A group blog to promote discussion, debate and insight into the history, particularly religious, of America's founding. Any observations, questions, or comments relating to the blog's theme are welcomed.
No matter how many Christians live here, we are not a Christian nation.
For the sake of people of all faiths and of no faith, we should hope we
never become one.
Pretty fact-free. One historian's estimate of churchgoing in 1776--hardly probative, then jump to the mistreatment of the Native Americans 50 years later as "proof" America isn't or wasn't a Christian nation.Everybody's entitled to their opinion, but this rates lower than David Barton's.
You just compared a Phd in Religion (from Georgetown) with someone whose educational attainment culminated in a B.A. in "Christian Education".OK.
It's a formal objestion. I'm hoping you know what that means.Diplomas don't make arguments, people do. Manseau's argument is non-existent. Barton's argument is far more substantiated, even if you don't buy it.http://www.wallbuilders.com/libissuesarticles.asp?id=23909Defining a Christian NationContemporary post-modern critics (including President Obama) who assert that America is not a Christian nation always refrain from offering any definition of what the term “Christian nation” means. So what is an accurate definition of that term as demonstrated by the American experience?Contrary to what critics imply, a Christian nation is not one in which all citizens are Christians, or the laws require everyone to adhere to Christian theology, or all leaders are Christians, or any other such superficial measurement. As Supreme Court Justice David Brewer (1837-1910) explained:[I]n what sense can [America] be called a Christian nation? Not in the sense that Christianity is the established religion or that the people are in any manner compelled to support it. On the contrary, the Constitution specifically provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Neither is it Christian in the sense that all its citizens are either in fact or name Christians. On the contrary, all religions have free scope within our borders. Numbers of our people profess other religions, and many reject all. Nor is it Christian in the sense that a profession of Christianity is a condition of holding office or otherwise engaging in public service, or essential to recognition either politically or socially. In fact, the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions. Nevertheless, we constantly speak of this republic as a Christian nation – in fact, as the leading Christian nation of the world. 8So, if being a Christian nation is not based on any of the above criterion, then what makes America a Christian nation? According to Justice Brewer, America was “of all the nations in the world . . . most justly called a Christian nation” because Christianity “has so largely shaped and molded it.” 9Constitutional law professor Edward Mansfield (1801-1880) similarly acknowledged:In every country, the morals of a people – whatever they may be – take their form and spirit from their religion. For example, the marriage of brothers and sisters was permitted among the Egyptians because such had been the precedent set by their gods, Isis and Osiris. So, too, the classic nations celebrated the drunken rites of Bacchus. Thus, too, the Turk has become lazy and inert because dependent upon Fate, as taught by the Koran. And when in recent times there arose a nation [i.e., France] whose philosophers [e.g. Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Helvetius, etc.] discovered there was no God and no religion, the nation was thrown into that dismal case in which there was no law and no morals. . . . In the United States, Christianity is the original, spontaneous, and national religion. Founding Father and U. S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall agreed:[W]ith us, Christianity and religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people our institutions did not presuppose Christianity and did not often refer to it and exhibit relations with it. 11Consequently, a Christian nation as demonstrated by the American experience is a nation founded upon Christian and Biblical principles, whose values, society, and institutions have largely been shaped by those principles. This definition was reaffirmed by American legal scholars and historians for generations 12 but is widely ignored by today’s revisionists.
It looks like Manseau "clocked out" to end his shift as historian before he "clocked in" for his shift as a part time journalist. The only things more superficial than his attempts to define a "Christian nation" were his attempts to refute those definitions. He "tests" the definition of CN by church membership and rejects it by noting the low rates of formal church membership. Low membership rates reflect the institutional weakness of churches, not their lack of appeal to Americans in 1776.This is especially true for those denominations that required ministers with a classical education. (That is one reason why the Baptists overwhelmed the older denominations down here in the South. At a Baptist field meeting, a person might get converted and ordained on the same day!)Then he "tests" what I consider the best definition of a CN--Christianity as "a cultural force." He dismisses it with the irrelevant observation that "many ministers" opposed the establishment of a national religion.
Contemporary post-modern critics (including President Obama) who assert that America is not a Christian nation always refrain from offering any definition of what the term “Christian nation” means.One does get the impression that these discussions are an exercise in capture-the-flag.
