Is America a Christian Nation?

One of the more common arguments I’ve been hearing lately from the Christians is that “America is a Christian Nation.”

There are three typical arguments made by theists, in an effort to prove their assertion.  But before I get to that, I have two initial issues.

First, what point are you trying to prove?  Even if I conceded that your statement is true (which I’m not), what is your point?  How does this advance the Christian cause, and what bearing does it have on the ultimate question – whether a god even exists?  It’s just a feel good statement for Christians, but it holds no value, and presents no truth to the important questions.

Second, in order to properly address the question, you have to define what “Christian Nation” means.  If you define it as “a nation whose predominant religion is Christianity,” then yes, I would agree.  But again, what is the point?  Citing a statistical majority means nothing, aside from you having more people in your corner than me.  But that still has no bearing on the truth, and is an ad populum argument at best.  But for the sake of argument, I am going to define “Christian Nation” as “a nation in which Christianity is the ‘official’ religion.”

The first typical argument made by Christians is to quote the Declaration of Independence (DoI).

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…

There it is, it says “God” and “Creator.”  Done deal, right?

No, not even close.

Problem One: You’re choosing the wrong document.  The DoI is not the authoritative document that sets forth the guidelines for the laws and rights of Americans.  That would be the U.S. Constitution.  When the Supreme Court rules on the legality of a law, it never references the DoI in making its rulings.  And if you read the Constitution, it becomes quite clear that adopting Christianity, or any religion in general, is never mentioned.  Actually, there is evidence to the contrary.  Article VI states the following:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

Furthermore, the First Amendment to the Constitution, establishes the separation of church and state.  It reads:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This is the part where Christians exclaim that the phrase “separation of church and state isn’t in the Bill of Rights.”  That is true, but entirely missing the point.  The establishment clause is the separation of church and state.  Don’t take it so literally.  That’s like saying there’s no such thing as “Ohio State,” because the official name of the college is “The Ohio State University.”  Don’t be so literal and trivial.

Problem Two:  The statement “Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” appear to be a neutral statement, in that it proclaims both a naturalistic view and a godly view.  Later, the DoI mentions a “Creator,” which is not defined, and thus should not assumed to be a god.  Furthermore, there is absolutely no mention of whose god the DoI is referring to.  Is God the Christian God, Yahweh, Allah, Zeus, a deistic god, or some other god?  It doesn’t say.  Therefore, you should not assume a Christian God.  The best argument a theist could make (ignoring Problem One above, which makes any argument here moot), is that the DoI was referring to a deist god.

The second typical argument made by theists is to state that the founding fathers were Christian.

My initial, and simplest response to this is, “so what?”  What do the personal beliefs of individuals have anything to do with the official religion of any nation?  Does George Washington’s personal religion automatically become the national religion, because he was the first President?  Does Thomas Jefferson’s count, since he draft the DoI?  If the beliefs of the founding fathers establishes the de facto national religion, then does the United States also have a national race (white) and gender (male), since these founders where white males?  There is no nexus here.

My second response to this claim is that all of the founding fathers were not Christians.  Many were deists.  I could quote a litany of historical quotes, but I’ll quote just a few.

What has been Christianity’s fruits? Superstition, Bigotry and Persecution.

-James Madison

“The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason. Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.”

-Benjamin Franklin

“Whenever we read the obscene stories, the voluptuous debaucheries, the cruel and torturous executions, the unrelenting vindictiveness with which more than half the Bible is filled, it would be more consistent that we called it the word of a demon than the word of God. It is a history of wickedness that has served to corrupt and brutalize mankind.”

-Thomas Paine

The third and final typical argument used by Christians to promote America as a “Christian Nation” is to suggest that America was founded on Christian principles.

Much like the second argument above, even if it was founded on Christian principles (which I am not conceding), what exactly does that prove?  But most importantly, what are “Christian principles?”  Are we talking about the Ten Commandments?  Are we talking about other parts of the Bible?  And if so, which parts?  Are those principles unique to or founded by Christianity.  And what is the nexus between these principles and the founding of America?

It certainly seems clear to me that this nation was founded on secular principles, despite the religious convictions of some of the founders of this nation.  The most important legal document in this country, the one from which we derive this rights of our citizens, the form of our government, and establish the American way, is the U.S. Constitution and its amendments, which is a purely secular document.

You may also want to reference the Treaty of Tripoli, which states the following:

Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

The treaty was passed unanimously in the U.S Senate in 1797.  Game.  Set.  Match.

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