Is the United States a Christian Country?
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I just have to say in all candor that since this nation was founded primarily on Christian principles, that’s a decision the American people would have to make, but personally, I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith.-- John McCain
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- Frederick Clarkson: Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters
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- Jeff Sharlet: How the Christian right is reimagining U.S. history
- Peter A. Lillback: Why Have Scholars Underplayed George Washington’s Faith?
- Christopher Hitchens: Yes, the Founding Fathers Were Skeptics About Religion
- Brooke Allen: Our Godless Constitution
- George Will: The founding fathers didn't establish a Christian nation
- Michael Novak: Washington's Faith and the Birth of America
- Kenneth C. Davis: The Founding Fathers Might Have Appreciated Michael Newdow's Campaign to Rid the Pledge of Allegiance of the Words"Under God"
- Stephen Morris: The Founding Fathers Were Not Christians
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Joe Bayless - 4/14/2009
I find it very good that our Founding Fathers included in the First Amendment to the US Constitution the following: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Many of our Founding Fathers and Mothers had experienced the turmoil of European Christianity, or were very fluent in the histories of those countries concerning this issue.
My roots come out of the 19th Century Religious Fervor, where God was sought for answers in this new experience of Kingdom Building. My fore-fathers were driven out of a few communities because of their religious fervor. In all their fervor they hadn't learned how to be good neighbors. But one thing I am thankful for is their desire to make each community where they resided a part of God's Kingdom. They had a lot to learn about WHO should be building this Kingdom and for what purpose. That was left to future generations.
I have been in communities where some "Christian" leaders wanted to make their community, state or nation, a part of God's Kingdom, and they knew exactly how to do it. They were reliving the 16th, 17, and 18th century models in Europe. Thank God for our Founding Fathers and Mothers.
I remember a time in Alabama when I was engaged in discussion with a banker, who belonged to the same service club. He was very vocal about the public schools including a very active prayer life in their curriculum. I later found out that his children didn't go to a public school. They attended a private "Christian" school, which by the way, had no African American children in the school. I asked him if he felt that the banks, and his included, should open every day with a period of prayer. He wasn't very excited about that. He was against the public schools, and I felt prayer was just an avenue for him to vent his anger.
I hope we can continue to allow the First Amendment to guide us. Let every church and religion try to make the community where they reside a part of God's Kingdom, where every voice is heard, every gift is celebrated, and every person is seen as a person of great worth. I am pleased with President Obama's statements in Turkey. I am pleased with the visions of helping people to open up their fists as we reach our hands out to them. In my view, those who "push" the Christian Nation concept are too PUSHY for the needs of our day where listening, dialogue, reconciliation and humility are so urgently needed. But I don't want to exclude my personal testimony, as I want also to include yours.
Lorraine Paul - 4/13/2009
Are you both certain that you are not proclaiming what should be, rather than what is?
Lorraine Paul - 4/13/2009
The United States during the Cold War defined itself as 'Christian' mainly because it defined the USSR as 'Athiest'. From what I have read, during that period it took on much Christian symbolism, such as, In God We Trust, on its currency.
As an athiest it is offensive to me that a copy of the Ten Commandments would occupy a prominent place in a government building or institution.
The United States conservatives seem to be perpetually waving a 'Christian' flag, however, their actions do not represent a Christian way of life or outlook!
Jin Woo Chung - 1/1/2008
Let me start by saying a quote from Gandhi, "I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
Now let us examine the United States...do the "so called" Christians that reside in our nation, a good 85%, follow the teachings of the Son of God, Jesus Christ? Do we, as Christ said, love our enemies and neighbors as we love ourselves? And more importantly do we love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength?
85%...what a joke! Too many people in this country are fooling themselves.
R.R. Hamilton - 12/27/2007
To say America is "not a Christian nation" is no different than saying America is not an English-speaking nation. After all, there is no official language in the Constitution, is there? No "language test"? It's the same thing with Christianity and the Constitution.
