The Impossibility of Returning to ‘Christian’ America

A few days ago I promised to return to this outstanding book: The Search for Christian America.  Here are a few paragraphs from the latter part of the book.  These words will be a tough read for those of us schooled with textbooks that exaggerated the “Christian” influence in America’s formative years.  I’m still amazed by the words found in America’s treaty with Islamic Tripoli in 1797 (don’t miss that below!).

“It is historically inaccurate and anachronistic to confuse, and virtually to equate, the thinking of the Declaration of Independence with a biblical world view, or with Reformation thinking, or with the idea of a Christian nation.  In other words it is wrong to call for a return to ‘Christian America’ on two counts: First, for theological reasons – because since the time of Christ there is no such thing as God’s chosen nation; second, for historical reasons, as we have seen – because it is historically incorrect to regard the founding of America and the formulation of the founding documents as being Christian in their origins.  Yet, this error is one of the most powerful ideas of our day; and on this confusion rest many of the calls to make war on secular humanism and to ‘restore’ the Bible as the sole basis for American law and government.”

“The Declaration of Independence, however, rests on a different view.  It is based on an appeal to ‘self-evident’ truths or ‘laws of nature and nature’s god.’  The reference to God is vague and subordinated to natural laws that everyone should know through common sense.  The Bible is not mentioned or alluded to.  The Constitution of 1787 says even less concerning a deity, let alone Christianity or the Bible.  The symbolism of the new government was equally secular.  In fact, the United States was the first Western nation to omit explicitly Christian symbolism, such as the cross, from its flag and other early national symbols.”

“Further incidental evidence of the founders’ own views is the statement from a treaty with the Islamic nation of Tripoli in 1797.  This treaty was negotiated under Washington, ratified by the Senate, and signed by President John Adams.  The telling part is a description of religion in America: ‘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 Musselmen [i.e. Muslims]…, 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.’”

“Why does this make a difference?  Does it really matter if people hold to the mistaken view that America is, or was, or could become a truly Christian nation?  Yes, it does matter.  It matters because, if we are going to respond effectively to relativistic secularism, then we need to base our response upon reality rather than error.  This is not to deny the positive influence that Christianity has indeed had upon the American way of life.  Nor is this to minimize the seriousness of secularism.  Rather, it is to take it all the more seriously so that we may respond to it all the more effectively” (p. 130-131).

I completely agree: Christians would most likely get a better hearing in the public square if we’d drop the “Return to Christian America” rhetoric and more accurately present the history of America’s beginnings.  This book, The Search for Christian America, has convinced me of this.  Did I mention that I highly recommend it?

shane lems

3 thoughts on “The Impossibility of Returning to ‘Christian’ America”

  1. “Does it really matter if people hold to the mistaken view that America is, or was, or could become a truly Christian nation? Yes, it does matter. It matters because, if we are going to respond effectively to relativistic secularism, then we need to base our response upon reality rather than error.”

    I agree with both statements- 1) America was not and is not a Christian nation, and 2) I agree with the *implication* that we ought to respond effectively to relativistic secularism which forms the systemic basis for every ill plaguing this nation.

    Does this book present a recommended response?

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    1. Yes, it does. Throughout the book, the authors here and there point the way forward in a better way. It would take too long to explain, but the book isn’t just “deconstructive;” it is also constructive.

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