In my review of Sam Harris’ Letter to a Christian Nation, I tossed out the idea of writing my own letter. The more I’ve thought about it, the better it sounds. So, I’ve decided to start – only I’ll write it a chunk at a time, and do it for free. Maybe if it’s good, I’ll repackage it and try to get $16.95 for it.
Dear “Christian” Nation,
I hate to tell you this, but you don’t exist. I mean, as a “Christian” nation. Not even close. And, in spite of all of the right-wing rhetoric, you never did. Of course, many of the pilgrims and settlers came to the New World in search of religious freedom – that is, freedom from one state church or another. And, much of the time “religious freedom” meant freedom for their particular group, but not necessarily for anyone else.
Very few of the immigrants came over with evangelism in mind, although I am sure there were some. However, off the top of my head I can’t think of any famous St. Patrick-type missionary that we can look to as a model of the typical immigrant. There were, however, a few who came over to conquer in the name of one church or another. It’s not the same thing. Most immigrants came over to either escape from what they saw as tyranny (not necessarily a bad thing), or to make a better life for themselves (not necessarily a bad thing, either). However, these are not selfless reasons. Many came over in a spirit of independence and materialism; two things which are still deeply embedded in American philosophy and politics, and in fact, are what characterize the U.S. in the eyes of the world. These, by the way, do not qualify as “fruit of the Spirit.”
The “God” of “in God we trust” is not necessarily the God of the Bible. Our founding fathers were not necessarily Christians. Some were deists. Some, like Thomas Paine, were outspoken atheists. Many were Masons. It is rumored that Ben Franklin may have even dabbled in Satanism for a time. However, there was generally a Judeo-Christian worldview, which flavored much of what was written. Notice that a pyramid and the “all seeing eye” are prominently displayed on our money, not a cross or a “Jesus fish.” Furthermore, our founding fathers were rebels, traitors and arguably terrorists (remember the Boston Tea Party?). How would they fare today up against Homeland Security and the Patriot Act?
American history is an embarrassment, by Christian standards. The bloodiest, cruelest war we’ve fought was our own Civil War, which was arguably motivated not by a desire to free slaves, but simply by greed. Certainly some Christians, as well as others, became heroes of the Underground Railroad. Others just killed each other. Then, of course, after they were emancipated, blacks still had to fight for “equality” in the North as well as in the South. In fact, immigrants of all nationalities and religions have had to fight for acceptance in this so-called Christian nation. And, let’s not forget the Native Americans: certainly our treatment of them is a testimony to our Christian charity.
We do have, of course, many acknowledgments of a Creator, besides the slogan on our money (which is an oddity, don’t you think, considering Jesus’ statement that you can’t serve “both God and mammon?” It would seem that our every use of money causes us to make a choice.). Public prayer (to the consternation of atheists) has been standard in our government since the beginning. However, I can’t help but think that this is merely an example of Pascal’s Wager, a way of hedging our bets. “Under God” is in the pledge of allegiance, but of course added much, much later. And then, there’s “Manifest Destiny,” the concept spun to promote western expansion, that God had destined us for greatness. Here’s John O’sullivan’s take, from 1839:
The expansive future is our arena, and for our history. We are entering on its untrodden space, with the truths of God in our minds, beneficent objects in our hearts, and with a clear conscience unsullied by the past. We are the nation of human progress, and who will, what can, set limits to our onward march? Providence is with us, and … we proclaim to the millions of other lands, that “the gates of hell” — the powers of aristocracy and monarchy — “shall not prevail against it.”
The far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American greatness. In its magnificent domain of space and time, the nation of many nations is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles; to establish on earth the noblest temple ever dedicated to the worship of the Most High — the Sacred and the True.
I should mention here that the United States is not mentioned in the Bible.
While the United States may have the most vocal Christian presence in the world, it is still not known as a nation that embodies any of the characteristics of what would be considered “Christian.” The image of the typical American is not Billy Graham, but the Marlborough Man. We are not the nation of charity and spirituality, we are the nation of rugged individualism, of materialism and of power.
I am not by any means anti-American. I believe our original Constitution (if we can find it among all of the amendments) is probably the best ever written. All I’m saying is that there is nothing about our government or our country that makes America specifically “Christian.”
And, that’s the way I like it. I believe in the freedom of religion. To me, that means keeping Government out of it. However, that doesn’t mean that Government is to ignore or protect us from religion. That’s not freedom, that’s just insanity; to ignore religion is like ignoring race or age. People are who they are, Christian, Jew, atheist or ambivalent.
So, we’re a nation with a checkered past, and a stewpot of hundreds of faiths and non-faiths. Whatever else we are, one thing is sure: we are not, and never were, a “Christian” nation.