Monday, June 23, 2008

Religion in American History Blog:

I'd like to thank Dr. John Fea of Messiah College and the Religion in American History blog for his kind words on my blog research and plugging American Creation. If I may return the favor, Religion in American History is a great, informative blog, one I regularly check. Fea writes:

One of their contributors, Jon Rowe, is the most dogged critic of the Christian America thesis I have ever run across and I have learned much from reading his own blog over the last few years.

As some of you know, I am writing a popular book for the church tentatively titled "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Primer for Christians," so needless to say I will be checking American Creation often.

I look forward to reading his book. As for my being the most dogged critic of the Christian America thesis, I think perhaps that title belongs to Chris Rodda. Though I am dogged and indeed, probably overly engage in shrill rhetoric when mentioning the names of David Barton, William Federer, and D. James Kennedy -- the "Christian America" villains -- I try to replace the "Christian America" thesis with a nuanced and balanced view that appreciates the role religion in public life had at the time of the American Founding. A warm, benign theism, invariably spoken in generic philosophical terms that connected Christianity with non-biblical religions, a "Nature's God" that grants men unalienable rights.

Where we run into a problem is when public supplications to God conflict with the equally valid Founding principle that all citizens, including atheists or polytheists ought to be treated as equals. It's equality, not separation, that often leads to the muting of publicly endorsed "God-talk." Even John Adams, a very religious man, but a heterodox unitarian said:

“Government has no Right to hurt a hair of the head of an Atheist for his Opinions. Let him have a care of his Practices.”

–- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, June 16, 1816.

Whether an atheist simply hearing (or seeing) publicly sponsored God-talk that makes him feel like a second class citizen is a "constitutionally actionable" harm I am not convinced and I think reasonable people can and should debate the issue. But the point that needs to be stressed is equal rights for everybody in regard to religion is a foundational American ideal.

As to whether I/we should continue to use harsh rhetoric when dealing with the aforementioned Christian America figures, that's a current matter of debate at American Creation. I think Rev. Brian Tubbs is probably right that the gentlemanly thing to do is engage in civil, scholarly debate, not always be in shrill rhetorical attack mode. Though with Barton and Kennedy, sometimes it's difficult to resist temptation.


Brad Hart said...

Religion in U.S. history is an EXCELLENT blog! One of my professors, Paul Harvey, is one of the principal bloggers over there, and he is one of THE PREMIERE historians in America today...just in case he stumbles upon this! =)

Phil Johnson said...

I think the operative word regarding Jonathon's article is, metacommunication.

When we look at the bigger picture--the world in which we are living and moving about--it doesn't take much thought to realize that our greater society is in deep trouble.

The American tradition to find a practical solution that works seems appropriate to our interests.

One of the problems we find along the way is the argument over our roots as a people.

So, it is entirely proper that we should clear the air about our nation's founding principles.

Our national direction is at stake.

Sooner or later, America is going to be forced into a focus on our future.

It seems to me that the argument over our foundations stands in our way. But, we cannot slough it off. We must meet it face to face.

I think that is what makes this such an important blog.

Thanks to each contributor.