Friday, February 6, 2009

America Was PLANTED as a Christian Nation, but not FOUNDED as One

Historian Frank Lambert
on the Christian Nation


Since we have had a dry spell in posts here at American Creation, I decided to throw this out and see what everyone has to say. In his book The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America, historian Frank Lambert of of Purdue University discusses the different religious sentiments surrounding America's planting -- i.e. the Puritans, early colonists -- and America's founding. In the introduction to his book Lambert writes:

In 1639 a group of New England Puritans drafted a constitution affirming their faith in God and their intention to organize a Christian Nation...The opening lines express the framers' trust in God and their dependence on his guidance: "Forasmuch as it hath pleased the All-Mighty God by the wise disposition of his dyvine providence so to order and dispose of things...[and] well knowing where the people are gathered togather the word of God requires that to mayntayne the peace and union of such a people there should be an orderly and decent Government established according to God, to order and dispose of the affayres of the people." Moreover, the aim of the government so instituted was religious: "to maytntayne and presearure the liberty and purity of the gospell of our Lord Jesus which we now professe, as also to disiplyne of the Churches, which according to the truth of the said gospell is now practiced amongst us."

[...]

Those Puritan fathers exemplify two of the most enduring views of colonial America: America as a haven of religious freedom, and America as a Christian Nation. First, the Puritan settlers had fled England, where Archbishop William Laud had persecuted them because they refused to subscribe to religious beliefs and practices they deemed to be unscriptural. Now in the American wilderness, they were free to worship according to the dictates of their consciences, governed only by the rule of God's word. And, second, those Puritan Fathers organized a Christian State. They established their Congregational churches as the official religion of Connecticut, supported by tax revenues and defended by the coercive arm of government. The churches defined "heretics" and the state punished them, even to the point of executing those found guilty of "direct, express, presumptuous, or high-minded blasphemy." Moreover, citizenship in the state was directly tied to one's religious faith. The authors of the Fundamental Orders meant for only godly Christians to rule, and intention embodied in the oath of the governor, which committed the chief magistrate to govern "according to the rule and word of God."

One hundred fifty years later, George Washington took another oath, swearing to "faithfully execute the office of President of the United States" and pledging to the best of his ability to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." The constitution that he swore to uphold was the work of another group of America's progenitors, commonly known as the "Founding Fathers," who in 1787 drafted a constitution for a new nation. But unlike the work of the Puritan Fathers, the federal constitution made no reference whatever to God or divine providence, citing as its sole authority "the people of the United States." Further, its stated purposes were secular, political ends: "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty." Instead of building a "Christian Commonwealth," the supreme law of the land established a secular state. The opening clause of its first amendment introduced the radical notion that the state had no voice concerning matters of conscience: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." In debating the language of the amendment, the first House of Representatives rejected a Senate proposal that would have made possible the establishment of a Christian religion of of some aspect of Christian orthodoxy. There would be no Church of the United States. Nor would America represent itself to the world as a Christian Republic.

Just as 1639 represents a defining moment in Americans' religious heritage, so does 1787. While the Puritan Fathers gave us the symbols of America as a haven of religious freedom and America as a Christian Nation, the Founding Fathers provided enduring legacies that define the place and role of religion in American society. Their bequests were the ideas of separation of church and state and the free exercise of religion extended to people of all faiths or no faith. Their achievement can be understood only against the backdrop of the American Revolution. Clearly, they were the architects of a political revolution, throwing off constitutional monarchy for a democratic republic. But they were also framers of a religious revolution, rejecting the idea of an established or official religion, which was the organizing principle informing church-state relations in the vast majority of countries, as indeed it had been in most of the American colonies. Never before had there been a total separation of religious and political institutions. But the ban on establishment was not the Founders' only legacy in church-state matters. Regarding religion as a natural right that the governed never surrendered to government, they prohibited any interference in citizens' right to the free exercise of religion.

[...]

During the last two decades of the twentieth century and continuing into the twenty-first, Americans have engaged in a culture war that informs the country's discourse in the new millennium. On one side of the debate are those who insist that has been since its conception a "Christian Nation," and that somewhere along the way, as such it has lost its bearings. They blame "liberals' for not only turning their backs on the country's religious heritage but openly attacking those who embrace "traditional" Christian values. To support their claims, these conservatives often conflate planters -- such as the New England Puritans and the Chesapeake Anglicans -- and the Founders into one set of forefathers who came to America to plant "true" Christianity and to practice it in freedom. Further, they insist that the Founders never intended a separation of church and state.

