MInTheGap

Standing in the Gap in a Society that's Warring with God.

Is The United States a Christian Nation?

November 21st, 2011 - Visited 1329 times, 2 so far today

learning with pencil

In a recent post explaining my acceptance of some libertarian ideas, I made the passing reference to the fact that America is, and has been a Christian Nation.  However, this fact is not accepted by everyone, especially atheists.  Their arguments are typified by the first comment I received on this post:

While some of the signers of the Constitution were Christians, many were Deists. The Treaty of Tripoli, signed in 1796, disputes the ‘Christian Nation’ idea. Nor would I, as a Christian, want this to be a Christian nation. [FatherOf4]

This is very typical, and so, to set the record straight, I will address not only these commonly stated bits of misinformation, but also present positive reasons for my assertion that America is (though it may not be in the future) a Christian nation.

The Signers of the Constitution

If you’ve ever been a part of this debate, you’ve no doubt heard the argument that America’s founders weren’t Christian, but deists—believing in either “a higher power” or “the clockmaker God” that set things in motion but doesn’t interfere in the lives of men.

Religious Affiliation # of
delegates
% of
delegates
Episcopalian/Anglican 31 56.4%
Presbyterian 16 29.1%
Congregationalist 8 14.5%
Quaker 3 5.5%
Catholic 2 3.6%
Methodist 2 3.6%
Lutheran 2 3.6%
Dutch Reformed 2 3.6%
TOTAL 55 100%

However, this contradicts the basic facts.  Observe the table on the right, taken from Religious Affiliation of the Delegates to the Constitutional Convention of 1787, including the Signers of the Constitution of the United States.

Of these, Wikipedia states on the article on deism that possibly 5 of them (or 9%) of them were suspect to be deist.

Another site suggests that 6 out of 119 (5%) of all of America’s Founders were deists.  That’s hardly “many were deists”—it’s very few.  And of those that were Christian had quite the background.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this argument.  It’s just not true.

The Treaty of Tripoli

The key part of the Treaty of Tripoli in our discussion is this one:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. [emphasis mine]

Notice what is said and what is not said in this treaty.  What is said is that the Government of the United States of America is not … founded on Christianity.  What it did not do was to make any statement into whether the nation was Christian or not.  These are two very different things, as the dictionary would easily point out:

na·tion

noun

1. a large body of people, associated with a particular territory, that is sufficiently conscious of its unity to seek or to possess a government peculiarly its own: The president spoke to the nation about the new tax.

2. the territory or country itself: the nations of Central America.

3. a member tribe of an American Indian confederation.

4. an aggregation of persons of the same ethnic family, often speaking the same language or cognate languages.

It is clear that a government is formed to rule over a nation, and yet a nation is defined by the people and what they are like, not the other way around.

This makes perfect sense in the Treaty of Tripoli.  You see, the treaty was between a Christian nation and a Muslim nation, and so the verbiage was used in this treaty to help assuage any problem that could have been perceived between the two parties by stating that the United States had a secular government.  It was obviously a Christian nation.

America Was a Christian Nation

Though the Federal Constitution of the United States prohibited (in the First Amendment) Congress from establishing a religion for the country, that was a reflection of what was already going on in the states.  For you see, every one of the thirteen colonies had a state church.  For many it was the Anglican church.  Pennsylvania had the Quakers.  Maryland was unique in that it was the only Roman Catholic church state.  The others were congregational.

The reason for the First Amendment and religious liberty was not as much as a defense of the Buddhist, the Muslim, the Atheist or the Wiccan (as the Salem Witch Trials proved that the Founding Era Citizens did not approve of the freedom to practice witchcraft), but as a way to get multiple states with different established churches to sign on to a Federal Constitution that would not declare that their sect of Christianity was wrong or inferior—which was part of the reason that the Puritans left Great Britain.  Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that it wasn’t until many years after the ratification of the U.S. Constitution that the states dropped their established churches.

And, in fact reading through the entry of State Religion, many of the state constitutions reference a Creator, and eight states have clauses that prohibit atheists from holding public office!  This test has not been proven to be Constitutional by the Supreme Court, and yet regardless of that fact it goes to say that the people who created these Constitutions were Christian.  The only exception to this is Hawaii, who had the Church of Hawaii as the state religion from 1862-1893.

I could go on about:

  • How Ben Franklin sought prayer during the Constitutional Convention1,
  • about the chaplaincy program that is with us today,
  • the fact that the Federal Government paid for Christian missionaries to spread the gospel to the Indians,
  • the multiple days of Thanksgiving called by the first Presidents,

but that brings up even more points…

America is a Christian Nation

Do you realize that there has been no President of the United States elected that hasn’t acknowledged the Christian God?  There’s actually only been one man that was a Roman Catholic, the rest have been of a Protestant Denomination of some sort.  They all close their inaugurations with “So help me God”, the all ask for “God to Bless America.”

