Worldview Item of the Day
It’s sometimes hard to tell from the distance of national news whether or not a story is everything it appears to be, yet, if this story is being told how it happened, then we are on the last leg of the course that will dismantle the last vestiges of the idea that we live in a Christian nation.
Frankly, I whether or not this particular story is true, I have believed for a long time that we no longer live in a Christian nation. Some people will celebrate that admission without understanding what it means or why it is such an important issue.
What they fail to understand is that the only way this nation–and by nation I really mean the people and the Constitution we pay lip service to–could have come into being is if it was Christian. Modern scholars have tried mightily to make the Founding Fathers irreligious apostates, but their history is clear, and the history of the philosophies and beliefs they held dear is also clear.
It is nearly impossible to imagine another system of belief–one that does not teach loving God above everything and to loving neighbors as ourselves–coming to the conclusion that all people are created equal and deserving of the same inalienable rights. I grant that those ideals were applied imperfectly from the very moment they were conceived, but no other way of thinking in history has produced thinking remotely the same.
So, with the death of our Christian nation also die the ideals that made the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness through equality and justice for all possible. Our fellow citizens have stopped believing in our God, so why would they continue believing in our liberty?
This is a bittersweet conclusion for someone who does believe because, if one has been paying attention to what the Bible said, this is how it was going to end all along. Now, we all need to pray that we have the endurance for what is coming next.
The story you linked to is truly disturbing. It’s not a sign of not being a Christian nation — we aren’t and we never were — but it is surely a sign of bad law.
There is nothing inherently connective between the ideas of “loving God above everything” and “loving neighbors as ourselves.” Many cultural and religious beliefs that don’t embrace the Christian God have been able to espouse a belief in the sanctity of life and the value of individual liberty. This so-called Christian nation exterminated several of them during its “Manifest Destiny.”
Christianity is a fine religion. Personal liberty is clearly at its heart — God’s first real edict essentially being “Choose.” Further, our Founders’ often Christian views certainly informed their decisions. But the Constitution is a plainly non-Christian document and the country is a plainly non-Christian nation, notwithstanding that some flavor of Christianity is professed by a majority of the population.
I am really not sure where the idea that the Founding Fathers, who were clearly majority Christian, created a document devoid of their belief came from, but my own study of them and their purpose causes me to reject it outright.
And, yes there is an inherent connection between loving one’s God and one’s neighbor- it’s called Christianity. That was kind of my point.
Which native society were you referring to when you referred to the ones that espoused those views but were exterminated? I do not, nor will I ever, condone what was done to native societies by the arrival of Europeans, but I doubt such a society exists.
I don’t think many people would suggest that the Constitution is devoid of the influence of the Founder’s belief systems, religious or otherwise. That’s certainly and clearly not what I was saying. Thomas Jefferson, a huge influence on the Constitution, was heavily influenced by the philosophy of John Locke. Does that make us a Lockeian nation? A Jeffersonian nation? I would argue no. But if you say yes, then it is only in the most tangential way. Furthermore, the fact that certain principles are espoused within Christianity (broadly speaking) does not make them the sole province of Christianity. I find it offensive when Christians talk as if no one else in the world can possibly be ethical or moral without the guidance of Christian principles even when most of those principles exist outside of the religion. In a very real way, the only defining principle of Christianity is the acceptance of the divinity and saving power of Jesus, an idea which I find nowhere in the Constitution.
As to inherent connections, you mistake effect for cause and therefore misunderstand the nature of inherence. If those two ideas are inherently connected, then I can’t have one without the other. The fact that both show up or are found in common within Christianity in not a reflection of an inherent connection.
Finally, I can’t, without research I don’t have the time for now, name a native society that espoused individual liberty, etc. However, previous reading of history tells me that, while not all native societies were in the “noble savage” mold that we’d like to cast them in, many had ethically sound, functionally liberty-supporting and life-affirming beliefs and organizational structures, in many cases in ways that extended to the value of other living species as well.
I never said that no other society behaves ethically or morally because they are not Christian; however, I once again note that it was, as you say, the belief system of the founders and not some other system that spawned individualism and republican democracy in the unique form found in the Constitution. Further, an argument from silence is not an argument for absence of specific Christian influence. Certainly, if one confines oneself only to the text of the Constitution, then one can safely make the assertion that the founders created a document devoid of religious fundamentals, but that confinement takes the Constitution out of the very complex context in which it was created, a context that was decidedly religious and very Christian.