[...]

Each side of the cultural debate finds ample scholarly support for its position. Much of the work produced by legal scholars and constitutional historians focuses on the first amendment and the Founders' "original intent," concerning the dividing line between church and state...Accomodationists oppose such a restrictive reading of Church-state relations and charge separationists with assigning the federal government an anti religious position. They believe the founders recognized the importance of religion in society and intended for the government to support religious instruction and practice as long as it favored no particular sect.
Personally, I couldn't agree more with Dr. Lambert's assessment of the "Christian Nation" debate. As he states in the final paragraph above, both sides in this "tug-o-war" are armed to the teeth with quotations, historical examples and other scholarly material to keep this fight raging on for another 300 years (which I guess is good news for this blog!). We here at American Creation have witnessed first hand just how emotional and passionate this debate can become as each side slings away at the other, pulling out their respective historical weapons of choice in an effort to counter the "ignorance" of the other.

So where does all of this leave us?

As I have mentioned before, my final research paper for graduate school is going to focus on the origins, evolution and impact of this "Christian Nation" argument, which as Lambert has pointed out, has emerged as a powerful force over the past 20-30 years. Having read Lambert's introduction several times (I believe it to be quite insightful) in conjunction with Benedict Anderson's Imagined Communities, I am convinced that the "Christian Nation" thesis has generated a palpable and legitimate movement that can and should be considered an imagined community. If we stop and set aside the arguments for and against the legitimacy/absurdity of the Christian Nation thesis and simply see it as a perceived political/religious/historical movement to define a nation's character, then the idea of America as an imagined "Christian Nation" community comes to life.

Once we consider this movement in this light, the arguments for or against its legitimacy become irrelevant. After all, many if not most nations -- i.e. imagined communities -- are and were constructed under false beliefs. Germany's construct for their imagined community consisted in their shared belief that to be German was, among other things, to be pure, Arian, superior in battle, etc. A number of Islamic nations construct their sense of "nation-ness" by relying on the tenants of Islam to exalt their imagined community over the rest. Heck, we could even go back to the Romans and see that their empire was, at least in a small sense, an imagined community. Their shared belief in Romulus and Remus as the God-like founders of their society gave Rome a sense of superiority over their non-Roman neighbors. Simply put, the basic "building blocks" of a nation, in this case the "Christian Nation" do not have to be true in order to legitimize and advance the cause of an imagined community.

44 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

To support their claims, these conservatives often conflate planters -- such as the New England Puritans and the Chesapeake Anglicans -- and the Founders into one set of forefathers who came to America to plant "true" Christianity and to practice it in freedom.

I seldom hear this line of argument. Perhaps I don't troll deep enough in the swamps. I don't quite know exactly who the "Christian Nationists" are sometimes. The most extreme and easily refuted?

Instead of building a "Christian Commonwealth," the supreme law of the land established a secular state.

The problem with this line of argument is that it ignores federalism, under which the "supreme law of the land" left religion to the states, some of which had extremely restrictive laws about religion.

The states did not understand the constitution that they agreed to as subsuming those states' rights. Many of the states did indeed understand themselves as "Christian commonwealths," as you can see by their state constitutions.

This dovetails with the "imagined communities" thesis. The question is just how the individual states viewed themselves and their relation with the other states under the constitutional scheme. The leviathan government we have today, or more like NATO?

Our Founding Truth said...

Frank:But unlike the work of the Puritan Fathers, the federal constitution made no reference whatever to God or divine providence, citing as its sole authority "the people of the United States." Further, its stated purposes were secular, political ends: "to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty." Instead of building a "Christian Commonwealth," the supreme law of the land established a secular state.

Here's where you go off track Frank. A Christian Nation doesn't mean that our Federal documents are to mention or exalt Jesus Christ. The founding fathers told you that religion is left to the state governments. Did you forget that? The Constitution tells us what the federal government, and only the federal government cannot do, which is form a national religion. Other than that, the federal government became a Christian Bible society promoting Christianity in every way.

You impose the word "secular" because the framers didn't put Jesus into the Constitution. What is that? How is Delaware, and the other states, secular when they formed Christianity as the religion of their state? I would delete that word secular.

