Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

April 7, 2009

IT'S NOT A 'CHRISTIAN NATION'.... The U.S. Constitution is, of course, an entirely secular document, but for years, the religious right movement and its allies have been anxious to declare the U.S. a "Christian Nation."

It was great to hear President Obama, during a press conference in Turkey, set the record straight.

At a press conference in Turkey, President Obama casually rebuked the old chestnut that the United States is a Judeo-Christian nation.

"One of the great strengths of the United States," the President said, "is ... we have a very large Christian population -- we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values."

Republicans are, not surprisingly, already criticizing Obama's entirely accurate remarks, and it's probably safe to assume the far-right will be thoroughly displeased.

But is there anything even remotely controversial about what the president actually said? We have a secular constitution that established a secular government. Our laws separate church from state. No religious tradition enjoys official sanction over any other. Of course we're not a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation.

The usual argument is that most of the U.S. population is Christian. That's true, but irrelevant. Most of the U.S. population is white -- does that make the United States a "white nation"? We also hear arguments that most of the Founding Fathers were Christians. That's also true, but also irrelevant. Most of the framers were also men -- does that make our country a "man's nation"?

It's time to retire this old conservative canard. I'm glad to see Obama help out.

Steve Benen 9:30 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (69)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

Joel Barlow, in 1796, and read in the Senate by John Adams, was ratified without dissent: “the Treaty of Tripoli, Article 11. 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 Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan 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.’

Posted by: theAmericanist on April 7, 2009 at 9:37 AM | PERMALINK

Why did John Adams hate America?

Posted by: jeff on April 7, 2009 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

Steve, you seem to be forgetting that the traditional conservative answer to those questions has been "yes."


Posted by: sleepy_commentator on April 7, 2009 at 9:40 AM | PERMALINK

Shorter Benen: if you're a white male Christian American, shut up.

Posted by: Al on April 7, 2009 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

If the Rethuglicans are against it, it must be right. God (no pun intended), it's great to hear Obama state the obvious which, for too long, hasn't been in the theocratic, oligarchic Bush era. I'm no longer embarrassed for my country.

Posted by: Frak on April 7, 2009 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.

Twenty years ago I would have agreed with this. Today, not so much. I would go so far as to say that the Republican Party itself is unbound by any ideals or values. But the ones they claim to be bound by, are not shared by me or many others.

Posted by: Danp on April 7, 2009 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

Obama knows very well how this will be read on the hysterical right. These idjits have been actively referring to the U.S. as a Christian nation for 20 years, considerably stepping up the rhetoric during the Bush administration.

This is very deliberate pushback against the idea that a religious majority translates into a non-secular nation. It's high freaking time a president said it.

Posted by: shortstop on April 7, 2009 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

This is going to make the War on Christmas look like the first opening act at a heavy metal concert with six bands on the bill. This could be the main event.

Posted by: Saint Zak on April 7, 2009 at 9:42 AM | PERMALINK

It's about time someone at the national level take back our history! My thanks to President Obama. Those who would criticize such accurate remarks about our nation's heritage are insecure in their own faith and they can't pin that on our secular society! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 7, 2009 at 9:45 AM | PERMALINK

But is there anything even remotely controversial about what the president actually said?

It is absolutely controversial. It is apt to give rise to public disagreement.

The real question is whether or not what the president said was true, and the answer is yes, it's true, whether it's controversial or not. One could argue, I suppose, that it shouldn't be controversial, but in our postmodern world people make personal commitments to ideologies much more than to reason or history; that is, it's no longer possible to render an idea noncontroversial by demonstrating its historicity or its rationality.

Posted by: Spanky on April 7, 2009 at 9:48 AM | PERMALINK

"Most of the framers were men"? Which ones were the women? Just asking.

Posted by: P4L on April 7, 2009 at 9:51 AM | PERMALINK

"Most of the framers were men"? Which ones were the women? Just asking.

What, you didn't see "The Crying Game" of 1776?

Posted by: Spanky on April 7, 2009 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

At long last, we, Fluid Druids, can come out of the closet. Join us, as well, Zarathustra Boostas. We can join hands and sing "Give Me That Old Time Religion", once again.

Posted by: berttheclock on April 7, 2009 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

God I despise religious tribalism. Actually it really has nothing to do with religion. Conservatives use religion as the bludgeon, but what they're really after is cultural dominance.

Posted by: Del Capslock on April 7, 2009 at 9:57 AM | PERMALINK

We also hear arguments that most of the Founding Fathers were Christians. That's also true....

Actually most were Deists but not Christians. Look it up.

The "Christian" concept at the time meant either a quasi-governmental organization like the Catholics or Anglicans, or the extreme far-right wackos like the Mayflower pilgrims and the puritans who followed.

Obviously the Catholic and Anglican organizations were intensely political and were considered just as untrustworthy as the monarchy governments of the era.