Sharon Eileen Crane - 12/17/2007
NO. Some of the people who came here as immigrants (undocumented aliens) in the 1600 and 1700s wanted to practice their version of Christianity: Puritans, Separatists, Anglicans, Ana-baptists, etc. In most cases they did not include catholicism in their Christianity. There was also discrimination and often blatant prejudice against Jews, Aethists, and Agnostics, etc.
However, whoever gets to write the history often gets to select the "facts" to support their belief system. Thus is born the notion of a Judeo-Christian ethic and belief system as the cornerstone of this nation. Most of our founding fathers were probably deists, agnostics, and other "non-believers." It is clear from the Constitution that they never intended to wed this nation to a state-sponsored religion thus their instance on never having a religious test for who was suitable to run for or hold a public office.
Therefore, religion and the notion of a Christian nation is and should remain a personally held belief, in no way should religion (of whatever determination) ever determine our public policy decisions.
Shamyn Whitehawk - 10/26/2007
Is America Christian? First define 'Christian'. Everyone seems to have their own idea of what that entails: living by the tenets of the man known as Jesus Christ? No. They live by the tenets of their church, not those set forth by Jeshua ben Joseph (Jesus), and more often than not those churches are very intolerant. So America's not Christian in that sense. Nor was America founded by Christians, but by Deists and Unitarians, so the USA isn't Christian by that standard, either.
Korea International School - 10/25/2007
We are an international school based out of Seoul, South Korea. We have students from the US, Great Britain, New Zealand, China, and Australia represented in this class. We are currently studying the effects of religion in an age of globalization. Here are some of there thoughts about the topic at hand. We would love to hear your responses.
-We think that the United States is more leaned toward Christianity. When it comes to social affairs, they don’t enforce their religious beliefs forcefully. When you actually look at the Americans from a distant point of view, they actually seem to have more Christianity values embedded in their lives. For example, in education most of the private schools tend to be Christian schools and when it comes to holidays, they really emphasize their Christian beliefs.
-We think America is very religious country.
For example, the American Constitution is based on Christian ideas. A lot of the laws included in the Constitution come from the Ten Commandments in the Bible. For example, the concepts of murder, adultery, robbery, etc are all from the Bible.
-Another example is that in courts, when witnesses swear to testify only the truth, they put their right hand on the Bible.
-We believe that the United States is a Christian state.
The foundation of America itself is based on Christians values. For example, in the the preamble it says,"Under god", and two of the major holidays is Thanksgiving and Christmas, which are both Christian holidays. The current U.S. government bases lots of their views on foreign policies regarding Christianity. Also, the simple fact that the majority of the population living in the United States happens to be Christian.
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USA is not a Christian nation because it is a free country. Just because the majority believes in Christianity, it does not mean that the nation encourages the citizens to believe in it. In determining whether or not a nation is Christian, the nation's decision-making bases and values have to be considered. Being known by some as a nation that wars a lot, the U.S. does not seem very Christian. From what I know, a Christian nation should not be violent. Also, in the U.S., premarital sex, abortion and adultery is relatively common, and these things strictly go against Christian values. U.S. citizens think very freely and have controversial beliefs, and therefore the U.S. is not a Christian nation.
Norman Teigen - 10/18/2007
History matters and it matters very much in the discussion of this issue. I have been poking around in English history for the past several years and the lesson is clear: civil affairs cannot be determined by adherence to religious belief. The whole idea is the cross-examination concept. When someone proposes something, there is, in democratic thought, the necessity of cross-examination.
One cannot cross-examine God but one can cross-examine someone who claims to speak for God. Since in this life we can only determine for reasonable certainty what we can observe, an appeal to God's will is an appeal to what there will be variance of opinion.
Holmes phrased this well when he said that experience, not logic, is the language of the law.
Disclosure requires me to state that I am an active confessional Lutheran. I am an American first and a Lutheran second. I separate the two spheres of government, i.e. the church and the state, from each other believing, as did Martin Luther, that the functionsof the two are separate.