Brad Hart said...

Uh...the majority of the states ELIMINATED state religions, OFT, or didn't even have them to begin with. I'm surprised you didn't know that. You can't take a couple of state constitutions (which were eventually restructured to allow for freedom of religion) and apply them to the whole country.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It was a polyglot, Brad, and certainly Virginia most resembled the secular model. However, that wasn't the whole United States.

That they loosened their restrictions in time is a matter apart from the Founding, and indeed many restrictions endured through the late 1800s.

Our Founding Truth said...

Uh...the majority of the states ELIMINATED state religions, OFT, or didn't even have them to begin with. I'm surprised you didn't know that. You can't take a couple of state constitutions (which were eventually restructured to allow for freedom of religion) and apply them to the whole country.>

I was going to say....Oh, thanks Tom. Yeah, I would include Virginia as well:

Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786)
Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as it was in his Almighty power to do;... [bold face mine]

Come on, the legislature of Virginia is referring to Jesus Christ. The words also infer Jesus is Holy, meaning divine.

Brad Hart said...

OFT:

You know, some people think of shit as holy, so by your assumption my might infer that Virginia meant to promote shit! Give me a break!

Tom:

Exactly WHEN does the founding start? Conclude? Some people think the founding could go as far as to the Civil War, other the War of 1812. That some states loosened restrictions is the compelling factor here.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It's a factor, but to exclude all other factors doesn't seem right to me. I think many people would be surprised to learn that far from a "wall of separation", many of the states had established churches and religions!

bpabbott said...

Tom: "I think many people would be surprised to learn that far from a "wall of separation", many of the states had established churches and religions!"

I prefer the perspective that each of these states de-established their churches and religions! ... However, I agree that many people are under the impression that the establishement of religion/churches is absent from our Nation's history.

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT is being disingenuous in including VA. Jefferson SPECIFICALLY said that the legislators REFUSED to identify God as Jesus Christ just to drive the point home that it is NOT by virtue of being a "Christian Commonwealth" that folks derive their natural rights because if they identified Jesus Christ as the guarantor of natural rights folks would get the WRONG message that only Christians have the full and equal rights of conscience, exactly what OFT and the Christian Nation crowd argue today! He/they are downright Orwellian if they wish to invoke Jefferson's VA Statute on behalf of the Christian Nation thesis.

http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendI_religions45.html

The bill for establishing religious freedom, the principles of which had, to a certain degree, been enacted before, I had drawn in all the latitude of reason and right. It still met with opposition; but, with some mutilations in the preamble, it was finally passed; and a singular proposition proved that its protection of opinion was meant to be universal. Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read, "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.

Tom Van Dyke said...


I prefer the perspective that each of these states de-established their churches and religions!


I suppose you do, Ben, but that's not the study of the Founding. That's why every few weeks, Pinky writes something that says this discussion is useless, because he doesn't like where the facts are leading.

I meself am one of those who are surprised at finding so much religiosity in the Founding. That was not the impression that "common knowledge" and my 20th century "education" had left me with.

Neither am I an advocate of state-established churches: de-establishment was a good thing, in my view, along the same lines as the competing sects we find in Founding-era Virginia, as well as the Bill of Rights' notion of freedom of conscience.

But the fact remains there were state-established churches in the Founding era, and they were plainly NOT unconstitutional. Their disestablishment was undertaken by democratic means in the various states, preserving the principles of both democracy and federalism, principles I value.

Pinky said...

.
The line of reasoning here re-presents the Christian Nation thesis and shows that some of the participants have a target at which they constantly aim no matter what historical facts are uncovered.
.
I think you are on a good roll, Brad.
.
Something of what you wrote makes me think of America's Founding as though it were a Mustard Seed.

Brad Hart said...

Thanks, Pinky.

BTW, I haven't heard anyone's critique of Lambert's intro. Instead people are taking small segments of it and whining about it.

Brad Hart said...

Rowe writes:

"OFT is being disingenuous in including VA. Jefferson SPECIFICALLY said that the legislators REFUSED to identify God as Jesus Christ just to drive the point home that it is NOT by virtue of being a "Christian Commonwealth" that folks derive their natural rights because if they identified Jesus Christ as the guarantor of natural rights folks would get the WRONG message that only Christians have the full and equal rights of conscience, exactly what OFT and the Christian Nation crowd argue today! He/they are downright Orwellian if they wish to invoke Jefferson's VA Statute on behalf of the Christian Nation thesis."

