Archive for the A Christian Nation Category

A Christian Nation-Part III: Founding and Re-Founding

Posted in A Christian Nation, Politics, Religion, and Society with tags , , on January 19, 2010 by Justin S. Smith

This is the fourth post of this series. If you have not read the rest of the series, please start with the Introduction here. You can then follow the links at the end of each section to arrive back here. Enjoy.

Now we come to the documents that founded this country and its government: the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. In examining these documents you will find nothing of Christianity in particular and very little of religion in general. I note here that in the gap between the Declaration and the Articles and on through the Revolutionary War’s conclusion and even up to the Constitution, the Continental Congress and later the Congress of Confederation acted in pro-Christian ways that would not in present day be tolerated. This should be noted only in light of the fact that this is pre-Constitution and that the Articles of Confederation did not endorse or prohibit this behavior. As many gaps and gray areas that exist in our Constitution with its 27 amendments, the Articles had more. But lest I move into pontification, let us move on.

The Articles of Confederation contains one mention of religion:

Article III. The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever.

This is a statement of mutual defense, a treaty of alliance perhaps. This shows that religious warfare was still common enough to be mentioned at this time and also that this was not the forming of a strong, central, federal government. It was a loose knitting of several sovereign states. A full reading of the Articles gives the impression that the primary concern of the federal government was in dealing with other nations not specific governing of the people. That is to say, this is the establishment of a weak, highly limited, fairly inactive, federal government. This is an important thing to remember that will come up again in the conclusion of this series.

And then we come to the Articles’ conclusion:

And Whereas it hath pleased the Great Governor of the World to incline the hearts of the legislatures we respectively represent in Congress, to approve of, and to authorize us to ratify the said Articles of Confederation and perpetual Union.

Like in the Declaration, this is another appeal to an ambiguous god. Christians may look and see the God they know as the “Great Governor” mentioned, but there is nothing to prevent a Jew or Moslem to see here their deity. Now I give that all of the signers of this document can be shown historically to be tied to a Christian church. But, I submit for consideration that appeal to a general or even specific god for something or even to dedicate our works to a said deity does not make those works in any general way divine nor specifically Christian. We should also note, that while I made a point of marking deist language in the opening of the Declaration, this language is, like that at the Declaration’s conclusion, theist in that it points to a god who is active in human lives.

As previously mentioned, the Confederation Congress did act in many pro-Christian ways. They appointed Christian Chaplains for both themselves and the armed forces. They enforced Christian morals on the armed forces. They sponsored the publication of a Bible. At least twice a year during the Revolution they declared national days of thanksgiving and of prayer and fasting. These were predominantly Christian men who used their position to promote what they believed to be right. This was not only acceptable, but legal. It was not power specifically granted by the Articles, but it was not forbidden. Although we cannot call this a Christian government based on this document, based on the actions we can call it a pro-Christian government. This is an important distinction that will come up later.

Regardless of the conclusions that we draw from the Articles of Confederation, or the actions of the Confederation Congress, we must realize that the Articles are tossed when, after their six and a half years as the highest law in the land, they were replaced by the Constitution. A much more solid document that has survived more than two hundred years with 27 amendments (although #21 cancels #18, so we could say 25) mostly expressing rights of the people or extending rights previously withheld, and a couple changing some rules of government and election. What we do not see in this document is God.

There are two references to religion in the Constitution. The first appears in Article VI and the second is of course in the First Amendment. The portion of Article VI that concerns us is the third paragraph:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

 We see here government being protected from religion. From the city council member in a small town to the President of the United States, no elected official shall be subject to religious requirements in order to hold office. Now it could be argued (weakly) that it was assumed that this clause is meant only to protect the government from being taken by one sect of Christianity and that there was not a consideration or thought given to any other religion. The problem here lies with the fact that evidence can be given that these men were aware of and knew personally men of other religions. If they intended to bar these others from holding office, they would have had to word this article differently. As it is, they set a path for a secular government; not anti-religious or anti-Christian, but secular.

Full text of both documents can be found all over the Internet my favorite source is here.

 While I intended to rapidly wrap up this series with this part, I find that the First Amendment needs more attention than that would allow and so it will be handled separately in Part IV.- J.S.S.

A Christian Nation-Part II: the Declaration

Posted in A Christian Nation, Politics, Religion, and Society with tags , on December 8, 2009 by Justin S. Smith

If you have not read the introduction or Part I please start here.- J.S.S.

IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

So begins the Declaration of Independence and the official founding of this nation. Before this point, the Colonial Congress was just that, a colonial congress, seeking rights and recognition from the King and Parliament and trying to patch up a bad relationship between Mother Britain and her American children. Also, we see God mentioned in our first national document. But what God are they referring to?

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security. –Such has been the patient sufferance of these colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these states. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.  

