Is America a Christian nation?

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My friend, Dr. Mike LaBossiere, recently wrote an article exploring America’s Christian heritage and ethos.  He asks the question: Is America a Christian nation? 

Jonathan Edwards

Those who believe America is a Christian nation usually point to the writings of our founding fathers as proof that America is Christian.  Those who state that America is not Christian argue that America is a democracy (it’s a Republic, but that’s another article) and that for the country to be considered Christian, it would essentially have to be a theocracy. 

Those who point to the accepted virtue of separating church from the state in America say this tenet prevents America from being a Christian or any other type of religious nation.  They are wrong.

Consider:  Most modern Christians would agree that it is the individuals choice that allows for true conversion to Christianity.  Were it state law that all citizens must be Christians, it’s safe to say that a higher percentage of people than we see in present-day America would be false or “shallow” Christians.  Many of Jesus’ teachings communicate the importance of inner change and he hammers those who pretend to be pious by praying in front of people or letting everyone know how generous they are.  So separating the church from the state is not only desirable for the state, it is desirable for the individual and the church. 

Remember one of the fundamental questions posed in the movie, A Clockwork Orange?  Can man truly be considered “good” if he has no other option but to do what is considered good?  We must ask the same question about Christianity here on Earth.  Is a man a Christian or a Muslim if his government lets him be nothing else?  The answer sits in the innermost thoughts of that man, not in the codices of state law. 

And yet, despite no laws requiring a man label himself a Christian, we have laws that are firmly rooted in historic Christian ethic.  Those who bemoan the posting of the Ten Commandments in American courtrooms should ask themselves: Which one of the Commandments do you disagree with?  Even most Atheists in America are led by Christian culture. 

Another example is the American Army.  It is a volunteer Army.  It  no longer drafts people for compulsory service.  An army composed of people who want to be there is a much more effective  army than one made up of people dragged from their living rooms kicking and screaming.  It is the same with America’s religion.  You are not drafted into Christianity, and yet the nation is composed of a majority of people who call themselves Christians and for the most part obey Christian ethics.  This makes for a more effective Christianity and nation overall.  Those who would question my statement that Americans obeys Christian ethics and thus offer the opposite as proof that we are not a Christian nation should visit “Muslim” nations.  I’ve visited several.  I can assure you the nations of Islam do a far worse job in following their own rules than Americans do following Christian rules.  But don’t take my word for it; take a vacation to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, or just about any other you choose. 

Our nation’s success and attitudes is so bound up in historic Christian values, so intertwined in our minds, that we barely recognize the fact.  Max Weber, perhaps the West’s most revered sociologist, stated in, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, that American and European capitalism are not so much a construct of a “system” but of an attitude created by Calvinism.  The Protestant Work Ethic is the power that drove the West at warp speed past its Eastern competitors, who prefer lounging on pillows, drinking tea, and watching the world go by.  That same Calvinism found the mind of a man whom some consider to be America’s greatest intellectual (or maybe a close second to Ben Franklin), Jonathan Edwards–writer of The End For Which God Created the World, and the preacher famous for the sermon: Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.  Far from a mystic, Edwards studied with great interest the works of Isaac Newton and even wrote his own scientific books that would probably leave todays 25 year old “rationalist” baffled. 

A problem with the question of our nation’s Christianity is a confusion in the use of the words “nation” and “state”.  One of the definitions of nation in Merriam-Webster is:  

a territorial division containing a body of people of one or more nationalities and usually characterized by relatively large size and independent status

A state is defined as:

 one of the constituent units of a nation having a federal government

So a state is part of a nation, but not its whole.   Indeed, I believe our state is not Christian, but our nation is.  The fact that we choose to separate the church from the state merely means that anyone is free not to be a Christian.  And that’s just how this Christian nation wants it.

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6 thoughts on “Is America a Christian nation?

    WTP said:
    May 23, 2011 at 12:44 am

    Is America a Christian nation? Is water blue?

    Lou said:
    May 23, 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Through out the ages religion and government have struggled for power and caused no end of problems for the common people. I think our founding fathers knew this and wanted to avoid the problems. I think they intended for America to be a Christian nation – having God in the State, but keeping the State out of religion. If having a majority of people who say they believe in Christ makes us a Christian nation, then I say we are a Christian nation. But if the majority of the people must belong to the kingdom of God to be a Christian nation, then I say we are not.

    Jamie said:
    May 24, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    Well thought out article. I appreciate the distinction between nation and state, which is something worth considering. Although, with those definitions it’s worth it to consider how demographics affect our national identity. So, while America will likely be a “Christian” nation in 30 years, it’s unlikely that it will be the predominantly white Protestant one we’re familiar with.

    I don’t think anyone would (or should) contest that much of our nation’s identity is bound up in Christian thought, as is the rest of the Western world. It’d be hard to erase the past 2000 or so years. But the problem I have with the words “Christian Nation” is that they are usually employed in a normative argument: we should do X because we are a Christian Nation. An example of this would be the Ten Commandments in courtrooms. You raised the question as to “which one of the Ten Commandments do you disagree with?” As an atheist, I would answer that I only agree with 6, 8, and 9 and find the first 4 offensive. In keeping with your nation/state distinction I fail to understand how the posting of a legal code enjoining the worship of Yahweh in a courtroom would not be emblematic of the state endorsing Christianity/Judaism over other religions. It’s usually at this point where the “Christian Nation” argument is trotted out.

    themadjewess said:
    May 25, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    If anyone really has doubts over what type nation this is, all they have to do is travel the country, there are hundreds & thousands of churches all over America. The churches over-rule any other religious type building.
    I dont believe America is a “Judeo”, then Christian, AFTER. I believe it is CHRISTIAN with Mosaic law from the 10 Commandments.

    Josef Roubal said:
    June 11, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    To say that we were not a Christian nation is like spitting at our mothers and fathers. And yes,
    there are many bad children, who spit at their parents. It’s a pity, that the mind expanding
    drugs that many of them are using, do not expand their minds enough to understand that they
    owe their comfort and freedom to the very parents they are spitting at.

    Doug,
    I am glad you are still publishing your blog. It is a fascinating reading. And when I need a boost I read your article about our meeting in SC. I finally started my blog about evolution, creation, politics. The statement above is from the PDF The Battle for God and the blog is Theevolutionandcreationblog.com.
    Sincerely
    Josef Roubal

    magus71 responded:
    June 12, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Thanks Josef!! I’m going to add a link to your blog in my blogroll.

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