Is the United States a Christian Nation?

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What is a Christian nation?

This is a hell of a question to start out this debate.  But it’s the only way that we’ll make any kind of headway.  We have to define our terms before we set out or we’ll just end up in a game of semantics.

I think the best way of answering this is by comparing the United States to other nations around the world.  For example, clearly the United States is more influenced by Christianity than The Netherlands.  We have laws against incest and (in some states) sodomy because of our Christian influence.

However, a nation that is influenced by a group of people doesn’t mean that it is founded on their principles.  For example, would we say that the United States is a White nation?  Of course not.  In fact, that’s a great way of getting your ass kicked.  Even though the founding documents were written by white people, we do not consider ourselves a White nation.

What is a Muslim Nation?

A Muslim nation is a nation where Sharia (Islamic law) is enforced.   Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, and Yemen all enforce Sharia law.  In these communities, religious law is civil and criminal law.  Often, beards must be worn at certain lengths and women must cover their bodies completely or they will face criminal charges from the state.

What about our history?

So do we enforce the Ten Commandments in the Bible?  Have we ever?  The answer is yes and no.  During the days of the Puritans, the United States was a much different country.  Witches were burned at the stake and adulterers were made to bear the infamous A.  But these laws were a distortion of our Constitution.

The First Amendment of the Constitution reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Pretty clearly stated.  Our founding fathers escaped religious persecution to establish this nation.  The last thing they wanted to do was create a country that made all the same mistakes their homeland did.  Even though certain communities did adopt some Christian law into their governing arsenal, it turned out pretty terribly.  I think you’ll find few people willing to defend the Salem Witch Trials.

What about the law?

The Christian law never changes.  It was written in the books of the Bible 2000 years ago and there have been few amendments to it since.  However, our founding fathers purposely established this country in a way so that laws could change.  At the will of the people, through their representatives in Congress, we can change the laws by which we live.

Pound of Flesh?

Pound of Flesh?

The founding fathers knew the Bible.  Many of them were Christian.  But they purposely did not establish Christian law as United States law.   Even though many were devout Christians, the governing principles of the nation were purposely establish with no religion in mind.  Even though God/Creator/Supreme Judge is mentioned in some of our founding documents, there is no mention of biblical law or Jesus.

What about the faith of the founding fathers?

Many of the founding fathers were Christians and others were not.  Thomas Jefferson famously ripped every page out of the Bible that involved Jesus doing any type of miracle.  He believed that the supernatural aspects of the Bible distorted the moral teachings.  Jefferson even penned a new ending: rather than Jesus resurrecting from the dead, he is buried in the ground.

We cannot act like our founding fathers spoke in a unified voice.  There was dissension, there were disagreements.  I’m sure many of them thought that we should found a Christian nation.  However, that is not what they gave us.  They gave us a democratic republic.  A democratic republic where the will of the people reigned supreme and not the laws of their former homeland.

Fox Nation attempts to smear Obama

Fox Nation attempts to smear Obama

Conclusion

It’s easy for commentators on Fox News to say we are a Christian nation because we were founded by mostly Christian people.   But it’s not a debate that can take place in the 3-minute rush zone of a TV studio.  We have to address the issue from many facets, define our terms, and somehow explain the rich history of our nation.  The United States may be a nation of Christians, but it was not founded as a Christian nation.

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5 Responses to “Is the United States a Christian Nation?”

  1. watchmanseer Says:

    The term Christian; ‘Christ Like’. Who is Christ? My understanding is the Lord Jesus Christ of the Bible. What does it mean according to the Old and New Testaments regarding the Lord and the Lord Jesus Christ who is the second person of the Trinity: God the Father, The Son of God; the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit? Start here? What does it mean to be Christ Like?

  2. Peter Says:

    Insofar as the US Constitution does not recognize the Christian God or His law as supreme, the US was not founded as a Christian nation–in the legal sphere. But I think it would be a mistake to say that the legal system of the US was religiously neutral. All law is someone’s legislated morality. All law is founded in some worldview under the aegis of some metaphysical commitments, some god or gods.

    The neutrality of secularism in this regard is a myth. Atheism is a religion. Hedonism or self-worship requires a religious belief. Worship of the state requires religious commitment. In establishing itself as the supreme law of the land, the Constitution supplanted God’s law, though in certain respects it was consistent with it.

    The US Constitution, as I mentioned, includes law respecting an establishment of some religion, though not of a particular Christian denomination (as the majority probably understood the first amendment the late eighteenth century). And in my view, if one does not worship the true God, one worships an idol or idols. There is no other option, no other possibility.

    • Joel Lightly Says:

      I agree that our original law was based on Christian morality. However, I don’t think it changes the fact that the founding fathers could have legislated biblical law, but didn’t. They said: these are the laws we are going to have right now. If you want them to change, there is a process for doing so. There is no process for changing biblical law, but there is for changing American law.

  3. Peter Says:

    Hi Joel!

    If you are reacting to my comment, I did not say or imply that I believed “our original law” (here I take this as the US Constitution) “was based on Christian morality,” although to allude to what I wrote, aspects are consistent with it (more of late than in the formerly Christian Netherlands). On the whole, I believe the US Constitution “supplanted God’s law” as I wrote, that is, was a chosen substitute for it. The US Constitution is a religiously syncretistic document, or so I would argue. Ratification solidified a new national covenant.

    I am not sure what point you are trying to make regarding what our founding fathers could have written into the law, but didn’t. Seems too hypothetical anyway, but maybe you could enlighten me.

    Admittedly, through his court decisions early (Unitarian) Supreme Court Justice John Marshall cemented the US Constitution as supreme law of the land in a much stronger way than when the US Constitution was originally ratified. But arguably the trend merely reinforced the wording originally in the text.

    I agree that the Constitution allows for changes in the law, and that biblical law (i.e., absolute morality) does not … I’m just not sure where you are going with that.

    For better or for worse, major changes to the Constitution are difficult (e.g., amendments), changing the whole (the greatest change of all) far more so, although treaties and the trend away from the Constitution among Supreme Court (and lower court) justices in favor of international law are, I believe, increasingly undermining the Constitution at its roots.

    A few years ago, a friend heard a judge in court (yes, US judge in a US court) shout out in anger, “I will not have that document quoted in my court” –referring to the US Constitution. Regarding the present and coming global economic depression, remember the golden rule: “He who has the gold makes the rules.”

    Change in American law indeed. But will it be good change?

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