The pilgrims, on the other hand, were (despite our Thanksgiving mythmaking) as nuts as any fundamentalist group today. They were thrown out of Holland because they kept disrupting all other church services telling the congregations that they were going to hell. They journeyed to America with insufficient preparations or provisions because "God was guiding them" and promptly suffered a 50% death rate in their first winter. They used the local natives to learn how to survive then turned around and killed those same natives on the grounds that they were heathens. And don't get me started about the witch trials that came later in Massachusetts.

Yeah, Mass. is liberal today, but back then they were like Idaho and Oklahoma only crazier.

The main reason the founding fathers so resisted injecting any religion in government was because they knew the states harbored so many religious extremists, and that there was no way to create any kind of compromise governmental religion that could satisfy all the nutcases. The only solution was no religion whatsoever, and that's what they came up with.

Posted by: Cool on April 7, 2009 at 10:04 AM | PERMALINK

"Ave Maria, gee it's good to see ya, doin' that Vatican Rag" - T. Lehrer

Posted by: G.Kerby on April 7, 2009 at 10:08 AM | PERMALINK

"it's no longer possible to render an idea noncontroversial by demonstrating its historicity or its rationality."

Ever since Republicans have feigned Christian morality to win over the gullible Christian right movement, this unholy alliance has created an attack on rationality and history. And by Christian right, I'm not referring to the majority of Christians in this country, but rather the snake oil peddling televangelist type leaders that prey on, rather than pray on, these people.

Posted by: palinoscopy on April 7, 2009 at 10:10 AM | PERMALINK

'Most of the U.S. population is white -- does that make the United States a "white nation"?'

Most of the U.S. population is ill-informed by the media -- does that make the United States an "ignorant nation"?

Hmmmmm.

Posted by: Hedley Lamarr on April 7, 2009 at 10:20 AM | PERMALINK

Interesting juxtaposition of this article with the one immediately following (about medical professionals being employed by the government to facilitate torture sessions). The people who will scream loudest in outrage over Obama's statement about the US not being a Christian nation are the same ones who would fully support these torture doctors.

Because torture is EXACTLY what Jesus preached.

Posted by: Kreniigh on April 7, 2009 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

The Right misses the POTUS who said that the .."
US Constitution is just a goddamn piece of paper, stop waving it in my face."

The Right can't stand the fact that our current POTUS happens to be an expert in Constitutional law.


Posted by: Tom Nicholson on April 7, 2009 at 10:30 AM | PERMALINK

When I heard Obama say this yesterday, it was like he finally let the cat out of the bag, and I fully expected the next silly assault from the right-wing fundies to quickly follow as their heads exploded over the pronouncement. With Crazy Lady Bachman's Chicken Little dire warning the other day that Obama and the Libs were about to set up "re-education camps" of the nation's youth, I expect that she will be elbowing others out of the way to get to the head of the line to proclaim to all that will listen to her claptrap that her worst fears about Obama are TRUE!

Posted by: sparrow on April 7, 2009 at 10:32 AM | PERMALINK

@Spanky 9:48

"In our postmodern world"? When has rationality ever triumphed over faith and prejudice without a fight? It's laughable to pretend we've fallen from some golden era when reason and logic reigned and our leaders were sensible philosopher-kings. If you think otherwise, I'm sure there are plenty of doctors who would be glad to check out your humors for you.

Posted by: fumphis on April 7, 2009 at 10:40 AM | PERMALINK

Females outnumber males in the US. Do the "we're a Christian nation" guys think we're also a female nation?

Posted by: Emily on April 7, 2009 at 10:42 AM | PERMALINK

Shorter Benen: if you're a white male Christian American, shut up.

White male Christians whine about being told to shut up (by imaginary people, apparently) as a cover for the fact that they have nothing to say.

Whiniest, most useless people on earth.

Posted by: JM on April 7, 2009 at 10:44 AM | PERMALINK

The comments by Cool above are spot on. The majority of the founding fathers were, in fact, Deists. Most prominently, both Jefferson and John Adams were Deists, and they were the dominant minds in the Revolution. Other Deists: Madison, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Quincy Adams...the list is extensive. Then, of course, Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen both wrote extensively on Deism....

Evangelists/fundamentalists at the time thought that Deists were not Christians. "The founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected [Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Jackson] not a one had professed a belief in Christianity...." The Reverend Doctor Bird Wilson, an Episcopal minister in Albany, New York, in a sermon preached in October, 1831.

On that basis, perhaps it is more accurate to say that this country is an Infidel Nation...

Posted by: Jon on April 7, 2009 at 10:46 AM | PERMALINK

I just love the smell of Xianist heads exploding in the morning.

Posted by: jcricket on April 7, 2009 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

We also hear arguments that most of the Founding Fathers were Christians.

