04 July 2017

Some thoughts for the Fourth of July

Excerpts from "What politicians mean when they say the United States was founded as a Christian nation" in the Washington Post:
Perhaps no aspect of the American founding is as politicized today as the role of religion. Be they atheists or deeply devout, liberals tend to see religious pluralism and equality as definitive American values, while the right-wing (Vice President Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for example) insists that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and that fostering the country’s Christian, or Judeo-Christian, identity is essential. Those with “a secular mind-set,” Sessions argued in opposing Sonia Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court, do not understand “who we are” and advance a worldview “directly contrary to the founding of our republic.”

It’s an old debate, as old as the United States itself. Yet, contrary to Pence, Sessions and other Christian nationalists, the range of views on what the role of religion in American life should be has actually grown narrower, and shallower, since the Revolutionary generation debated the matter. There are many reasons not to want to return to the politics of the 18th century, but they did hold a richer discussion about religion and society...

For Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, however, religion lay as the root cause of bloodshed and tyranny. They stood, in profound ways, closer to Martin Luther, and Galileo, than we do to them. Jefferson described his and Madison’s attempts in the 1780s to establish religious freedom in Virginia as “the severest contests in which I have ever been engaged.” Neither the Declaration of Independence nor the U.S. Constitution, the country’s charter documents, are partial to Christianity. The Declaration acknowledges the authority of “the Laws of Nature” and the deists’ beloved “Nature’s God.” Of the 27 grievances against the British Crown that the Declaration puts forward, not one concerns religion. Likewise, the Constitution merely recognizes “freedom of religion”; it doesn’t endorse Christianity — it doesn’t even mention it. These omissions present today’s Christian nationalists with a real awkwardness. It has forced advocates of the “Christian nation” or “Judeo-Christian nation” into strained textual exegeses attributing immense significance to the use of the Christian calendar for example, or elaborate justifications as to why a generation of men and women who said everything somehow left this important thing unsaid.

There was even prevalent, open hostility to Christianity, in the form of anti-Catholicism, in Revolutionary-era America. The American Colonies were deeply, profoundly anti-Catholic. Anti-Catholicism was one of the few things the diverse Colonies shared. Colonists were horrified when Britain, with the 1774 Quebec Act, recognized Quebec’s Catholics as deserving equal protection of the law. The Continental Congress protested, claiming that Catholicism as a religion that had “deluged” Britain in blood and “dispersed impiety, bigotry, persecution, murder and rebellion through every part of the world.”

Then, as now, most Christians in the world were Catholics. Claiming that people moved by deep prejudice against most of world’s Christians wanted to form a “Christian nation” makes no sense. The problem cannot be solved by simply devolving to “Protestant nation.” Britain was known as the sword and shield of Protestantism, set against a hostile Catholic Continent. In what form of Protestantism, exactly, did the United States rise up in rebellion against the 18th-century world’s standard-bearer of Protestantism?
Continued at the link.  Lots to think about...

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