On June 29, the American Atheists will unveil America’s first atheist monument on government property at the Bradford County Courthouse in Florida. The monument is a 1,500-pound granite bench engraved with quotations from Thomas Jefferson, Madalyn Murray O’Hair, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin.
A lot of ignorant people viewing the monument will get the idea that Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin were atheists. They weren’t. O’Hair was an atheist and the founder of the American Atheists, but the same can’t be said about the vast majority of American founders.
The monument will compete with a monument of the Ten Commandments.
The American Atheists was founded in the 1960s by O’Hair. In 1995 she was kidnapped, murdered, and her body mutilated, along with her son Jon Murray and granddaughter Robin Murray O’Hair, by former American Atheist office manager David Roland Waters. Waters and his accomplices killed the O’Hairs for their money.
O’Hair often said, “There is no God. There’s no heaven. There’s no hell. There are no angels. When you die, you go in the ground, the worms eat you.”
And because there’s no God, there are no divine commandments such as “thou shalt not murder” (sixth) and “thou shalt not steal” (eighth).
But let’s get back to Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin.
John Adams wrote the following in his Diary dated July 26, 1796:
“The Christian religion is, above all the Religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern Times, the Religion of Wisdom, Virtue, Equity, and humanity, let the Blackguard [Thomas] Paine say what he will; it is Resignation to God, it is Goodness itself to Man.”1
The text below is from Adams’ March 23, 1798 signed Proclamation calling for a day of “Solemn Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer.” It begins:
“As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God; and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty, which the people owe to him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety, without which social happiness cannot exist, nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed…”
Adams had a great distaste for atheism as he shows in his Discourses on Davila, a series of papers, on political history, written in the year 1790 and then published in the Gazette of the United States. The following is from his “A Balanced Government”:
“Is there a possibility, that the government of nations may fall into the hands of men, who teach the most disconsolate of all creeds, that men are but fire-flies, and that this all is without a father? Is this the way, to make man, as man, an object of respect? Or is it, to make murder itself, as indifferent as shooting a plover, and the extermination of the Rohilla nation, as innocent, as the swallowing of mites, on a morsel of cheese?”2
But won’t science eradicate evil as people move away from religion, as atheists propose and work toward? Adams didn’t think so:
“There is no connection in the mind between science and passion, by which the former can extinguish or diminish the latter: it on the contrary sometimes increases them, by giving them exercise. . . . Bad men increase in knowledge as fast as good men, and science, arts, taste, sense, and letters, are employed for the purposes of injustice and tyranny, as well as those of law and liberty; for corruptions as well as for virtue.”3
Adams was well aware of what the anti-theists of the French Revolution did with their elevated sense of reason and the terrestrial hope of man unbound by the restraints of religion. He cautioned Americans not to follow the same path.
Adams ends “A Balanced Government” with the following: “On ne croit pas, dans le Christianisme, mais on croit, toutes sottises possible.” Translated as, “They do not believe in Christianity, but they believe every possible absurdity.”4
The American Atheist monument is a perfect example of an absurdity.
Jefferson, while not a Christian, certainly believed in God. He was not an atheist, as his work on the Declaration of Independence attests. It includes the following five references to God: “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” God as Creator, God as the Source of all rights, God as the “Supreme Judge of the world,” and “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.”
Benjamin Franklin went through a religious pilgrimage in his long life. There is little doubt that in his early years he was quite the religious skeptic but never an atheist.
He read the writings of English deists as a young man, but “later experience and reflection caused him to retreat somewhat from the thoroughgoing deism of his early life. . . . Indeed Franklin’s views on providence and prayer were quite inconsistent with the deistic conception of an absentee God who does not and who could not, in consistency with the perfection of his work of creation and his impartial nature, interfere in the affairs of men.”5
He states in his Autobiography, “I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world, and govern’d it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue reward, either here or hereafter.”
It was Franklin who addressed the Constitutional Convention by reminding those in attendance of “a superintending Providence” in their favor that brought them to their unique place that would make history. He cited Psalm 127:1 to establish his point: “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labour in vain who build it.” He went on to say something very non-deistic: He saw “proofs” that “God rules in the affairs of men,” and without God’s “concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel” (Gen. 11:1– 9).
The American Atheists, like all atheists, can’t make their case by an appeal to real atheists since there were few6 at our nation’s founding.
- John Adams, The Diary and Autobiography of John Adams, ed. L.H. Butterfield (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1962), 3:233–234. [↩]
- John Adams, Discourses on Davila (Boston: Russell and Cutler,  1805), 93. [↩]
- Adams, Discourses on Davila, 86–87). [↩]
- See Joel McDurmon, “Adams on the Dangers of Atheism.” [↩]
- John Orr, English Deism: Its Roots and Its Fruits (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1935), 211. [↩]
- Ethan Allen was most likely a deist. In 1785 Allen published Reason: The Only Oracle of Man. “The book was a complete financial and critical failure. Allen’s publisher had forced him to pay the publication costs up front, and only 200 of the 1,500 volumes printed were sold.” The remainder were destroyed in a fire. [↩]