  • In our court systems, people are still sworn in on a Bible (though they can now substitute other things or nothing at all).
  • Christian murals are depicted in our Government buildings in Washington (even though the Supreme Court has declared these more tradition than actual practice),
  • our country’s motto (recently reaffirmed) is “In God We Trust2,

What about the census?image

This chart reflects the data from the latest census.  The question was open ended, so the interviewees were not prompted to answer.  Of those surveyed, 76% (an overwhelming majority) self-identified to some form of Christianity.  Now, I’m not sure I’d identify all the sects that were included on this spreadsheet as true Christians, but you get an idea of the scope.

So, back to our definition of a nation, if over three quarters of the people of a nation identify themselves as Christian, I believe that you have a Christian nation.


Image from Stock Exchange used under the Standard Restrictions explained at the link.


  1. Even though they chose not to do it []
  2. 396-9 vote in the House of Representatives on Nov 1, 2011 []

Comments

5 Comments

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  • FatherOf4 says on: November 22, 2011 at 11:08 am

     

    Is and has America been primarily populated by people who claim to be Christian? – yes. Is America founded on some Judeo-Christian principles? – yes. Were some of the fathers of this country Christians? – Yes. Do we, as Americans, have a state church – No. Keep in mind one of the reasons for the Puritans’ departure from England was being receiving end of persecution by England’s State Church – Anglicanism.
    Though originally planned for by L’Enfant, The National Cathedral was at least partially delayed over concerns of creating a state church.
    So if we are using the population to determine the religion of a geographic area (including country), then America would be a Christian country. If we are using the Constitution and guiding policies, then America would not be a Christian nation. (Which is good, I would not want Obama or Romney as Theologian-in-Chief.)

  • FatherOf4 says on: November 22, 2011 at 12:30 pm

     

    “Though the Federal Constitution of the United States prohibited (in the First Amendment) Congress from establishing a religion for the country, that was a reflection of what was already going on in the states. For you see, every one of the thirteen colonies had a state church. For many it was the Anglican church. Pennsylvania had the Quakers. Maryland was unique in that it was the only Roman Catholic church state. The others were congregational.” Your link to Wikipedia indicates 4 (PA, NJ, DE, RI) of the 13 original colonies, did not have a state (officially sanctioned) church. Another 5 (GA, MD, NC, SC, VA) disestablished the state religion before 1792 (5 years after the Constitution was ratified.) Two others disestablished by 1835 (CT and MA). I was not able to find easily available information on VT or NY.

  • MInTheGap says on: November 22, 2011 at 1:41 pm

     

    All depends on what you mean by state church, I guess. Officially, yes, some did not specifically recognize a particular sect. And yet, as Religion in the Original 13 Colonies points out, they all specifically cited a Creator God or the Almighty. Your comment does not invalidate the argument.

  • MInTheGap says on: November 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm

     

    I don’t believe that I ever said that the country had a state church, did I? Your argument is a strawman, and you’re wrong.

    Again, read what I took the time to write instead of arguing with your own creation. Though the American government is not Christian (it’s secular by design), the American nation and people are overwhelmingly Christian. Even Alexis de Tocqueville noted it in his Democracy in America

    “Moreover, almost all the sects of the United States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same. In the United States the sovereign authority is religious, and consequently hypocrisy must be common; but there is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America, and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.
    The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other; and with them this conviction does not spring from that barren traditionary faith which seems to vegetate in the soul rather than to live.
    There are certain populations in Europe whose unbelief is only equaled by their ignorance and their debasement, while in America one of the freest and most enlightened nations in the world fulfills all the outward duties of religion with fervor.
    Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more did I perceive the great political consequences resulting from this state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other; but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country.”

  • FatherOf4 says on: November 24, 2011 at 2:15 am

     

    Not a straw-man, but a misunderstanding
    From Wikipedia[There is also a difference between a “state church” and “state religion”. A “state church” is created by the state,[citation needed] as in the cases of the Anglican Church, created by Henry VIII or the Church of Sweden, created by Gustav Vasa. An example of “state religion” is Argentina’s acceptance of Roman Catholicism as its religion.[2] In the case of the former, the state has absolute control over the church, but in the case of the latter, in this example, the Vatican has control over the church.]
    Both of the above examples could be referenced in the question “Is The United States a Christian Nation?”. I’ve seen people who claim Christ promote the institution or continuance of religious mores as laws because of the desire a more moral and ‘Christlike’ culture. This idea, I generally oppose.

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MInTheGap

Standing in the Gap in a Society that's Warring with God.