Categorized | General Discussion

Personal Belief

Posted on 13 April 2010

Frank Borelli
Editor In Chief
New American Truth

In our most recent issue of New American Truth we had a confluence of articles that addressed the values and beliefs of our founding fathers from seemingly disparate points of view. On the one hand we had an article that espoused the belief that our founding fathers were strongly Christian and tried to build Christian values and beliefs into our country’s operational texts. Another point of view expressed that while the founding fathers may have been Christian in their personal beliefs and practices, they went out of their way to make sure that no religion was ever forced on any citizen by the government, nor that the government was allowed to restrict religious practices.

Now, please bear with me. I’m going to attempt to write this so that my language is as precise as possible, allowing me to communicate my meaning. That is my intent. That said, I’m an imperfect human being (as are all of you) and quite often something gets lost in translation. If you agree with what you read, please share that below. If you disagree with what you read, please articulate why and your opposing or other point of view. That “warning” given, let us proceed.

I was born into an Episcopalian family, taken away from them, put up for adoption, raised by Catholic foster parents for three years and then adopted by a “mixed” family: father was protestant; mother was Episcopalian. I went to a Baptist school for three years and a Catholic school for three years. I had Jewish friends, atheist friends, etc. When I went into the Army I was exposed to other faiths. I have, to some extent, made a study of religions as they existed throughout documented history. I married a Methodist, got divorced and then married a Presbyterian. Currently I’m a member of the Presbyterian church but would more likely go to an Episcopalian church if I went on Sunday (it’s closest and I’m comfortable there).

Through all of that I think it’s safe to say that I’m a Christian – but many of you wouldn’t call me that. I believe in God and my relationship with him is cause for me to attempt to live my life in a moral manner. I try to treat people as I would want them to treat others and that leads to attempts at charity, forgiveness, etc. I TRY not to sin as they are listed in the Ten Commandments.

That said, I have been exposed to portions and pieces of certain religious beliefs that I disagree with. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong; it just means I disagree with them or don’t believe in them. As Chuck Bennett described in his Un-Common Sense column this month, there was a minister at a funeral in Deleware who was pretty clear about the “fact” that since I didn’t believe exactly as he believes then, in his opinion, I was bound for hell. It’s funny to me that he said he was once Catholic and is now Methodist – and as a Catholic he believed that all Methodists were bound for hell. (It apparently didn’t stop his conversion.)

In my early years as an adolescent Christian, I had to ask (and answer) a question of myself: Did I believe that every Jew and Muslim; every Hindu and Buddhist; every atheist and agnostic was going to burn in hell simply because they didn’t believe as I believed? Could God in his wisdom and mercy actually condemn millions of souls to hell because of the rules by which they practiced their faith?

I couldn’t accept that. If God is that cruel, then why would we worship him? I chose to believe that God would bless anyone who attempted to lead their life in a moral fashion in compliance with the Ten Commandments – even if they did it in such a way as to not acknowledge the Ten Commandments. You can lead a good life without calling it “good” A rose by any other name… and all that. That simple outlook on my part allowed me to feel hope for millions of souls around the world. It also is a view that has some people saying that I myself am condemned to spend eternity in hell. I guess we won’t all know until we’re dead, huh?

Our founding fathers had escaped the King’s dictate that they worship a particular god in a particular way. The accepted church was the one the king said was accepted and his rule prohibited the practice of any other faith. With that thought fresh on their minds our founding fathers set out to create a new country where the government could never mandate a “state religion” and where every person would be free to worship as he or she saw fit.

That the large majority of our founding fathers were some “flavor” of Christian is, to me, without a doubt. I also believe that, as learned and wise men, they realized that ANY religion can be manipulated to the gain and power of a “holy man”. They were further smart enough to realize that simply being “a holy man” didn’t make a MAN free of sin or temptation. EVERY FAITH has experienced this: either a man who started out twisting a religion for his own gain, or a truly good man who ended up twisted by greed, lust or power (or greed and lust for power). Our founding fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson – although I believe he was staunchly Christian – saw the potential dangers in any unquestioned dogma. While they practiced their own faith they encouraged others to question what was taught to them; to figure out what did or didn’t make sense on their own; to find their own faith and to recognize that whatever faith that was, as a personal choice, was exactly that: personal and therefore right.

