Exactly what kind of “Christian nation” do these people want?

By Prof. Steve Hochstadt | 15 December 2010
Journal Courier


Many Americans are saying that America should be a Christian nation. I wonder exactly what they mean.

Do they mean a Christian nation like the ones from which the Puritans and most of our early settlers fled? In those countries, the king was also the head of their state church. All citizens had to worship in the prescribed manner or face persecution, jail or even death. Our founders created a new nation without a king and without a state church, the first nation in which the government “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”

Do they mean a Christian nation like that demanded by the Ku Klux Klan during the decades when the Klan was a powerful force in American politics? Klansmen called themselves defenders of the Christian faith, but they meant only a narrow form of Protestantism, which used violence to exclude Catholics, Jews, blacks and other non-whites.

Do they mean a Christian nation like the one I grew up in, in which Jews and blacks were excluded from living in many communities, excluded from belonging to important social organizations, excluded from attending or teaching at the best universities? Or do they mean a more tolerant version, where we can go everywhere and do everything, as long as we are quiet when an organizational meeting or a government function begins with a Christian prayer?

Do they mean a Christian nation in which laws are created out of a narrow interpretation of certain Biblical passages, which many other Christians dispute? Many who claim that America is a Christian nation then go on to demand that laws about the teaching of science, the legality of contraception and the treatment of homosexuals be determined by their version of Christianity.

Do they mean a Christian nation “where we are tolerant,” as Sarah Palin said on Bill O’Reilly’s show earlier this year?

I don’t want to live where I am tolerated. I want to live where my religion or lack of it makes no difference, where public money is not spent on promoting Christian beliefs and practices while the rest of us watch from the outside. And there are a lot of us: One of every four Americans is not a Christian, including over 6 million Jews, over 2 million Muslims and millions of others.

Those who claim that the Christian nation in their minds is based on the founders’ ideas are silent about how much more Christianity has been added to America since our founding. “In God we trust” was first added to currency in the 1860s, and our pennies and nickels did not say that until the 20th century. The words “under God” were only added to the Pledge of Allegiance by an act of Congress in 1954.

Conservatives who promote more Christianity in public life also appear to believe that America has been going in the wrong direction for many years. Do they mean the decline in the proportion of the adult population who identify themselves as Christian, from 86 percent in 1990 to 76 percent in 2008? Barely more than half of Americans tell pollsters that they attend religious services more than once a year. Now that there are relatively fewer Christians, should the nation be more Christian?

I don’t want to live in any version of a “Christian nation.” I want to live in the United States, in which religious ideas are a private matter, in which my government plays no role in my spiritual life, and denominational beliefs play no role in government. The 18th-century founders were not able to fully divorce their politics from religion, but they went further than anyone else had gone before. In many ways, such as race, their vision was clouded by traditional prejudices. Since then we have created a more perfect union, although not yet perfect. Perfection will be closer when whites no longer insist on retaining the privileges they have built up over centuries of supremacy, and when Christians stop saying that they specially represent America.

A few nights ago, I attended a wonderful Christmas concert in the chapel at Illinois College.

The music was beautiful and inspiring, like the soaring building itself. The freedoms to create and perform all kinds of religious music, to sing religious songs with our neighbors, are just as beautiful.

Those freedoms are only guaranteed as long as America is a nation in which religion is a personal choice, not a public prescription.

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Steve Hochstadt of Jacksonville is a professor of history at Illinois College. His column appears every Tuesday in the Journal-Courier and is available on his blog at stevehochstadt.blogspot.com.

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  1. You nailed it right in the middle of the article. They go out of their way to plant their Christian flag next to Old Glory because they feel their Christian super-majority slipping away. Hey godoholics…it's called "intellectual progress".

  2. (clapclapwhistleclapclapclap) Thank you from someone in the Pagan end of the pool!

    Honestly, I don't believe many of the people who endorse this insanity have a really concrete idea of what kind of Christian nation they want, beyond some select thought-stopper sound bytes and slogans. Or how much infighting would be involved if they indeed "took back the nation for God". The people and groups who are pushing this thinking (or lack of) have very little to do with faith, and everything to do with power, and have reinvented manipulating religion as a political and social goad.

    • I really would like to see Christian Dominionists and Christian Reconstructionists go totally extinct because theirs are cruel and bloodlustful socio-political heresies and are in no way, Christian at all.

  3. Any chance we could have an Unconditionally Loving, Inclusive, Nation that is accepting of everyone's right to have their own personal relationship with the Divine? I fully believe that together we can co-create a world that works for everyone, a world where borders are irrelevant and a world where we all honor the 6 billion + different ways to come to GOD. (Or whatever name you choose to call the One Power, Presence and Intelligence that operates as ALL LIFE)

    • What about those of us who have no personal relationship with anything 'divine'? We have neither the need nor desire to come to 'God', and don't believe there is "One Power, Presence and Intelligence that operates as ALL LIFE".

  4. Google "Christian Re-Constructionism" And "Christian Dominionism." These wingnuts want to re-establish Levitical Law in the United States. What they want is a theocracy with Capital Punishment and torture for almost everything…..
    Born Again Christo-Fascism:

    Jews, Catholics, Buddhists, must convert to being a Baptist or some other Jerry Falwell brand, or be executed….

    Miss church once and be put in stocks. Miss church twice and be horsewhipped. Refuse to attend church and be executed…

    This would be done by stoning, because as one Constructionist said: "Stones are cheap"

    You may think these lunatics are on the fringe, but they are not. The CEO of Blackwater Murder Inc. is one of these idiots…

    They also are high up in the Republican political machine…..

    The Religious Right in the USA is not just a big joke to be laughed at, as lots of us often do. They are dangerous….

    • I really would like to see Christian Dominionists and Christian Reconstructionists go totally extinct because theirs are cruel and bloodlustful socio-political heresies and are in no way, Christian at all.

  5. Actually, “in god we trust” did not appear on currency until the 1950s. It was passed into law on July 30th, 1956 during Dwight Eisenhower’s administration and did not appear until 1957 on the one dollar solver certificate. All of which has happened in my lifetime. Maybe the next President will have the good sense to remove this travesty and return us to a government, of the people, by the people, and for the people once again. Special interests in this country have always used bribes of vast amounts of untraceable cash to ensure they get their way. Government service does not mean untold riches. It means you are there to protect the laws and the people of the United States. Do we need a special oversight committee to watch over lobbyists and special interest groups? Maybe so, or maybe we should just institute term limits. It’s your choice.

  6. I really would like to see Christian Dominionists and Christian Reconstructionists go totally extinct because theirs are cruel and bloodlustful socio-political heresies and are in no way, Christian at all.

  7. I’m Christian, but not that kind. The bible belt in the South is more tolerant of democratic ideals and tends to buck the notion that Christian values are somehow mutually exclusive of that. Of course, what well intentioned conservativism attempts to convey through its religious mantra is a return to traditions based on absolutes seeped in offense and intolerance that favors morality at the expense of compassion. Pastors who happen to be politically conservative gravitate towards such flawed belief at the expense of their allegiance to Christ. They substitute the grace of maturity that comes by discernment for the law of sinlessness, and exchange the volunteer service in Christ for obedience to conformity.

    But the founding fathers understood plurality of religion and codified tolerance into the Declaration of Independence and penned the right to that freedom in the Constitution. That is the Christian nation I hold dear and seek a return to, not the fascism of today masquerading
    as Christian. Yuck!