Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Were the Founders Christians or not? Was the United States supposed to be a Christian Nation, or not? Evangelical and conservative Christians say yes, Atheists say no, and historians say it's more complex than that. But in my opinion, they all miss the simple truth, which is that there are two different questions that they're trying to mix together.
New York Times writer Russell Shorto published an excellent article this weekend, How Christian Were the Founders? He took a very interesting approach, which was to use the Texas School Board controversy to tell his story.
Down in Texas, there is a small group of radical Christian activists who have a virtual stranglehold on a huge fraction of the textbook publishing in this country. These science-deniers (aka "creationists") have repeated gutted the core of America's science education by removing or weakening lessons on biology, geology, anthropology, and especially evolution. They've also badly skewed history books.
Their goal? As goes education, so goes the country in twenty years. They know that if they can teach a conservative agenda, weaken evolution science and geology, that in twenty years, those students will have children of their own, and won't object to further corruption of our textbooks.
At the heart of this battle is their assertion that America was founded by Christians for Christians, and that we are a Christian nation with laws that are founded on Biblical law. To their (small) credit, they're not trying to prohibit other religions – they actually understand that freedom of religion is important. But they don't believe our government should be secular, they believe that God, and particularly Jesus, should be an integral part of the United States' legal system. They believe that, because the founders were all Christians, they intended our government to be Christian.
In his article, Russell Shorto pretty much puts this myth to bed. The simple facts are that first, the founders had a wide variety of beliefs, ranging from Puritan and Quaker roots, to Diests and a few actual atheists. Yet these men (they were almost all men) all shared a deep distrust for government's involvement in religion.
Why? Because they'd all seen it first hand, and the terrible things that happen when government and religion mix. Those who were not religious didn't want the government forcing religion on them, but those who were deeply religious were even more adamant that the two should be separate.
Furthermore, the founders deliberately avoided words like God and Jesus in the United States Constitution. If they'd meant it to be a Christian constitution, the simple word "Jesus" once or twice would have done the trick quite nicely.
The answer to this ongoing debate is simple, and I've said it before. We are not a Christian Nation. We are a nation of (mostly) Christians, with a secular government that lets everyone worship freely.
If you're interested in a good, detailed article, check out Mr. Shorto's article. It's long and detailed, but quite good and full of well-researched facts. But I'll warn my faithful readers, some of the stuff about the Texas textbook battle will make your blood boil!