Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What is a "Christian Nation," Anyway?

Jonathan Rowe of this blog, and historian Gordon Wood in the posts below, illustrate the difficulty of determining what "Christian" means. As the late Dave Allen said about the Irish, they have trouble deciding who God is, but once they do, they're willing to fight for Him.

The American Founders, of course, wanted to leave all those messy, bloody sectarian battles back across the pond, and so, eventually fashioned a Constitution that glossed over the details bigtime.

Still, if "Christian" is nettlesome enough, what is a nation? A quote from the very wise man who is best known as the former occupant of Hillary Clinton's Senate seat is making the rounds again these days, and for good reason.


"The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself."---Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-NY)



What is a nation, its government or its society? Most of the disputes, both on this blog and in current affairs, stem from fundamental and philosophical disagreement on the answer to this question.

[No, "both" is too squirrelly an answer.]

16 comments:

bpabbott said...

Tom,

Interesting questions! Regarding; "What is a nation?" ... from the political side, I'll point out that before federalism ours was a nation of (nearly) sovereign states.

... which just muddies water a bit more ;-)

In any event, in general, I agree with your characterization of the debate. However, there are many who have so thoroughly confused the two (Barton for example) that it does not encompass all :-(

Brian Tubbs said...

Good post, Tom. I tried to raise this earlier in one of my posts.

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2008/07/what-do-we-mean-by-christian-nation.html

It's clear that the Founders did NOT want the US government to be "Christian" in any kind of a sectarian or denominational or official sense. But as Mark Noll as pointed out, the majority of Americans at that time professed some stripe of Christianity - so one could say that the society was "Christian" - at least majority Christian.

Pinky said...

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When I was a student at a state college here in Michigan, we spent some time on the idea of nations.
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As I recall, a nation relates more to the culture of a people as compared to the cultures of all other peoples in the world.
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There may have been--in the minds of many early Americans--the idea that each separate state was a nation in and of itself.
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But, did not the Founders proclaim the superior idea that all the states, even though they were separate in many ways, were combined as a greater entity--states united in to a single nation?
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Is this a dumb question?

Pinky said...

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History teaches us that nationhood began, as a societal identity, in the area that is now France.
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Unless I am mistaken.

Brad Hart said...

Pinky:

There is a relatively new book out entitled, "Imagined Communities" that I think you might really like. It is by Benedict Anderson. The book discusses the origins of nationhood and the spread of nationalism. Anderson basically states that the concept of a nation is essentially an imagined community of sorts. An EXCELLENT book on this topic.

Pinky said...

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Being so sociologically inclined as I am, I'm sure I will enjoy reading it.
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I will check it out.
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Just what you've said reminds me of the idea of the super group.
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Thanks for the recommendation.
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Brad Hart said...

Van Dyke States:

"What is a nation, its government or its society? Most of the disputes, both on this blog and in current affairs, stem from fundamental and philosophical disagreement on the answer to this question."

An excellent question that is difficult to answer. As I mentioned before, the book "Imagined Communities" is the foremost book on this topic, at least according to the historical community.

The concept of a nation is difficult to determine. For example, parts of Indonesia actually have more in common -- religion, language, culture, etc. -- with Malaysia and the Philippines than it does with its fellow "countrymen." Even in the United States we can see that parts of our nation share a cultural tie with other nations.

So what is a nation? One may argue that it is nothing more than a public agreement as to where we should draw an imaginary line between "us" and "them." Others argue that "nationhood" is based on clear cultural, racial, language, religion differences that make it expedient for us to create separate nations.

Who's right???

Pinky said...

Here is a site about the man who did much work on the concept of Super Nationalism which is the idea of a super group that transcends political borders.
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http://www.bolender.com/Sociological%20Theory/Parsons,%20Talcott/parsons,_talcott.htm
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The idea of an "Imagined Community" fits in neatly with super-nationalism. The work was done before the present day State of Israel was organized and Parsons gives the super national group of Jewish people as an example.
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We are able to think about people who identify with each other in a way that transcends borders while, at the same time, they present an identity with each other that mimics nationalism.
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Have you read the book, Imagined Communities, Brad?
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Super Nationalism seems to be going a bit far afield in this context.

Anderson's Imagined Communities seems a coherent idea: the question of course becomes, how elastic is a society's imagination? The modern answer would be infinitely elastic, I imagine, but if that proposition is taken to its conclusion, we're starting to look at relativism if not nihilism.

