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A Christian nation?

Last weekend, I was privileged to attend a traditional Easter dinner -- complete with barbecued ribs. (It's a new tradition.) It was at the home of my friend Candy and her family, and they're quite devout. And while I'm not anywhere near to becoming a Christian, it did get me in a spiritual frame of mind.

One of the more quarrelsome points between the religious right and the rest of the nation is the contention that "the United States was established on Christian principles." It's pretty much guaranteed to start some major arguments, especially when someone decides to get all PC and make it "Judeo-Christian values."

I don't really have a problem with it, in either form.

First off, while it might be a concession to the PC movement, the term "Judeo-Christian" is a smidgen more accurate. About half the Christian Bible is made up of the Jewish scriptures, and Christian theology is built on a platform of Judaism. Indeed, initially Christianity was described as a "Jewish cult." To try to separate modern Christianity from its Jewish roots is rewriting history -- and we've seen enough of that with the Inquisitions, thank you very much.

Secondly, it's pretty hard to deny that the United States was founded on Christian principles. Massachusetts was founded as a colony where the Puritans could freely practice their version of Christianity. Pennsylvania was built on the notion of religious tolerance. And Georgia was started as a debtor's colony, which ties in to the "redemption" theme.

Note that the phrase is "Christian principles," not "Christian tenets." It's about the general ideas and concepts and philosophies that are part of Christianity, not the faith itself.

But, does that make this country a "Christian" nation?

Well, demographically at least, yeah. The majority of Americans identify themselves as Christian.

Practically, maybe. Every president we've ever elected has declared himself a Christian of some denomination. (They've also all been white males, for that matter.) It's pretty much a requirement to get elected.

But legally, factually, is it true? I don't think so.

There is a general endorsement for religion in the founding documents ("...endowed by their Creator," the First Amendment part of "free exercise of religion"), but also a recognition of keeping church and state separate (the "establishment" part of the First Amendment). The role of government has traditionally been to support religion in general, but not to give preferential treatment to any particulars. Churches are tax exempt, as are donations to them, in essence giving them a public subsidy.

Overall, I think that's been a good thing for the nation. The general principles of Christianity, stripped of their theological aspects, are a pretty good starting point for general rules of civil behavior. We could do worse.

In fact, looking around the world, we can see that other bases have been used -- and have done considerably worse.

So, speaking as a non-Christian, I'd have to say that I kind of like living in a nation built on "Judeo-Christian values." Especially one where I can tell those who try to convert me to go pound sand.


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Comments (17)

Have you read the <a href="... (Below threshold)

Have you read the Mayflower Compact? I beg to differ with you.

Show me the establishment clause. If you find it, I'll show you where you have lost your mind. lol. Not meaning to pick on you, just having fun.

Really though, there is no establishment clause in the first amendment. Why would a vast majority of Christians whom had Christian laws in their own states insist that they be bannished only to continue practicing them? Hmm?

Hey Jay. I went to check ou... (Below threshold)

Hey Jay. I went to check out the link I gave you because it has additional links, and I found many cool things (if you get the time).

The History Place. Check out years 1646 and 1652. Slavery was banned in Rhone Island in 1652! Cool! :)

of the 55 Founding Fathers ... (Below threshold)
jp:

of the 55 Founding Fathers who wrote the Constitution, 52 were Christians, 3 were either deist or other, Ben Franklin came back to faith later in life.

of those 52, 45 weren' just Christians but reformed Calvinist. The Christian concept of government is found in the original architecture of the constitution.

If not for Christianity we'd still be pulling Oxen behind us and plowing fields. The Christian Faith led to all the major discoveries in Science, all the major branches were discovered by Christians and their is a reason why, but thats another subject.

it's pretty hard t... (Below threshold)
jpe:
it's pretty hard to deny that the United States was founded on Christian principles. Massachusetts was founded as a colony where the Puritans could freely practice their version of Christianity.

What you said, really, is that Massachusetts was founded for the benefit of Christians, rather than on "Christian principles" (whatever that means).

The principles of American government aren't from Leviticus, but from Roman law, English common law, and enlightenment political philosophy.

Leviticus was the old testa... (Below threshold)
jp:

Leviticus was the old testament covenant, its not relevant except for God's morality within it. There is a new covenant to live under in the Gospels.

jpe, I never said it was EX... (Below threshold)

jpe, I never said it was EXCLUSIVELY of Judeo-Christian derivation. Just that it was a big part of it.

J.

