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  • Is America a Christian nation?

       February 15, 2010

    I was reading this long article on Texas Christian Conservatives and their efforts to influence school curriculum today. They basically believe that America was explicitly founded as a Christian nation. One Texas school board member says:

    “Textbooks are mostly the product of the liberal establishment, and they’re written with the idea that our religion and our liberty are in conflict,” he said. “But Christianity has had a deep impact on our system. The men who wrote the Constitution were Christians who knew the Bible. Our idea of individual rights comes from the Bible. The Western development of the free-market system owes a lot to biblical principles.”

    I think he's completely wrong, but also somewhat harmless. Another board member states:

    students should be taught the following principles which, in his reading, derive directly from the Declaration of Independence: “1. There is a fixed moral law derived from God and nature. 2. There is a Creator. 3. The Creator gives to man certain unalienable rights. 4. Government exists primarily to protect God-given rights to every individual. 5. Below God-given rights and moral laws, government is directed by the consent of the governed.”

    To me, this isn't an exclusively Christian belief anymore than the Golden Rule is. All of the world's major religions have a sense of moral good. Basically, I think this whole "we're a Christian nation" stuff is just a backlash against some overly zealous interpretation of the separation of church & state. People get pissed when the Ten Commandments are removed from courthouses and signs like this have to be displayed next to a Christmas tree and this is what happens.

    Unfortunately, it's not harmless. One of these board members also protested having a Hindu open a U.S. Senate session with a prayer because “In Hindu [sic], you have not one God, but many, many, many, many, many gods. And certainly that was never in the minds of those who did the Constitution, did the Declaration when they talked about Creator.”

    Sometimes I'm shocked by how little people who want to rewrite history actually know about history. People didn't come to America to evangelize. They came here to practice their faith without being persecuted. They had no vast concept of "Christianity" like we do today. Catholics, Puritans, Quakers and Anglicans weren't some part of a common happy Christian community. When the Pilgrims landed in 1620, they were only eight years removed from the last Englishman burned at the stake for heresy.

    What I mean to say is that a Puritan and a Catholic back then would have felt they were just as different as a Baptist and a Hindu do now. As such, the founding fathers took religious freedom seriously. And it wasn't just for Christians. The words "God" or "Jesus" aren't in the Constitution. That's not just coincidence.

    I actually think the framers would be comforted by the chart below:

    To me, it's a perfect illustration of their vision for America - which wasn't a nation bound by a common religious identity, but rather a nation founded on ideas. In the words of Rufus from Dogma:

    I think it's better to have ideas. You can change an idea. Changing a belief is trickier. Life should malleable and progressive; working from idea to idea permits that. Beliefs anchor you to certain points and limit growth; new ideas can't generate. Life becomes stagnant.

    Imagine how stagnant America would be if she really was a Christian nation exclusively settled by Christians throughout the years. Everything from our culture to our economy has benefited from the kinds of freedoms that attract the best and brightest all of colors and creeds. That's the kind of "city on a hill" that Ronald Reagan so famously described.

    Posted by at February 15, 2010 12:50 PM

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    #  February 15th, 2010 1:41 PM      BVBigBro
    You need to be careful to distinguish between the argument as one between Christian vs. other religions and one of Christiniaty vs. secularism.

    A creator was referenced by the founders because rights conferred by a creator cannot be taken away by some lesser body. That concept may not, in fact, be universal among religions.  
    #  February 15th, 2010 1:51 PM      kris
    I think the founders thought rights were based on natural law and while there is a Christian concept of Natural law the idea goes back to classical times and the founders were certainly influenced by classical philosophy.  
    #  February 15th, 2010 8:20 PM      themandownthehall
    Don't know where I'd come down on the founders and their beliefs, except to say whether they believed it or not, they were God led.

    What I've come to believe is that most of these "put God back in schools" people don't want God in school as much as they want their version of God in school. I remember seein a case here in the south where a Catholic was not allowed to give a prayer because it offended the baptist sensibilities. Now, last I looked, and I'm not Catholic, but I thought they believed in Jesus as much as the baptists did. But no, the Catholic student wasn't allowed and when the lawsuit came, all heck broke out.  



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