For me, therein lies the crux of most of our disagreements. If you don’t agree with my religious views then you might try to convince me of your own. Discussion is good. I am open to any conversation that isn’t insulting and wherein someone uses logic to debate my particulars of faith. Faith is rarely logical though and when people lose such arguments they often go on a personal attack, insulting those who believe differently as stupid, uneducated or simply stubborn. All such insults ever accomplish is to increase the feelings of animosity between those of differing faiths – and such animosity (I would think) would make God shake his head, ashamed that “his children” would behave so immaturely.

So where does that leave us?

I agree with those of you who believe that this country was founded (largely) by Christian men and women.

I agree with those of you who believe that they created this country specifically without a religious preference or mandate.

I don’t care if you choose to worship fire-bellied toads or moon rocks; your faith is your faith. I spent a number of years in uniform protecting your right to practice your religion as you saw fit short of harming others.

My faith is my faith. My God is my god. If you believe differently or disagree with my beliefs, that’s YOUR business. I quite frankly don’t care. The only person that has to be comfortable with my relationship with God is me. The only person who has to be comfortable with your relationship with God is you.

I don’t see why it’s so hard to understand that our forefathers could certainly have been Christian and at the same time NOT built a purely Christian country.

What do you think?

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9 Responses to “Personal Belief”

  1. Pat O'C says:

    This I KNOW. I’m either the luckiest moron, this side of anywhere, or closer to God than I ever thought. Despite my shortcomings, and with all I’ve been through, I choose to believe the latter. And I make it a point to thank him PROFUSELY every day…during my ride into the command.

  2. Larry says:

    Frank,
    I agree with you wholeheartedly, however, the problem with your position is that you do call yourself a christian. It simply isn’t one. You fail to mention the pivotal point of christianity; Christ. Now, to be perfectly clear, I’m not a christian, but I live with plenty of them around me, and they never fail to tell me about it. From what I understand, unless you accept jesus as your savior in your heart, you’re gonna go to hell, ACCORDING to christian teachings. The distinction is that “works” or “good deeds” don’t get you to heaven, accepting the “sacrifice” of jesus on the cross is what forgives you your sin, according to them.

    All this is also the reason I simply don’t believe in it, because, as you pointed out, if god was that cruel, why would/should we worship him.

    Have I been brought up in a society based on christian values? sure, I think most of us in the states, and western europe for that matter, have been.

    Furthermore, I’d like to add that saying “the founding fathers were christian, therefore we all ought to be christian” is like saying “they owned slaves, therefore we should all own slaves” or “they used horses and buggies, we should use horse drawn carts instead of cars too” and so on…
    It was culture of the day. I hate to be relativist, but nobody, as pointed out correctly in one of the above mentioned articles, at the time of the founding of this great nation would have dared to say that they didn’t believe… one way or another.

  3. admin says:

    Pat: Thanks for the comment. I’m glad that works for you and I’d encourage you to continue in it.

    Larry:
    Why does what I call myself bother you? The Judeo-Christian faith is based on the Bible – both the old and new testaments. The difference between Hebrew and Christian is whether or not you accept Christ as the son of God (as I understand it). Why can’t I believe in 99% of the Christian outlook but just not be sure I accept Jesus Christ as the actual Son of God? This is kind of my point: I can call myself anything I want and worship however I see fit. If that equals “christian” to ME then who really cares what it equals to others? I don’t think anyone believes today that we should live as our founding fathers did, but that doesn’t reduce the value of basic human rights which is all they were trying to document and protect.

    Or did I miss something?