"I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature." -- Thomas Jefferson

"It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." -- Thomas Jefferson

"I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of. My own mind is my own church." -- Thomas Paine

Yeah, these guys were real fundies. Who am I to ever have doubted it?

Posted by: Screamin' Demon on April 7, 2009 at 10:49 AM | PERMALINK

... and a hundred years later, Abraham Lincoln stated unequivocally that he was not a Christian. Yet his references to a "creator" have been (ab)used by religious extremists in this country to lie about our history.

Thumbnail sketch of Deism: no miracles, no prophecy. Therefore: not Christians.

Posted by: JM on April 7, 2009 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

If we're going strictly by the largest demographics, then we're a white-heterosexual-protestant-female-between-the-ages- of-35-and-44 nation.

So I guess being Catholic, and male, and 30, makes me unAmerican. Drat.

Posted by: Hoosier Paul on April 7, 2009 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

Nice try, but as much as you hate it and as much as I hate it, this is a Christian Nation.
- The foundation of our justice systems, the courts, rely on a vow to god to tell the truth.
- Our National Anthem contains these words, "And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust'."
- Our currency states "In God we Trust"
- Our most celebrated holiday is Christian
- Almost all major life occurrences in this country are endorsed/witnessed by god, birth, marriage, divorce, death.
- You would be hard pressed to go an entire day without hearing or seeing the word 'god'.
- The Bible has been the most sold book in the US since 1776.
- Public figures would be ruined if they denounced christianity/god.

I am sure I could do this all day.
There is a never ending homage to god in this country, whether it's tradition, or started yesterday, we as a people are wired into god through christianity.

I have heard others (from other countries)refer to this country as anglo and there are actually more women then men. And last but not least, if there were as many schools as churches, we would most definitely be a smart nation.

Posted by: ScottW on April 7, 2009 at 11:00 AM | PERMALINK
The foundation of our justice systems, the courts, rely on a vow to god to tell the truth.
Sorry, but the "god" part of that oath is optional.
Our currency states "In God we Trust"

Added in the 1800s, at the insistence of a Christian whiner.

Our most celebrated holiday is Christian

Thanksgiving is Christian? Who knew?

Almost all major life occurrences in this country are endorsed/witnessed by god, birth, marriage, divorce, death.

For Christians, perhaps. Non-believers would be surprised to find this out.

You would be hard pressed to go an entire day without hearing or seeing the word 'god'.

I'm also hard-pressed to go the entire day without seeing a TV, cellphone or Internet so this must be a "television/cellphone/Internet nation". Sorry, but that's the "10 billion flies can't be wrong" argument, flawed for obvious reasons.

Posted by: Phil on April 7, 2009 at 11:07 AM | PERMALINK
Shorter Benen: if you're a white male Christian American, shut up.

Shorter Al: Waaaaah!!!!

Actual shorter Benen: If you're not a white male Christian American, speak up. It's your country too.

Posted by: nonc on April 7, 2009 at 11:13 AM | PERMALINK

Great step by a great president. Now if only someone who is actually a follower of Christ would stand up and point out that the Republican Party is not a Christian organization and, in fact has increasingly for eight years defended decidedly un-Christian values. It might be helpful.

But in this world of Saddleback churches, where might one find an actual follower of Christ's teachings?

Posted by: Capt Kirk on April 7, 2009 at 11:27 AM | PERMALINK

- The foundation of our justice systems, the courts, rely on a vow to god to tell the truth.

Fail. Despite what you see on TV, swearing an oath to god is entirely optional; if you prefer, you can simply affirm to tell the truth, or you can swear to Zeus, Odin, Moloch-Baal, or the Earth Mother Gaia.

Posted by: Stefan on April 7, 2009 at 11:33 AM | PERMALINK

Thanksgiving is Christian? Who knew?

If pre-Thanksgiving Christians knew we were feasting on a day called "Thanksgiving," they would have been scandalized. "Thanksgiving" days were for fasting.

The silliest thing about this "Christian nation" nonsense is that it is spread by people who know nothing about either Christianity or our nation.

ScottW is exhibit 'A.'

Posted by: JM on April 7, 2009 at 11:46 AM | PERMALINK

By the way....what exactly is "Judeo-Christian"? What aspect of the US legal system is based on anything uniquely biblical? For those of you who favor the notion that this country has some "Judeo-Christian" tradition we're built on, perhaps you could be a bit more specific. What exactly do you mean?

Posted by: Jon on April 7, 2009 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Let's assume America is a Christian nation. That being the case, the next question is "which one?" Is it a Mormon nation? Is it a Catholic nation? Is it a Baptist nation? Is it an Episcopalian nation? And so on and so on. If you pick one, then you've dissed all the others. If you say it is all of them, then you've minimized the very real and important differences between the Christian sects.

One other point is kind of important and that is that many of the early Americans came to America to escape religious persecution. These were Christians who were being persecuted in their native lands. And you know who was persecuting them? Other Christians (Catholics persecuting Protestants and vice-versa, for example). This suggests another big reason for the separation of church and state. It is not just to protect religion from government and government from religion, it is also to protect religions from each other.