The “Christian nation” claim generally produces more heat than light for the simple reason that exactly what is meant by that claim is not clear. Barton, for instance, in the passage offered by Tom, criticizes those who critique the claim for not defining what it means (which, by the way, seems to put matters backward), purports to define it but fails actually to do so, and contents himself to offer ill-defined, soft-focus happy talk about America being a Christian nation. What for instance does he mean by "nation"? (Government(s), society, something else?) He does not say. It is important in particular in this discussion to distinguish between “society” and “government.” To the extent one equates “nation” with “society,” whether it is legitimate and appropriate to label our nation “Christian” may be debated on various grounds, e.g., the demographic makeup of the population. To the extent one equates “nation” with “government,” it is an entirely different matter that calls for analyzing the legal nature of our government. While it is much debated in some circles whether the Constitution separates church and state, it is at least plain that the Constitution (1) establishes a government on the power of "We the people" and not a deity, (2) accords that government limited, enumerated powers, (3) says nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (4) says nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (5), indeed, says nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. The founders later buttressed the Constitution's treatment of government and religion with the First Amendment, which affirmatively constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions.The founders of course would not establish a government that is inherently at odds with their religious convictions, which were largely Christian in nature. That said, there is no reason to suppose that Christianity or theism is an inherent aspect of our constitutional government. Indeed, any such claim is antithetical to the constitutional principle against government establishment of religion and inconsistent with the Christian principle that people cannot be coerced to believe but rather must come to God voluntarily. By founding a secular government and assuring it would remain separate from religion, the founders basically established government neutrality in matters of religion, allowing individuals to freely choose and exercise their religions and thus allowing Christianity (and other religions) to flourish or founder as they will. It is to be expected that the values and views of the people, shaped in part by their religions, will be reflected in the laws adopted by their government. There is nothing in the Constitution that requires or calls for this; it is simply a natural outgrowth of the people's expression of political will in a republican government. To the extent that the people's values and views change over time, it is to be expected that those changes will come to be reflected in the laws adopted by their government. There is nothing in the Constitution to prevent this; indeed, just the opposite--the Constitution establishes a government designed to be responsive to the political will of the people. It is conceivable, therefore, that if Christianity's influence in our society wanes relative to other influences, that may lead to changes in our laws. Nothing in the Constitution would prevent that--and moreover the establishment clause would preclude Christians from using the government to somehow "lock in" (aka establish) Christianity in an effort to stave off such an eventuality.Does the foregoing describe a “Christian nation”? And what is the import of that label anyway? Certainly, the label carries no legal effect; it appears to speak more to political or cultural interests.
I largely agree with the above, David, especially the common sense formulationThe founders of course would not establish a government that is inherently at odds with their religious convictions, which were largely Christian in nature.That's a powerful essay in itself.I would point out, however, that religion was left to the states ["CONGRESS shall make no law..."], and God as a reality appears in all 50 state constitutions.Further, I submit that that God is monotheistic, the creator, and is providential, IOW involved in man's history, not the deistic "blind watchmaker" of the philosophers, who created us but then took a permanent vacation to the cosmic equivalent of Tahiti.The God of the state constitutions is not Zeus, or the Hindu pantheon, or whatever you want to call Buddhism's view of Godhead, if any [it varies]. This God is indistinguishable from Jehovah/Allah.To the extent that the people's values and views change over time, it is to be expected that those changes will come to be reflected in the laws adopted by their government. There is nothing in the Constitution to prevent this; indeed, just the opposite--the Constitution establishes a government designed to be responsive to the political will of the people.This is the thesis [I agree] of my erstwhile blogbrother Hunter Baker's The End of Secularismhttp://www.reformedbooks.net/review_endsecular.htmlNeither a more religious nor a less religious government is prescribed or forbidden by the Constitution.Unfortunately, modern jurisprudence [post-Everson, 1947] does not allow the door to swing both ways, to religion or to non-theism, depending on the will and sentiments of the people--which I agree was the Founding principle. Rather, it has invented a "neutrality" that isn't neutral atall, that declares religious sentiment inherently irrational or non-rational, and therefore an impermissible basis for law.Thus, the culture war. [BTW, the first kulturkampf was in the late 1800s, when Bismarck tried to erase the Catholic Church from the public arena.http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08703b.htmAs the Germans say, plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.
