Thursday, June 30, 2011

Modern Myths: The USA is a Christian Nation

Thank you all for reading my first Modern Myths post on Native Americans. I hope you enjoyed it. This next issue is one that will be controversial, but like many myths it can affect the way that we think in alarmingly dangerous ways.

The USA is a Christian Nation and was founded in Christianity
A view that has been predominant from the 1950s until recently and is still commonly believed especially among the average church-goer--the idea of the USA being a Christian nation is an integral part of the mindset of many Americans. As strong as patriotism is the sentiment that we belong to God's nation. This view affects the way we view Christians, non-Christians, foreigners, public policy, and much more. It is rooted in the reason many people think the way they do about national and international issues.

However, the USA is not a Christian Nation, and it was the farthest thing from the intent of the founders for it to be so. First, lets take a little peek at what the most influential founders were like:
  1. All the founders were raised Christian. They were raised Puritan, Anglican, Congregationalist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Catholic, Quaker, and Huguenot, but they all had strong Christian rearing. The late 1600s and early 1700s Christianity was familiar for all of them. This may not surprise you since by the end of the reign of Elizabeth I, virtually the entirety of the UK considered themselves Christian.
  2. Despite this strong Christian upbringing, only half of the founders were Christian. Benjamin Franklin was a deist who believed Christianity to be bunk. George Washington was a deist who considered Christ a good teacher and always left church while everyone else took communion. John Adams was a Unitarian and a deist; Thomas Jefferson was as well. James Madison was a deist. Alexander Hamilton was irreligious most of his life, though he later had an Episcopalian conversion experience after the founding of the USA. Robert Paine was a Unitarian. Benjamin Rush was a universalist. Gouverneur Morris was a deist, and Thomas Paine was also a deist.
  3. 65% of the founders were Freemasons. For those of you unfamiliar with the Freemason view of religion: "Every Mason must believe in God and in the immortality of the soul. The Volume of Sacred Law must be open on every Lodge Altar. A candidate takes his Obligations upon his knees. Before engaging in any important undertaking a Mason seeks aid and guidance through prayer from the Sovereign Grand Architect of the Universe. This is religion, but it is not a religion. It is faith, but it is not a faith confined to any one creed. It is worship, but it is not a worship chained to any one Altar. In the great words of the First Book of Constitutions it is the religion in which all good men agree. It is the ground which underlies all religions, all churches, all creeds..." This view is inherently Unitarian Universalist (though it is not tied with the church of that name). Mason founders include Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, James Madison, John Hancock, Robert Paine, James McHenry, Roger Sherman, Thomas Paine, and Paul Revere.
Despite this the founders did represent a people largely consisting of Christians. These people whose identity was deeply Christian were influential in the establishment of the principles of the nation. However, it was these very Christians who did not want the national identity to be Christian. The states fought for the inclusion of an explicit statement of the separation of church and state, because not only did they want to keep religion out of government but they wanted to keep religious identity separate from national identity. This had caused them much trouble back in Britain--Puritans, Presbyterians, Baptists--many of them came to America because they wanted to escape discrimination based on their personal beliefs. Separation of church and state kept an individual within the nation from being discriminated against based on belief and it kept the nation from being discriminated against by other nations based on belief. It allowed for political issues to remain political and religious issues to remain religious.

The Pledge of Allegiance was originally composed by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, in 1892. This is its original form:
I pledge allegiance to my flag and the republic for which it stands: one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.
The "under God" was not added until 1954. The pledge was a national pledge, not a religious pledge.

"In God We Trust" was not originally on US currency. In 1864 it was added to the two-cent coin only, but it was never added to the dollar bill until the 1950s.

President John Adams said in the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797: "The United States government is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion." He also stated at a different time: "It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service [formation of the American governments] had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven..."

Why is this important? There are a number of people out there who consider the USA to be "God's nation". These people will often act like the USA is the core of Christianity in the modern world. The USA holds no such privileged position. The USA is as much God's nation as any other nation is. It is not some kind of chosen nation. The important thing to remember is that it was founded on freedom--so that anyone would be free to have their own beliefs.

Resources:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity/history/uk_1.shtml
http://www.formermasons.org/issues/the_religion_of_freemasonry.php

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