Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Are We Still a Christian Nation?

(News-Herald, July 22) I saw it in the polling place where I went to vote- a t-shirt with the motto “This is still a Christian nation.” I’m never sure what to make of that slogan.
First, there’s that word “still,” meant to suggest that our founding fathers established the US as a Christian nation. This remains a noisy point of debate, and as with most such noisy debates, both sides rival Oscar Meyer’s way with b-o-l-o-g-n-a.
Those who insist that the US was founding as a religion-free zone are full of it. Many of our founding fathers (and mothers, too) were solid, devout Christians, many of whom had come to this continent for the express purpose of building a City on a Hill where God would be worshipped Correctly. Those of our founders who were not so religious recognized, at the very least, that the moral influence of Christianity would make for better citizens and leaders. The Christian faith, for better or worse, is an integral part of our history.
However, those who insist the founders intended to create a nation in which leadership and Christianity walked hand in hand, and the Christian faith would be woven into the very fabric of government are also slinging large slabs of lunchmeat. The founders knew their history and in some cases had seen first hand the unholy mess that came out of mixing religion and government, usually with bad results for both (Oliver Cromwell, Spanish Inquisition, Salem witch trials, etc…). They had ample opportunity to install Christianity as an explicit, official part of US government, and they very carefully and deliberately did not.
Many of them tripped over this question: what exactly is the term “Christian nation” supposed to mean, anyway?
The Puritans set Massachusetts up as a Christian nation, and as such they felt free to banish and execute folks who did not worship Jesus properly. And I’m not just talking about witches—Massachusetts executed PA Quakers who insisted on spreading the wrong brand of Christianity and banished members of their own congregation who failed to express the “correct” doctrine. I assume that people who call for a Christian nation are not demanding that the government start deporting and/or executing all non-Christians.
Does it mean “governed by laws based on Biblical statutes”? Because that’s problematic as well, particularly if we go Old Testament, which involves creeping socialism (Leviticus 19:9-10 instruct us to leave part of our crop “for the poor and stranger”) and strict payroll instructions not to hold onto someone’s wages overnight (Leviticus 19:13), just to name two trouble spots.
It might mean a country that recognizes and incorporates the generally agreed-upon principles of Christianity, which will work real nice right up until you have to agree on what, specifically, those principles are. Individual denominations get torn apart by such disagreements. 150 years ago the Baptists splintered over whether or not the Bible supported slavery; today the Episcopal Church is fracturing itself over the Bible’s view of The Gays.
Maybe it’s supposed to mean “a nation where I can express my beliefs without being contradicted or scolded,” but let’s face it—most Christians can’t even get that in their own churches.
Then we get to intra-denominational squabbles. Would a Christian nation recognize the Pope as an infallible voice of God as Catholics (sometimes) do, or would a Christian nation refer to him as the Great Whore of Babylon as some hard-core Protestants do?
Maybe a Christian Nation is one that is predominated by Christians. If so, the numbers aren’t helpful. Waves of studies show that Christians have the same divorce rate, suicide rate, unmarried pregnancy rate as everyone else. The way most Christians live is, apparently, not particularly different from the way everyone else lives.
Trinity College has released the latest results of its thorough and respected survey about religion in American life. The percentage of self-identified Christians was down to 76% in 2008. The center of Catholicism is now in the Southwest; apparently Arizona’s immigration policy will hit the Catholic Church. The fastest growing “religion” is pagan/wiccan.
If a Christian nation is one where Christians are free from oppression, persecution and the threat of death, we’ve done well. Comfy, cushy Americans don’t always appreciate that--the fact that a cashier didn’t say “Merry Christmas” to you does not make you oppressed.
Historically, a [your religion here] country is one where you never have to stand up for your faith because everyone is already pretending to agree with you. I can’t imagine why any Christians would want that.

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