The topic is homosexual marriage, which my uncle very much opposes (all of the usual reasons). I wasn't even going to say anything until he started talking about how the founding fathers were almost all Christian and our country is based on Christian values, etc. That is basically my little red button that puts me into argument mode.
Now it's turned into an argument about Thomas Jefferson in particular, and whether he is close enough to a Christian to "count."
It would be awfully nice to hear from the community about this. Just need to feel like I'm not doing this alone.
Thank you all for your responses. It seems that everyone was very interested in hearing more detail about the discussion, so I will give an edited version of the discussion, basically ignoring parts that weren't part of the primary thread of conversation.
[Many posts about homosexual marriage, and someone mentions the separation of church and state.]
UNCLE: Separation of church and state is a smoke screen set up by non believers wishing to limit the rights of Christians. No founding father would agree with what has been done in this country because of this smoke screen. 53 of the 56 signers of the declaration were avid believers and regular attenders of church. The ONLY thing our constitution forbids is that the rights of church can not be impinged upon. Look it up. Their goal was that there would be no state sanctioned and mandated church like ENGLAND has. You can not take a document out of its historical context.
ME: "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for the protection of his own." - Thomas Jefferson, writer of the Declaration of Independence
UNCLE: "God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can be liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated by His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just and his justice can not sleep forever." - Thomas Jefferson, 1781 Query XVIII of his notes on "That State of Virginia"
ME: And which God do you think Thomas Jefferson was referring to? It's true that none of the founding fathers were atheists, but Thomas Jefferson was also not a Christian. It would be a mistake to assume that when someone mentions "God" they are always referring to the Christian god.
UNCLE: Thomas Jefferson was a deist. A believer in God. While he did not trust the institution of Christianity, he declared himself a Christian. Good research will show that he was not main stream Christian... but who am I to doubt the word of Jefferson himself?
ME: He did not believe that Jesus was the son of God or performed any miracles. I think it is fair to say that he disagreed with some of the most critical beliefs of Christianity. As this subject is about homosexuality, do you believe that he would have supported banning homosexual marriage based on the bible that he disagreed with? I gave a quote suggesting that he would not support that.
UNCLE: As you can see I have researched Jefferson. I agree with much of your statements about him. I clearly said he was not a main stream Christian. But he himself said that Jesus Christ is his savior. Obviously I don't agree with all of his beliefs but I can't say he was not a believer in Jesus. He had a strong dislike of Christianity as an INSTITUTION... and I AGREE with him on that. But you can see... I don't trust Christians... I trust the Christ.
UNCLE: The founding fathers founded this country to be free from oppression: taxation without representation. (And money: England wanted ours and we didn't want to give it.) Religion fits into the mix because England was oppressing its own people by intermixing government with religion. Meaning that the King of England was also the head of state sponsored and mandated Church of England. THIS is what was opposed by Americans. Proof of this of course is in the Bill of Rights. Our founders were not trying to rid the country of the influence of Christianity nor of God the Creator of all. That is why I call TODAY'S idea of separation of church and state a smoke screen. It does not reflect properly our founders intentions.
ME: If the government restricts the rights of citizens based on religious teachings alone, that is intermixing government with religion. Exactly what you have said the founding fathers opposed and exactly what is currently happening to gay people, as they do not have equal rights. Today's idea of separation of church and state is not removing Christianity from society; it is keeping it out of government. Exactly as the founding fathers attempted, yet failed to accomplish.
UNCLE: If you restrict the rights of the vast majority over a small minority... do you have a good government? As I said before, what two consenting adults do in their bedroom is none of my business. But when they bring it out of the bedroom and teach American children that it is normal, it becomes my business.
ME: I have yet to hear a single convincing argument that legalizing gay marriage would in any way restrict the rights of Christians. You would still have the exact same rights that you do today. Much as abolishing slavery did not in any way infringe on the rights of white people (I understand that slavery is a more severe issue, but the point remains.) I have yet to hear a single convincing argument that legalizing gay marriage in any way "teaches" children anything. Much as legalizing alcohol does not condone its use. The fact that something is legal does not in any way mean that it is moral. The purpose of the government is not to enforce morality.