Posted by: JCtx on April 7, 2009 at 11:53 AM | PERMALINK

Phil.
So the question really is how do you measure something that is opinion, opinion polls. I would argue strongly that if you asked people of all nations, "Is America a Christian Nation ?" the answer would be far more yes's then no's.

Just because you don't believe and I don't believe doesn't mean we can simply dismiss the christian influence over every facet of our lives. They regulate, or at least try, the population, medications, school curriculum, secular policy, and they interwoven their beliefs into the secular areas like no other country (christian). I would be hard pressed to find an issue that hasn't been influenced by christianity.

And these stupid analogies, cell phones and tv's, are silly. The word 'god' on currency or in an oath or invoked before a meal has very strong implications. Seeing your phone or TV doesn't imply that some omnipotent being is responsible for your service.

And what in the hell does "10 billion flies can't be wrong", mean ? Seriously, the obvious reasons aren't so obvious. If you mean that 250 millions christians can't be wrong, well you missing the point, the point is 10 billions flies in an area might be considered a fly nation (infestation) regardless if they are wrong or right.

Posted by: ScottW on April 7, 2009 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

A lot of people, including Steve benen are confusing the terms "nation" and "state." A nation is the culture and traditions of a people. Astate is the organization which governs a particular geographic area.

The US Constitution defines the nature of the state, but can say nothing about the American people. The constitutional separation of church and state makes it clear that we do not live in a Christian state, but that is absolutely irrelevant to the question of whether or not the American nation is Christian or not.

The overwhelming majority of Americans, both currently and historically, have espoused some form of Christian faith and our cultural traditions have been strongly ifluenced by that faith. Slavery was both justified and reviled largely upon appela to "Christian" values. the Civil Rights movement was directed largely by Christian clergy and Christian activists, etc...

That said, I think that those who argue that this is a Christian nation, are overstating the case. Christianity has had a powerful, but by no means exclusive influence on the development of the American nation. Not only has the nation been influenced by many non-Christian traditions, but other influences come into play even among Christian Americans. Just because a person is a Christian does not mean that he or she cannot or is not influenced by non-religious considerations.

Dismissing those who claim that we are a Christian nation is not, however, as absurd or intolerant as some here have suggested.

Posted by: Chesire11 on April 7, 2009 at 12:13 PM | PERMALINK

I would suggest that ScottW's list would indicate only that America is the most hypocritical nation on earth. These items he mentions could very easily be incorporated into a "Modern Pharisee Handbook".

True Christianity would ultimately involve a belief in and adherence to the teachings of Christ. Read your list again, ScottW, and point out which was discussed in the Beatitudes or any of the teachings of Jesus. They are not discussed because they are the mere window dressings of charlatans who would attempt to gain Christ's endorsement of their prideful sins.

Jesus Christ never sought a "Christian Nation", to the contrary, his message is one of personal faith and witness through humility. Flag waving pride and self glorification play no part in anything Chritian.

Posted by: Capt Kirk on April 7, 2009 at 12:17 PM | PERMALINK

"The silliest thing about this "Christian nation" nonsense is that it is spread by people who know nothing about either Christianity or our nation.

ScottW is exhibit 'A.'"
Posted by: JM on April 7, 2009 at 11:46 AM
--------------------------------------------
Did you even read what I posted ?
Christians influence every aspect our our 'secular' government. The more important question is how are we not a christian nation ? Because the the Constitution neglects the word, because we say so, seriously, in our history we have had what, maybe 20 of 1000's lawmakers that are not christian, we have never had a non-christian leader. Separation of church and state is a joke, it's a bumper sticker, if it were true I might be able to go one day w/o some secular recognition of god.

I don't like it any better then you, but I don't like torture either, but we are a nation that tortures. It goes against everything we were founded on, what we are suppose to believe, and it does greater harm then good, but acting like we aren't a nation that tortures is simply projecting your wishes, rather then recognizing the truth.

But thanks all for implying or straight out saying that I don't know what I am talking about because I happen to disagree.

Posted by: ScottW on April 7, 2009 at 12:21 PM | PERMALINK

Capt Kirk makes a good point. I have often said 9and written) that the American strain of Christianity has remarkably little to do with Christian teachings. Instead, what we have is largely a neo-pagan, jingoistic religion in which Jesus Christ is a capitalist, American crime fighting superhero who, with the help of his faithful sidekick, Santa Claus promises to make everybody rich and safe from brown people, amen.

The number of authentically Christian Americans is remarkably small.

Posted by: Chesire11 on April 7, 2009 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

There is obviously no universally agreed-upon definition of what it means to "be Christian".

Since the meaning of the term "Christian" is undefined, or at best extremely ill-defined, the term "Christian nation" is necessarily undefined, or at best ill-defined.