James Renwick Manship - 10/18/2007
So many anti-Christian academics (those who consider it "un-scholarly" to acknowledge the predominant role of Christian thought in the founding of this Constitution and nation) dismiss the obvious as irrelevant, or meaning other than what is said.
A decade ago many academics labeled Washington as a "Deist". The past 18 months has seen 6 books written on the Christian faith of George Washington. Most honest academics now acknowledge Washington was a devout Christian.
Jefferson wrote to Benjamin Rush to say in part, "My opinions are very different from that anti-Christian system imputed to me by those who know nothing ..." and in the same letter wrote, "I am a Christian...".
The oft-cited, often maligned, and mostly misunderstood "Jefferson Bible" was in fact a "Bible Study" done IN THE WHITE HOUSE when PRESIDENT -- so much for "separation of church and state" for the purpose of preparing a Gospel Tract from the "Great White Chief" (president) to aid Christian Missionaries evangelize Indians to the Christian Faith.
If you would like to see the title page of that "Gospel Tract" prepared by President Thomas Jefferson while in the White House, go to the link:
The Jefferson Bible is basically a "Red Letter" New Testament -- just the words of Jesus -- in part because Jefferson wrote "If the Gospel had been taught as pure as it came from His lips, the whole civilized world would now be Christian..."
Many say Thomas Jefferson did not like or believe in the Miracles or the Virgin Birth so he cut out all reference to them in his "Jefferson Bible" (which others, not TJ, gave it that title). The truth is that Jesus NEVER described the Virgin Birth and NEVER described the Miracles. In only one verse in Saint John, Jesus listed the Miracles, and Jefferson included that verse, so Jefferson did not deny or delete the Miracles.
Thomas Jefferson's manservant, Isaac Jefferson was interviewed for a personal recollections biography as a free black blacksmith in Petersburg, Virginia in a.d. 1845 and he said TJ read the words of Jesus every day of his life.
Some say Thomas Jefferson may have been a Church Vestryman early in his life, but in later years abandoned his Christian faith. Yet three years before he died, in a.d. 1823, Thomas Jefferson selected the motto for the University of Virginia "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free." -- the word of Jesus Christ.
Thomas Hagedorn - 10/18/2007
Perfect, and succinct.
Thomas Hagedorn - 10/18/2007
Evangelical Christians were the single largest group to oppose Jackson's Indian Removal policy. Christian missionaries showed great concern for native americans and often fought with the U.S. government over its Indian policy.
Thomas_Hagedorn - 10/18/2007
I will right off identify myself as an evangelical Christian, as a reference point. While I think almost anything is fair game for discussion, I think that the wrangling over whether the United States is (or was) a "Christian Nation" is not useful to anyone, and only divides us needlessly. We have enough real issues that fulfill that function quite nicely.
First, one has to carefully define what they mean by a Christian nation, yet often that is not done. The U.S.A. today is a Christian nation if we look at how people describe themselves in polls and how others measure our collective beliefs. The U.S.A. is not a Christian nation if we look at our constitution and laws, we are not a theocracy as was, say, ancient Israel. Our laws are the result of many different ideas and influences, some of them very definitely Christian and some very definitely not Christian. Culturally, we are a mixed-bag as well. Christmas, Sunday laws, even Sabbaticals (!) have Christian roots, some obvious, some not. Yet, no Christian would want to claim much of pop culture as its own.
Basically, the idea of a Christian Nation is only worth discussing if it is carefully defined. In most contexts, it is not.
Sam R Thornton - 10/16/2007
I assume what occasioned this question is the John McCain quote at the foot of the article. I note that the quote is the usual marvel of political deniability, parsable so as to be able to allay the fears of all from Puritan to Satanist.
What Sen. McCain is saying is pure piffle, of course. The founding of the nation, effective when the Constitution was ratified, is based on that document. Any possible reading of it reveals immediately that it is a testament to its roots in the Enlightenment, not in any branch of Christian theology.
