached them with their evil deeds. Silencing different opinions.
America is not a Christian country. It is a secular country; open to all who believe in the ethic of freedom: the Judeo/Christian ethic that comes from the Hebrew Bible. That ethic, shared for more than 3500 years, gives all Americans the right, and more importantly, the obligation to claim and protect their God-given rights.
From the Ethics of the Fathers: “Rabbi Tarfon used to say, it is not incumbent upon you to complete the task, but you are not exempt from undertaking it.”
This article was originally posted on Diane Bederman's Blog and can be accessed here.