UNCLE: Your point is moot. God makes the rules. We either obey or we will reap what we sew. What you fail to understand, Thomas Jefferson understood. Encouraging immorality is a detriment to society. You wanted an argument that shows how Christianity is being restricted. Okay. 1963 prayer in school was banned. All to provide a right to a small minority at the expense of the majority. Not by a vote of the people at large but by a court designed to protect the rights of citizens. Soon school programs were not allowed to celebrate Christmas. Later, abortion was legalized. Again... no vote taken. Later still, Christians lose the right to pray at football games. Now teachers can't have bibles at school, the ten commandments can't be in a courtroom, crucifixes can't be placed on public property... shall I go on? There is tons more to the erosion of Christian rights. The gay issue is just one more attack on the religious institution of marriage. When morality is abandoned, society falls. Take a good look at the rise and fall of the Roman society if you doubt me.
ME: My point is not moot. You claimed that your rights are being infringed upon by gay marriage. Can you or can you not provide an example of this? And actually, today's generation is not taught that religion cannot be practiced in government institutions; you can pray in school, the courthouse, the White House, a military base, you name it. What cannot happen is for a government official to use their position to preach religious practices (even though that's often ignored anyway). For example, kids and teachers can both pray in school if they desire, but a teacher cannot tell kids to pray. However, many teachers and school officials don't understand this distinction and mistakes end up happening where a principle does something ridiculous like suspending a kid for praying. That's not how it's supposed to work and ironically this confusion is largely caused by Christians who exaggerate the situation and claim that prayer is outright banned from school.
UNCLE: I am now PROHIBITED from practicing my faith in this country. Now... you were saying?
ME: Except that whole fact that you are not prohibited from practicing your faith, and if anyone did prohibit it you could make and win a court case over it. Incidentally, how does gay marriage factor into this?
UNCLE: Our constitution (Amendment #1) SPECIFICALLY says: "Congress shall make no law respecting the ESTABLISHMENT of religion, or PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF." That should be enough said about this issue. Any restriction of the free exercise of religion ANYWHERE is prohibited in the constitution.
ME: So... would you be okay with a teacher in a public school leading kids in an Islamic prayer? According to you, prohibiting this would be a violation of the constitution. By the way, prohibiting prayer in school was something started by Christians who disagreed over which prayers to use. Atheists had nothing to do with it.
UNCLE: I have no problem with a Muslim saying a prayer in class. Or a Buddhist, etc. You are dead wrong saying that prohibition of prayer was a Christian idea. Madelyn Murray O'Hair, an avowed atheist, took this issue to court in 1963 and won her case.
ME: I didn't ask if you had a problem with a Muslim saying a prayer in class. They can already do that, as can you. The question is are you okay with a Muslim teacher telling your child to participate in an Islamic prayer? And laws about prayer in school date back at least to 1886 and the Edgerton Bible Case, where Catholic parents objected to their children hearing prayers from the King James Bible. It went to the Wisconsin supreme court, which ruled that bibles could not be read in school as it violated the separation of church and state. To be fair, you are right that it was not enforced on a federal level until 1963, but the precedent was already started almost a century before, by Christians.
UNCLE: You are wrong in regards to saying prayers at school. Public prayers are not allowed in public schools... not in class, not at football games, and not in commencement exercises. As for Muslims, though this is not our topic, I am for Muslims having the same rights and freedoms in America as all other Americans.
[Thread is deleted by original poster.]
History is certainly important in that sense (though that influence tends to be massively exaggerated) but what I'm seeing when Americans discuss the beliefs of the Founding Fathers seems to be more than a mere philosophical interest in what they thought and how they thought.
For instance, one phrase I hear often by American Christians is "Our founders envisioned this nation to be a Christian nation" and then all the American atheists start debating that point and showing how not all the founders thought this etcetera...
But I live in Belgium and I have no idea whether or not Belgium was envisioned to be a Christian nation by its founders in 1816 or 1830. What possible relevance could that fact possibly have?
It seems to be that even if all the Founding Fathers were racist, homophobic, frothing-at-the-mouth fundamentalist Christians... the case for a secular US would still be as strong as it ever was.
You are right "the case for a secular US would still be as strong as it ever was." just most Americans seem to fight more from emotion than logic, hopefully it will change. It also is partly because of the separation of church and state clause in our constitution, which is unique among other countries. That being one of the reasons Christopher Hitchens became an American citizen. (Thanks for the response)"Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts".