Once your students have seen the inadequacy of both current formulas, push them to rethink the relation of politics and religion in the early Republic. You might suggest that the natural religious language of the Declaration served as a neutral expression acceptable to all denominations rather than a deist creed precisely because a tradition of natural theology was shared by most Christians at the time. Deist phrases may thus have been a sort of theological lingua franca , and their use by the founders was ecumenical rather than anti-Christian. Such ecumenical striving sheds fresh light on the first amendment and the secular order it established. This secularism forbade the federal government from establishing a national church or interfering with church affairs in the states. However, it did not create a policy of official indifference, much less hostility toward organized religion. Congress hired chaplains, government buildings were used for divine services, and federal policies supported religion in general (ecumenically) as does our tax code to this day. The founding generation always assumed that religion would play a vital part in the political and moral life of the nation. Its ecumenical secularity insured that no particular faith would be excluded from that life, including disbelief itself.
One of Spinoza’s more famous, influential and incendiary doctrines concerns the origin and status of Scripture. The Bible, Spinoza argues in the Theological-Political Treatise , was not literally authored by God. God or Nature is metaphysically incapable of proclaiming or dictating, much less writing, anything. Scripture is not ‘a message for mankind sent down by God from heaven’. Rather, it is a very mundane document. Texts from a number of authors of various socio-economic backgrounds, writing at different points over a long stretch of time and in differing historical and political circumstances, were passed down through generations in copies after copies after copies.