Were the Founding Fathers Afraid of Christians?

A colleague of mine and I were having a discussion on whether the United States was founded on Christian principles. He insists it was not and points to the First Amendment which states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

We know that the United States by virtue of the First Amendment separates the church and state. But does that mean the concepts that are embodied in how the United States is structured were not based on Christian thinking at the time? I am not going to debate this issue here but will save that discussion for another article.

The reason I bring up this topic is that during our discussion, my colleague said the Founding Fathers chose to separate church and state because “they knew how bad it would be to base a new nation on the principles of Christianity that has cause more misery and death than any other cause.” I want to stress that my colleague is a learned individual, holding a doctoral degree and distinguished professorship at a highly respected university.

I have two points to discuss in response to my colleague. First, is it true that “Christianity has caused more misery and death than any other cause.” Second, who or what is really responsible for all that misery and death?

On the first point, the website probaway.com lists the 100 greatest atrocities of mankind. If we look at the top 25, 10 involve Christians. Those are as follows: 1) Second World War, 2) Famine in British India, 3) Atlantic Slave Trade, 4) Conquest of America, 5) First World War, 6) Congo Free State, 7) Russian Civil War, 8) Thirty Years War, 9) Russian Time of Troubles and 10) the Vietnam War. That means 40% of the greatest atrocities of mankind involved Christians.

However, the question you must ask is if these atrocities involved Christians, was it Christianity that caused the misery and death? Of the ten atrocities included in the top 25 atrocities of mankind, only one, the Thirty Years War, was a conflict whose basis was driven by Christianity, to a degree. During the Thirty Years War the Catholic states of the Hapsburg Monarchy and the Spanish Empire, fought a conglomeration of Protestant states that included Sweden, Denmark-Norway, and a host of Germanic states (this being prior to the formation of modern-day Germany). While religion was a significant factor in starting the war that followed, it is generally agreed that its scope and extent was driven by the contest for European dominance between Habsburgs in Austria and Spain, and the French House of Bourbon.

Of the other atrocities that involved Christians, Christianity itself did not play a role the cause of any of them. Of these remaining 9 atrocities, most were the result of political and economic ambition by the governments of the time, with the exception being the Famine in British India. During the British involvement in India the country suffered a series of famines. It is probable that the British could have done more to help Indian during these famines (particularly the famines that occurred later in British rule) but again, the atrocity was not the result of Christianity.

Upon an examination of the evidence, the statement that: “Christianity causes more misery and death than any other cause” is not true. Christians have only been involved in 40% of the greatest atrocities in history, and in all but one of those atrocities, Christianity was not the cause of or at the heart of the problem.

So, who is really responsible for all that misery and death? If we go back to our list of the top 100 atrocities of mankind, and we look at the top ten, the list includes: 1) World War II, 2) Chinggis Khan, 3) Mao Zedong, 4) Famines in British India, 5) Fall of the Ming Dynasty, 6) Taiping Rebellion, 7) Joseph Stalin, 8) Mideast Slave Trade, 9) Timur and 10) the Atlantic Slave Trade.

If we break that list down, we have three distinct categories of atrocities. Not in order of importance, one we have already mentioned – Famine in British India. In the second group are the Mideast Slave Trade and the Atlantic Slave Trade. Clearly slaving is a commercial enterprise but it is important to remember that slavery could not have existed unless it was allowed (and in some cases encouraged) by the governments of the day. The final category, which comprises seven out of the 10 worst atrocities of mankind all involved atrocities committed by the government or governments of the time, or atrocities committed by those who wished to place themselves into position of governing. If you include the fact that the slave trade was allowed and, in some cases, supported by various governments, then we conclude that nine out of ten of the greatest atrocities of mankind were orchestrated by those in power, those who wished to be in power or endorsed and authorized by those in power.

My colleague thinks that Christianity has caused more misery and death than any other cause. I disagree. I think governments have caused more misery and death than any other cause. I don’t think the Founding Fathers were afraid of the Christians. I think when the Founding Fathers created the United States of America one of their biggest fears would be that someday the government of the United States of America would start behaving like so many governments throughout history have done. They tried their best to design a system that would keep that from happening. Only time will tell if they succeeded.