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The myth of ‘a Christian nation.’

The myth of ‘a Christian nation.’

A majority of the American people (51 percent) believes that the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation, according to Charles C. Haynes. He says that this is a myth that needs to be dispelled.

The Washington Post:

Religious divisions among the many Protestant sects in 18th century America were deep and abiding. Anglicans, Quakers, Baptists, Congregationalists and many others fought bitterly over what it meant to be “Christian” – although almost all could agree that “Papists” (Roman Catholics) were followers of the anti-Christ.

In other words, religious diversity at America’s founding made a necessity of religious freedom because no one group had the power or the numbers to impose its version of true faith – Christian or otherwise – on all others.

It is worth remembering, however, that principles as much as practical politics inspired many of our founders to define religious freedom as requiring no establishment of religion.

Roger Williams, to cite the earliest and best example, founded the colony of Rhode Island in 1636 out of his conviction that only by erecting a “wall or hedge of separation” between the “garden of the church” and “the wilderness of the world” would it be possible to protect liberty of conscience as required by God.

Religious freedom, Williams argued, is itself a Christian principle.


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C. Wingate

Pardon me for some snark, but it’s probably OK because most of them have never been in a church in the last year anyway.

Or to be a little more serious about it: other than the outburst of sentiment against the 1st amendment after 2001, there’s not a lot of evidence in the numbers that their sentiments about Christianity are reflected in anything that would amount to effective action. And I’m not sure where that takes us, other than more probably futile attempts at education which may fail for no other reason than that 74% tend to listen to news sources which ratify their prejudices.


Gary, I agree completely.

Brian Sholl

Gregory Orloff

What is scary, Brian, is that 51% of Americans could believe that the United States Constitution establishes a Christian nation, when that document has no mention at all of “Christ,” “Christian,” “Christianity” or “God” in it. “Lord” is mentioned but once in it in passing as a dating convention at the very end of Article VII (“in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty seven”). “Religious” occurs but once as well, in forbidding religious tests for public office in the United States (Article VI), as does the word “religion,” in forbidding the government to make one religion official, favor one religion over another or outlaw any religion (Amendment I). Otherwise, religion is completely absent from this document that 51% of Americans think establishes a “Christian nation.”

That is positively frightening. It means 51% of Americans either (1) haven’t read the United States Constitution; (2) are functionally illiterate, and thus unable to read and comprehend the text of the document; or (3) are seeing things in the document that simply aren’t there, which suggests some sort of widespread cognitive/psychological problem. None of those options bode well for either the future of our Republic or human civilization, period.


My name is Brian Sholl. I wrote the above.

[Thanks Brian]


How is this news? Emile Durkheim’s *The Elementary Forms of Religious Life*, published in 1912, argued that in sociological terms, every nation-state is a “religion.” The nation-state devises ways of seducing its members to swear allegiance to it beyond all rationality.

What scares me is that Episcopal institutions are not visible as spaces that question this allegiance. I teach at a Jesuit institution where many disaffected Protestants show up thinking that Catholicism solves America’s problems: “Catholics have figured out how to run a society.”

Of course this means discounting women, gays, transgendered people, the unmarried, the “weird.” So much for society of compassion.

But where are we to meet these people when they need it?

Where are the robust liberal Christian institutions that I can send these people to?

Where are we?

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