Christian America: It’s Time To Put the Debate To Rest

January 17, 2008

Is America a Christian nation? Were the Founding Fathers all Christians? Do not our laws come from the Bible?

I hear these questions (and their accompanying answers, sometimes right but mostly wrong) very often. They are sincere questions coming from sincere people with an authentic desire to know truth. This is, after all, a rather important thing to know, if only because certains opinions inside the debate are raucous and self-obsessed. We don’t need theocracy or the secularist state; both, as history shows, have been miserable failures in the cause of liberty.

The Founding Fathers were avid historians. The Constitution is a richly English idea that was probably only possible after the Magna Carta and English Bill of Rights had set the stage for it. The minds sitting in the most powerful seats of America were keenly aware of what they were doing and where things like this had taken men and nations before. It is only with this knowledge intact that any sense can be made of the First Amendment.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

Why didn’t the Founders create a nation explicitly governed by Christianity and Christians? And if not that, why did they not create a secularist state, barring both mention and recognition of God from public life? Because those governments, as history shows and the Founders knew, always fail the desired goal. If you want people to become Christians, and enforce legislation to those ends, the all powerful Church will exploit fear for political capitol, even twisting doctrine to suit this end ( a la pre-Reformation Europe). If you attempt to “liberate” the masses through the secularist state, you sacrifice what many Founders (and not all of them traditional believers, mind you) believed to be the true source of social morality, and the result is bloody anarchy (a la the French Revolution). Neither the theocrat  or theophobe can claim much success in the annals of history.

Our First Amendment is a gloriously minimalist document. Not even prohibiting individual states from legislating religion, it nonetheless promises no federal preferences or “respecting” to religion, and ensures that no unbeliever will ever be denied a duly earned public office. It is neither a religious nor secular paragraph. It lives in that uniquely Western twilight between forced faith and banned belief, a place that believes that the worth of the individual and individual action is infinitely more valuable for faith than a federal mandate.

So when John McCain says we are a Christian nation, we can neither nod nor shake our head. McCain clarifies his position in the Beliefnet interview, saying we are pluralistic but “founded on Christian principles.” The problem with that phrase is not that it is wrong, but that it’s useless. What a worthless thing to argue whether or not the First Amendment is Biblical or not. It’s not a worthless topic, it’s a worthless debate, simply for the reason no one really wants to stop there. Few people care whether or not barring religious tests is an evangelical thought; they want to know what the relationship between the church and state means for them. And in that, the Founders have left far more behind to know than we give credit for.

It’s time to put the debate to rest. Christians and secularists alike are guilty of manipulating “facts” and “history” to prove their points. The Founders gave us what all of us want: Freedom. That’s what matters. You have freedom. Freedom means everything.

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