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Christian Nation: a Counterpoint

"Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" - Matthew 7:16

John Webb, , argues that it is constitutional to embed aspects of religion in government. This article provides a contrast from two different perspectives.

"The United States of America is a Christian Nation" - Demagogue, politician, and self-avowed Christian.

Is it? If it meant that Christianity has the largest self-avowed adherents among all religions, then, yes, this is a true statement. Slightly more than three in four Americans claim to be Christian, so one can easily call the USA a Christian Nation.

Likewise, we can also call it a Caucasian Nation. But you do not hear that claim as often.

Since the claim is often elaborated to mean that America was founded on Christian principles, what they really mean is that Christianity is the foundational basis of our nation.

That, is a separate claim, and is what I'll address here.

The most common argument in favor of the claim goes something like this:

  1. Most or all of the founding fathers were Christian.
  2. Various quotes attributed to some of them are provided as evidence.
  3. Therefore it is obvious that the founders founded the country to be governed by Christian principles.

Each time this happens, a fierce debate ensues, with quote-mining showing that some or most of the founders were not Christian, but deists perhaps. It goes nowhere. Fast.

A second form of justification that the U.S. is a Christian nation involves invoking the Declaration of Independence:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

See, it says God, therefore [magic in lieu of deduction goes here] Jesus! Yes, a non sequitur and a non-starter.

Lastly, a special meaning of the First Amendment is divined, proclaiming we have freedom of religion but not freedom from religion, [magic in lieu of deduction goes here] therefore we are under the covenant of Christianity.

It is also absurd, given that the only relevant clause in the Constitution regarding religion says nothing of Christianity and explicitly grants both freedoms; and given that while the First Commandment requires one to acknowledge Yahweh as your only or at least your first god, the First Amendment explictly allows one to have any and even no god.

To end it here would be no fun though.

So to start off, I'll stipulate that most of the founders were self-avowed Christians, it adds no value to bicker on this.

I shall then demonstrate that even with that stipulation, one cannot logically arrive at the conclusion that the U.S. is a Christian nation. More on that in a minute, but something bothers me about these claims, and I wonder if it does the Christians too, who assert that we are a Christian Nation.

I have read the Bible, and find that it has copious references to Yahweh and Jesus, verse after verse. There is no escaping that.

Yet, I find that pattern absent in both the Declaration and the Constitution. In fact Jesus is never mentioned directly even once in either document, and God only in the Declaration, that too with a qualification of Nature's or more obliquely, as Creator. Christianity is not mentioned at all. Heck, the King of England features more prominently than the central object of Christianity!

In contrast, here is a fragment of Texas's declaration of secession:

That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the ...

At least they were clear about Texas being for white men, and themselves to be a Christian nation, who by divine decree could enslave the Africans.

To be complete, there is a reference to "the Lord" in the Constitution. But that was simply to date the document, as in "the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven", which obviously is no more an endorsement for the Lord being glorified than the months of the year are glorifications of Roman emperors.

Would you, as a Christian who founded a nation and wanted to have Jesus as the head of the state, leave out glorifying him so completely? Wouldn't you at least mention Christianity or Jesus in that document? Would you start a Christian church without the cross displayed anywhere on the property?

No, right?

Why then did Christian founders, who supposedly founded the USA on Christian principles, so callously and carelessly leave out, not just mentioning Jesus repeatedly, but altogether! 

Maybe they were doing what Jesus would do, when they declared independence from England. Let's examine it from that perspective.

Most Tea Party members, or at least some people since January 21, 2009, have revolted against taxes, claiming parallels to the 1776 revolt—taxation without representation. (It is another matter that they have representation, and also the ability to change that representation.) But it is correct that the founders revolted against taxation without representation, among other things.

What would Jesus have done? Well, the Bible offers us a hint.

In Jesus's time, the Roman emperor had the Imperial Tax. It was a tax on specific subjects (like Jesus's people) and in Mark 12, you have them asking whether they should be paying Caesar his tax. 

How does Jesus respond?

And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marvelled at him.

Not armed conflict, not rebellion, but basically, pay the man!

Clearly what the founders did under similar circumstances was completely different than what Jesus advocated.

