The US is Not and Never Has Been a Christian Nation

I am tired of all the whining about “religious freedom,” and am especially exasperated when it is followed by some version of “I’m a Christian, and I’m under attack because I’m not free to discriminate against non-Christians or gay people who morally offend me because, of course, my morals are better than those who are not Christian and/or are gay.”

OK, so you want to ignore all the stuff Jesus supposedly said about loving thy neighbor and doing unto others as you have them do unto you? Fine. Hypocrites I can deal with. In fact, my Dad first pointed them out to me after church one day when the women standing outside were gossiping, and I heard them say something about wondering who was my mother. You see, my Dad was married a few times, and that wasn’t something a Catholic was supposed to do, and that he had somehow made me a lesser person in the eyes of these pious souls. When I asked my Dad why those women were talking about me he said loud enough so they could hear him: “because they are hypocrites. They are people who profess to have certain morals and beliefs, but they really don’t as we can see by their behavior.”

madisonWhat I can’t abide, however, are people who either don’t know or ignore this country’s history, especially its founding principles.

So let’s be clear about a few things:

  • The US Constitution makes no reference whatever to god or divine providence, and cites as its sole authority “the people of the United States.”
  • The stated purposes of said constitution were secular, political ends: “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.”
  • Rather than building a “Christian Commonwealth” as the supreme law of the land, as did many leaders of the colonies,” the founders of this country chose instead to establish a secular state.
  • The opening clause of said constitution’s first amendment made clear that the state had no voice concerning matters of conscience: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
  • In debating the language of that amendment, the first House of Representatives rejected a Senate proposal that would have made possible the establishment of the Christian religion.
  • The founders were very clear: there would be no Church of the United States as there was the Church of England, and America would not represent itself to the world as a Christian Republic.

The founders were not Christians; they were Deists. As such, they embraced the Enlightenment view that religion was solely an issue of individual freedom with no consideration for religion’s value in providing society with a moral ground. In fact, they feared the idea of an established religion, having been witness to many who were put to death because their beliefs were based on religions other than the one recognized by the state. Such religions were banned and adherence to them was punishable by death.

Let’s remember it was John Adams who wrote:

The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

So Christian fundamentalists and Conservatives today who so proudly tout their fealty to the Constitution in reality want to trash our founding document by violating the first amendment in hopes of establishing Christianity as the nation’s religion. To be sure, this is precisely what the Constitution prohibits:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a for a redress of grievances.

The founders’ inclusion of this constitutional protection was born out of their desire to foster and safeguard freedom of religion, hoping they would protect what was already a religiously diverse population from the kinds of religious conflicts that had raged in Europe through much of the 16th and 17th centuries.

So let’s stop this ridiculous argument about being a Christian nation. If there should be any doubt, let us listen to the founders. This is from Thomas Jefferson in an April 11, 1823, letter to John Adams:

The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus by the Supreme Being in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. … But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with all this artificial scaffolding….

These are not the words of a man who wishes to establish a Christian theocracy. Jefferson  wished to avoid the dominance of a single religion.

So let me say again, we are not now, nor have we ever been, a Christian nation. Our founders explicitly and clearly excluded any reference to “God” or “the Almighty” in the Constitution. Not one time is the word “god” mentioned in our founding document. Not one time.

The facts of our history are easy enough to verify. Those who ignorantly insists that our nation is founded on Christian ideals should take a look at some of this nation’s founding documents; I mean really look at them, read them, consider and comprehend them. I’ve written here about the Constitution, but the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Federalist Papers also make clear this country’s secular origins.

Declaration of Independence (1776)
declarationdunlapThe power of government is derived not from any god but from the people. No appeal is made in this document to a god for authority of any kind. In no case are any powers given to religion in the affairs of man (and I use man deliberately here because for all their enlightenment thinking, our founders were not thinking of women when they crafted this document).

Articles of Confederation (1777)
This document consists of 13 articles, and the only reference to anything remotely relating articles_confrationto a god is a term used one time, “Great Governor of the World,” and even then only in the context of a general introduction. If they’d considered women as part of their audience, they might well have written “Ladies and gentlemen.” As in the Declaration of Independence, the authors gave no power or authority to religion.

docU.S. Constitution (1787)
See above. This document makes zero reference to a god or Christianity.

Federalist Papers (1787-88)
Publishing under the pseudonym “Publius,” Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote and published these 85 articles and essays to promote the ratification of the US Constitution. As is the case in our other founding documents, at no time federalistpapersis a god or Christianity mentioned. Religion is only discussed in the context of keeping matters of faith separate from the concerns of governance, and of keeping religion free from government interference.

The founders of this country could not have been clearer on this point: god has no role in government; Christianity has no role in government. They make this point explicitly, repeatedly, in multiple founding documents. We are not a Christian nation.

This obsession with God in politics is actually a recent phenomenon and would seem completely alien to any of our founders. “In God We Trust” was first placed on US coins in 1861, and it wasn’t until 1956 that that expression was adopted as the national motto by the 84th Congress. The clause “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance was inserted only in 1954. Shocking to some, I know, but this is the case.

So once again, let’s be clear: god and Christianity were not included any of this country’s founding documents. We were born a secular nation and must remain one to sustain our democracy.

The founders of this country understood well the danger of mixing religion and politics.  Those who wish to ignore that council put us all in peril.

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2 Responses to The US is Not and Never Has Been a Christian Nation

  1. Doc says:

    But what do you really think? Kidding aside, I hope you will direct people to this post. It’s definitive.

  2. dougindeap says:

    Good points well put.

    While some draw meaning from the variously phrased references to god(s) in the Declaration of Independence (references that could mean any number of things, some beyond or different than the Christian idea of God) and try to connect that meaning to the Constitution, the effort is largely baseless. Important as the Declaration is in our history, it did not operate to bring about independence (that required winning a war), nor did it found a government, nor did it even create any law, and it certainly did not say or do anything that somehow dictated the meaning of a Constitution adopted twelve years later. The colonists issued the Declaration not to do any of that, but rather to politically explain and justify the move to independence that was already well underway. Nothing in the Constitution depends on anything said in the Declaration. Nor does anything said in the Declaration purport to limit or define the government later formed by the free people of the former colonies. Nor could it even if it purported to do so. Once independent, the people of the former colonies were free to choose whether to form a collective government at all and, if so, whatever form of government they deemed appropriate. They were not somehow limited by anything said in the Declaration. Sure, they could take its words as inspiration and guidance if, and to the extent, they chose–or they could not. They could have formed a theocracy if they wished–or, as they ultimately chose, a government founded on the power of the people (not a deity) and separated from religion.

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