Now we see marked that this God referred to in the first paragraph is clearly the creator. Depending on whether I am a Christian or Jew or Moslem, I may see something different here in this mentioned God without contradicting the words of this document. No one is claiming that this is a Jewish or Islamic Nation though. So what do we see here that is distinctly Christian? Nothing; multiple religions and deists would agree with one creator and have no issue referring to “Nature’s God.” To call this document for any one belief system we would need to see what belief system, what God, would “entitle” a people to a “separate and equal station” from and to the power from which they now dissolve their ties. We should also see which Deity “endows” us with the unalienable rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

As a Christian, in order for me to call this a Christian document, I would have to be able to attribute the rights given by the god of this document to the God of the bible using Holy Scripture to do so. I cannot accomplish this. Unalienable means something that cannot be surrendered or taken away. Whereas life is considered sacred, it is alienable. As per Christian scripture, death is the wages of sin. A quick walk through the Old Testament will show that God’s chosen people had their liberty taken from them on more than one occasion. Pursuit of Happiness is not, as best I can tell, a Christian thought. Christians are to pursue the Glory of God. We should enjoy God, and we should derive pleasure from the gifts which God has given us, but the Pursuit of Happiness, in general, without adding to or subtracting from, is more hedonistic than it is Christian. So it seems that this beginning is best in line with Deist, not Christian, thought, which makes perfect sense when one studies the beliefs of its primary author (Jefferson) and its first editor (Franklin.)

At the end, after a long list of injuries made by the King, in the last paragraph, we find two more mentions of a higher power.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

“Appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world” and “firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence”, these statements are as Christian as this document gets. I submit that although these thoughts are to or about a personal god, that is more than the Deists’ god, they still do not make this a Christian document nor do they make this the marked beginning of a Christian Nation. These statements rather suggest that Congress felt compelled to add weight to this Declaration. I also submit that I believe the draft submitted to Congress by Jefferson, that had already been reviewed and revised by Ben Franklin and that did not have these phrases, was more cohesive in thought as it was not appealing to more than one god, and stood on its own without the additional weight. That being said, the combination of the Deist phraseology at the beginning and the possibly Christian appeals at the end show this document to be a representation of who we were at the founding of our country: a mix of various backgrounds and beliefs, the great Melting Pot.

A good resource on the Declaration here.

This series is continued in Part III covering the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution here.

A Christian Nation-Part I: The Colonies

Posted in A Christian Nation, Politics, Religion, and Society with tags , on December 3, 2009 by Justin S. Smith

First, Please see the introduction   -JSS

The Colonies-

The colonists were Catholics, Puritans, Quakers, other miscellaneous Protestants and some loyal to the Church of England. While the Catholics and Puritans came specifically to avoid religious persecution, many of the rest came in hopes of wealth. Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement, was granted a charter in order to find gold and a shipping route to the Orient. A church was among their first buildings, and it should be noted that by the mid 1620 attendance to worship in the Anglican Church was mandatory and taxes went to support the Church of England, but this does mark them as separatists trying to form a new society. It marks them as English, behaving as the English of the time. We should also note that the first slaves were brought to Virginia in 1619. Slavery, particularly in the colonial and early American iteration, cannot be called Christian institution without a lot of biblical stretching.

The Puritans who landed at Plymouth, and those who later followed to Massachusetts, were after religious freedom and founding of a particularly religious settlement. Essentially, Massachusetts was a Puritan Theocracy for the first half century of its existence. But the Puritans so zealously fought for their religious state that they lost their charter from the king for, among other things, discriminating against Anglicans. A nice turn from where they started.

European style fighting between Christian denominations was not uncommon. Maryland was first settled by English Catholics avoiding Anglican persecution. Lord Baltimore tried Newfoundland, which he found unsuitable for its climate, and Virginia, which was found unsuitable for its Anglicans, before settling in present day Maryland. The Catholic settlers were quickly outnumbered by Protestant settlers seeking economic opportunity. The Catholics, while they still held power in the colonial government, passed the American colonies’ first religious tolerance act. This act was repealed and passed a couple of times with plenty of fighting in between.

So, with Puritans in Massachusetts, Catholics in Maryland, Quakers in Pennsylvania, and Anglicans in Virginia, and intolerance towards each other, IF these colonies were to join into one CHRISTIAN nation, What Christianity would they be able to agree on?

(I have only touched on a few of the highlights and would encourage further reading on this topic of colonial history. Lots of information is available on the internet.)

This series is continued with the Part II covering the Declaration of Independence here– J.S.S.

A Cristian Nation-Introduction and Purpose

Posted in A Christian Nation, Politics, Religion, and Society with tags , on December 3, 2009 by Justin S. Smith

Introduction

I start by saying proudly that I am a patriot. I am also a Christian. Actually I am firstly a Christian, then a husband and father and then a patriot. Regardless, there is no place on earth I would rather live than the United States, but not because I believe it to be a Christian nation. I don’t know that one exists outside of Vatican City. Somewhere along the way the myth was started that this country was founded as a Christian nation, but although I have searched, I am unable to find the evidence of this.

What I am not is a historian. While I have an interest in history, I am in no way a professional or expert in this area. Also note that I have no intention of being exhaustive. A wealth of information, by those more qualified than I, exists readily accessible on the internet. So, as I write this series, know that I have researched the facts that I present, but I understand that contradicting historical accounts are commonplace. If you find yourself disagreeing, do not be disagreeable, and please site your references so we might correct any discrepancies.

Purpose

In a previous post, I openly declared that this is not and has never been a Christian nation. I have repeated this in private and public conversations more than once. I have been challenged on this declaration more than once. One challenge said that the United States was founded on Christian principles and advised that I should read the Constitution; I have read the Constitution and the Articles of Confederation and the Declaration of Independence and the Mayflower Compact and a few other colonial documents. Though it can be said that European colonization of this continent can in large part be contributed to Christians, the separation from England, the founding of our Country and, the setting up of our country’s government are not tied to Christian principles. I purpose to defend this belief, that the United States of America is not and was never a Christian Nation.

This I will explore starting with the Colonies.