You are correct in that Christianity’s most important teaching is the divinity and saving power of Jesus, but that teaching cannot properly function without the extended teaching of love and hope that comes from loving God and one’s neighbor. I think you mistake what the effect and the cause are in this case. Jesus’ statements on this subject were a restatement of the Mosaic law, the cause, while the effect was to reinforce the individual nature and responsibility of the believer. In order to believe any of this as being relevant, however, one must believe that Christianity is the saving faith that its adherents believe that it is and that the faith came into existence the way its adherents believe that it did, otherwise it is far too easy to selectively choose evidence for cause and effect, inherency, and everything else.
I do not have any examples for native societies either, hence the reason I was asking.
“I once again note that it was, as you say, the belief system of the founders and not some other system that spawned individualism and republican democracy in the unique form found in the Constitution.”
Many of the founders were Christians. True. Christian thought and belief had an influence on many of the values found in the Constitution. True. However, there were numerous other influences — philosophical, historical, governmental, logical, experiential — that influenced the particular style of governement they adopted. To suggest that of all of these influences, only Christianity was responsible for individualism and republican democracy is ludicrous. Christianity by itself could never lead to such a government because Christianity is inherently autocratic — divine autocracy, to be sure, but autocratic nevertheless.
“Certainly, if one confines oneself only to the text of the Constitution, then one can safely make the assertion that the founders created a document devoid of religious fundamentals, but that confinement takes the Constitution out of the very complex context in which it was created, a context that was decidedly religious and very Christian.”
The text of the Constitution is exactly what you should “confine [your]self” to. It specifically removes religion from consideration as it relates to the government. The Constitution reflects a desire for a pluralistic society as being the only viable way to ensure individual liberty.
Perhaps this is all semantics. Again, I’m not really sure what you mean when you say “we’re a Christian nation.” I say we’re not because the definition of our nation is found within the Constitution where there are no religious tests or state religions. This doesn’t mean that Christian values don’t inform the actions of individual citizens and a great many of them including the founders and many of our current leaders. That, in my opinion, does not make us a Christian nation. It is not the job of this nation to promote or expand Christianity.
“You are correct in that Christianity’s most important teaching is the divinity and saving power of Jesus, but that teaching cannot properly function without the extended teaching of love and hope that comes from loving God and one’s neighbor.”
I am not mistaken in this case. Everything in that quote may well be true (in fact, within the context of your belief system it surely is). However, it is not to the point.
Your original statement was “there is an inherent connection between loving one’s God and one’s neighbor- it’s called Christianity.” This is a very different statement from the one above. For there to be an inherent connection between loving one’s God and loving one’s neighbor, one must be necessary for the other to exist. I do not need to love any god (or God) in order to love my neighbor, and loving a god (or God) does not necessarily lead to me loving my neighbor. There is no inherent connection. The fact that these two things are linked within Christianity is not a matter of inherence, but one of teaching or faith. It’s like peanut butter and jelly; just because they’ve been together for a very long time, doesn’t mean you can’t separate them. They do not belong together inherently.
Fair enough about your argument against the use of the word “inherent” in my reply to your reply, although, noting my original post, I never made the statement of inherency but, instead, unimaginability. Keeping with that original post, I again challenge anyone to point to another worldview and belief that produced the ideas of individual liberty and, eventually, universal suffrage together.
Which brings me to your issue of framing the Constitution independent of the worldview that helped create it. If, as you say, the Constitution should be viewed free of the encumbrance of the beliefs of its creators, then its ongoing interpretation should be conducted in the same way by eliminating the beliefs of the people interpreting it. Doing so, in my view, completely eliminates the idea of case law (something I would be completely in favor of), and forces everyone to deal strictly with the Constitution and its legally enacted amendments, not extra-constitutional ideologies as diverse as public sentiment and international law. I suspect, if we were to limit ourselves to strict interpretation, there would be a whole lot less judicial activism and a whole lot less government.