While it is true that some writers of the Enlightenment made passing references to the Deity, the degree to which this was done as a fallback position in case the Inquisition made a comeback is an open question. Most Enlightenment writers, in fact, were often fairly scathing when it came to organized religions, particularly the various Christian brands floating about at the time.
The Founding Fathers, as we style them now, had before them the disastrous religious adventures in New England which saw Puritans distinguish themselves by darting around the countryside setting old women on fire in the name of God as well as various other outrages in the name of religion we won't go into here.
That's why they erected the wall between church and state. It's bad enough when in the name of religion people go mad on their own, but to make that a part of government they saw, fortunately, as equally mad.
As for the smug McCain plaint that "I prefer someone who I know who has a solid grounding in my faith," I would prefer someone I know filling my pockets with hundred dollar bills. We all have our little hangups, I guess.
Carson Stewart - 10/16/2007
I say no,I'm an atheist-american of many generations.Is this not my country also, should I leave because its a christian country? What would Thomas Jefferson say?
Lawrence Brooks Hughes - 10/15/2007
It's about kind hearts and gentle people, who really do love their neighbors and turn the other cheek. It is unfortunate so many Americans live on the East and West Coasts instead of in the center of the country, for they do not benefit (usually) from the experience of living among devout Christians. Christians are perhaps the least threatening people on earth. Anybody who professes to fear "militant" Christians doesn't know what he is talking about. When left alone, Christians are never militant, and there is far too much ignorance about this, (especially in places like the Janet Reno Justice Department). Unlike Muslims, Christians do not attack those who fail to share their faith. Unlike many others, Christians have long been tolerant and studious people--the principal reason Western civilization has gained its huge superiority over Eastern civilization. Those who fancy themselves doing battle against "militant Christians" are in fact sowing far more discord in the United States today than any activities undertaken by Christians themselves.
MLU - 10/14/2007
Is HNN a "history" website?
John Adams, the driving force behind the Revolution, was certainly Christian, as well as a leading advocate of religious freedom: "When all men of all religions ... shall enjoy equal liberty, property, and an equal chance for honors and power ... we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society."
Without the Genesis story proposing that humans were made in God's image--all of them, male and female, bond and slave--it's hard to see where the idea of equality would have taken root.
Many people have noted what W. H. Auden noted: "A faith which held that the Son of God was born in a manger, associated himself with persons of humble station in an unimportant Province, and died a slave's death, yet did this to redeem all men, rich and poor, free men and slaves, citizens and barbarians, required a completely new way of looking at human beings. . ."
And then there was that centuries-long pondering of the covenant with Abraham and the gradual understanding that it was necessary for Abraham to give his consent--an understanding which worked itself into the early New England colonies, and into the thought of that amazing Puritan John Locke, and into the very fiber of the new nation.
And then there's typology--that Christian habit of mind that sees how meanings can be abstracted from events and used as patterns for understanding a wide variety of phenomena--which creates a mind ready for discovering both scientific law and literary symbolism. . .
The more interesting question, I think, is whether America can sustain a belief in fundamental equality and in the sacred need for the consent of the governed and the faith required to grant others meaningful freedom as the hordes of militant unbelievers, familiar to all the Biblical heroes, grow increasingly shrill and hateful toward any who believe in simple goodness. . .
Stephen Cipolla - 10/13/2007
There is plenty of evidence that many of the founders were not-Christians and had a particular dislike of the Papacy. On the other hand, why does this even matter to the question.
There are more Christians in this country than non-Christians. Does this even matter?
In truth, it's an infuriatingly trivial question. American politicians are largely amoral. They use religion as a tool in the campaign toolkit. For them, it is there to haul out whenever there are votes to sucked up by invoking Dieties.
Our conduct in relating to the rest of the world, not that it's anybody's standard for judging the religiosity of an entire country, let alone its morality, is at best amoral, by design.
But, if forced to answer the question, I guess the best I can do is: who cares?
Shane - 10/13/2007
We are not a Christian country. This is tautological. All it takes is one example of a non-christian citizen. Look around, there are a few.
just a thought - 10/13/2007
You are committing the fallacy of division.
