Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Christian Nation?

Joe Carter's post, Founding Believers, discusses the religious persuasion of some of the founding fathers. It is important for us to understand that many were not orthodox Christians but Deists. While Christianity has had a strong influence on our country we must never think that it is or ever has been a "Christian nation" in the true sense of the word.

Here are some excerpts from the post:
What were the religious beliefs of the founding fathers? That question is at the heart of many of the most contentious debates about the role of religion in the American public square. Countless arguments are centered on claims that the founders were either God-fearing Christians or Deistically-inclined secularists.....

David L. Holmes, a professor of religious studies at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, provides a useful methodology for examining the relevant evidence in his book, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers. Holmes offers four types of evidence that can help us discern whether a Revolutionary-era political leader was a Deist, an orthodox Christian, or something in between:

1. Examine the actions of the founding father in the area of religion (e.g., Did they attend church regularly?).

2. Examine the participation of the founding father in a church’s ordinances or sacraments (e.g., Did they have their children baptized? Did they take Holy Communion?).

3. Comparison of inactivity versus activity in regards to religious involvement.

4. Examine the religious language used by the founding father.

Using these criteria, Holmes claims that the religious beliefs of the founding fathers can be broadly classified as: Non-Christian Deists who rejected all sacraments and rarely attended church services’ Deistic Christians/Unitarians who held Deistic beliefs, attended church regularly, but rejected the Lord’s Supper and confirmation;. and Orthodox Christians who accepted orthodox Christian beliefs, attended church regularly, and participated in the sacraments and ordinances......

Applying the method to other founding fathers, the list could be roughly delineated as:

Non-Christian Deists: Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen.

Deistic Christians/Unitarians: Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe.

Orthodox Christians: Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, John Jay, Elias Boudinot, John Witherspoon.....

Most—whether they were non-Christian Deists or Deistic Christians—appear to have been held to the classic “five points of Deism”: (1) There is a God; (2) He ought to be worshiped; (3) Virtue is the principle element in this worship; (4) Humans should repent of their sins; and (5) There is life after death, where the evil will be punished and the good rewarded.

The views of the Deistic founding fathers would have been as repugnant to the modern secularist as those of the so-called Religious Right. The founding believers considered belief in a deity to be necessary for good citizenship, believed in intelligent design, had few qualms about establishment of state churches, and took a low view of atheists. They might not pass muster as orthodox Christians, but if they were around today they would considered theocrats.

Regardless of what was believed at the time of the founding, our country is not a “Christian nation” but rather, as the Baptist theologian Albert Mohler duly notes, “a nation of Christians.” America, he argues, “is not Christian by constitutional provision or creedal affirmation—but its people are overwhelmingly Christian by self-affirmation. Thoughtful evangelicals will not overestimate the convictional character of this self-identification. Secularists ought not to overestimate its superficiality.”

Read the whole article here.

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