Often times, most times, America, and her origins, are claimed to be Christian . . . thus our self-proclaimed Christian Nation status. While it is true that our nation was originally to be a haven of refuge for “religious freedom,” and many of our founding Fathers were “Christians” (well some); it is not necessarily the case that the Christian ideals that were brought to the Americas were actually that Christian, conceptually. Scholars: Noll, Hatch, and Marsden certainly don’t think so; and they express their doubt very well in their book The Search for Christian America. Here is a summary of the first piece of their thesis in developing their argument:
1) We feel that a careful study of the facts of history shows that early America does not deserve to be considered uniquely, distinctly or even predominately Christian, if we mean by the word “Christian” a state of society reflecting the ideals presented in Scripture. There is no lost golden age to which American Christians may return. In addition, a careful study of history will also show that evangelicals themselves were often partly to blame for the spread of secularism in contemporary American life. . . . (Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, George M. Marsden, “The Search For Christian America,” 17)
This is hard teaching, who can hear it? Does this bother you, these kinds of probing points? To clarify, these historians are not arguing that America does not have any “religious past,” note: . . . [I]n making our case, we do not want to contend that Christian values have been absent from American history. . . . Their presence, we agree, justifies a picture of the United States as a singularly religious country (p. 18). The key language, is “religious,” they will continue to argue that America does indeed have rich “Christian heritage;” but unfortunately what passed as uniquely Christian, was in fact, Christianity baptized in “Natural Theology,” and rationalist Enlightenment principles. Here is an example of what I am talking about, found in the Declaration of Independence:
. . . 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. . . . (full text here)
Notice the language of “self-evident,” this is Enlightenment Natural Theology, which starts with Nature/Creation as the methodological entry point for discussing spiritual things. In other words, and very simply, natural theology starts with man and works out/up from there. This is just one example of how our countries’ founding was not necessarily Christian. Here are some more penetrating questions offered by these historians, on what criteria should be used to determine if indeed America’s founding, heritage, and origin should be labeled Christian:
One set of questions has to do with how much Christian action is required to make a whole society Christian. Another way of stating the same issue is to pose it negatively—how much evil can a society display before we disqualify it as a Christian society? These kinds of questions are pertinent for all of early American history. When we look at the Puritans of the 1600s, do we emphasize only their sincere desire to establish Christian colonies, and their manifest desire to live by the rule of Scripture? Or do we focus rather on the stealing of Indian lands, and their habit of displacing and murdering these Indians wherever it was convenient? Roger Williams, one of the Puritans himself, asked these very questions and came to much the same conclusion as we have more than 300 years later. Again, do we place more emphasis on the Massachusetts Puritans’ desire to worship God freely in the new world or their persecution (and, in four cases, execution) of Quakers who also wished to be free to worship God in Massachusetts? (Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, George M. Marsden, “The Search For Christian America,” 17)
Some tough, penetrating questions. How would you answer these? Are we a “Christian Nation?” And if you think so, or not, why?
Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful to be an American, and am thankful for the “freedoms” we have in this country; but I don’t think it does anyone any good, especially for “people of the Truth,” to pretend like we had a Christian nation in the past; and continue to have one today (although I think most would agree that we definitely don’t live in a Christian Nation today). This takes us full circle, then, what is a “Christian Nation,” to begin with?
Oh yeah, you all need to read this book at some point!