The proper response to somewhat who asserts that the USA is -- or is not -- a "Christian nation" is to ask what, exactly, they mean by "Christian" and how, exactly, one can determine empirically whether or not the USA as a "nation" is "Christian" or not according to their definition.

Obama's use of the term seems pretty clear to me. He was asserting that the US government is Constitionally secular and thus does not officially endorse or support Christianity, in particularly Christianity as opposed to other religions, and particularly with regard to US foreign policy towards other nations.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on April 7, 2009 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

we have never had a non-christian leader

Hey, ScottW, ya wanna, like, READ the comments before you respond? You'll find that your modern concept of Christianity was not shared by the early leaders of America. They believed in God, yes, but not the Christian myth.

Our most celebrated holiday is Christian

Yep the Bible describes Christmas Trees and Santa Claus and Rudolph in great detail.

And as for all that whining about how "secular" and "commercial" Christmas has become? I can find you mainstream newspaper editorials from the early 20th century making the same points. Christmas has *always* been a celebration of things not related to the myth of the virgin birth.

And as for Easter -- the Bible is all over those eggs and the bunnies as examples of spring fertility rites. Yep.

Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!

But He loves you.

He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more.

Posted by: Cool on April 7, 2009 at 12:43 PM | PERMALINK

Scott W cites a long list of...well, let's just say a long list of stuff...to prove that this is a "Christian nation." He does not, however, quote from the Constitution of the United States. That's a strange omission, since it is, after all, "the Supreme law of the Land."

There are, in fact, two mentions of religion in the Constitution. Here they are:

Article VI: "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

Amendment 1: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

The question for Scott W is, what part of "no" don't you understand?

Posted by: CMcC on April 7, 2009 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

For the 3rd time, I am not a christian.

It's like right wing nuts here some days. It is impossible to simply have a discussing w/o others assuming I christian because I have the audacity to argue that America is a christian nation. Now I made fun of for believes I don't have. Shawn Hannity take me away.... oh, and that was a joke.

If you think I like the US being considered a christian nation, go back and take remedial reading comprehension because I never said that nor did I ever imply it.

Oh and I did mention the Constitution, you just neglected to either read that post or failed to mention it in your post. Either way, you misrepresented what I wrote or what my point was.

Like it or not, the world views us as a christian nation, just about every lawmaker, including all presidents were christian. We can act like there is a separation, but their isn't, separation would keep the word of god out of everything secular, and it doesn't. Do I like that no, but it's pretty obvious god is behind almost every agenda, every policy, every action this country takes and that to me is a christian nation.

Just because you don't like it or have this ideology that the secular arm of this country is somehow magically castrated from the christian arm is pretty god damn naive.

Posted by: ScottW on April 7, 2009 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

It is impossible to simply have a discussing w/o others assuming I christian because I have the audacity to argue that America is a christian nation.

Others have already refuted your main talking points. Being a nation largely composed of and influenced by Christians is not the same thing as saying we are a Christian nation.

Posted by: qwerty on April 7, 2009 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

Like it or not, the world views us as a christian nation, just about every lawmaker, including all presidents were christian.

As has been written above, all presidents were not Christian. Many if not most of the early presidents were non-believers.

Posted by: Stefan on April 7, 2009 at 1:50 PM | PERMALINK

I would argue strongly that if you asked people of all nations, "Is America a Christian Nation ?" the answer would be far more yes's then no's.

What if you asked "Is America a Roman Catholic Nation?" After all, Roman Catholics are still the single largest Christian denomination in the United States.

How about, "Is America a Southern Baptist Nation?"

That's the problem with your argument -- you're claiming a generalized, generic "Christianity" that doesn't actually exist. Those Ten Commandments that various people keep trying to post in public places? Those are the Protestant Ten Commandments. The Roman Catholic and Jewish Ten Commandments are different than the Protestant ones. The lawsuit against that school in Texas that had prayers in school was brought by Mormon, Roman Catholic, and Jewish families, because the prayers being offered were Baptist ones.

Ask an evangelical sometime if a Roman Catholic is a real Christian. 9 times out of 10, they will tell you, "No." In fact, 9 times out of 10, they'll tell you that anyone who doesn't belong to their specific church isn't a real Christian. And yet they'll still try to claim that the US is a "Christian nation" even though they think that 90% of the people who identify themselves as some form of Christian aren't actually Christian.

Is the United States a culturally Christian nation? In some ways, yes, if you want to argue that people of all faiths spent a lot of time in the early 1900s promoting a generic, generalized idea of "Christianity" that they could put into movies and (later) radio and TV shows. Neal Gabler has a fascinating book, An Empire of Their Own, where he talks about how most of our current ideas of "America" were created by Jewish immigrants from Europe. That's right, the vision of a "Christian" America that we've been operating from for almost a hundred years was invented by Jewish movie moguls.

