A Christian Nation.

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Elmud
 
Reply Wed 18 Mar, 2009 09:49 pm
As a young person, I was always under the impression, because I was told so, that the United States was a Christian Nation. As I got older, I learned that some of our forefathers were Deists. I think i read somewhere, that Benjamin Franklin was a Rosicrucian. So, did we really start out as a Christian Nation? I don't really know. Now, we are a diversity of several things. But way back then, what did the framers of our constitution believe? Were they predominately Christian, or were they Deists? Or maybe both. Just curious.
 
hammersklavier
 
Reply Thu 19 Mar, 2009 06:04 am
@Elmud,
I wonder who told you we're a Christian nation? There are many subtle meanings in the phrase.

First, part of the point of the First Amendment--the freedom of religion--is that we are not a Christian nation, that we may worship howsoever we may choose, and if one wants to be a Muslim or Buddhist or make up one's own belief system out of thin air or what have you, no one's going to try and stop you. At least, that's the theory behind the phrase.

You are right--many Enlightenment thinkers, of which our Founding Fathers may be included, were indeed Deists. They believed in God but disassociated themselves from the Church because, as they saw it, the Church, any Church, necessarily corrupted the true Word of God. I recall reading something about Jefferson's Bible; he basically compared all the sayings and doings of Jesus in all the four Gospels and extricated anything that all four didn't agree on (now we know, of course, that that might not have been the best way of going about finding out what Jesus actually said, but still...). I've heard a lot of rumors about Franklin's religious identity, and frankly, I'm from Philly, and I still find them a load of s...

Now, on the other side of the coin, is our popular religious identity. Although claiming religious nationhood violates not just the letter of the Constitution, but the very spirit of the Constitution as well, as a people we are, overwhelmingly, Christian; I think there are more practicing Christians here today, especially in the Deep South and the Midwest (the so-called Bible Belt) than in much more libertine Europe; for every single synagogue, mosque, or temple, I'll bet you you'll find ten churches. And of course there a great many distinct religious groups that call themselves Christians, as well: Eastern Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Baptist, Mormon, the list goes on and on, etc. etc. etc. So the bottom line is, in legal theory we are officially areligious, but in terms of what the people follow we are far more Christian than officially Christian European nations (like, e.g. Great Britain, where the monarch is the head of the Anglican Church).
 
Dave Allen
 
Reply Thu 19 Mar, 2009 06:34 am
@Elmud,
What do you mean by 'Libertine' Europe?
 
Resha Caner
 
Reply Thu 19 Mar, 2009 07:21 am
@Dave Allen,
Does "yes and no" count as an answer? Hammersklavier summarized it well. Technically, we are not, nor have we ever been a "Christian" nation. But, Christianity has never had a serious rival in the U.S. People dabble in eastern religions, but they've never been dominant - nor has atheism.

Amongst the Founding Fathers, attitudes ran the gamut. They were not monolithic - as they are often portrayed. It went from Patrick Henry, who was a devout Christian to Thomas Paine who was a devout atheist. Most of those in the middle played to the religious sentiments of the "masses" while hiding their true feelings, which makes historical conclusions difficult. But, for my money, I'd call Jefferson a closet atheist and Franklin a mystic. Washington was probably Christian, but not extremely devout or outspoken. The Adamses were also Christian, but had some non-traditional views in certain areas. There was a whole host of deists - including Madison. Monroe, and others.

It made for an interesting dynamic in a time when religion was much more important to public life than it is now. Rhode Island produced a nice crop of heretics to stir the pot, whereas Maryland was strongly Catholic. That made it tough for the strong Protestant states like Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

A lot of books on the market are selling an agenda, but an excellent study that looks at the religious dynamic of early America (along with other issues) is "Inventing America" by Garry Wills.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 02:08 pm
Thomas Jefferson was a deist. Accusations that he was an atheist became popular during his run for President; he answered those accusations with a series of letters, most famously the Danbury Letter from which the phrase "wall of separation between church and state" is taken.

