Measured Against Reality

Saturday, September 30, 2006

The US Was Not Founded As a Christian Nation

For some reason the view has become prevalent (or at least, I have encountered it frequently) that the United States was founded upon the Christian religion. The people who espouse this hypothesis use it a rationalization for their desire to transform our secular government into a theocracy. When I had the patience and time (and lack of sense) to participate in online discussions about politics, I heard this argument quite a bit.

The thing is that it’s absolutely and demonstrably false. The First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”, does a decent job, and hundreds of years of precedent have quite clearly said that it prohibits the establishment of any state religion. But that’s never enough for the people I’ve encountered.

But I wonder if these people have read a Treaty with Tripoli drafted under Washington and ratified by the Senate under Adams in 1797. It reads, in part, “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; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan 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 added]

Any treaty ratified by the Senate is US law. It is in US law that the US is not a Christian nation. It’s really that simple. So if you ever hear anyone say that this country was founded as a Christian nation, make sure to tell them that it wasn’t.

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  • The argument is not that America was founded as a Christian nation, but that the principles that inspired our country and her founding documents are rooted in western Christian thought.

    Read John Locke's 'Second Treatise on Civil Government' which lays out the principles of classical liberalism, which are directly rooted in Christian philosophy.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 12:44 PM, September 30, 2006  

  • USA is muslim! Jihaaaaaaaaad, oh yeah, hell yeah. I'm gonna drink your blood!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:35 PM, September 30, 2006  

  • I suppose if you ignore the entire presence of the Quakers, Pilgrims, and Protestants breaking away from the early Church of England and thier leaving for religious persecution.

    If you discount all of these groups and claim their guiding principals in developing America were completely secular, then has nothing to do with Christianity.
    It may shock you, but I'm sure that any average conservative could educated the liberal masses.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:13 PM, September 30, 2006  

  • so some of the people that first got to america where christians. so what? the founding fathers werent Christian and no where did they, implicitly or explicitly, say they wanted America to be Christian.

    so you've somehow managed to find some connection between Locke and the Bible. woop dee doo! pre Civil War, there were good Biblical defenses for slavery.

    stop that ignorant nonesense about America being founded as a Christian nation or on Christian thought. it's pathetic.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:30 PM, September 30, 2006  

  • The first amendment is talking about the creation of a state religion, like England at the time. Church and State were the same in England. To worship differently was treason. The founders wanted to make sure that did not happen here. Go read what the framers of the Constitution were saying at the time.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:31 PM, September 30, 2006  

  • No, you don't understand the argument. The concepts of religious tolerance, freedom of thought, the idea of man being endowed with fundamental rights by a creator God are all firmly grounded in traditional western Christian philosophy.

    Secularism is part of this tradition and is born out of the British common law tradition and social contract. Either way, these concepts are all birthed from western philosophy, which is in turn grounded in Christian moral theology.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 2:56 PM, September 30, 2006  

  • screw the founding fathers. america shouldnt be 'a christian nation' because its not a good idea.

    god and politics mix like gas and styrofoam. if you dont know what i mean, you're probably best off not to try mixing them.

    as far as 'not understanding the argument', i think the argument is pretty clear. by america's own legal terms (the only terms by which something like 'america' can exist) it is not a christian nation. i dont know a counter argument that could exist. unless america is lying.

    wouldnt that be weird....

    By Blogger averyv, at 3:08 PM, September 30, 2006  

  • Actually, if I can elaborate further, modern secular law is historically grounded in both Christian moral theology and Greek moral philosophy - which was also monotheistic.

    I'm still working on this thesis, and it's actually an ongoing argument I'm having with my polisci professor about Locke. He calls Locke a secularist in his political philosophy. I don't read it that way. I brought up the Second Treatise because Thomas Jefferson very neatly summarized it in the Declaration of Independance.

    I'd love to hear comparable citations to back up your argument.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 3:09 PM, September 30, 2006  

  • Since you are clearly a student of history, let me add a little more to your understanding...

    "Most extraordinary (and wholey unexplained) is the fact that Article 11 of the Barlow translation with its famous phrase, "the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion," does not exist at all. There is no Article 11. The Arabic text which is between Articles 10 and 12 is in form a letter crude and flamboyant and withal quite unimportant, from the Dey of Algiers to the Pasha of Tripoli. How that script came to be written and to be regarded, as in the Barlow translation, as Article 11 of the treaty as there written, is a mystery and semminly must remain so. Nothing in the diplomatic correspondence of the time throws any light whatever on the point."

