Are We a Christian Nation?

In certain conservative circles, there has been quite a push to think of our country as a Christian nation. I very much wish we were. But in fact we are not … not even close.

The bulk of the argument has centered around the faith of the ‘founding fathers’. If one chooses this battle ground, there is some amount of evidence on both sides. While I haven’t read any books on the subject, I have read a fair amount about the personal lives of key figures involved. It is a bit difficult to sort it all out in light of the fact that English king sat on the throne by ‘divine right’ and the Anglican Church had a very strong political hand. All of the theological/spiritual/religious rhetoric needs to be considered in this context.

Certainly, John Adams was a very devote Christian. He regularly weaves his faith into his political beliefs. Thomas Jefferson had very definite religious beliefs, but many of the positions he took didn’t fit very well into the institutional religions of his day, let alone of today. I would not want to pigeon hole him by calling him a Christian or a deoist … or whatever. Benjamin Franklin would at times use the language of ‘providence’, but had little connection to faith or church. George Washington would refer to his faith in general terms, but when pressured by Christian leaders of his day to profess his faith as a Christian, he refused. I’m sure that if you were to look among the men who made up the Continental Congress, you would find a whole spectrum of religious attitudes. What I would argue is that this is a fundamentally futile question. It is much more important to look at what was actually reflected in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

The framers had a clear knowledge of the ancient Greek understanding of democracy as well as the more recent drafting of the Magna Carta. These clearly weighed heavily in the writings. It is also reasonable to say that the even more ancient understanding of Torah from the Hebrew Old Testament carried some weight. Perhaps it would safer to say that we are a Jewish nation? This might be hard to press in light of the tiny number of Jewish people that we had in this country in the time. I don’t know of any politicians of that day who were Jewish.

The most common way to resolve this is to refer to the U.S. as a nation with a Judeo-Christian heritage. But I can’t really go along with this either. I will grant that lots of Jews and lots of Christians have taken part in the formation and maintenance of our government. But in order to call this a Christian nation, don’t you have to point to how the teachings of Jesus fit in. In particular, you have to point to his teachings that stand over and above his own Jewish heritage.

Let’s think about this. How did he ask us to treat out neighbor? … like the Good Samaritan? How to treat the poor, the maimed, the blind and the lame? … see the Gospel of Luke. How should we deal with wealth? … give all that we have to the poor and follow him, then you won’t have so much trouble fitting through the eye of a needle. Visit those in prison and sick, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty. Forgive seventy times seven. Start washing feet.

Tell me … please, oh please tell me where you see this reflected in any of our founding documents? And if these teachings have found their way into our system of laws, who on the political spectrum are currently trying to uphold them and who is currently trying to do away with them?

Just a thought … DonC


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