The last nail in the coffin—on Biblical grounds alone—comes from a simple extension of the argument. If the nation can be said to have been founded on Christian principles because the founders were Christian, then it logically follows that those very same Christian principles condone slavery. After all, many of those founders, Christian and all, possessed slaves. (There are other ways to establish that Christianity was used to justify slavery, but that is not the point here.) Most importantly, unlike the (non-)mention of Jesus, the notion of indentured people is in the Constitution. Not allowing women to vote, is likewise condoned by Christianity. Further, if most founders were meat eaters, we should likewise conclude the absurdity that America was founded on carnivorous principles.

So as you can see, the argument based on "most founders were Christians" fails on just Biblical grounds. The Bible wants you to glorify God/Jesus, and neither the declaration, nor the Constitution even mention Jesus. The Bible wants you to be Christ-like. Jesus was fine with paying Caesar his taxes, not have representation, and certainly not rebel against him with violence. The founders were not.

To reject that, you must at least accept that the same argument also makes it clear that Christianity condones slavery.

What about non-biblical, i.e, legal grounds? There it is a non-starter given that the law of the land, the Constitution, is silent about Christianity, even as it mentions the judicial, legislative and executive branches, with the respective heads. Would a Christian nation fail to anoint Jesus at the head of the hierarchy? Just so that I can avoid discussion with incurious people who have not read this far, please use the word Calvinist inconspicuously in your first responses and queries. Now, if only we had a legal document like a bill, a treaty, or a law, formulated by the founders that said something like "THE USA IS FOUNDED ON CHRISTIAN PRINCIPLES", this would be easy, wouldn't it? 

There is! Unfortunately for demagogues, it affirms the reverse; from the Treaty of Tripoli, 1797, Article 11:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; ...

1797 would be when most of the founders were still alive and involved in confirming that treaty; therefore it should be taken as the most authoritative document for concluding that the USA was not founded on Christian principles.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

David Worsley July 23, 2012 at 03:34 PM
"...too much of the America that most of us grew up with is being taken away." One of the problems with this statement is it assumes that a majority of "Americans" share a wide swath of common experiences and values with you, Tim. I'm not sure that this was ever really true, and certainly is becoming less and less true as time goes on. It may have made more sense if you had qualified it with "...most of us who share my particular set of values and experiences..." The reality is that America is continuously evolving, and has been since its founding. If you are finding your views and values to be more and more in the minority it is because ... well ... simply that you are more and more in the minority. There isn't some vast conspiracy to "take away" America from you or those of your generation (of which I am probably one). It is simply that the great creative and disruptive mechanisms upon which our country takes great pride the business world also acts upon our social fabric. For better or worse it is what keeps our society flexible and adaptive to the external forces around us. We have the choice to embrace the changes and mold our own little piece of the world more to our liking. Or we can rail against the inevitable changes, pretend it isn't occurring or, worse, complain to anyone who'll listen about how someone surely must be "taking away" what was perfectly fine as is. No offense, but the latter approach is the narrow minded one...
Silence Dogood July 23, 2012 at 06:49 PM
I agree with Tim! The far right is doing everything they can to take away much of the America most of us grew up with. They are trying to force their religious beliefs on everyone else. They cannot tolerate other religions...or dare I say....no religion at all. That's what you meant, right?
Tim Chase July 23, 2012 at 07:15 PM
I like Southern California Culture! Positive people often aren't the most extreme.
Lazlo July 25, 2012 at 02:34 AM
Tim, I have not read through all of these comments yet but nowhere in Shri's well-honed rocket er missive does he say that freedom of religion is not constitutional. He merely says that our nation was not founded (based?) on christian (or simply religious) principles. GET A GRIP!
Catryna White September 03, 2012 at 07:40 PM
The truth of the matter is that America has never been and is not, now, a Christian nation. Obviously most people don't understand what Christianity or being Christlike means. It certainly does NOT mean to be involved in racism, hatred, Genocide, war, drug trafficking and slave trade on the level that the United States has been involved since it's inception. So, no the United States is not a Christian nation nor has it ever been and doubtless will it ever be.

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