Or as one fellow put it, "the values of barbarism and cannibalism are as defensible as those of civilization."

In the American context, surely we can affix some helpful understanding of "nation," even in the "Imaginary Community" framework, such as Jefferson's description of the Declaration of Independence as a representation of "the American mind."

Pinky said...

TVD says, "Super Nationalism seems to be going a bit far afield in this context."
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Yes, I agree except for the fact that it helps us understand the concept of nationalism, ie., the nation.
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The people of a nation are bound together in common identity that supersedes all their differences.
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And, all within a common and political boundary.
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Thus, we get the ideas of bi-nationalism that allows for two nations to exist within the same political borders--a political concept that has been floated in the middle east regarding Israelis and Palestinians.
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Pinky said...

This statement from my last post:
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And, all within a common and political boundary.
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Should have read:
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And, all within a common and geographical boundary.
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Sorry about that.

Pinky said...

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It appears to me--from what I've learned--that the word, nation, can be defined as the largest single group of people living within the confines of certain geographical borders each and every member of which is united with each and every other member on a single unifying factor on which that nation is founded.
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By that definition, and in order for a society to qualify as a "Christian Nation", Christianity would have to be the single unifying factor upon which the society is founded. Any person who disagrees with the founding concept can not be a citizen of that nation.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, I think that's a bit strict, Pinky. If we require unanimity, then anyone who voted against ratification of the Constitution wasn't an American.

We can abstract any concept---like a "nation"---away into absurdity, and I think we're on the brink here.

Pinky said...

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I think it helps if you get a handle on the idea of what Parsons means by the Super National Group.
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The Super National Group is comprised of like minded people that base their core identity on some unified foundation which transcends otherwise national boundaries, and, so much so that persons from separate nations identify more with each other more than either does with members of their own nation. One example Parsons gave back before the present state of Israel was established had to do with Jews that lived all over the world but identified more with each other than they did with members of their own nations. Thus, they were Super Nationals. The joined together to form their own nation. This is the example an nationhood I meant to connote. It's only my hypothesis and, certainly, I didn't mean it to represent exact science.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, that works for Zionists, although virtually millions of Jews were genuinely surprised to learn that the Third Reich didn't consider them to be Germans first, although they themselves did.

Your definition suits Marxists, I suppose, who consider[ed] themselves supra-national, the Comintern or what-have-you. But I was playing along with Anderson's "Imagined Communities" for the sake of discussion; its dialectic, however wise and measured, was still aimed at Marxists and academicians, both of which are useless in the real world except to create mischief.

I'm not particularly enamored with super- or supra-nationalism as a concept, as every man has his heresies, see Lenin v. Trotsky.

justme said...

How to explain a christian nation.

Invade a continent and butcher the people who had lived here for thousands of years because they were 'heathens'.

Have the Puritans come and begin burning witches at the stake or drowning them because they were 'evil'.

Have the military give out blankets of good will that were infected with such goodies as smallpox, again because they were not christians.

Go into another continent and forcibly take innocent people from their homes, bring them here and make slaves of them. Treat them worse than any animal, break up families and buy and sell them like some commodity. Beat them, rape them or kill them, you own them. Don't miss church on Sunday.

Create an organization called KKK to further torture and kill innocent people who never wanted to be here in the first place. KKK was a christian group. Can't you tell?

Today this great christian nation leads the world in abortion (cold blooded murder) while the christians sit on a padded pew and do nothing about this heinous practice. That is what being a christian is about. Nothing.

This christian nation leads the world in drug use and traffic.

This christian nation leads the world in porn, including child porn.

This christian nation leads the world in the use of psycho-tropic drugs. Even the christians can't get through a day without a mind numbing dose of garbage.

Our christian military marches all over the globe in the spirit of their god, killing, stealing and raping women and children. They go to set those poor people free by blowing them to bits and stealing their natural resources for our bastard leaders. Christians are not the brightest bulbs in the box.

This christian nation leads the world in child abductions and pedophilia. The preistcraft and clery are among the top offenders. Ain't god good?

I could go on but I think I made my point. Yes, we have a christian nation and look how far down into the gutter they have taken us. President John Adams voiced his concerns of even allowing christianity into this nation and now we see he was right to worry. They kill, steal and destroy wherever they go. We could have had such a fine nation if we had kept them OUT.