A-freaking-men!!!

Brian Tubbs said...

Tom: "But the fact remains there were state-established churches in the Founding era, and they were plainly NOT unconstitutional. Their disestablishment was undertaken by democratic means in the various states, preserving the principles of both democracy and federalism, principles I value."

Very well said, Tom. You hit the nail on the head!

The Founders left the door open for states to democratically de-establish religion. That they did is a good thing, IMO. But it was NOT "unconstitutional" for them to have established churches. Not from the standpoint of "original understanding" anyway - which, in my STRONG opinion (and one consistent with the Founders) is the ONLY legitimate way to interpret the Constitution and any law, for that matter.

Brian Tubbs said...

Brad, I like a lot of what Lambert writes, but I think you're getting a little removed from what he's saying by tying it in with Anderson's Imagined Communities premise. Now, admittedly, I've not read either book, so take this with a grain of salt. But based on what you've posted, I don't think Lambert would agree that the "Christian Nation" thesis is "imagined." Call it selective focus, perhaps, but not imagination.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Brian,

We haven't gotten into the 14th Amendment yet. I know TVD doesn't want to go there. But that Amendment IS part of the US Constitution and NO state had established churches by that time. I've read some convincing research that argues nevertheless, the EC still doesn't properly incorporate like the FEC could (Justice Thomas' position).

Though matters of religious equality, or the Equal Protection Clause, may make established churches unconstitutional. As an orthodox Christian, do you think it would violate your right to religious equality (or some kind of unalienable or constitutional right) if for instance you lived in Utah and they established Mormonism by democratic means?

Pinky said...

.
Jon addresses Brian with, "As an orthodox Christian, do you think it..."
.
Words tend to get bandied about and, so, we accept the implied meanings involved and that screws us up.
.
Orthodox, shmorthodox! Brian is an Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christian of the Baptist persuasion and that does not equate to orthodoxy which means the "common" usage. The fact is that an Orthodox Christian is pretty much the most common way of defining most Americans. That's like saying that America was founded as a Christian Nation.
.
Yah, sure, we're all Christians.

.

Ray said...

Jon:OFT is being disingenuous in including VA. Jefferson SPECIFICALLY said that the legislators REFUSED to identify God as Jesus Christ

Jon, and Brad for that matter, are being disingenious, for not understanding the facts.

Jefferson didn't say anything, the legislature is the one speaking, because they ratified the instrument. The people of Virginia are responsible for their religion clauses; one person does not give the rest orders.

Jon:legislatorsREFUSED to identify God as Jesus Christ

It is impossible to not identify the God of the Virginia Statute as Jesus Christ. So "The Lord" HAS to be Jesus Christ, as well as "The Holy Author of Our Holy Religion" is always Jesus Christ. Buddha, or anyone else, cannot be "The Lord." It is common knowlegdge Jesus Christ is the grantor of our natural rights.

"Jon:Christian Commonwealth" that folks derive their natural rights because if they identified Jesus Christ as the guarantor of natural rights folks would get the WRONG message that only Christians have the full and equal rights of conscience

Here is ignorance of history, because Virginia already told us in 1776, all religions were equal, rather than Christianity being just "tolerant"

Jon:exactly what OFT and the Christian Nation crowd argue today!

This isn't what the Christian Nation crowd argue.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jon, I don't argue the Fourteenth Amendment because with its expansive interpretations by the courts, religion can be effectively quashed by this weapon.

What I want to make clear is that many who argue for a strict "wall" of separation often make arguments relating to the Founding. I argue these arguments are plainly defective.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, and Ray, I do hope you're not the sockpuppet of one of our regular commenters...

Brad Hart said...

Brian:

What Anderson calls an "imagined community" simply refers to the components which make up a nation, in other words, whatever a society consideres to be paramount to their sense of nationhood. It is imagined because it is not tangible nor exclusive. All nations are based on a large number of shared beliefs, but this commonality is, in the end, imagined.

Brad Hart said...

Ray writes:

"It is impossible to not identify the God of the Virginia Statute as Jesus Christ. So "The Lord" HAS to be Jesus Christ, as well as "The Holy Author of Our Holy Religion" is always Jesus Christ. Buddha, or anyone else, cannot be "The Lord." It is common knowlegdge Jesus Christ is the grantor of our natural rights."