Posted by: Mnemosyne on April 7, 2009 at 2:05 PM | PERMALINK

OK ScottW - Let's take this to its basic points. Please define what you mean by "Christian nation." Please assume, for the sake of this discussion, that "belief in God" or mention of god, (which appear to be the central argument you make) is not sufficient to make this nation Christian. Israel is full of people who believe in God. They're not a Christian nation. Saudi Arabia, the home of the 9/11 hijackers, is a nation filled with believers in God. The 9/11 hijackers CERTAINLY believed in God, since they fully expected to be with God the moment they blew themselves up. Almost every Saudi Arabian prays five times a day to God. This doesn't make them a Christian nation.

Further, since the Bible says, "You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe -- and shudder." (James 2:19), belief in God is insufficient for being a Christian.

So...what makes us a "Christian nation"?

Posted by: Jon on April 7, 2009 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK


- The foundation of our justice systems, the courts, rely on a vow to god to tell the truth.
- Our National Anthem contains these words, "And this be our motto: 'In God is our trust'."
- Our currency states "In God we Trust"

I (and, like, four other people) favor getting rid of this stuff, along with restoring the original "under God"-less version of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Among liberals, a lot of people agree this stuff is nonsense. And that the Constitutional doctrine invoked for allowing it to remain in place (ceremonial deism) is ridiculous. But they argue it's not worth the trouble.

But there's a real cost for not making a forward defense of church-state separation, which is that ScottW has plenty of ammunition for his argument. Many more people then find his argument plausible.

This yields more - and more aggressive - denial of church-state separation. Which in turn yields more agressive attacks on it.

If we cleaned this stuff off the books, it would undercut their argument. (Why do you think they put this stuff on the books, except to undercut our argument?) And this would make broader attacks on the "wall of separation" less likely and less forceful.

Posted by: foxtrotsky on April 7, 2009 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

As has been written above, all presidents were not Christian. Many if not most of the early presidents were non-believers.

That doesn't take into account the presidents (and other lawmakers) who pretended, or pretend, to be Christian because to do otherwise would be to be unelectable.

Wilson? Almost certainly not a real believer. Teddy Roosevelt? Probably not. Johnson? Probably not. Nixon? Almost certainly not. Ford? Probably not. GHW Bush? Probably not. Clinton? Probably not.

Since the Great Depression the only Presidents to make a big deal of their religion were Carter and the second Bush -- ironically the two who are generally ranked the worst of that bunch.

Posted by: Cool on April 7, 2009 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Just to reiterate, the Constitution is irrelevant to the quetion of whether the United States is a Christian nation or not.

The Constitution is the foundational legal document which defines the role, powers and limitations of the government/state.

The nation is the people and is self-defining.

There is no question but that we are governed by a secular state. the question is whether the nation is secular or not. It would take some fancy arguments to prove that the American nation is secular!

Also, Christianity is generally defined as any religion which subscribes to the tenets of the Apostles' Creed. This would exclude Unitarians, Mormons and a few other sects, but makes for a pretty reasonable working definition.

Posted by: Chesire11 on April 7, 2009 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

Jon.
I used god like twice and christian about 50. I was getting tired of typing christian, you knew what I meant by god, which was the christian definition of god.

That aside you ask a difficult question, what is the definition of christian nation. What makes an Islamic nation or a jewish nation. Thinking about it, that answer is far too complex to answer here.

Let me ask you this, what makes a nation secular ? I would say a nation is secular when religious wing has little of no bearing on the secular state, either it's laws, traditions, or it's people. Really all three are one in the same, the more influence religion has over one, the more it will invariably have over the others. You can't have an extremely religious population w/o it effecting laws and traditions.

In my opinion, christianity exerts its influence over ever facet of out lives, from women's rights, to scientific research, to school curriculum, to speech, to how the secular arm spends money helping the the less fortunate. In each of these instances, the state is strongly influenced by christianity. Our law pretends that there is a separation, it even states it, but that isn't where this country is at, today.

In a secular nation, the religious wing would have little influence, not in the America I live in. Swear on TV, try and pull the plug on a family member, claim we are secular on a world stage, try and get certain prescriptions, experiment on embryos, marriage, executions, abortions, wars, pretty much all the major hot button issues are all issues in which christianity has a major role in shaping those policies.

I just don't see how anyone can say that christianity isn't the driving force behind most of our policies, domestic and abroad. Recently we (arguably) elected a leader that stated in public he took directions from god. It's not he even meant it, it's that this nation really has no issues with a leader taking directions from a (christian) god.

Arguing that I am an idiot for making the argument that we are christian is pretty weak, you might not agree, but you can hardly act like the claim is ludicrous. And making posts about the validity of jesus and the bible has nothing to do with this conversation. If you think we aren't a christian I think you could concede that we aren't far from it. So I will stick to my original argument, we are a christian nation.

