**I am reposting the following in light of Glenn Beck’s “Restoring Honor” rally he held this last Saturday (8-28) in Washington D.C. I am a Patriot, I am thankful to be an American; I love to understand and study our American Heritage — it is intriguing and informative. Nevertheless, there is a myth, and that myth is that America was through and through a Christian Nation in her origin; and that what America’s hope is is to return to our “Christian beginnings” and then all will be better. Now, following “Nationalism” and this myth makes sense for someone like Glenn Beck who is LDS/Mormon, and who believes that America is indeed the promised land; or this myth might make sense for those who are of a postmil persuasion (as many of the original “Americans” were — theologically), and hope to establish a golden age of humanity on earth (America representing her city on the hill or “Jerusalem”) thus ushering in the second coming of Christ. But, if we are truly Christ followers, I believe that our hope is in a Person — Jesus Christ — not in a “Land.” The problem is is that we’re in Babylon, not the “promised land;” we’re looking forward to the telos of all creation being realized at the second coming of Christ, in the New Jerusalem. I understand Beck’s misunderstanding, and I understand the postmiller’s wrongly placed emphasis; in fact I understand the desire for there to be a “Golden Age” wherein we can finally find peace and rest. Indeed, these are all great hopes, and desires; but they are misplaced if we think that we can hearken back to an earlier golden age, and try and resurrect something that really never was. This is all misplaced if we think part of our “heritage” was this great time of individual freedom and liberty; in fact this is part of the problem — Individualism that is! Individualism starts with “each man as the measure,” and then works from there; indeed, this is much more of a “Cartesian” way to conceive of man than a Biblical or Christological or Trinitarian way. Individualism makes sense, and fits in perfect with the LDS understanding of humanity; since each “man” is an “individual god” — with no real concept of the Trinity in mind (oneness shaped by threeness and threeness shaped by oneness — or the one and the many). Anyway, I’ve ranted long enough; read the rest of this post, and see what you think. I think Glenn Beck’s intentions are noble and “honorable,” but in the end they are misplaced.
Often times, most times, America, and her origins, are claimed to be Christian . . . thus our self-proclaimed Christian Nation status. While it is true that our nation was originally to be a haven of refuge for “religious freedom,” and many of our founding Fathers were “Christians” (well some); it is not necessarily the case that the Christian ideals that were brought to the Americas were actually that Christian, conceptually. Scholars: Noll, Hatch, and Marsden certainly don’t think so; and they express their doubt very well in their book The Search for Christian America. Here is a summary of the first piece of their thesis in developing their argument:
1) We feel that a careful study of the facts of history shows that early America does not deserve to be considered uniquely, distinctly or even predominately Christian, if we mean by the word “Christian” a state of society reflecting the ideals presented in Scripture. There is no lost golden age to which American Christians may return. In addition, a careful study of history will also show that evangelicals themselves were often partly to blame for the spread of secularism in contemporary American life. . . . (Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, George M. Marsden, “The Search For Christian America,” 17)
This is hard teaching, who can hear it? Does this bother you, these kinds of probing points? To clarify, these historians are not arguing that America does not have any “religious past,” note: . . . [I]n making our case, we do not want to contend that Christian values have been absent from American history. . . . Their presence, we agree, justifies a picture of the United States as a singularly religious country (p. 18). The key language, is “religious,” they will continue to argue that America does indeed have rich “Christian heritage;” but unfortunately what passed as uniquely Christian, was in fact, Christianity baptized in “Natural Theology,” and rationalist Enlightenment principles. Here is an example of what I am talking about, found in the Declaration of Independence:
. . . We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. . . . (full text here)
Notice the language of “self-evident,” this is Enlightenment Natural Theology, which starts with Nature/Creation as the methodological entry point for discussing spiritual things. In other words, and very simply, natural theology starts with man and works out/up from there. This is just one example of how our countries’ founding was not necessarily Christian. Here are some more penetrating questions offered by these historians, on what criteria should be used to determine if indeed America’s founding, heritage, and origin should be labeled Christian:
One set of questions has to do with how much Christian action is required to make a whole society Christian. Another way of stating the same issue is to pose it negatively—how much evil can a society display before we disqualify it as a Christian society? These kinds of questions are pertinent for all of early American history. When we look at the Puritans of the 1600s, do we emphasize only their sincere desire to establish Christian colonies, and their manifest desire to live by the rule of Scripture? Or do we focus rather on the stealing of Indian lands, and their habit of displacing and murdering these Indians wherever it was convenient? Roger Williams, one of the Puritans himself, asked these very questions and came to much the same conclusion as we have more than 300 years later. Again, do we place more emphasis on the Massachusetts Puritans’ desire to worship God freely in the new world or their persecution (and, in four cases, execution) of Quakers who also wished to be free to worship God in Massachusetts? (Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, George M. Marsden, “The Search For Christian America,” 17)
Some tough, penetrating questions. How would you answer these? Are we a “Christian Nation?” And if you think so, or not, why?
Don’t get me wrong, I am thankful to be an American, and am thankful for the “freedoms” we have in this country; but I don’t think it does anyone any good, especially for “people of the Truth,” to pretend like we had a Christian nation in the past; and continue to have one today (although I think most would agree that we definitely don’t live in a Christian Nation today). This takes us full circle, then, what is a “Christian Nation,” to begin with?
Oh yeah, you all need to read this book at some point!