  4. Tom Curley says:

    You have made many good points about religion and the Constitution and I don’t disagree with much you have said. But if you take a step further there is religious and secular tension between the Middle East and the West.
    It does not matter if I am Christian, Jewish or Buddhist, the fact that I am American is the reason tha Muslims are attacking. I believe our current enemies are Muslims, to a large extent either poor and uneducatated or Wahabbis or the two combined. My view is that you don’t kill ants one at a time with a hammer if you can kill a bunch of them with a pint of petrol and a match in the ant hill.
    When these Muslims attact places like the WTC, mas transit hubs and civilians they go beyound any behavior I can accept.
    I think Muslims in general and Wahabbis in particular need to be warned to quit now or maybe Mecca and other ant nests could be subject to attack.
    I am a bit of a savage, so I understand why your views are more moderate than mine, I just brought this up for you to think about and debate if you choose.

  5. K. Wilkinson says:

    You should delve more deeply into the Knights Templar. They truly are Gods Warriors on Earth. A true and noble band.

  6. Jeff Houghton says:

    My $0.02 worth…..

    Very insightful… as usual, Mr. Borelli! From what I have read of the founders, they did want to create a society where people could worship their own god in their own way. In keeping with their goal, they intentionally did not link any particular religion with the governmental structure they created. This is particularly evident in the lack of any religious requirement to hold any Federal public office.

    The same did not hold true, at least initially, with the States. Many of the first thirteen states originally had religious requirements that had to be met before one could hold a State public office. In one State you may have had to be Catholic to run, and in another Presbyterian, etc. It wasn’t too many years before these States dropped their requirements.

    There are also significant links between the structure of the Federal government and structural themes found in Jewish and Christian religions. I don’t think it’s much of a stretch – actually I think it is pretty obvious – that the founders based the governmental structure on Judeo-Christian ethics and morals.

    One key indicator to me is the primary book used to teach elementary children throughout the country was the Bible. While I am not a PhD in early American history, nor have I read every single writing by every early citizen, I have done a fairly in-depth look at this issue. My conclusion is that the main reason to use the Bible as the primary teaching book is this concept: “We don’t care who you go home and worship. We do want you to thrive as citizens of this country. Therefore we are going to teach you the Bible so you understand the basis of the country’s moral, ethical, and governmental structure.”

    For me, a religion has to make sense on several levels. First off – is it even necessary? Or said another way – Is there a Supreme Being? And if there is, what is my obligation to Him (if any)?

    Second, if this Supreme Being created everything – including me – then it makes sense that I have some of the traits that He does. This includes thought (mostly rational ? ) and analysis and insight. So to me a religion has to be one where I don’t check my brain at the door and accept things ‘just because.’ There has to be reasons why things are the way they are, and a viable religion must be able to explain this internally (in what the religion says/does) and externally (in how the world actually works). I must have the ability to ask questions and critique and analyze all aspects of the religion and of life. After all, if this Supreme Being is worthy of my time and effort and worship, surely the structure of our world and our life and the system of how I am to interact with Him will stand up to a little scrutiny. If it doesn’t, then I’m not sure this Being is so Supreme after all.

    A third issue for me is: What’s the difference? After all, most religions look suspiciously alike – especially on the surface and many are similar even several layers below the surface. Are there real and bona fide differences in how the followers of a particular religious group live their lives? Do these differences matter? Are there differences in the Supreme Being – in how they speak and act?

    Also is the issue of So What? What does your religion tell me are consequences if I do not follow it? For some religions it is no big deal – you get a mulligan and get to tee up life again and try to get it right next time. For other religions, if you don’t believe like I believe then I will either enslave you or kill you. Still other religions say that you get to make a choice in this lifetime, and that choice will put you in either heaven or hell for all eternity. And others will tell you that it has already been determined and you either are or are not one of the chosen.

    For me, I prefer a system of having a choice. If this Supreme Being not only created me but cares about me, then He will give me the ability to choose my path and make that choice pretty clear to me. That is my definition of a loving Supreme Being: shows me the way but gives me a choice. However, the other side of that coin is that if He is the Supreme Being, and I had the ability to discover and interact with Him during my life, but I chose not to do so, then I would expect some serious consequences to my choice or my inaction. If there is no consequence to my inaction regarding the Supreme Being, then I can live my life however I want to because at the end we all end up in the same place. Woo-hoo! Party on! And look out – I will live my life only for myself because there is absolutely no reason to put anybody else first, no reason to sacrifice what I want, no reason not to do anything and everything possible to obtain all the money, power, and fame that I can during my life. ‘No consequences’ is the best possible way to live life – short term. We all know from life experience that real life doesn’t work that way. Neither should religion – IMHO.