    Charles I. Bevans, Treaties and Other International Agreements of the United States of America, 1776-1949 (Department of State, 1974), XI: 1073-1074; cited by Whitehead, ibid.

    "Piracy continued despite the Treaty; the United States went to war with Tripoli in 1801. A new treaty with Tripoli, which does not contain the phrase in question, was accepted on April 17, 1806."

    John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution The Faith of Our Founding Fathers (Bakers Books, 1995) p. 415

    Check your sources.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:10 PM, September 30, 2006  

  • I think Mr. Fantastic has a point with the influence of Locke and Greek philosophy on the founders' ideas of government.

    But I would also add that the founders used those ideas as a basis, often adapting them and molding them as they saw fit. For instance, Locke's original ideas of "life, liberty, and the right to own property" were morphed into "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

    I wouldn't dispute the point that Christianty has held a sizable influence over the course of our country.

    However, as Jefferson himself pointed out in the famous (or infamous) "wall of seperation" letter, I believe *most* of the founders believed that you could not have a "self-evident truth" that "all men are created equal" if you valued one sect (or religion) as more worthy than another.

    Obviously, Jefferson was blind to the fact that this should have applied to slaves as well. But it's sound logic, in my opinion.

    By Anonymous g., at 6:55 PM, September 30, 2006  

  • I'd say "for God's sake" but I doubt people like Mr. Fantastic would appreciate the irony.

    So let me just say this:

    To speak of "founding the US" is to speak of the men who were responsible for an end to England's sovereignty in what had been, until then, colonies of England in North America.

    Trying to claim that Locke was in some nebulous way responsible for the founding of America is like trying to claim Moses was responsible for the founding of Christianity. Such connections are so hilariously tenuous as to be useless.

    No, one must focus on the actual men who did the actual founding. In the case of America, these men included

    • Tom Jefferson, author of the Declaration, who was a Deist and did not believe in the divinity of Christ;

    • James Madison, primary architect of the Constitution, who was a Deist and did not believe in the divinity of Christ;

    • George Washington, general of the colonial armies and first president of the new nation, who was a Deist and did not believe in the divinity of Christ.

    Fathers simply do not get any more founding than that, and the US was not founded as a Christian nation.

    The end.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:59 PM, September 30, 2006  

  • The difference between g. and anonymous is that g. has read Locke and the Declaration of Independence.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 7:34 PM, September 30, 2006  

  • Article 11 certainly exists, but only can be found in the English versions. The treaty with article 11 was published in American newspapers, approved by Adams and the Senate, and no one complained.

    Indeed, check your sources. Christian nationalists are hardly reliable sources.

    By Anonymous torrance, at 7:44 PM, September 30, 2006  

  • Yes, indeed. Traditional Western Christian philosophy is based on the philosophy of the ancients - primarily the Greeks and Romans. It is not necessarily Biblical philosophy, which must be especially galling to the fundamentalists. You only have to read Augustine to see that.

    I don't think 'Novus Ordo Saeclorum' necessarily implies 'secular' in a technical sense though. I believe that the founding fathers intended to leave the mystical an open question. The United States (I hate it when people use 'America' loosely) were founded on agnostic humanist principles, not atheist (as in positively asserting there is no god of any kind) but open to liberal thought about such things.

    Lastly, 'classical liberalism' may have roots, in passing, in Christian philosophy. It is highly doubtful that it is rooted in Christianity. Think about it. Sigh.

    By Blogger Mythical, at 9:33 PM, September 30, 2006  

  • "No, you don't understand the argument. The concepts of religious tolerance, freedom of thought, the idea of man being endowed with fundamental rights by a creator God are all firmly grounded in traditional western Christian philosophy."

    What? Pardon me, but traditional christian thought is to convert the non-christian. There's no religious tolerance in "traditional western christian thought".

    Freedom of thought is different depending on which religious group you have to be with, as many baptists will choose to burn all books not the bible.

    The "idea of man being endowed with fundamental rights by a creator God" is not anywhere in the bible, as far as I know. If it is, I'd like to know where.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:26 PM, September 30, 2006  

  • So torrance, the source I cited as published by the DEPARTMENT OF STATE is a Christian nationalist?

    And I cite sources while you provide none for your statement. I can add a lot more references - can you? Can you cite the paper that supposedly ran this Article 11 that the State Department says didn't even exist?

    I'm so tired of people throwing out their commentary that is, at the least, totally arguable and presenting it as a fact.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:54 AM, October 01, 2006  

  • Who is asserting that the United States was founded as a Christian nation? I still have yet to find someone who believes that.

    What we have all agreed on here is that the basic principles of this country are rooted in classical Christian thought and philosophy.

