My latest letter to the Fond du Lac Reporter:
George Ciesla’s April 19 letter illustrates a growing problem in America: severe confusion over our nation’s identity. Is America a “Christian nation”? What does that phrase even mean? Let’s try to set the record straight.
As of 2008, 76% of Americans identify themselves as Christians [PDF link]. Accordingly, Christianity has shaped American life since the beginning. So “Christian nation” is a perfectly legitimate descriptive term.
Furthermore, we are founded in significant part upon the Christian idea that every person is created equal, loved equally by the God who made us all. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson said government’s purpose is to secure the inalienable rights “endowed [on us] by our Creator.” In his Farewell Address, George Washington called religion an “indispensable support” to political prosperity, warning us not “to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” Ben Franklin proposed opening the Philadelphia Convention each day with prayer, because he believed that “God governs in the affairs of men,” and he feared the prospect of forming a government solely “by Human Wisdom, and leav[ing] it to chance, war, and conquest.”
In his landmark work Democracy in America, French thinker Alexis de Tocqueville explained that democracy tends to cause each person “to be occupied with himself alone,” but religion combats self-centered narcissism by drawing man “away from contemplation of himself” and imposing “some duties toward the human species or in common with it.” Modern research demonstrates Tocqueville’s point—in Who Really Cares, Syracuse University Professor Arthur Brooks finds that “religious people are far more charitable than nonreligious people.”
Were all the Framers Christians? No, but many were, and even those who didn’t accept Christ (namely Franklin and Jefferson) believed in a higher power and recognized religion’s importance to any free society. Nobody familiar with their writings can deny this—many, many more examples can be found in books such as America’s God & Country Encyclopedia of Quotations by William Federer and God of Our Fathers by Josiah Richards.
To deny America’s Christian heritage, revisionists often cite the Treaty of Tripoli, which states America is “not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” What they don’t tell you: the treaty was an (unsuccessful) effort to appease the Muslim pirates of the Barbary Coast (to whom President John Adams also agreed to pay protection money) attacking American ships at the time—hardly comparable to the scores of public statements and private correspondences that reveal the mark of faith in our forefathers’ thinking, not the least of which is our very Declaration of Independence!
True, the Constitution does not mention God. True, we have a separation of church and state. But both statements are irrelevant. Mr. Ciesla mishears the phrase “Christian nation” as “Christian theocracy” or “Christian government,” but it means neither. It’s a statement about our ideals, history and culture—not our government. Maybe the problem is liberalism’s view of government: they idealize it as the solution to everyone’s problems, so they cannot imagine that any part of the nation can be considered separately from the state.
The Founders guaranteed freedom of religion and conscience for all Americans, and rightly so. They wanted to prevent the state from persecuting churches and churches from oppressing the people, but despite what today’s secular revisionists may tell you, they never intended to keep religion stuffed inside pews and living rooms, never to be seen in the public square. They never meant to purge religious thought and speech from political debate. There’s nothing “prejudiced” about telling the truth about our heritage…but there is something “un-American” about suppressing it.