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Monday, February 19, 2007

Question of the Day #67: A Christian Nation

The United States of America is claimed by many conservative Christians to be a "Christian nation," implying that it was founded on principles of Christianity. Others have argued that it was not the intention of the "Founding Fathers" to create a nation for and by Christians and/or, even if it was their intention, we as a modern society embracing diversity should reject the notion. Yet despite the legal status of religious discrimination in the government, there has never in more than 200 years been a non-Christian President, and very few non-Christians are voted into other national offices.

So getting to the actual question, do you think that the United States is a Christian nation in practice if nothing else, and what does this imply for non-Christian U.S. citizens today and in the near future?

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7 Comments:

At 2/19/2007 3:03 PM, Blogger Zachary Moore declaimed...

The truth of the matter is that both are right. Say what you will about Jefferson's anti-clerical views, but he was no atheist, nor did he conceive of the first amendment to give any special privilege to atheists. He probably would have been as shocked at "The God Delusion" as any mainstream Christian today.

However, it's also clear that Jefferson (or most of the other founders, except for perhaps Patrick Henry) wasn't intending to found a "Christian" nation, at least, certainly not in the same way that the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay colony had intentionally founded a "Christian" colony.

One has to keep in mind that Christianity, at least in the New World, was the only game in town. It's telling that the bulk of the religious quarrels were not between believers and non-believers, but between different denominations. Maryland, for example, was founded as a colony specifically for Catholics, since they were received so coldly in Puritan New England, as well as Anglican Virginia. And most of the rationale that Jefferson provided for his statute of religious freedom concerned the de facto dominance of the Anglican church in America, as opposed by other denominations, like Baptists and Presbyterians.

Clearly, what people like Jefferson and Madison (who should be looked to first in this matter, as they were the actual authors of the first amendment language) were seeking was a country in which its citizens would not be required to pay for the support of any religion, but that instead of being dictated what religion to support, each citizen should have the freedom to choose whatever creed suited him or her best.

In terms of modern, practical applications of this principle, we need to recognize the following: any money spent by the government on behalf of any religious organization is a violation of this principle. And since time is money, any action taken by the government to advance any religious organization is also a violation of the first amendment. What we should expect to see from a government that is consistent with the first amendment and the wishes of its authors, is complete silence on the part of the government in terms of religion, and complete freedom on the part of the citizenry in terms of religious practice.

Remember- America was conceived by students of the enlightenment. Just as the natural sciences were coming to the realization that "God was not necessary for their hypotheses," so too the political founders of this country thought that God was not necessary for the implementation of government, and that rationality could be relied on to goven effectively, in contrast to the divinely-appointed kings of the Old World.

So... what is America today? Is it, or was it ever, a "Christian nation?" Clearly not. In its most ideologically hopeful, it is a "free nation," which has been (and will likely continue to be) populated with a majority of Christians.

 
At 2/19/2007 3:38 PM, Blogger olly declaimed...

Well, close down the comments because Zach nailed it, lol.

Seriously though, I agree, and would add that I think an answer too the question: "Is it in practice a Christian nation?" is that, unfortunately, there are large aspects of society and government that play out that way.

Take taxation as an example. Putting aside my anarchist ideals for a minute, what does it say about a nation where tax-exempt status is a given for Christian organizations, but other religious organizations have to apply to be recognized for that status? As Zach said, Christianity was the only religious paradigm at the time of the founders so this plays a roll, but it also highlights the fact that significant portions of American society, not just American government, are under de facto Christian control.

Start looking at tax exempt status, and the rulings and applications thereof, and you find a disturbing (though perhaps not too surprising) trend towards an automatic acceptance of any organization declaring itself "Christian" (with exceptions of course).

What it comes down to is this: Christianities version of the cookie monster is accepted by most American's, even many of those that profess no religious preference, as being somehow more "OK" then the Scientology or whatever other random flavor-of-the-week New Age movement is out there.

So, to sum up my babbling, I'd say that yes, we are in fact unfortunately a Christianized nation; though that wasn't at all what was originally intended.

-olly

 
At 2/19/2007 7:46 PM, Blogger Francois Tremblay declaimed...

There is no such thing as a "nation," only arbitrary borders imposed by the ruling class. So the only real question here is, is the ruling class Christian?

The answer is that right now the ruling class has to appease the secular majority in order to keep its power. They cannot use Christianity directly, so instead use it indirectly, as a "silent partner." If the "country" was majoritarily Christian, then the ruling class would be Christian.

 
At 2/20/2007 1:47 PM, Blogger Alison declaimed...

Countries aren't christian. People are.

 
At 2/20/2007 6:20 PM, Blogger Brucker declaimed...

"Countries aren't christian. People are."

On the contrary, it depends a lot on what you mean by the term, but I think it can be said that there is such a thing as a Christian country. In particular, the Vatican has independent nation status, and is run by and for the Roman Catholic Church.

That's just an overtly obvious example, though. There are many nations on the planet that are either populated almost entirely by members of the same religion and/or ruled by religious law. Quite a few of these are nations in the Middle East that have over 95% of their citizenry identifying as Muslims and a government based on Sharia law, but there are also countries in South America and Polynesia that are at or near 99% Christian, and almost all of the same denomination.

The thing that most people mean by the term is what causes so much controversy today. For instance, I have little doubt that the main reason homosexual couples can't get the same rights as heterosexual couples in the U.S. is because of the cultural influence that Christianity has on our government. Outside of religious morality, there aren't a lot of compelling reasons to deny these rights.

 
At 2/20/2007 7:45 PM, Blogger lynn's daughter declaimed...

I know this gets used a lot, but there is the treaty of Tripoli: "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries..." etc., which was approved by the US Senate and John Adams in 1797. This, among several other statements made by revolutionaries such as Jefferson make it clear that they were adamant that this was to be a secular country.

 
At 2/24/2007 11:06 PM, Blogger Vic declaimed...

lynn's daughter - you're right of course, and there's plenty of other writings you could point to to bolster your case, from the Constitution itself to letters from its writers.

But when have christians ever let facts get in the way of the way they wish things were?

 

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