Bob Archer - 10/12/2007
Is the United States a Christian nation? No, not in the literal sense of the term, but we sure are an immature and gratuitous nation. Take a look at how much violence we've perpetrated, with impunity, on othr people during the last half century; look at our remarkably sleazy, consumer driven culture; look at our president, who probably really does think he's a Christian but is actually a smirking, not-too-bright, self-righteous bully; look at our bought politicians and amoral corporations; look at our everyday obsession with violence, prurient sexuality, and our constantly aggressive and often self-serving behavior; and tell me if it's even remotely possible that we could be a "Christian" nation -- whatever that's supposed to be. This is the land of Jerry Falwell, Ted Haggard, Jim Baker, Dick Cheney and Karl Rove, after all. You know: "Christians." Yeah, right.
heather - 10/11/2007
The US is not a Christian nation but a nation of many different religions. The US is (supposed) to respect people's right to freedom of religion, including those that the greater community may not understand well.
Ralph - 10/11/2007
Statistically, the U.S. is less a Christian (70%) nation than Egypt is a Muslim (94%) nation, but more than Israel is a Jewish (51%) nation.
With respect to being a declared Christian country, the Constitution strictly prohibits any such "establishment" of religion.
As for the current behavior of the U.S., one could be forgiven for inferring that our country is dominated by Christian and Jewish interests. However, there is nothing resembling a significant religious Apartheid policy here... yet.
Roger Lafontaine - 10/11/2007
Should Columbia have invited Ahmadinejad? Why not? Would it refuse Bush or Cheney who have actually brought about a Holocaust in Iraq? The amazing thing is that Ahmadinejad is supposed to be the fanatic. He doesn't rant and rave like that other Hitler but speaks quietly and respectfully while everybody else is screaming and shrieking that he is a fanatic. I think much is being done to distort this man's words to justify another war. In 2 years time he will probably be voted out of office and if we can wait that long we will have saved a trillion dollars in bombs and millions of lives.
Roger Lafontaine - 10/11/2007
The question is: What is the point of declaring America a 'Christian nation'? It is plain to see that it is intended to suppress and deny the rights of those who do not profess to be Christian. To me that means that 'Christian America' is anti-American and probably anti-Christian too. The values of the Bill of Rights and the Constitution could not have been reached via the Bible. I once heard my minister proclaim that Christianity is not a democracy. God is King. You either obey or go to Hell. That's good for you I said, but I still prefer democracy.
Brian Clark - 10/11/2007
The Constituion of the US definitively states that the government is secular. Whatever one's personal beliefs and practices, those beliefs and practices are not and cannot be enshrined in the law. Tacit Christianity does not mean the country is a "Christian Nation."
I sure as hell hope not.
But these days it seems to matter so much. I don't see why christians feel the need to convert everyone. They're no better than terrorists.
Peter Chase - 10/11/2007
It was a product of a rationalist movement away from things religious, but we seem to have lost our way. I am an atheist, but my respect for the teachings of Christ are such that it seems obvious that the movement which calls itself Christian and is influencing the "moral right" and/or is juxtaposing our culture with that of Islam, bears no relation to the Teachings of the Man Himself. No, we are not a Christian Nation.
Samuel Harrison Rankin - 10/11/2007
Of course we are Christian. We are part of Western Civilization and that, by definition, is Christian, with all that is truth, beauty, and goodness, warts and all.
Marcial E.Ocasio-Melendez - 10/10/2007
No. The US is not a Christian country. Since its creation, due to long held religious encounters, a simple rule was placed in the Constitution. The first amendment states very clearly that: Congress will not make any law adopting any state official religion nor can it prohibit any religious practices. Therefore, the state is not atheist, but it is a material state such as Marx wanted, except that US citizens can have any religion they want. If the country´s glue is the Constitution,as Profs. Lane and Oreskes state in their recent book, The Genius of America, then it is logical that religion plays no role in the actions of political leaders except when they realize that religious voters might place more importance on religion than on material gains or political actions.