    Finally – at least for this posting – there needs to be a look at how man has implemented a particular religion. Man is a master manipulator/rationalizer. Is there a way for me to go straight to the Supreme Being for direction and understanding? That would be preferable, for then I don’t get man’s influence. And even if I can go direct, are there things I can learn from smart people who lived before I did? And if there are, can I go back and read their writings or do I just have to accept that these things were written and explained in a certain way. I know this kind of ties into the second item – of being able to critique and ask questions – but to me it is more than that. Can I strip away all the nonsense that man has added to a system of worshipping a Supreme Being and get to the heart of the matter? In other words, let me do the research and fact checking and gain an understanding, don’t just hand me your slick marketing material and hope that I’ll blindly accept it.

    Now a couple of random comments…

    On the Catholic turned Methodist priest. I see a couple of key issues here. One is “Can our beliefs change over time?” I think the answer is ‘Absolutely.’ And I think we all have changes in our beliefs over time, whether they come from a deeper understanding after much study and thought, or the changes are a part of new information we receive. As rational beings, this is expected. However, the caution is to carefully and critically examine where this new information is coming from, is it complete, does it have problems, etc.

    On the issue of Christianity saying ‘believe what we believe or you are going to hell.’ First, I would want to know ‘Who said that?’ Was it man who said that? Or was it the Supreme Being? I think you have to know that to have your facts straight. Second, see my ramblings on consequences above. I think for any religion to be worthy of consideration of my time and effort, there should be a significant gravity surrounding the acceptance / rejection of that religion. Not that I think that it should be in your face i.e. believe or we will kill you, but a quiet confidence that they are right. This could have been another section on ‘Confidence.’ How certain are you that you are right? Or can you be certain? If you are not certain you will spend your life chasing ways to be certain. Any serious religion should give you a sense of confidence, that you have made the right choice, that you are on the right track. Then, as rational beings, when we are presented with new information we can go back and analyze it, question our prior beliefs, and adjust (or not).

    On the issue of our Muslim friends. There are two issues intertwined in Tom’s post. One is the issue of the Muslim religion. Is it peaceful? How does it interact with other faiths? Etc. Second is our Country’s response to attacks by those of the Muslim religion. On the one hand, as the world’s last remaining Superpower, we need to take a measured and thoughtful approach and do all we can to not be heavy-handed and use our strength to bludgeon other nations and ideologies. But I think we all agree that the National response to attacks against us has gone to the other extreme – from an appropriate response to one fraught with political correctness and concern for how the world will view us.

  7. Phil says:

    My belief/opinion as a Christian. To be a Christian you have to accept that Christ died for you to be forgiven, not just believe that he may have existed. Muslims believe that Christ existed – that does not make them Christians because they do not believe accepting Christ is essential for salvation.

    I keep hearing that people don’t believe a loving God would punish them for not following his rules. Three things on that: First, we have free will to follow or not (but I believe there are consequences). Second, why even give us the rules then? Third, everyone seems to believe in God but there is no mention of Satan/evil. I believe God is a loving God. I believe He became man and died a horrible death in my place. But as I read the Bible I also believe he will punish. For example, the Israelites (His chosen people) in the desert for 40 years, Abraham not getting to the promised land, Jesus’ parable of the man in Hell who wants to warn his brothers, etc.

    I absolutely believe others have the right to worship in their own way, what bothers me is that in our society people who worship are being ridiculed more and more. In movies/TV the person of faith is mocked while the gay person is the one considered “normal”. I can see Santa and the easter bunny plastered everywhere but it’s off to court for a nativity scene. This country is losing it’s moral compass and eventually it will get lost.

