Kind of Red

April 16, 2009

One Nation Under God

Filed under: Uncategorized — The Painted One @ 9:39 pm

 

 

Jon Meacham for Newsweek

Jon Meacham for Newsweek

 

Last Saturday, Newsweek published an article (from the magazine issue dated April 13, 2009) by Jon Meacham ominously titled The Decline and Fall of Christian America.  As one could imagine, the article sparked intense debate, as it cited numbers from the 24-page summary of the 2009 American Religious Identification Survey.  For example, the study stated, “the number of Americans claiming no religious affiliation has nearly doubled since 1990,” and that the “Northeast emerged in 2008 as the new stronghold of the religiously unidentified.”  In describing the seismic shift in religious identification, Mr. Meacham quotes Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President, R. Albert Mohler Jr. in declaring, “The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered.”  Mr. Mohler further stated, “The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.”  Certainly Mr. Meacham is not the first to remark on such grave findings, and will not be the last.  Mr. Josh McDowell had made similar suggestions in his 2006 book, entitled The Last Christian Generation, where he said, ” I sincerely believe unless something is done now to change the spiritual state of our young people–you will become the last Christian generation.”   While Mr. McDowell’s comments have a flair for the dramatic, they do have a point; the power of Christianity’s influence is waning.

Notwithstanding, as Meacham himself states, the claims of the death of Christianity in America are grossly overstated.  Those pledging allegiance to the faith still represent the largest body of believers in our country.  What the numbers in the survey suggest is that the influence of Christianity in the United States in waning, and waning rapidly.  The numbers and the analysis offered by Mr. Meacham merely raise the implicit question of whether we truly are a Christian nation, or ever were a Christian nation to begin with. The answer lies in how one defines “Christian nation.”  Are we a nation founded as distinctly with the aim of submitting to Christian principles and organizing in adherence to such goals, or rather are we a nation afforded with immense religious freedom that has a distinct cultural heritage linked to Christianity?

Church

I personally grapple with this very question often, for I believe in the existence of a true and living God.  I also understand full well and tremendously appreciate the fact that our nation allows for a degree of religious freedom that permits for, and at times nurtures the worship of that God.  I understand that many of our nation’s traditions bear their roots in my faith tradition.  Hundreds of thousands throughout history have not been so blessed.

I also understand Christianity has proven to be the faith associated with most citizens in the history of our nation.  Moreover, I often used to find myself arguing that the founding fathers established this nation as a Christian nation and even implemented Jefferson’s figurative “wall of separation between the church and state” to protect the church from the state and not vice versa.  I was not alone in making such contentions; nonetheless, there are challenges that hinder unequivocally describing this nation as a Christian one if looking only at the original intent of the founders.

Signing of the Declaration of Independence

Simply put, the founding fathers, for the most part, were not Christians; particularly not within the way we presently understand Christianity. Those who subscribe to such a notion often cite historical facts such as John Adams, George Washington and others attended afternoon Mass at St. Mary’s Church when the Continental Congress met, or how nine of the thirteen original colonies had established “state churches during the colonial period.”  Nevertheless, other historical factors tell a different tale.

As David L. Holmes writes in Faiths of the Founding Fathers, the founding fathers had varying degrees of faith.  He writes, Benjamin Franklin was “the first prominent American Deist and most universal American of his time.”  Mr. Holmes further noted how George Washington was “religiously active” by the standards of his time, while John Adams was a Unitarian, or in other words a “Christian Deist.” Thomas Jefferson, though deemed “the most self-consciously theological of all America’s presidents,” was no by no stretch of the imagination a Christian (one need look no further than his personal version of the Bible).  James Madison partook in a revival that occurred while he was on Princeton’s campus, but his faith was described as “short-lived.”  James Monroe was possibly deemed a skeptic with a private pattern of religious commitment.  Thomas Paine has even been quoted saying, “The religion of Deism is superior to the Christian Religion.”

One commonly overlooked idea is that Christianity during the time of the founding fathers differed mightily from the Christianity, in any form, we witness in this nation presently.  Particularly, as Mr. Holmes again writes in Faiths of the Founding Fathers, between the fourth and sixteenth century, “certain practices or doctrines recorded in the New Testament or in the writings of the early church fathers dropped out of use in Christianity.”  Deism proved an influential frame of thought during eighteenth-century Americans as “a liberator from the shackles of repressive religion and tyrannical government won widespread acclaim.”  Christian doctrine during the colonial era was also heavily influenced by Quaker thought, the Unitarians and the Sandemanians.

 

speak-for-yourself

It is this wide range of thought contributed mightily to the inherent freedoms encapsulated in the First Amendment. The founders also seemed to have understood that persons of all religious faiths have perpetrated horrendous acts of violence in the name of God throughout the span of human history, even if such acts contradict the very faith to which they blindly adhere.  They understood, the same could occur within our borders if they established a state church or doctrine, especially considering they could not agree on a religious doctrine themselves. The promulgation of a written Constitution, which would serve as the fundamental law governing a nation and bestow rights upon its citizenry, remains the hallmark of America’s contributions to civilization, and launched the nation’s “improbable experiment in democracy.”  That Constitution drafted and ratified by our nation’s founders explicitly and implicitly does not endorse any particular faith at all.

To put it succinctly we are a secular democracy with Christian cultural heritage.  We are a democracy, not a modernized form of a theocracy like Iran for example.  We as a nation are Christian by acculturation rather than governance or original founding intent.

One NAtion Under God

Our cultural tradition runs deep and stretches back far, but the national embrace has some times reflected a genuine reflection of acceptance of the faith and other times represented a mere act of convenience.  The United States began inserting the motto IN GOD WE TRUST on our currency due to “increased religious sentiment existing during the Civil War,” and formally adopted the tradition on March 3, 1865.  Contrastingly, Congress added the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance to satiate the anti-Communist fervor that swept the nation during the time immediately following the Second World War.  Since, the words, along with “IN GOD WE TRUST” and God bless America have become “backdrop of American life” throughout the years, despite its origins.

Regardless of whether we are a Christian nation by acculturation, we must readily admit there was a day that the faith had a more discernible impact on our country.  What then do we make of this marked decline in those affiliating with the faith that has so long characterized our nation?  Many find it a beacon of hope that our nation has become more progressive and tolerant of all people.  Believers are deemed narrow-minded, too narrow-minded for this new era in our history, and for many this is a welcome change.  I personally see it as little more than the fulfillment of scripture and a call to awaken.  Scripture forewarns of this  “falling away” we are witnessing (II Thessalonians 2:3, Hebrews 3:12), along with an outright rejection of the idea of worshiping God and conforming to His truth (Philippians 2:21, II Timothy 3:1-7).  It is for this cause, that the world awaits a manifestation of the children of God (Romans 8:19) to bear witness of the wondrous God we serve.  As I said in Eyes Wide Shut, “Nonbelievers know that He lives, He’s just not living in you/So they abandon the Body with diminishing hopes/Digging their ditches only to get rid of their holes.”  For as long as we believers do not offer a better example, our influence will wane  because we have seemingly offered no better alternatives.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] set a minimum standard of expectation and set forth remedies when those expectations are dashed.  The United States is not a modernized theocracy.  It is a secular democracy with heavy Christian cultural influences. See U.S. Const. amend. I. […]

    Pingback by A Conversation on Marriage Pt. II « Kind of Red — January 11, 2010 @ 7:53 pm | Reply


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