University of Puerto Rioc
John Porter - 10/10/2007
Rodney - 10/10/2007
"I think it's clear we don't have a Christian nation. We have, for the most part, a delusional one."
I would add that most Americans - if they actually came to terms with what it means to be Christian - wouldn't want a Christian nation. The thirst for vengeance, oil, and profits soaked in the blood of non-Americans (hi, Blackwater) seems to trump Christian ethics and goodwill towards men.
Rodney - 10/10/2007
It certainly would not look like the U.S. Jesus favored a redistribution of wealth and resources to benefit the least among us. A Christian nation, then, would have at least universal health care and its citizens would happily pay higher taxes to help out their neighbors.
What do we see in this country? We see wealth and power increasingly being concentrated in the hands of the few at the expense of the many. We see a president, who professes Christianity, refusing to adequately fund children's health insurance programs in favor of diverting more public funds to the corporate masters of war.
Speaking of war, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of simply turning the other cheek. Does this president, in addition to the majority of Americans who supported him in his war-mongering, turn the other cheek - ever?
I think it's clear we don't have a Christian nation. We have, for the most part, a delusional one.
Robert M. Bliss - 10/10/2007
The answer to that question is, what is Christianity? And once we get through that one, if we can do it without slaughtering the heretics among us, or less savagely rendering them incapable of voting, or marriage, or some other right open only to those washed in the blood of whatever lamb, is that the USA cannot be a Christian country: not, that is, if it wants, as a republican democracy, to continue to claim the undivided political loyalty of all its citizens. Or, to put it another way, make this a Christian nation and I cease to be a citizen.
Barry Biederman - 10/10/2007
From a constitutional standpoint, clearly not. Nowhere does the Constitution identify the state as Christian. And with good reason. Most of the Founding Fathers were Deists, and indifferent Christians at best. Jefferson was proud of having introduced the principle of separation of Church and State; he would have shuddered at the notion of bringing the two together under a sectarian umbrella. The founding generation was as familiar as ours with the awful consequences of state-endorsed religion. They knew the awful history of the European wars of religion; they wanted none of that here. Even to raise the question today is to realize how right they were.
Jay Spaulding - 10/10/2007
The United States is a secular republic inhabited by numerous Christians and others.
John Philips - 10/10/2007
Define "Christian" and "country" before you can expect an answer. Five American presidents, and at least three Founding Fathers (Adams, Franklin and Jefferson) didn't believe Jesus was God. Were they Christian?
The federal government has never had an official religion. Several states have, and Massachusetts didn't disestablish its church until the 1830s.
Wilson Gittleman - 10/10/2007
i do not even know what the words 'Christian Nation" mean, any more than I understand that (now, still) many parties in Europe incorporate 'Christian' in the title of some competing parties.
Again, what does 'Christian' mean: Probably it means 'we' Americans (attempt to) live by Jesus' principles. So do I (Jewish), most Muslims, ethical agnostics, perhaps athetists, etc.
And on top of it, 'Christian' Jesus was Jewish, taught by Jewish teachers, and many of his pronouncements are approproximate maxims previously taught to him by Jewish teachers, from whom he, no doubt, was educated.
This is an antiquated term, whether here or in Europe and is really an oxymoron.
We are (or attempt to be), an ethical, basically constitutional, nation, that is made of citizens that have so many variegated viewpoints, one CANNOT describe its members by one, or two, or three 'boxes'.
Al Geist - 10/10/2007
My previous post should have read "I find all this discussion about 'America' being a Christian or non-Christian nation rather interesting. It already had owners prior to the arrival of the Christians, and it was the Christians who ethnically cleansed the original inhabitants from the land. Theft, genocide, oppression...can someone explain to me how this is "Christian" and how we should be proud of this heritage?
Al Geist - 10/9/2007
I find all this discussion about "America" being a Christian or non-Christian nation. It already had previous owners prior to the arrival of the Christians and it was Christians who ethnically cleansed them from the land.
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