Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Great Religion Debate Part 2: Is America truly a "Christian" nation?

A recent YouGov survey found that 34% of Americans favor establishing Christianity as their state's official religion. The same survey found that 32% of Americans would support a constitutional amendment that would make Christianity the official religion of the United States. A 2009 Newsweek poll showed that 62% of Americans think the US already is is a Christian nation. That's a lot of people.

The debate over whether America is a "Christian nation" is hotly debated and has been since its inception. Today the issue is largely divided by politics. Liberals for example generally disagree that the US is a "Christian nation" while conservatives generally believe it is. In order to begin debating this we first need to define what we mean by a "Christian nation."

We don't mean whether or not the majority of Americans are Christian. The answer to that is clearly yes. What we mean is whether the US was founded on Christian principles. Meaning, did the Founding Fathers envision America as a Christian nation to be guided by the Christian religion? Or was the US founded on secular values and philosophies and not intended to be guided by the Christian religion? The heart of this disagreement comes down to interpretations of America's Founding Fathers and documents, and has profound political and legal effects relating to almost every aspect of government.

Those that believe America is a Christian nation argue that many of the Founding Fathers were deeply Christian and drew upon their Christian heritage and beliefs as inspiration for creating the political precepts that underpin the nation. In other words, they say that America was founded on Christian (or Judeo-Christian) values and that our Constitution is based on the Bible. David Barton is a notable example. He's the darling of the Christian Right, who's been called one of America's greatest "historians." He's been accused of being a revisionist and one his books attempting to portray the Founding Fathers as deeply committed Christians has been revoked and pulled off of shelves for its abominable scholarship. But even with this, people like Barton remain successful in convincing those who want to believe that America is a Christian nation, is a Christian nation. They just don't have the facts on their side.

The US Constitution has no reference to any deity, nether in its body nor in its preamble. God or Jesus or Christianity are no where to be found. There is no constitutional oath that ends with, "so help me God." And the Constitution specifically states in article 6 that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." And the Bill Of Rights start out in the very First Amendment saying, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof".

And that means that all laws in the United States must pass the Lemon test which states:

For a law to be considered constitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, the law must have a legitimate secular purpose, must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion, and also must not result in an excessive entanglement of government and religion.

Although the Declaration of Independence makes a reference to a "Creator" it makes no reference to the god of Christianity, nor does refer to the religion of Christianity. Many of the Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (and those who influenced them like Thomas Paine) were deists and you can see this influence in the Declaration. Deism is "Nature's God," and we see numerous references to the "Laws of Nature" and "Nature's God" inside the Declaration - an indication that the "Creator" the Founding Fathers envisioned wasn't a theistic god, but was instead a deistic god who doesn't reveal itself or perform miracles for the petty subservience of followers.

What does this mean? It means that the US was not founded as a Christian nation. Indeed, the 1796 Treaty with Tripoli states that the "Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion." Conservative Christian revisionists like David Barton will try and rewrite history to make it seem like all of the Founding Fathers were devout Christians who intended to found a Christian nation, but they're simply wrong. If the Founders wanted to make the US a Christian nation, they had plenty of opportunities to do so. Instead, the only mentions of religion we have in our founding documents are when religion is being restricted and limited in its power and relationship with government.

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