I understand what you're sa... (Below threshold)
jpe:

I understand what you're saying, but I just don't see any judeo-christian principles of government operative in American government.

good read on the faith of t... (Below threshold)
jp:

good read on the faith of the founders and what happened, and how Christians don't have any special claim and why...

http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5243

Jay --Keep quoting... (Below threshold)
Publicus:

Jay --

Keep quoting the Constitution and you might get me to become a Republican. (The Constitution; the Declaration; the Federalist Papers...my weaknesses...)

Thanks!

Jay, although I am a Christ... (Below threshold)
Dodo David:

Jay, although I am a Christian (in spite of my failure to act like one), I have trouble believing that the USA was founded on Judeo-Christian principles because I have yet to read just what those Judeo-Christian principles are. Nobody that I know of has ever spelled them out.

Here is a test. Go through the Bible and find all of the rights that God has given to Man. Does the Bible say that God gave Man the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? No, it doesn't. I know of only one biblical right, and it is found in John 1:12, which reads as follows:

"Yet to all who received him [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he [Jesus] gave the right to become children of God."

It is one thing to say that the Christian faith thrives in the USA, but it is another thing to say that the USA is a Christian nation. The latter claim implies that the majority of U.S. residents behave the way that Christian are supposed to behave, which is a claim that can be disputed.

Is the U.S. a Christian nat... (Below threshold)
Publicus:

Is the U.S. a Christian nation? Well, that depends on what you mean by that phrase. If you mean that many of the citizens self-define themselves as Christians, yep. If you mean that many of the founders defined themselves as Christians, yep. If you mean they would all agree with the "Christian" right...wrong.

Of course, many of the founders were not religious, and some were not Christians. (Tom Paine, Ethan Allen, etc.)

I think most people who are calling America a Christian nation are trying to impose their version of Christianity on the entire country...which is a very un-American thing to do...

By the way, I did link to t... (Below threshold)
Dodo David:

By the way, I did link to this post on my Townhall blog.

Massachusetts was founde... (Below threshold)
mantis:

Massachusetts was founded as a colony where the Puritans could freely practice their version of Christianity.

The Massachusetts Bay Colony was a frighteningly intolerant theocratic establishment; Quakers were hanged simply for entering the colony (and I'm not even going to go into the witchhunts). That the founders saw the folly of relying on the bible as the basis of laws and governance is one of the main reasons our nation has lasted as long as it has.

"And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding." - Thomas Jefferson, 1823

The Christian Faith led ... (Below threshold)
sean nyc/aa:

The Christian Faith led to all the major discoveries in Science, all the major branches were discovered by Christians and their is a reason why, but thats another subject.
jp

False. Jews have quite a history of scientific achievement. Einstein discovered relativity and quantum theory. Bohr was the first to propose modern atomic structure. Freud was the father of modern psychology. Richard Feynman was a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, but specialized in quantum electrodynamics. Milton Friedman in economics. Carl Sagan and Issac Asimov in astromony. Jonas Salk in biology.

Also, our numeric system is Arabic. Arabs also were pioneers of the mathematics of lenses.

The Roman Empire (predating Christianity) advanced the fields of architecture and aqueducts/plumbing.

The Chinese/East Asians were fairly skilled at architecture as well and were the first to work with explosives. The Chinese, and Indians, also have an extensive history of medical achievement, although much of it was anecdotal, not based on scientific evidence.

Finally, agriculture and irrigation predate all modern religions, yet were crucial to the advancement of society.

Christianity, of course, has plenty of its own notable achievements and individuals. Da Vinci, Newton, Hawking (I'm not sure if he's all that religious though); ships/aerodynamics, modern computing, petroleum/chemical/mechanical engineering, molecular biology. However, these modern achievements were done in cooperation with many people who may have varied in their religious backgrounds, and nearly all of them were done in pursuit of secular goals, not in the name of any divine influence.

So to say Christianity led to all major discoveries in science is, as stated earlier, false and certainly borders on arrogance/ignorance.

It seems obvious that the i... (Below threshold)
kim:

It seems obvious that the imperative to consider your neighbor as yourself is intellectually fertile.
=====================================

The Constitution is in part... (Below threshold)

The Constitution is in part based on the biblical principal of separation of powers. Isaiah 33:22

"For the LORD is our judge,
the LORD is our lawgiver,
the LORD is our king;
it is he who will save us."

Judicial, legislative and executive branches if I am not mistaken.


The Constitution is in part... (Below threshold)
John:

The Constitution is in part based on the biblical principal of separation of powers. Isaiah 33:22

I am not sure if you are jokeing of not. I think all governments have three branches or functions. When they are all held by the same person it is called a dictatorship.




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