    Is there a counter-argument? Please, show me one. I think I must just be right.

    Anonymous claims that "baptists will choose to burn all books not the bible." I haven't seen any evidence of this.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic, at 4:56 PM, October 01, 2006  

  • Mr Fantastic says: "Who is asserting that the United States was founded as a Christian nation? I still have yet to find someone who believes that."

    Let's see... George Bush claimed it in a debate with John Kerry. James D Kennedy has written and coauthored several political works such as What if America Were a Christian Nation Again? and The Rewriting of America's History, arguing that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. David Barton David Barton, a theologian from California and author of The Myth of Church-State Separation, claims that. Judge Roy Moore has repeatedly claimed that. Pat Robertson's been claiming it for decades.

    By Blogger The Ridger, FCD, at 1:18 PM, October 12, 2006  

  • No, the United States was not created as a Christian nation in a de juri established religion. But it is a de facto reality that Christians have always maintained the majority in this nation, and thus despite the secular principle written into law, the principles of the people of this nation are largely rooted in the Christian faith that they possess.

    This is true, and I have seen absolutely zip proof that it isn't.

    What I have referred to in my prior posts are the enlightenment principles (of Locke and the tradition of liberalism, etc.) that are written into the Constitution, et al. This too, is fact.

    Your citation of the first amendment codifying free expression and freedom from established religion is not a refutation of the real traditions of the American people and the reality of the nature of Constitutional language.

    This is an argument of semantics. You think that by saying "The US is a Christian nation" they literally mean that there was ever an established national faith. This is not what they mean. They are referring to what I wrote in the above paragraphs.

    By Blogger Mr. Fantastic!, at 7:23 PM, October 12, 2006  

  • I couldn't get a trackback to work, but I wanted you to know this post is in the Carnival of the Godless this time!

    By Blogger The Ridger, FCD, at 5:27 AM, October 15, 2006  

  • Don't forget the founding fathers were all white men.

    Why don't we hear more people bleating on about the United States being a "White Nation"? Why no talk of how liberty and equality are only truly appreciated by the male mind?

    By Blogger Captain Friendly, at 4:18 PM, October 16, 2006  

  • Every Department of State summary of the Treaty of Tripoli I could find had Article 11 -- think about it: That was the version that was ratified (unanimously). The canard that Article 11 doesn't exist is an old one, not well documented. When I checke the State Department Library years ago, the librarian showed me a summary that had the article as shown everywhere else.

    Probably more to the point, though the exact language was not used, a similar provision exists in no fewer than seven treaties between what would become the United States and Barbary Coast nations, between 1786 and 1816. Over 30 years, the U.S. was consistent in this argument, that our government is not religiously based, and therefore not inherently biased against Islam. The Xian nationalists don't like to talk about the other treaties . . .

    By Blogger Ed Darrell, at 5:16 PM, October 20, 2006  

  • I wssn't aware that Madison was a deist, however his religious beliefs were irrelevant. It is important to note that he wrote the Remonstrance:

    "Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects." Madison's Remonstrance ¶3, reprinted in Everson, supra, at 65.

    The idea that christianity is not a religion because it has denominations which are separate, and not subject to the Establishment Clause is ridiculous, and the framers wisely understood that superiority of any religion is inimicable to freedom makes moot the question of what the Founders' religions were.

    We have a document agreed upon by the people, and we have case law which backs separation. I think we owe it to the founders to honor it as intended.

    (I don't have a google account, but I don't need to be completely anonymous. My name is Mike Haubrich.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:30 AM, October 21, 2006  

  • the US was founded on a christian perspective by christian pilgrims. even though ignorance runs rampent now and our goverment separated church from state, we must not forget those who are fighting for the freedom of religion for i am one of them. freedom of religion meansfree to believe in any religion but if you dont believe in the lord dont try to nock those who do. but let me tell you there are many who say i dont believe in god but when somthing tramatic happens like theyre wife is dieing you immediatly see these people on they're knees but who do they pray to or why? ill tell you becuase god has written it in our hearts and mind to know that he exists but god help those who remain ignorent becuase they have no salvation if they dont except the lord.

    truly, micheal

    By Blogger otokon, at 12:44 PM, December 22, 2006  

  • USA was formally a Christian Based Country! Where does in God we trust come from?
    Where does the word God come from in all!... in America

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:53 PM, May 28, 2007  

  • "In God We Trust" was put on the US currency in the 1950s as a symbolic "middle finger" pointed at the Russians. The US and Russia were in the midst of the Cold Ware. The Americans viewed Communist Russia as a godless country.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:37 AM, March 02, 2008  

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