Writer of several books, Kenneth C. Davis, wrote an opinion piece for CNN arguing that the United States of America was not founded as a Christian country and that the U.S.A. is not a “Christian Nation”.
Davis cites the words of America’s founding fathers such as Thomas Jefferson who wrote that the American government shall build a wall between itself and religion,”Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State … ”
This secularism, I am not arguing. The purpose of separating church and state was to create a government that does not dictate spiritual values as issued by the Christian church, or any church for that matter, but rather acts simply as a tool of the people to provide independence and economic security in a rapidly changing society once ruled by the tyranny of religious leaders and monarchs who used their religion as a vehicle to exercise and validate heinous abuses against the populous.
The founding fathers avoided labeling themselves as strictly “Christians” because of all the old world negativity it brought with the term. Many of them, especially during this turbulent political time, pondered their existence and that of God. Who wouldn’t when faced with certain death in the event that the revolution against the English monarchy had failed? What the founding fathers reflected on and ultimately decided was that, through the evidence of nature around them and their reasoning abilities, there is indeed a God, but rejected the revelations of religions, preferring to see God as a watch maker who created the universe and set it free to let it work itself out without intervention. Some of the most famous deists include a few of the core founding fathers such as George Washington, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin.
Before we get wild and crazy and say, “See! The American government was founded on the principles of Christianity,” let’s consider the following. Deists challenged the Christian dogma with a fury, notably with two publications: one by Herbert called Of Truth (1624) and another by John Toland called Christianity Not Mysterious (1696). These deist books challenged the Christian maxims, something considered ineffable at the time.^1
As referenced in the Jefferson Bible or as it’s formally titled The Life And Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, where Thomas Jefferson reflects on Christianity, God, and Jesus Christ, Jefferson writes to American historian William Canby, “Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus. A more beautiful or precious morsel of ethics I have never seen.” In the Jefferson Bible, he picks and chooses from the writings of the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, removing any supernatural elements. So, we see that while Jefferson believed in Jesus Christ as a person, he questioned Christ as a deity and chose to believe exclusively in Christ’s principles of love and compassion and that Christ himself was a deist. In most Christian religions, it’s essential to consider Jesus Christ as the Son of God and accept his supernatural abilities in order to be “saved” or as a member of the Christian church. So, in effect, the founding fathers were technically not Christians at all, not even by Episcopalian standards as Davis claims many of the founding fathers to be.
Despite this technicality, I go back to my first point that the founding fathers where guided on the principles of love, compassion, as dictated by the words of Jesus Christ and found, by reason, that there is indeed a God. For this period of time where the Church and State (the populous) clashed in a power struggle, this secular government was the middle path: allowing people to have their own beliefs without the inquisition while participating in a non-partial, Lady Justice type of society.
Now, let’s go back to the thesis that U.S.A is not a Christian nation. I have trouble accepting this phrase because when I first saw the title, my eyebrow raised, wondering if this use of terminology is an error between the words state and nation. Referring back to my university studies in international affairs, I couldn’t help hearing the phrase “International Law 101,” in my head, because the difference between state and nation is clear. The accepted definition of state was originally coined by turn of the 20th century English sociologist and political economist, Max Weber, who said that a nation was a collective of people with shared values, customs, languages, and even religions whereas a state is a governmental body defined by national borders and territories. The governmental body does not necessarily have to share the same values or even language of the nation it oversees.
Things do get a bit tricky. Some might argue that the United States is a nation-state, where cultural norms are dictated by state policy. It isn’t. The Constitution specifically lays out a government free from religion, so that the national beliefs do not over power the impartiality of the governmental machine and vice versa. Which, I think, Davis is alluding to with the past and present campaigns of GOP republicans who are trying to create laws and run on political platforms according to Christian beliefs and reinforcing these policies on the incorrect idea that the founding fathers were Christian and supposedly supported a Christian-based government.
Looking at the figures, over 75 percent of Americans today consider themselves to be Christian and that relative number at 72 percent believes that Jesus Christ is the son of God.^2 So, in effect, the nation of America is indeed Christian (with its dozens of sects and all) and believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ, unlike the spiritual beliefs of the founding fathers. The United States, as a state itself, is secular – a government run separately from religion. However, America as a nation, according to the research and by pure definition, is indeed a “Christian nation” and by majority has historically been so long before the founding of its government.
Davis’ opinion piece simply reminds me that the American government is an impartial tool to be used by the people to exact justice and liberty as dictated by the United States constitution and is not a tool for exacting religious propaganda and campaigns, nor should it allow itself to be dictated by the Christian church, or any church for that matter, for purposes of exclusion and persecution as governments and monarchies before and during the time of America’s founding fathers had done for centuries and what Davis alleges the GOP republicans are currently guilty of doing and insists must be stopped.
What are your thoughts on America as a Christian nation? Do you believe the GOP is in the right for exacting their Christian dogmas in creating American policy?
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