Nope!

Our Founding Truth said...

Oh, and Ray, I do hope you're not the sockpuppet of one of our regular commenters...>

Who is Ray? Cyberspace got crossed up.

OFT:"It is impossible to not identify the God of the Virginia Statute as Jesus Christ. So "The Lord" HAS to be Jesus Christ, as well as "The Holy Author of Our Holy Religion" is always Jesus Christ. Buddha, or anyone else, cannot be "The Lord." It is common knowlegdge Jesus Christ is the grantor of our natural rights."

Brad:Nope!

Talk about ignorance! What an ignorant statement in light of the post by Frankl Lambert.

Brad would be the first one in history to claim "The Lord" and The Holy Author of Our Religion" is not Jesus Christ, but Buddha or Mohammed, or whoever. Are you the Lord, Brad, or is it Jon? Unbelievable!

Jesus Christ is the grantor of our Natural Rights:

“Our liberties do not come from the charters; for these are only declarations of preexisting rights. They do not depend on parchment or seals; but come from the King of Kings and the Lord of all the earth.” [bold face mine]

- John Dickinson, 1776. Penman of the Revolution.

Yeah, Dickinson was talking about Buddha! May the truth set you free.

bpabbott said...

Brian: "Have enjoyed skimming this debate. Over 100 posts. Wow. I'll say this for OFT. He knows how to stimulate a good discussion! :-)"

Ray: "Hey Brian, thanks for the props, I was hopeing (sp) for 100 posts. Thanks to Jon, Tom, BP, and everyone else for the participation! Let's try to get some more people involved, and hit 200 posts!"

Tom: "Oh, and Ray, I do hope you're not the sockpuppet of one of our regular commenters ..."

Nice deduciton Tom. Based upon this exchange there is good reason to infer that Ray is Jim Goswick himself ... I also noticed that Ray has no public profile.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read, "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination. [Bold mine.]

So now OFT/Ray knows better than Jefferson what a majority of legislators who passed Jefferson's VA Statute meant. Unfreakin believable.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Pinky,

Brian is a small o orthodox Christian, not a capital O Orthodox Christian. Small o orthodox Christianity refers to that common ground of theological orthodoxy that unites Roman Catholics, evangelical and reformed Protestants and the capital O Orthodox Church.

Jonathan Rowe said...

The "Holy Author of Our Religion" is not necessarily the Jesus of the orthodox because Jefferson didn't believe Jesus divine.

And the "almighty God" who created the mind free certainly isn't necessarily Jesus Christ because, again Jefferson fervently rejected the Trinity.

The God of the VA statute in some broad way derives from the "Judeo-Christian" tradition, emphasis on "broad."

Jefferson's "Almightly God" was a theological unitarian who created the mind free, partially inspired the Bible and didn't perform miracles. Even if that weren't the God of most VA legislators at the time, it doesn't matter: Jefferson's VA Statute was written to be 100% compatible with his own views. If they are compatible with the orthodoxy that was more common, then the God of the VA Statute must be broad enough to accomodate both Jefferson's heterodoxy as well as the orthodoxy that was more common. This is what it means to appeal to a broadly defined "Providence" as the guarantor of natural rights.

Finally, since natural rights are not at all a biblical concept, it is not necessary to invoke the orthodox God as the grantor of them. The stuff in the VA Statute sounds nice and may be true in a metaphysical sense. But if so, those principles were not discovered in the Bible, but rather in "nature" through man's reason. Thus it is more of a naturalistic or rationalistic God that grants the rights in the VA Statute than a biblical God.

Our Founding Truth said...

So now OFT/Ray knows better than Jefferson what a majority of legislators who passed Jefferson's VA Statute meant.>

Unbelievable is right! Notice the word "protection," that is referring to who and what is protected, not who the identity of the God is; which is Jesus Christ. The words by the orthodox Virginians is just a matter of semantics, using Jesus' name or just Lord is makes no difference.

If some did believe only Christianity should be protected, that makes no difference who the God is giving the protection.

Our Founding Truth said...

The "Holy Author of Our Religion" is not necessarily the Jesus of the orthodox because Jefferson didn't believe Jesus divine.>

That's cool. I figured that. It's the only place you can go. You have to take the people of Virginia out of the equation and use the subjection intention of an individual to speak for the entire people. No historian is buying that.

