Tuesday, July 1, 2008

What do we mean by "Christian Nation"?

The whole debate over whether the United States is (or was) a "Christian nation" can often be settled - or at least eased - by clarifying what it is we mean by "Christian."

If by "Christian" nation, we mean that all the Founding Fathers were orthodox, Trinitarian, evangelical, born-again Christians, then....we can't say that the US was founded as a "Christian" nation.

If by "Christian" nation, we mean that the Founding Fathers intended to establish an orthodox, Trinitarian Christian GOVERNMENT, then...clearly, the United States was not founded to be a "Christian" nation.

And if by "Christian" nation, we mean a nation that has always lived up to Christian ideals and has made - as its primary policy goals - the advancement of Christianity, then....once again, we can't say that the United States is a "Christian" nation.

But if by "Christian nation," one means simply that Christianity (broadly defined) has been the most influential religion on the development and shaping of said nation and/or that a majority of the nation's citizens align themselves with Christianity in one form or another, then....I think one would have to say that the United States is a Christian nation.


Anonymous said...

By this definition, we are a Zoroastiran nation, since Zoroastrianism was the greatest influence in shaping European Christianity. Or you could call us a Platonic nation for the same reason, or a Newtonian nation, a Roman nation, since ancient Rome lafe a huge impression on all of Europe, a Greek nation, etc.

By the way, I do believe that we killed a bunch of Indians, enslaved millions of Africans, conquered a bunch of land in the process. Doesn't sound too CHRISTIAN to me.

John Adams even stated that our nation was in no way founded on the Christian religion.

Brad Hart said...

Hmmmmm...correct me if I'm wrong, Lies, but I do not recall many European or American religious figures calling themselves "Zoroastrians." I believe that most people living in Europe or settling in the New World called themselves “Christians.” You are REALLY stretching on this one.

Now, I'm not interested in getting into an argument over how Zoroastrianism, Platonism, etc. influenced Christianity because, frankly, I believe it is irrelevant to the argument. If we were to ask the ACTUAL PEOPLE who colonized and established this nation what they believed in, I don't think it would be crazy to assume that most would say Christianity (in whatever its form).

Lies, when Brian says that America is a Christian nation listen to what he is saying. He says that IN A BROAD SENSE, Christianity has been the most influential religion on the development and shaping of this nation. And guess what...he's right.

I am by no means a hard-core Christian apologist, but I am also not blind to the writing on the wall. Let's face the facts here. Christianity was BY FAR the strongest force in all of Europe for almost the entire Middle Ages. Even when the Reformation came about, Christianity WAS STILL the predominant influence. And when people began to colonize the New World, it was Christianity that they brought with them.

Now, I will agree that the founders had no intention of establishing a theocracy. They wanted to keep government and religion separate for a number of reasons. Many of them even rejected the belief that Jesus was divine, which is a fundamental component of Christianity. However, this does not mean that Christianity was somehow irrelevant or merely a sideshow to America’s founding.

Again, I am not trying to push a Christian Nationalist viewpoint here. I am simply saying that it is ridiculous to say that Christianity played a small or somehow irrelevant role in all of this.

Anonymous said...

Killing millions of Indians, enslaving an entire race, taking over an entire continent, waging war on anyone that is different, not givin women any rights, restricting the right to vote or hold office to Christians only, forcing one's beliefs upon a group of helpless Native Americans that were here first, promoting the agenda of only the rich, ignoring the poor, etc, etc, etc.

Yes, your Christian heritage has done us all a world of good!

Brad Hart said...

Nobody is arguing that these atrocities never occurred. I think we are all fully aware of the hypocrisy that many settlers exhibited towards Native Americans, Africans, women, etc. In fact, I am willing to concede that much of this abuse was the fault of religion (as I told you before, I am not a hard-core Christian apologist).

Instead, I thin you need to reread what Brian wrote in his last paragraph. He states:

But if by "Christian nation," one means simply that Christianity (broadly defined) has been the most influential religion on the development and shaping of said nation and/or that a majority of the nation's citizens align themselves with Christianity in one form or another, then....I think one would have to say that the United States is a Christian nation.

Now, I don't believe that the United States (as established by the founding fathers in their various documents) is a Christian nation. However, we would be naive to ignore its massive influence on America's heritage. If you can't see that then let me recommend to you a book called "A Religious History of the American People" by Sydney Ahlstrom. The man is one of the foremost historians on this issue. Perhaps you should put down Howard Zinn and pick up Ahlstrom.

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

I can agree with this post. If it means the Christian religion, broadly defined, as one stream of thought in meaningfully influencing American legal and cultural heritage.

Where I obviously disagree (I know it's a claim Brian doesn't make, but others like Barton and Marshall do) is that orthodox Christianity is the political theology of America. This is what bloggers like Hercules Mulligan or "Our Founding Truth" claim as well.

The secular left (and some on the right, like the Straussians) go even further than I in asserting that America has no political theology.

Rather I focus on how America's political theology is more of a naturalistic or generic theism that in its outer shell is consistent with, or actually complements orthodox Christianity. But in its inner dimension may actually be in tension with orthodox Christianity.

I know I throw around the term "theistic rationalism" and "unitarianism" a bit, so see my latest post where I quote from some very conservative scholars, pretty much saying the same thing but, without using those buzzwords.

Phil Johnson said...

For a fact, there is a definite sense that America was founded apart from all religions including Christianity.
I doubt America would have ever become a free standing nation had Christianity been the foundation on which our society was established.

schiller1979 said...

Are you taking the First Amendment as the evidence that the founding fathers did not intend to establish a Christian government? If so, it must be kept in mind that that amendment was intended only to apply to the federal government. Some of the founding fathers seem to have been quite happy with established churches in some of the individual states. And, even with adoption of the Constitution, state governments were the dominant entitites. Their view of the federal government would have been far different from ours today. Christian governments at state level would have, to a large degree, added up to a Christian government.

None of this is meant to say that I think establishing an explicitly Christian government is a good idea.

Phil Johnson said...

If schiller1979 is responding to my post, the answer to your question is a definite, "No".
No, my thoughts are more along the line that the American Colonists were obsessed with Natural Rights and not with Christian principles. I can imagine that a people so deeply entrenched in surviving spent a lot of time struggling for their livelihood and didn't have a lot of time to sit around and chew the fat about religious doctrine. Instead, their demands were for a government completely separated from any religion. They didn't want to fall into that trap again.
My position on the Founding is that it was commensurate with the Declaration of Independence and not with Bill of Rights; although, that impressed on government the intent of the people to not be pushed around.


bpabbott said...


In my experience, most of the objections encountered to the claim that ours is a Christian nation is not one of religious belief of the populace, but whether or not we are governed by Secular principles or by Christian/Sectarian principles.

We are *not* a Christian Nation. However, as our nation began as one dominated by the Christian faith and that tradition continues today, it is fair to describe our nation as a Secular one populated by a Christian people.

Brian Tubbs said...

Lies, you need to take Brad's advice and put down Howard Zinn and re-read my post. It's like you just jumped on a few phrases of what I said - and then ran off on a tirade.