Tuesday, May 18, 2010

What is a "Christian Nation"?

 “Go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant — they’re quite clear — that we would create law based on the God of the bible and the ten commandments. What in hell scares people about talking about America’s foundation of faith?  It is that world view that involves some people being afraid of being able to discuss our foundation, being able to discuss God in the public square, that’s the only thing I can attribute it to." - Sara Palin, on the O'Reilly Factor
It's a common, reactionary trope on the right that America is a "Christian Nation".  The defensiveness is in response to a perception that the left, by upholding secular values, is seeking by degree to infringe upon their Christian principles.  So when it is argued, say, that the ten commandments not be hung in a court room, or that we ought not to mention God in national pledges, or favor one or another religion (or even religion at all) in any other way, it is not to preserve everyone's right to spiritual respect, but rather an assault on their specific Judeo-Christian values. 

This position is not just paranoid, but intellectually dishonest. Instead of an attempt to hear the opposition's arguments fairly, a motive of aggression is being assumed where there is none.  We can all agree that the founders were Christians and that they derived much of their constitutional ideas from Judeo-Christian tradition. But that has zero to do with whether any of it is correct. The only reason any of it is still around is that we, as a democracy, have agreed to it. We finally figured out that slavery was wrong and so we changed that. Ditto with women's suffrage, etc.

The intellectually dishonest part is when conservatives play the "Christian Nation" card. Because they aren't saying anything contrary to what I said in the last paragraph - but they mean to. Because by "Christian Nation" they mean a specifically Christian nation, where biblical law has bearing on constitutional law. It's an appeal to theocracy. Yet they can't come right out and say this (at least publicly) because it's so obviously bullshit that they'll never get anywhere politically. So what they do is fiddle around the edges, weaseling in 10 commandments in the courthouse here, "under God" pledges there, all with the implicit intent of establishing the codification of biblical law.

The real question, when any one brings up this "we are a Christian nation" crap, is what does that actually mean? Because the founders were a lot of things that we wouldn't agree with today. That's why we have laws, and this is a democracy. We sort things out through reasoned arguments, not dishonest and hubristic declarations of half-true rhetoric. If you truly want this to be a "Christian Nation" - not a secular nation of Christians, Muslims, Atheists, Jews. etc. united under common law - then you have your work cut out for you.

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