February 11, 2010

Is America a "Christian" nation?

The NY Times magazine* is asking that question this week and they actually don't do too bad a job of it:

This year’s social-studies review has drawn the most attention for the battles over what names should be included in the roll call of history. But while ignoring Kennedy and upgrading Gingrich are significant moves, something more fundamental is on the agenda. The one thing that underlies the entire program of the nation’s Christian conservative activists is, naturally, religion. But it isn’t merely the case that their Christian orientation shapes their opinions on gay marriage, abortion and government spending. More elementally, they hold that the United States was founded by devout Christians and according to biblical precepts. This belief provides what they consider not only a theological but also, ultimately, a judicial grounding to their positions on social questions. When they proclaim that the United States is a “Christian nation,” they are not referring to the percentage of the population that ticks a certain box in a survey or census but to the country’s roots and the intent of the founders.

The Christian “truth” about America’s founding has long been taught in Christian schools, but not beyond. Recently, however — perhaps out of ire at what they see as an aggressive, secular, liberal agenda in Washington and perhaps also because they sense an opening in the battle, a sudden weakness in the lines of the secularists — some activists decided that the time was right to try to reshape the history that children in public schools study. Succeeding at this would help them toward their ultimate goal of reshaping American society. As Cynthia Dunbar, another Christian activist on the Texas board, put it, “The philosophy of the classroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.”


the Christian bloc’s notion this year to bring Christianity into the coverage of American history is not, from their perspective, revisionism but rather an uncovering of truths that have been suppressed. “I don’t know that what we’re doing is redefining the role of religion in America,” says Gail Lowe, who became chairwoman of the board after McLeroy was ousted and who is one of the seven conservative Christians. “Many of us recognize that Judeo-Christian principles were the basis of our country and that many of our founding documents had a basis in Scripture. As we try to promote a better understanding of the Constitution, federalism, the separation of the branches of government, the basic rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights, I think it will become evident to students that the founders had a religious motivation.”

Plenty of people disagree with this characterization of the founders, including some who are close to the process in Texas. “I think the evidence indicates that the founding fathers did not intend this to be a Christian nation,” says James Kracht, who served as an expert adviser to the board in the textbook-review process. “They definitely believed in some form of separation of church and state.”

There is, however, one slightly awkward issue for hard-core secularists who would combat what they see as a Christian whitewashing of American history: the Christian activists have a certain amount of history on their side.

The article goes on to look at both sides of the issue for 9 pages.  It's conclusion, while the founders may have been Christian they were also participants in the enlightenment (enlightenees??) and that was characterized by questioning and distrust of religions role in government. 

I agree.  I am not a constitutional scholar but personally I feel that the founders did intend a "wall of separation", at least at the federal level.  It can be seen in Jefferson's writings, the history of colonization in America (specifically the Pilgrims who came here to escape "established churches"), The writings of Thomas Paine and James Madison among others.  The board members in Texas seem to ignore those writings.  Personally I think they fatally undercut their case.

  I suspect that there are some who will disagree with me wholeheartedly.

(Note:  This isn't to say that I am denying the strong Judeo-Chrsitian influence on American society and history.  That is undeniable and a positive thing in my opinion.  I am just saying that I don't think the founders intended a "Christian nation") 

*I am probably violating the DPUD style guide by linking the NY Times but I excerpted a lot of material so I felt it had to be done.

Posted by: chad98036 at 09:57 PM | Comments (31) | Add Comment
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