A Revolutionary Syllogism

Chris Edwards

Some politically minded Christians, having scoured the American Constitution and found neither the word God nor the word of God, have settled on the reference to a “ Creator" that appears in the Declaration of Independence as a wedge to drive home their larger point that the United States is a Christian nation. These Christians (who are, incidentally, well represented on the history textbook adoption board in Texas) argue that because the Declaration states that “all men" gain the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness from a “Creator," failure to believe in such a creator then erases the foundations of liberty. Atheism, then, is not just blasphemous but un-American.

The problem with this view is that it amounts to an ahistorical reading of the Declaration. Jefferson’s sentiment, in fact, was not intended as a grand statement about human rights but rather as a logical syllogism. The Declaration is like a page from one of Leonardo Da Vinci’s notebooks that must be held up to a mirror to be read. The mirror to the Declaration is the doctrine of the divine right of kings. Once the Declaration is held up to its reflection, the real purpose of the document becomes apparent—and the place that formal logical thinking, rather than belief in a vague divinity, has in American history is restored to its proper status.

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