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?
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.