Jonathan Rowe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Rowe said...

"No historian is buying that."

OFT, when you make such broad and erroneous statements like this you come off as moronic. Remember I'm to the right of most "historians." Very few historians buy the nonsense that David Barton peddles and most professional historians make claims that are more secular, leftist and deistic than mine.

Jim Sweeney said...

These are only the familiar words of President Washington, but they do belie the notion that religious establishment was intended to be delegated to the states:

"All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

"It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no factions, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."

Brad Hart said...

OFT:

Your arguments are boring and predictable. The founders themselves could come back to life and tell the world that they didn't establish a Christian nation and you still wouldn't believe them. You've married yourself to a monster that you cannot escape from.

How about you go bother different people for a change!

Tom Van Dyke said...

These are only the familiar words of President Washington, but they do belie the notion that religious establishment was intended to be delegated to the states:

"All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.


Unfortunately for your argument, Mr. Sweeney, religious establishment was delegated---reserved---to the states. Liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship are not at issue here.

This is pure historical fact, not opinion. You could look it up, in the constitutions of the several states. [Many states other than Washington's Virginia did impose religious tests for statewide public office, even Pennsylvania, which although it weakened its tests in the Founding era, still required a belief in God.]

As for OFT and Jonathan Rowe's discussion---OFT is wrong on several counts, and Jonathan, we cannot take Jefferson's account of why "Jesus Christ" was omitted from the Virginia statute as gospel truth. If there is corroboration, of course I would drop my objection.

So too your assertion that

Thus it is more of a naturalistic or rationalistic God that grants the rights in the VA Statute than a biblical God.

That may be true. I prefer to not let the discussion be defined by Virginia. There were at least 10 or 12 other states.

And so, our Mr. Goswick's quote---quotation---from Pennsylvanian and key Founder John Dickinson,

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dickinson_(delegate)

that man's rights come from the King of Kings, should not be ignored, even if it was from 1776. We're trying to get into their heads.

Neither should the phrase "Holy Author of Our Religion" in the Virginia statute be necessarily read as someone other than Jesus Christ.

I'm not arguing this way or that because I really don't know, but I'm unsatisfied with the arguments presented both for and against so far. I'm willing to back off and kick the evidence around.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Brad, unfortunately, besides Jonathan Rowe, around here I learn the most from James Goswick/AKA Our Founding Truth/perhaps AAKA "Ray."

He does research. I often disagree with the arguments he makes based on his research, but I can handle that. I make my own conclusions based on his spadework.

But unlike some of our commenters, James Goswick---I urge him to use his real name instead of "Our Founding Truth"---does genuine research into the founding documents, and presents no more opinion than those who don't do a goddam lick of work, but shoot of opinion in no lesser quantity than does Mr. Goswick.

So, Brad, I think he shouldn't go away or be urged to go away until the rest of our colloquy here does as much research and makes sounder arguments.

On a personal note, he's the only one who shows evidence he's clicked on the links that I so painstakingly type out as footnotes around here, read them, and responds to them. a href=, etc. It's a pain in the ass, quite frankly. I don't ask for much, just an honest hearing.

If you don't like Mr. Goswick's opinions, ignore them, don't respond to them. I don't like a lot of his opinions either, but I give him a thumbs-up when he makes a good point and backs it up with research. Which he does often enough to be of value to this blog. To bury him completely is a disservice to the truth, whatever that might be...

Brad Hart said...

You can stick up for Goswick if you want, Tom, but I am not buying it. And to call what he does "research" is a bit much. He just throws out quotes...nothing more.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"a href=, etc."

When typing posts in blogger, they offer a button that obviates the need to type all that out. Do you use it?

Lori Stokes said...

I'll reinsert the Puritans here by saying they had no intention to and did not establish a state that offered religious freedom. They created a state that protected Congregational/Reformed Anglicanism--their religion. The whole point of their removal from England was to create a state where Reformed Anglicanism could thrive, thus creating a colony of righteous people who could fulfill the commission from God that they felt England had betrayed and abandoned.

So they would have hated the contemporary U.S., with its toleration of all faiths.

The author also seems to conflate the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Connecticut.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I'll split the difference between Tom & Brad on OFT. I agree with Brad that OFT very often just throws a lot of spaghetti against the wall and tries to see what sticks. Sometimes something useful or relevant sticks. But it's done in the context of a lot of mess.

