Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The Danger of Declaring America a "Christian Nation"

And it isn't just that it excludes non-Christians like me from being considered "real Americans". It's also that the designation practically cries out this question: Which variety of Christianity are we supposed to be? The Founders understood the dangers of this demand for official recognition. The omissions of the words "Jesus", "God" and "Christian" from the Constitution were NOT oversights; they were deliberate, despite the fact that most founders were Christians. (Although not all--Washington, Franklin, and Jefferson were very probably Deists.) This article sums it up pretty well, usimg a current controversy as its springboard:
On August 6, 2007, the New York Times reported on an interesting dispute between the campaign of Sam Brownback and that of Mike Huckabee. According to Times reporter Sarah Wheaton, the following remark set off the dispute:

“‘I know Senator Brownback converted to Roman Catholicism in 2002,” Mr. Rude wrote. “Frankly, as a recovering Catholic myself, that is all I need to know about his discernment when compared to the Governor’s.” The message struck some as an attempt to highlight Mr. Brownback’s Catholicism in a state with a large Protestant electorate.

The comment interested and even amused me, because on another website, I’ve recently been fielding comments from people who believe that we live in “a Christian nation.” Yet here they were, Catholic and Protestant political figures, quarreling just as they did back in the 16th and 17th centuries-the very reason that a separation was proposed between Church and State.

My correspondents also informed me that the Founders were personally devout and orthodox in their views and that the Constitution was derived from the Bible. No doubt they also believe that the Ten Commandments are the foundation of our legal system (actually, it’s the
Code of Justinian.)

It’s hard to figure where in the Bible my correspondents found any discussion of checks and balances, the separation of powers, the regulation of commerce, or impeachment.

What about the influence of John Locke? I asked them. Locke, himself a devout Christian from a Puritan family, inspired Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom written in 1777 and passed, thanks to James Madison, in 1786. Jefferson’s statute is particularly indebted to Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), which you can read in its entirety here. In it Locke declared, “Neither Pagan nor Mahometan, nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion. The Gospel commands no such thing.”
The attempt to set a religious test for public office, which now seems to be firmly a part of Republican politics, is potentially deadly for America. Do we REALLY want the State to be taking sides in Christian doctrinal disputes? Do we really want to exclude Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics, atheists, and simple deists from being defined as Americans in the true sense? The radical right wants America to be a theocracy. Nothing could be more tragic for America's future than for these people to get their way.


Genève said...

Read this article, and most of the comments that follow. It's from the official "news" website of the American Family Association.

Joseph said...

Truly appalling to read the vast majority of the comments on that site, Geneve. These people have NO idea whatsoever about the nature of our country's founding philosophy. Thank you for revealing their frightening intolerance and fanaticism.