The Jeffersonian Bible was an interesting project. Jefferson collected a library of Bible, different translations, editions and languages; from this collection he cut out the teachings of Jesus which he thought were genuine. Basically, he threw away any passage that seemed to be an addition for the sake of social control.

Not only were many of the Founding Fathers deists, like Jefferson, Washington and Franklin, but a great many Presidents have also been deist, including Lincoln.
 
Resha Caner
 
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 11:01 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas wrote:
Thomas Jefferson was a deist. Accusations that he was an atheist became popular during his run for President; he answered those accusations with a series of letters, most famously the Danbury Letter from which the phrase "wall of separation between church and state" is taken.


I won't argue with you Didymos. Calling Jefferson a deist doesn't improve him in my eyes. But, I will say that I wouldn't trust anything Jefferson said during his Presidential campaign. Jefferson had an amazing ability to be duplicitous and believe what came out both sides of his mouth.

He celebrated the rebellion of the masses and then ran away and hid on his estate for much of the Revolution. He ranted against political parties and then created one for his Presidential bid. He publicly denounced his opponents for all kinds of crimes, and then conspired with Burr to fix the election in New York.
 
Khethil
 
Reply Sun 22 Mar, 2009 06:10 am
@Resha Caner,
To validate the idea that this county is or isn't christian or deist because a prominent figure was or wasn't, doesn't prove anything one way or another and strikes me as banal, in the extreme. A good many notable figures in U.S. history were - which isn't surprising in the least given the time frames to which we're referring.

But, for those of you who DO place a high premium on presidents, "founding fathers" and other such celebrity's statements of religiosity, I came upon this site; how valid it is or isn't I can't speak to. I can say that I don't see this as particularly important.

The OP question: Are we a christian nation?

If you look at the number of theists and then dive into what religious orientations those theists comprise, I think you'd probably have to answer "yes". I've checked a few sources and estimates seem to range between 51% and 86% - of course, we all know how surveys go.

Hope this adds productively - thanks
 
hammersklavier
 
Reply Sun 22 Mar, 2009 01:23 pm
@Elmud,
Dave--

Libertine, in the way I used it, is supposed to imply a philosophico-religious eclecticism that AFAIK is far more prevalent among Europeans than it is among us Americans, who tend to say that when we join a church or whatever we ought to dogmatically hold to said church's values, regardless of whether we held to them previous to indoctrination or whether we actually hold them close to our heart.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Sun 22 Mar, 2009 10:10 pm
@hammersklavier,
This comes down to what the original question actually means. Are we a Christian nation?: a nation in which most people are Christian? Yes. A nation which borrowed from Christian values for philosophy? Yes. A nation that dictates a certain national theology? No. A nation that demands citizens embrace a certain theology, or certain theologies from a predetermined list? Sometimes.
 
Dichanthelium
 
Reply Mon 23 Mar, 2009 04:45 pm
@Didymos Thomas,
Didymos Thomas wrote:
This comes down to what the original question actually means. Are we a Christian nation?: a nation in which most people are Christian? Yes. A nation which borrowed from Christian values for philosophy? Yes. A nation that dictates a certain national theology? No. A nation that demands citizens embrace a certain theology, or certain theologies from a predetermined list? Sometimes.


I offer this distinction...A nation in which most people are Christian? I would say no! A nation in which most people claim to follow one or another form of institutional "Christianity"--yes.
 
Elmud
 
Reply Wed 25 Mar, 2009 03:29 pm
@Dichanthelium,
I'm no expert in Latin, but, what does "Annuit Coeptus novus ordo seclorem mean"? Just curious.
 
Didymos Thomas
 
Reply Wed 25 Mar, 2009 05:11 pm
@Elmud,
Annuit coeptis means "He approves our undertaking", referring to God's approval. Novus Ordo Seclorum means "New Order of the Ages".
 
 

 
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