Posted by: ScottW on April 7, 2009 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

Most people in America have hair.

That makes us a haired nation.

This is deeply important and everyone needs to hear about it.

Posted by: alan on April 7, 2009 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

What makes any group of people a Nation? Any idea, activity, or belief that they see as a unifying force, preferably unique to that group. Ever since 1517, religion has been a devisive force- if it hadn't been for the 1st amendment and the slavery-based civil war we might have had a Calvinist vs Anglican civil war instead, with both sides massacring Catholics and Jews.
I think I understand the point ScottW is trying to make, but I don't think he is right. The law court claim isn't true, although there were abuses in the past. We've had at least 8 non-christian presidents. (4 Unitarians-Adams, Q Adams, Fillmore, Taft; 2 proclaimed Deists- Jefferson, Madison; 2 no-one-knows- Washington, Lincoln. Data on Monroe and Jackson are iffy unless someone can point me to some.)
No one stoned Ingersoll to death 130 years ago- he was famous and in demand as a speaker. An opinion poll might show that 75% of US citizens think we are a Christian nation, but the same poll might show that 75% think Timbuktu is in China. That doesn't chane geography. If we really were a Christian nation, the current pushback versus the claim wouldn't be working. ScottW needs a warm fuzzy or a cold beer, then a good night's sleep. We'll win this thing.

Posted by: Tim H on April 7, 2009 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, the Founding Fathers were not Christian in the modern sense at all. If they were religious, it was a form of deism so loose that it would fall outside of liberal Protestant theology. Adams was a Unitarian, Washington and Jefferson were deists, Franklin seldom attended church and professed belief in one god, but no creed. These guys weren't just political rebels. Those who argue for a shared Christian theology among the giants who founded this nation depend on the ignorance of their audience to avoid challenges.

Posted by: Eric on April 7, 2009 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK

ScottW, I never called you an idiot. Go back and read my posts.

Posted by: Jon on April 7, 2009 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

"Just to reiterate, the Constitution is irrelevant to the quetion of whether the United States is a Christian nation or not."

Then what exactly is relevant? When people say that the "United States" is a Christian nation,
what they mean by "United States" is the political entity which goes by that name. So the Constitution, the governing document of this entity, is anything but "irrelevant."

Posted by: Lee on April 7, 2009 at 3:51 PM | PERMALINK

ScottW, I hear what you are saying, and I am not in general disagreement with your observations. Me thinks you have taken a bit too much grief from others who are writing as extentions of their own prejudged review of your points.

I see your statements as representative of a de facto element of Christianity (whatever its form is at any time) in our nation's history, its self-identity and its policy actions. I have extended family who unwaveringly ascribe to ours as a Christian nation. Whether they are right or wrong in light of a varifiable history is irrelevant to them, and I think that was part of the observations you were making ScottW. Thank you for your thoughts! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on April 7, 2009 at 5:29 PM | PERMALINK

Lee-

What is relevant to whether or not the nation is Christian or not are the traditions and culture. Generally speaking, what people mean when they debate whether the United States is a Christian nation or not is whether the people who are citizens of the territory governed by the United States are of Christian culture and tradition. They usually aren't limiting disagreeing over whetehr the organs of state are governed by a religious organization.

The state = the government; the nation = the people.

I hope this clarifies things.

Posted by: Chesire11 on April 7, 2009 at 5:52 PM | PERMALINK

One site led to another to here. I don't know why. ButI did read your article even though it made me physically sick. I am a Christian. I am a Christian living in what once was the greatest country in this world. But America is no longer the greatest country. In a few short weeks we've fallen into the deepest hole of which there is probably no digging out. Yes, this country was founded on freedom of religion, but it was Christians who founded this great land, not Muslims, not Buddhists, not Hindus or any other group. Where were these groups when we were fighting for our freedom from Britian?? In 1776?? You know, right now it's all about Obama. He walks on water as far as you're concerned. He can do or say no wrong. But everything must have a pay day. And it will come sooner or later. If it wasn't for what our ancestors fought and died for and believed in, you wouldn't have what you do today, wouldn't be able to say what you say today. If this was a Muslim country, you would be printing what the Muslim authorities would tell you to print, and that goes for any other authoritarian state. And women? What do you think you would be wearing or doing? I don't know if you're all a bunch of kool-aid drinkers or idiots. You don't see beyond the end of your noses. It's all about you. Our ancestors also came to this country because it was great. It was great to be an American. To learn the American ways, not to make Americans already here learn their ways. Yes, people kept their traditions, their faiths, but they were American and proud of it. Not anymore. Your Obama isn't even proud of his country. He even has the nerve when speaking to say "we" are arrogant, and to apologize for "us". He does not speak for me. And where would Europe be today if it wasn't for us during WWII and taking out Hitler?? France wouldn't even defend itself from the Nazi's!! Is that what you want to?? I think Obama's words and actions are arrogant. And I think you are very naive.

