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Christian America Redux
The Ten Commandments Controversy

This is a page from the original version of Pagan Vigil. There are some formatting differences. Originally published at

Was the United States really founded as a Christian nation?

I'm a little behind in my email. Some of you have sent me links to articles that have come out from the recent Supreme Court Ten Commandment ruling.

Two of the most coherent are Don Feder's Denying Our Country's Founding published at and Tom Snyder's The big lie: Seperation of Church and State published at WorldNetDaily. I had posted a quickie response at Wren's Nest to the Snyder article shortly after it came out. And I did a previous piece here on a similar topic.

I guess the only reasonable way to deal with these articles is with a quick history lesson.

Some of the Founders were Christian. Some were Deists. Some were Jewish. But the United States was not founded as a "Christian" nation.

A Christian nation specifically acknowledges the sovereignty of the Christian god over it's laws.

There is no mention of ANY Deity in the United States Constitution except for the date, and that was common usage at the time. Yes, the Declaration of Independence acknowledges a Creator, but the United States is governed by the Constitution and not the DOI.

The "failure" to include the Christian god prompted several efforts over the years to amend the Constitution to include Christianity. One of the more notable was the National Reform Association, but like similar attempts, it never got enough steam for an amendment. Note that this didn't happen in isolation, suffrage, labor reform, and slavery were all issues at about the same time. Probably the closest that the U.S. got to a "Christian amendment" was during the same time that the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Motto were changed, but we were fighting the "godless Communists" at the time.

I always preferred the original National Motto. E Pluribus Unum is Latin for "one from many parts" but my favorite translation is "united we stand." Inclusive, unifying, diverse but still contributing strength, all that makes America great. "In God We Trust" is so divisive, and it takes the responsibility away from the individual citizen and puts it in the hands of an unseen overlord.

Some of the "Christian nation" crowd like to claim that it was only Christianity with it's reverence for the law that made the advances in science and trade possible, thereby making Christianity responsible for exploring the New World and founding the United States. English common law traces it's roots not only to Justinian's Roman Empire, but to the pre-Christian Germanic tribes, the Vikings, the Roman Republic, and Alexander the Great. The whole idea of a unified code of laws goes back to at least to Hammurabi. By the time we reach the American model, we also have to include a healthy smattering of laws borrowed from various Native American tribes. So obviously "Christian law" was not the reason for America.

Pay attention though, because that does hold a clue as to what the solution is, at least in my opinion.

Christians weren't the first explorers. And just like other cultures, Christian Europeans were more likely to explore if there was a potential profit. Trade and economics do more to push the boundaries than any religious belief.

Trade and tolerance of other cultures are responsible for the ideals that led to America being founded. The pattern is almost always the same. Societies that have high levels of trade and tolerance (and later immigration and emigration) tend to grow incredibly fast, usually because of all those ideas percolating from group to group in the society. Culture spreads, economies boom, and the world changes. It happens again and again.

Greece. Rome. China. Britain. France. Spain. America. The more open a culture is to outside influences, the more it grows and spreads. The more a culture focuses only on itself, the more insular it becomes and the more it retreats.

That is bad news for the "Christian nation" crowd though. They can't claim that it was "Christian wisdom" that made America possible. It may have been the wisdom of some Christians, but they were wise enough to borrow as needed from other cultures and societies. They were even wiser when they founded the United States as a nation of men, not as a religious state.

No, the U.S. wasn't perfect then and it is not perfect now. Democracy is a messy business, changing over time. But obviously we're doing something right. No other nation has influenced as many other nations since the days of the Roman Empire. No other nation has advanced the sciences and the arts as much as the U.S. has. And no other nation has yet moved beyond superpower status to hyperpower.

Will it mean freedom or tyranny? Only time will tell. But raising one faith over all others certainly isn't freedom.

Posted: Fri - July 8, 2005 at 04:52 AM 

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