I like and agree with David’s cogent analysis – well done!As a historian (of no renown) who has recently dipped a toe into the blogosphere (courtesy of Jon Rowe and AC), I will not criticize Manseau. As John Fea often says, more academic historians should engage in public, non-academic forums like blogging and journalism. I think Manseau could have “nailed” his thesis by invoking founders like the Baptist preachers Isaac Backus and John Leland (who revived and expanded the ideas and insights of Roger Williams’ “soul liberty”). They fought for strict separation of church and state at the state level (in VA, CT and MA) from the early 1770s to the early 1800s because as Williams stated in the context of his RI charter (and I’m paraphrasing, not quoting), Jesus made it clear that his kingdom lay elsewhere, not with any earthly government. As Williams noted, the “bloody tenet of persecution” rears its ugly head when governments or factions (political parties) claim Jesus (or God) as exclusively their own. According to Williams, that constituted blasphemy, and any claim to being a “Christian nation” was idolatry. Leland concurred when he wrote, “the fondness of magistrates to foster Christianity has done it more harm than persecutions ever did.”And, contrary to Tom’s assertion about the “first culture war” occurring in Bismarck’s Germany, in fact the first US “culture war” over these issues took place in the 1790s. As noted by the late Forrest Church in his excellent book, “So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle over Church and State,” anytime in American history when religion hitches its star to the wagon of a particular political party, it is bad for the state and usually even worse for the church.
And, contrary to Tom’s assertion about the “first culture war” occurring in Bismarck’s Germany"Kulturkampf" translates literally as "culture war" or "struggle," professor. It was an aside, not a thesis.
Tom,From what I gather of Baker’s thesis from your comment and the book review at the link, his and my thinking differ. “Neither a more religious nor a less religious government is prescribed or forbidden by the Constitution.” That thought doesn’t follow from anything I said. Indeed, just the opposite, it conflicts with my comments. The Constitution founds the federal government on the power of the people, not god(s), says nothing to empower it with respect to god(s) or religion, and affirmatively constrains it from using any religious test for public office or undertaking to establish religion or prohibiting individuals from freely exercising their religions. The Constitution thus does not call for a religious government at all. That the government is republic in nature does not undo the Constitution’s constraints and allow citizens by majority vote to render the government religious, swinging more or less so with each election. The principle of government neutrality is not predicated on a claim that religion is inherently irrational or non-rational and thus an impermissible basis for law. Rather it is a limitation on government designed to protect the religious liberty of all by assuring that individuals are free to exercise their religions without fearing the government will favor the religions of others and thus disfavor theirs.Confusion understandably arises because the constitutional principle of separation of church and state is sometimes equated with a political doctrine that calls for political dialogue to be conducted on grounds other than religion. Three primary reasons for that doctrine are that (1) it facilitates discussion amongst people of all beliefs by predicating discussion on grounds accessible to all and (2) it avoids, in some measure at least, putting our respective religious beliefs directly “in play” in the political arena, so we’re not put in the position of directly criticizing each other’s religious beliefs in order to address a political issue and (3) since the government cannot constitutionally make decisions with the predominant purpose or primary effect of advancing religion, it makes little sense to urge the government to do just that. This doctrine is not “law” (unlike the constitutional separation of church and state, which is), but rather is a societal norm concerning how we can best conduct political dialogue in a religiously diverse society. Reasonable people can disagree about whether the doctrine is a good idea or not and whether or how it should influence us in particular circumstances.Baker seems to define “secular” differently than I do. I use the term to refer to the concept of being separate from, not connected with, or neutral toward religion. Baker rejects that meaning and instead uses the term to label a different concept—an ideology or worldview that predicts the decline of religion and corresponding advance of science. As thus defined, Baker complains that secularism is not neutral toward religion, but rather it competes with religion. Indeed, while I don’t know if he plainly says so in his book, he appears to regard secularism as a type of religion. This strikes me as so much semantic manipulation. To the extent that, as I understand, secularism refers to the idea of keeping government and religion separate, it is oxymoronic to treat secularism itself as a religion. Indeed, doing so would seem to render the very concept of secularism an impossibility—since keeping government and (real) religion separate would itself be deemed a religion in which the government is somehow joined. I'm picturing a dog chasing its tail. On the other hand, to the extent that, as Baker maintains, secularism refers to a worldview akin to religion that competes with other religions, he has simply defined it as something other than neutrality. The answer to that, I suppose, could be simply to resort to some other word to capture the concept of neutrality—and then wait to see if Baker has anything to say about that.
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