Posted by: Joan on April 7, 2009 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK

Chesire11,

Who exactly died and made you the ultimate authority on this subject? Different people use "state" and "nation" to mean different things. Popular usage doesn't always conform to dictionary definitions, which themselves can differ greatly from one source to another.

And on this issue, I just don't agree with you. Most people who use the term "Christian nation," IMHO, use it with an inference that the U.S. government should promote Christianity in some way (for example, by outlawing abortion). I have rarely heard anyone use this phrase who does not have some sort of a political agenda.

Posted by: Lee on April 7, 2009 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

Lee-

No one died and made me the ultimate authority on the matter, I simply provided the defintions of the terms state and nation commonly accepted by political scientists. Different people do use the terms to mean different things, but that is because they are misusing the terms. I am sorry if you don't like them, but they do have very specific, widely agreed definitions. Whether you personally like or agree with the accepted definitions is sort of...well...irrelevant.

I agree that most people asserting that we live in a "Christian nation" do so to advance a political agenda, but political scientists have coined another term for that - democracy.

As I mentioned earlier, I think claims that our nation is intrinsically Christian are overblown, but are hardly baseless and countering the assertion by arguing that we are governed by a secular state makes about as much sense as trying to determine whether cats are mammals by examining a fish. There's just no relevance.

Posted by: Chesire11 on April 7, 2009 at 7:58 PM | PERMALINK

"Different people do use the terms to mean different things, but that is because they are misusing the terms."

Well, when enough people use a term a certain way, that becomes the effective meaning of the term. Technically, it's inaccurate to refer to anti-Jewish feeling as "anti-Semitism," since Semites include Arabs and others, not just Jews. Arabs sometimes use this to argue that they themselves can't be anti-Semitic. But since anti-Semitism is generally used to mean anti-Jewish, that's what the term effectively means.

Posted by: Lee on April 7, 2009 at 8:13 PM | PERMALINK

Joan-

You are correct, a majority of the patriots who fought for our independence from Britain were Christians - of course, a majority of loyalists to teh crown were also Christian as were the British soldiers who fought to deny us our freedom. I might also point out that a majority of those who dispossessed the American Indians were Christians, so were the overwhelming majority of slaveowners as were most of those who fought to disolve our union during the Civil War.

I too am a Christian, and am grieved that our country has not lived up to its potential, but we have failed, because the self-proclaimed "Christians" in this country have all too often failed to live the principles they espouse.

BTW, there was another president who felt that the United States behaved with arrogance in foreign affairs and called for a "more humble" foreign policy. Of course, that was George W. Bush back when he was running for president back in 2000. Was he not proud of America too? What Barack Obama was apologizing for was the arrogance of the previous adminsitration, not for the American people. Judging by the results of the last two elections, it appears that a large majority of Americans agree with him.

Also, you might want to review some world history. By 1939, the French had still not recovered from the loss of roughly 1.5 million killed in the First World War, which was largely fought on their territory - their somewhat anemic resistance to the Blitzkrieg is perhaps not surprising in light of the devastation they sufferred two decades earlier.

In point of fact, the Soviet Union did far more to defeat Nazi Germany than did the United States. More than 27 million Soviets died fighting the Germans and nine out of ten German soldiers killed during the war died on the eastern front. The United States contributed a great deal of material to the war effort and to untimate victory in Europe, but quite frankly any claim that we "took out Hitler" is laughable.

Finally, they are called "paragraphs" you might want to look them up as well before scolding people for their ignorance. It might make your case a little more convincing.

Posted by: Chesire11 on April 7, 2009 at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK

If a majority of people refer to whales as fish, does that make them fish? Nation and state are very specific terms with generally agreed meanings. Unless and until a preponderance of poltical scientists agree to new definitions for these terms, that is what they mean. I'm sorry if some people misuse the wordss, but I am reluctant to defer to ignorance - especially in a poltical discussion.

Posted by: Chesire11 on April 7, 2009 at 8:32 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry Lee, I just re-read my response to you and realized it comes across as unduly harsh. I apologize for that, I was in a hurry and distracted when I wrote it. It was not my intent to be obnoxious!

Posted by: Chesire11 on April 7, 2009 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

The fact that the writers and ratifiers of the Constitution were at least nominally Christian underscores even more dramatically the importance that Christianity did not become a state religion, did not even get an "honorable mention" in the nation's founding legal document. There were great pressures on the Constitutional Convention to formalize Christianity in some way. Luckily, the practitioners of the various Christian sects themselves provided the best rationale for not doing that, since no one could agree on which form of Christianity would be favored. That Christianity is not our state religion is not an oversight or an accident but is due to an act of extreme diligence and deliberateness. IOW, these men went out of their way to make sure that there was to be no favored religion in this country.

Posted by: digitusmedius on April 7, 2009 at 8:45 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly