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In recent years the US has experienced a surge of Christian radicalism unlike anything most of us have seen in our lifetimes. This wave seems to still be building and becoming further removed from reality. It’s uncertain when if it will crest and break or continue to rise.
Christian revivalist movements like the one we see now are a reaction to some threat that religious and political leaders fan into a flame. They know how to press people’s buttons to awaken emotional responses. From my observations, the moment of ignition for this current wave seems to have been when Barack Obama was elected president. Many White supremistists and evangelists saw the election of a man of mixed race as a catastrophe. It signified the threat of losing “their” country to minorities.
Fear is one of the most powerful motivators there is. In humans, fear has routinely led extremely religious people to seek God’s intervention and protection. Those who call on God to solve their problems appear to have given up on any human solutions and think they must have supernatural help. That dependence on God is a lesson everyone who reads the Bible or attends a Christian church learns. But, hasn’t God equipped humans to handle their problems without constantly calling for his intervention?
The cycles of history
I am not a credentialed history scholar. However, in conducting research for my book, In Search of Christian Origins: A Timeline of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, I became aware of the many trends in Christianity. One was the Christian response to threatening events.
It was absolutely predictable that every time a devout Christian society felt threatened, they circled their wagons around God, the Bible, and icons and built a wall of defense. This would lead to another spiritual revival. The precedent is in the Old Testament. There are many tales of the Jewish people realizing they hadn’t made God their main priority, losing his blessing. Then they had to win that blessing back by being more faithful than ever. Now, the plan seems to be to win back the United States for God as it apparently had been sometime in the nebulous past.
The need for a revival
Now we see how this fear presents itself. We constantly see evangelicals trying to convince the rest of us that this is “Christian nation”. That seems to translate into “We are white and Christian, and God blessed us with this wonderful country. We have failed God by allowing too many ethnic and religious minorities (or whatever) into our country.”
Many of these people are so angry that they speak of a second civil war and arm themselves for it. White Christians know they don’t have the power they once did and that’s what seems to scares them. If they truly believe God bequested this country to only White Christians then I can see how they could think they’ve disappointed God.
How to respond?
First, certain people were convinced that they knew God’s plans for our hemisphere even before the first European colonists stepped ashore.
Because of their current descendants’ unquestioning belief in what their religious leaders still teach, they seldom think about the human decisions that have caused every single one of our societal problems. It wasn’t God’s intention or a lack of faith that caused our society to become diversified. It was the ebb and flow of human migrations. And I don’t think it’s God’s responsibility to solve that problem because I don’t think he considers it a problem. It’s humans with free will trying to attain the best lives they can.
Instead of working out differences with their opponents, those who seek God’s intervention must imagine that some nebulous evil force that motivates their “enemies”. Since evil forces are supernatural, that would mean they think only God can defeat them. That makes it’s no longer a human problem, but something to be fought out on some spiritual plain. That thinking seems to lead to the idea that the US needs to become more Godly.
Second, even subtly referring to another civil war shows just how out of touch some people are with history or decency. Haven’t they learned about the six hundred thousand soldiers who died in our first civil war and the devastation of Southern cities? In that war both sides were Christians and both prayed to the same God for victory. Can they serious be suggesting that it’s God’s will that we do that again?
The US as a Christian nation
Those who think this should be a Christian nation believe that the Puritans who settled in New England, the aristocrats that settled in the Southeastern US, and even the Spanish conquistadors in Latin America were somehow reincarnations of the Jews who attained their “promised land” three thousand years ago. They deluded themselves that America was their land of destiny. If they really believed that, then they could justify their treatment of Native Americans. The Hebrews had set the precedence with their slaughter of the Canaanites and other tribes who lived in their promised land. (Joshua)
To Old Testament-believing colonists, the subjugation and extermination of Native American populations was justified because it was God’s will. That is the power of religion—it can make people believe something that is otherwise preposterous simply because their leaders and peers also believe it. That’s even it’s mythology, not history.
The truth is that there probably never was an extermination of the Canaanites or those other tribes. There is no archeological or written evidence that indicates those events occurred, and the Bible contradicts itself on those issues. Those stories were meant to teach Jews creation myths about their tribal identity, and teach them a sense of invincibility.
For a modern American Christian to believe those Old Testament stories really happened, they would have to ignore all the present-day discoveries. They would have to give more credence to ancient Jewish writings than to modern scholarship.
Our founding documents
For the United States as a Christian nation to make any sense, the justification would have had to come from our founding documents. How else can someone determine what a country stands for other than look at its mission and vision statements.
If you study those documents, you’ll find no mention of the Christian God. You will instead find references to a “Creator”, “Nature’s God”, or “Divine Providence”. Those terms refer to a nameless creator. That was the intent of the men who used those terms.
Many of the men who composed and signed the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution were not Christians. Many of them were Deists and held a religious philosophy that originated in the relatively recent European Enlightenment.
They had to act like Christians
Let’s not forget that in those days, other than the tiny percentage of Jews, everyone of European descent had been raised as a Christian. That included the American colonists, and it’s because European culture was thoroughly Christian and had been for many centuries. In fact, there were severe penalties for not being a Christian.
Many of those who attended college in Europe and America in the eighteenth century were introduced to Deism. They were attracted to Deistic thinking because it was rational. It’s not surprising that many of those Deistic men and women tried to remain Christian in appearance for their own well-being.
Deviation from the Christian expectations was to risk becoming an outcast, prisoner, or victim of some other form of Christian “justice”. In theocracies—societies entirely based on their leaders’ interpretation of scripture— death penalties were not uncommon for “crimes” against God. The US legal system was still jailing people for the crime of blasphemy until 1838. These were all strong incentives to be publicly perceived as a Christian, even if someone held Deistic beliefs.
What the Founding Fathers knew that most of us don’t
Our eighteenth-century Founding Fathers were well aware of the horrors that religion had caused in Europe.
A brief recap includes the German Peasants Revolt of 1524. That uprising of Protestants against Catholics was the result of the German Reformation and resulted in from one hundred thousand to three hundred thousand deaths.
From 1562 until 1789 French Catholics persecuted and attempted to exterminate French Protestants, known as Huguenots. In just one event, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572, Catholics killed an estimated five thousand to twenty-five thousand Huguenots.
The English Civil War began in 1642 and lasted until 1651. It was mainly fought over whether the country should be Catholic or Protestant. Some two hundred thousand people died in that dispute.
Far worse than any of the previous was the Thirty Years War. It began in 1618 and lasted until 1648. That war ended the lives of around eight million people and devastated Central Europe.
It didn’t end there. As recently as 1754-1763, the Protestant English had fought the Catholic French in what was known as the Seven Years War. In North America it lasted longer and is known as the French and Indian War. That war was so recent, that some of the signers of our Constitution had participated in it.
There were many other religious wars and revolts in Europe, but that’s enough to get the point across. Add to those abominations the various Catholic inquisitions to decide who were heretics or relapsed Jews and the paranoia that led to hunt down and punish suspected “witches”. This all pointed to pathologically out-of-control theocracies. Then they tryed to spread their influence into the New World.
They wanted nothing to do with theocracy
Our Founding Fathers were some of the most intelligent and educated citizens in the colonies, and they were powerfully influenced by those religious wars and persecutions. Those lessons were fresh in their minds as they crafted the US Constitution.
A question to ask. Would any reasonably intelligent person in those days think it would be a good idea for the US to have a national religion? Then the government would have to try to enforce it as was done in Europe?
These were men of the Enlightenment, not those who craved religious power. Having a national religion, i.e., Christianity, would have continued the cycle of hatred and violence that plagued Europe for the previous thirteen centuries. Most of the men who met in Philadelphia in 1787 wanted a fresh and rational beginning for our country and decided to leave religious wars to the Europeans.
They instead decided to allow each American citizen the freedom to worship their own concept a god, and in whatever manner they chose.
The Flag of the United States
The US flag, created in 1776, was symbolic. But it wasn’t symbolic of Christianity. There were no crosses or other Christian symbolism on it. No mention of God or Jesus. Instead, it signified a break from Christian domination. The flag symbolized a new beginning for mankind, unblemished by past religious and civil abuses.
In the 1777 Flag Resolution, this was how one member of the Second Continental Congress described the flag: “Resolved, that the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white; that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation.” What the term constellation meant to them is up for debate, but it is a scientific term and science was extremely important to people of the Enlightenment because it was based on evidence, not faith.
The God of money
Many supporters of Christian nationalism refer to the motto “In God We Trust”. It appears on our coins, paper bills, license plates, etc. They sat it’s evidence that we are a Christian nation. What most Americans don’t know is that those words were never on our original money nor did they play any part in our nation’s beginnings. Also, which god are we trusting, and why? That phrase has different meanings to different people.
The first use of that well-known phrase was in the 1748 Pennsylvania Gazette, authored by Benjamin Franklin. In 1814, Francis Scott Key used it in his proto-national anthem—the fourth stanza of The Star-Spangled Banner.
Prior to the Civil War in 1861, the idea of putting “In God We Trust” on US currency was rejected. It was viewed as a violation of the Constitution’s separation of Church and State. But, as the horrors of our Civil War became apparent, politicians became more inclined to seek God’s help.
It was the Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, who decided the wording for our coins. The US government began to imprint “In God We Trust” on US coins in 1864. Since then, the phrase has not been without controversy. Congress removed it and later replaced it on US currency depending on how the political and religious winds were blowing.
It wasn’t until the 1950s and the panic generated by the risk of nuclear annihilation that Congress decided the phrase should be on our paper money. Our political leaders apparently wanted to make the statement that we were favored by God and the Communists were godless and evil. In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed a bill making ”In God We Trust” mandatory on all US currency.
The Pledge of Allegiance
Most people probably think the “Pledge” goes back to the days of the Declaration of Independence. That’s not true. The first pledge was not introduced until 1885 as a way to solidify patriotism in the population.
The version we are familiar with was first recited in 1892, at the time Columbus Day was becoming a national holiday. It was the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the “New World”. There was no “under God” phrase in the pledge until 1954 when Americans were tripping over each other to demonstrate they weren’t godless Communists.
So, the US Constitution, flag, money, and Pledge of Allegiance originally had nothing to do with the Christian God. That God and country connection can only be seen through religious-colored glasses
Shedding theocratic rule
As mentioned earlier, at the time our constitution was written and ratified, Christendom had controlled every aspect of Western society for over a thousand years. And, it was total domination. European culture was affixed to the Bible, not any secular constitution. No one had any rights unless the clergy or kings granted them. This was NOT what our Founding Fathers wanted. They instead wanted freedom FROM religious domination.
Today, those in favor of Christian nationalism seem to want to return to those days when patriarchs and bishops set the rules for society. Those clergymen and rulers who proclaimed themselves “divinely-appointed” influenced all laws and social issues.
Those issues included reproductive rights, sexual identity, church attendance, public behavior, education, medical treatment, declarations of war, taxation—and always based on their scriptural interpretation.
The Church decided who became wealthy and influential and who was destined to live poor and meaningless lives. They dictated who would be imprisoned for “crimes” against God and the Church and controlled whatever else an all-powerful establishment sought to control. They had no opposition.
Returning to an age when faith in God, not reason, dominated human thinking
Those who have been led to believe the US is a “Christian nation” are trying to return our country to those dark ages when people judged just how Christian each other were. Back to the days when they could make anonymous accusations against a neighbor and the authorities would decide if that person was guilty or not.
Those currently rallying for Christian nationalism don’t seem to have learned the lessons of the past. Those are that anarchy and terror can be unleashed when faith, not reason, rule societies.
Blindly following clergy, especially politically motivated clergy, has little to offer the average citizen. It only reverses our society’s direction and heads us back toward the Middle Ages.
Channeling the Founding Fathers
The following are quotes from some of our Founding Fathers that may surprise many US Christians.
George Washington: Commander of the Colonial Army and First President of the United States.
“Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see the religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.”
“I beg you be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.”
“Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause: And I was not without hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy of ⟨the present⟩ age would have put an effectual stop to contentions of this Kind.”
“There is nothing which can better deserve your patronage, than the promotion of science and literature. Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness.”
Benjamin Franklin: Signer of Declaration of Independence and member of Constitutional Convention.
“If everyone is thinking alike, then no one is thinking.”
“I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we render to him is doing good to his other Children. *
“Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.”
“The way to see by Faith is to shut the Eye of Reason.”
“I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life, I absenteed myself from Christian assemblies.”
“If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practised it on one another.”
“Some volumes against Deism fell into my hands … they produced an effect precisely the reverse to what was intended by the writers; for the arguments of the Deists, which were cited in order to be refuted, appeared to me much more forcibly than the refutation itself; in a word, I soon became a thorough Deist.”
ThomasPaine: Political activist author at the time of the American Revolution.
“The World is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion.”
“Of all the systems of religion that ever were invented, there is no more derogatory to the Almighty, more unedifying to man, more repugnant to reason, and more contradictory to itself than this thing called Christianity. Too absurd for belief, too impossible to convince, and too inconsistent for practice, it renders the heart torpid or produces only atheists or fanatics. As an engine of power, it serves the purpose of despotism, and as a means of wealth, the avarice of priests, but so far as respects the good of man in general it leads to nothing here or hereafter.”
John Adams: Signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Second President of the United States.
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, – as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,(Muslims) – and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
This would be the best of all possible worlds, if there were no religion in it.
Thomas Jefferson: Drafter of Declaration of Independence and Third President of the United States.
“Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law”.
“The constitutional freedom of religion is the most inalienable and sacred of all human rights”.
“The whole history of these books (i.e. the Gospels) is so defective and doubtful that it seems vain to attempt minute enquiry into it: and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right, from that cause, to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine. In the New Testament there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds. It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills”.
“I am for freedom of religion, and against all maneuvers to bring about a legal ascendency of one sect over another.”
“In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own.”
“The clergy, by getting themselves established by law and in-grafted into the machine of government, have been a very formidable engine against the civil and religious rights of man.”
James Madison: Fourth President of the United States.
“The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries.”
“Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion and Government in the Constitution of the United States, the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history.”
“Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise…. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.”
“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?”
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
James Monroe: Fifth President of the United States.
“It is only when the people become ignorant and corrupt, when they degenerate into a populace, that they are incapable of exercising the sovereignty. Usurpation is then an easy attainment, and a usurper soon found. The people themselves become the willing instruments of their own debasement and ruin. Let us, then, look to the great cause, and endeavor to preserve it in full force. Let us by all wise and constitutional measures promote intelligence among the people as the best means of preserving our liberties.”
Abraham Lincoln: Sixteenth President of the United States. Not one of our Founding Fathers, but worth listening to.
“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.”
“My earlier views of the unsoundness of the Christian scheme of salvation and the human origin of the scriptures have become clearer and stronger with advancing years, and I see no reason for thinking I shall ever change them.”