I doubt anyone besides me wants that kind of interpretation, so it seems like we have to deal with certain relevant facts: most of the Founding Fathers were Christian, many of their contemporary philosophers were Christian, and their understanding of history, politics, and classical philosophy was clearly influenced by Christianity’s several hundred year dominance of European thinking. Further, while one may be able to question the Christianity of some of the Founders, it is very difficult to question to overwhelming Christianity of the citizens of the United States who voted for its ratification.
When viewed from this point of view, it is clear to me that that the Constitution was born from the ideals of Christian thinking whatever source they may have been derived from. This Christian thinking dominated American culture in some form, at least superficially, until probably the beginning of World War Two, when the degradation of that dominance was revealed and the superficially Christian worldview of many Americans of the time began to fade.
Now, when viewed from a contemporary worldview, it is very easy to see why many people might think that Christianity was never part of the Constitution, and, it turns out, that was precisely my point. Being a Christian and spending a lot of time with other Christians, I can assure you that many of them continue to labor under the mistaken notion that the United States is still the Christian nation I, and they, believe it once was. As Christians, this should trouble all of us because it reflects the reality that we have not been doing our jobs as Christians for some time.
Of course, I am sure the idea of Christians “doing their job” sounds bad to many non-Christians, but that job is part of the faith we are supposed to hold dear. Part of that job was, from the beginning, that we will never successfully be able to share the Gospel with anyone who does not believe if they are under the tyranny of a state religion. The purpose of the separation of church and state was that it was designed to prevent government from enforcing a particular belief, not to allow the government to abolish beliefs it disagrees with. It is ironic, at least to me, that the very system of belief that was responsible for conceiving and enacting that idea is now the one being targeted by its misrepresentation.
“The purpose of the separation of church and state was that it was designed to prevent government from enforcing a particular belief, not to allow the government to abolish beliefs it disagrees with.”
The first part of that statement is proof that we are not a Christian nation as I would define it. How do you define what makes a nation Christian?
The second part of your statement is interesting. Do you believe that our government is seeking to abolish Christianity? I’ve seen no evidence of this at all. What have you seen?
As to the first part, I point again to the fact that the people who put this idea in place were, in fact, Christians.
The second point is one where I know there will be a lot of disagreement, but the movement comes in the form of the steady removal of the idea of Christianity from the public space. I am not talking about the debate over whether Christian symbols should be in courthouses or whatever, but the idea that the state has the right to otherwise regulate where, when, and how Christians are allowed to express their Christianity.
“As to the first part, I point again to the fact that the people who put this idea in place were, in fact, Christians.”
So let me see if I understand. Based on your answer, you must agree with this statement:
I am a Buddhist. I am an Englishman. I have read Descartes. I have read Nietzche. I have served in the military. I have travelled the world. I believe in individual freedom. I have written a document that prescribes how a government will be formed and act and in which I do not prescribe a particular religious belief. Therefore, the country I have created is a Buddhist country.
On the second point, yeah, lots of disagreement.
I’m not sure where your example is going, but if the people who put that document into place were predominantly Buddhist (not just one person), then one could argue that the document and the nation it governed was Buddhist.
You slippery little devil, you. You know exactly where that was going, and you’ve decided to slip out it. It is interesting that from that description — which mirrors, especially with your own clarification, the basis you have for claiming that we are a Christian nation — you are only willing to conclude that one could argue that it’s a Buddhist nation when you so vociferously claim that we are (or were or are supposed to be) a Christian nation.
Anyway, you’re mostly consistent about it, and it is now clear what the criteria are for your claim. I’m not sure there is a provable formula for attaching a descriptive adjective to a country, so we’ll just have to continue to disagree. However, by your definition, there is nothing that can happen to lessen our “Christian-ness” as a nation. If having most of the founders be Christian is the defining element of our “Christian-ness”, then no subsequent event can change that fact. So it turns out there is nothing to worry about, which has to be good news to you.
I wasn’t intentionally being slippery. Evasive, perhaps, but not slippery. (/humor)
At any rate, again referring to the original point of my post (I find it amusing that the entire debate on this subject has been undertaken by two people for whom the point was never intended), many Christians continue to believe that the circumstances that existed at the beginning and for a significant part of America’s history continue to exist today. My post was intended to show those kind of people that they are mistaken (granted, my contention is that the event in question would not have happened in a “Christian” nation as defined by the nature of the nation at the founding) in order to get them to think.
This discussion, interestingly enough, has done a far better job of reinforcing the point I was trying to make.