Yet, I agree with Tom that OFT works hard on cooking his spaghetti up.

His biggest problem is too many non-sequiturs (making conclusions that don't follow from the facts presented). Overstatement, often done in the context of insult. And unwarranted presumptions, not based on fact, but based on the fact that he is "married" to this monster in which he has faith.

Many evangelicals believe God speaks to them. And if they are convinced God told them X, no amount of evidence will convince them otherwise. The "Christian Nation" thesis is not required belief for orthodox Christians, evangelical or otherwise. Indeed, as we know many orthodox Christians are the primary debunkers of this thesis. And the Bible/Christian religion predates America by some 1700 + years.

I don't know everything about evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity, but one thing I do know is it teaches a "narrow path" and that even in Christian demographic nations, the unregenerate will always be among you and perhaps will always outnumber "real" Christians. Roger Williams understood this and this is why he thought the idea of a "Christian Nation" to be blasphemous.

It could be that a statistical majority of the population (which defines as 50% +) were not only orthodox Christians but thought of themselves as "born again" and believed the Bible the infallible word of God. We just don't know that however. One study shows only 17% of Americans members of churches, that they were liklier to be found in taverns on Saturday nights than churches on Sunday mornings.

Given that reality and the fact that evangelicalism teaches the narrow path, it's no wonder that so many evangelicals reject the "Christian Nation" thesis.

But the "Christian Nation" tale goes well beyond believing a statistical majority were orthodox and teaches that the orthodox biblical God so touched America that the overwhelming MAJORITY were "born again" Christians. That claim is utterly unsubstantiated by the record and is unprovable. Believing in that takes as much FAITH as believing in the book of revelation.

Yet, I believe with folks like Barton and OFT, they heard God tell them this was true and that's why they are so stubborn in the fact of contrary evidence.

Brian Tubbs said...

Lori, you're right about the Puritans, BUT.....

I can cut them some slack. It's easy to judge people looking BACK from the 21st century. To be fair, we should put ourselves in THEIR shoes, looking forward from the 1600s.

They were a mere century removed from the Protestant Reformation, and were accustomed to a culture and society in which Church and State were united. The idea that Church and State should be institutionally separate was not at all mainstream in the 1600s.

Brian Tubbs said...

One of the main points I see OFT making in this thread (and in others) is that, while Jefferson and some of the other key Founders were Deist or Unitarian or semi-Christian in their leanings, the average American was a professing Christian. Perhaps not a Bible-thumpin' evangelical. But someone who professed belief in God, Jesus, and the Scriptures. And who, at least to SOME extent, attended church.

And in light of this, he's making the argument that their UNDERSTANDING of Jefferson's language (and you can insert whatever Founder you wish) is how we should interpret the language of the founding era.

OFT, correct me if I'm wrong, but that seems to be what you're saying. And it seems to be your strongest argument for the "Christian Nation" premise.

Now, for my own part, I'm partly sympathetic to OFT. I think the above argument has some merit, and shouldn't be dismissed.

That said, I also believe that the Founding Fathers were considered "fathers" for a reason. There's a reason why some people emerge as leaders. It's the leaders that shape and help direct the current of history.

Joseph Ellis makes this point very convincingly in "Founding Brothers."

And, thus, while a majority of the people were professing Christians, this doesn't mean that their leaders intended to found the United States as a "Christian" nation.

I think there's a balance here. The national government was intended to be secular with Deistic undertones (and, in some cases, overtones). But the culture and society of America was most certainly "Christian" and has largely remained so over its history.

Our Founding Truth said...

Brian:And in light of this, he's making the argument that their UNDERSTANDING of Jefferson's language (and you can insert whatever Founder you wish) is how we should interpret the language of the founding era.

OFT, correct me if I'm wrong, but that seems to be what you're saying. And it seems to be your strongest argument for the "Christian Nation" premise
.

I think that conclusion has to be correct, no? If Jefferson was an atheist, would it change anything? Most, if not all the population, knew Jefferson was a deist.

Our Founding Truth said...

Most, if not all the population, knew Jefferson was a deist.>

I meant, did not know Jefferson was a deist.

Brian Tubbs said...

Well, a great many John Adams supporters accused Jefferson of being an atheist. Just as many Jefferson supporters called Adams a monarchist.