  8. John Arthur says:

    Frank and others,
    Here’s my question for you. What is the absolute authority in your life? Is it reason? For me it is the Bible. I study it as often as I can. It claims to be God’s very word to mankind. If that is the case (and i believe it to be so) I need to heed what it says. It speaks much more about hell than heaven and it tells me how one ends up in either place. If you or anyone else don’t want to believe it’s God word then you should simply ignore the whole thing since if its wrong in one place why would you trust it in another? Secondly understanding who God is in comparison to who you are helps one to understand why we must meet God on his terms not ours. Let God be God. Read the Genesis account of the “fall of man”. realize Satan is a real being. He caused ‘perfect woman’ to question what God said (hath God said….?”) he’s been doing that to mankind ever since (making them question God by saying such things as “if god were a loving God….. the Bible also says “God is a consuming fire”- we don’t like that part so much. the Bible teaches that we were created. It also asks the rhetorical question ‘Does the created question or judge the creator’?. God in his infinite mercy (withholding immediate justice) and love and grace (unmerited favor) knew man kind would never be good enough to get to heaven on merit (read Ephesians 2:8,9) so he sent a redeemer-Jesus christ who was God in the flesh. Jesus said No man cometh unto the Father but by (or through) him. The ‘way’ is the way of the cross. Christ’s death and shedding of blood was necessary to atone for mankind’s sin. Salvation is a gift. A gift must be ‘received’ for it to really be a gift. How does one receive it then Romans 10,9,10, 13 have the answer.

    The Bible also says in John chapter 3 that you (and I) must be “born again” and “saved”. Read it for yourself and then ask yourself the questions that beg to be answered.

    A lot done in the name of Christianity is not christian. Read Matthew chapter 7 for a real eye opener.

    The way of salvation isn’t hard, its as simple as ABC Admit you’re a sinner, Believe in your heart Christ has paid the penalty for your sin, Confess him to others.

    You then learn that you attempt to keep the law to please God and because it is the best way to live for yourself also.

    If a person doesn’t believe in God at all, they need to ask themself some very hard questions. The first being, where does morality come from? A child can even be tested here. A child knows it does wrong even without being taught what right and wrong is. Any parent must admit this after spending any amount of time with their children. They must also then ask why does the child choose to do wrong rather than right. Think about it. did anyone teach you to lie (as a child)? or was lying natural. You see the bible addresses this also-it is the ‘nature you are born with as the result of Adam’s sinning against God. You get a new nature by being saved or born again.

    Would love to talk in detail but believe I have made my point.

  9. logan dhonau says:

    I have to say I like most of what you have to say. I bet we would make good neighbors and find ourselves on the same side of the wall in any fight,

    I think one of the toughest decisions leaders/members of a pluralistic society must face is “how big is the tent.” One is forced to recognize that some ideas, actions and beliefs are mutually exclusive, Period. ( “A” cannot at the same time be “non-A.” This is the beginning and foundation of all rational thought and function.) Just as you separate cats and dogs, lions and lambs, fire and water, you cannot have Every Idea in the same realm, nor every culture, every religion, every man.

    We in America, to create America,rejected Monarchy, despotism, aristocracy, slavery, anarchy etc. etc, and what we kept was Constitutional Republic, religious tolerance, limited gov’t, and a philosophical tradition based on the Protestant Reformation. For us to remain America as it was made, these things are non-negotiable, i.e. “self evident.” There is no place for certain behaviors, actions, values, movements, here.

    That leaves enormous leeway to be sure, the “tent” is great but there are limits. I think today we face a generation of philosophically ignorant and morally retarded citizens without base or bearing and this is a difficult challenge. Since so many of our leaders share this malady-in fact promoted it-we are approaching that moment of truth: what will we tolerate and what will we eliminate?

    To recapture all the founding principles, including the deeper meanings of their thoughts regarding religion in the function of representative gov’t (representatives themselves hold religious ideas to which they are more loyal than to the sate) is essential. The ultimate question will be one of ” do religious believers in tune with the founding have the burden to understand and tolerate others or will “others” hold the place of considering the role of religious believers”? I understand it to be the former and fear greatly it may become the latter.

    This will doubtless create/lead to a cultural “coup d’etat” laying the foundations for either self-destruction or another revolution for liberty. If so, that could get very ugly very quickly and THAT is the underlying fear in all this discussion, the elephant in the living room so to speak. When we honestly address that issue we will have cut to the chase. Just my understanding to this point.


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