On a day set aside to celebrate our Independence, I wanted to write about something that has been on my mind for quite some time.
America was founded as a secular nation. Americans should be proud of that heritage, and people of faith should be thrilled *.
One of our nation’s founding principles is the freedom of religion. What many people fail to realize, if you ask me, is that freedom “of” religion is, and must be, the same thing as freedom “from” religion. If I am to be truly free to worship as I see fit, I need to be free “from” government influence on that worship.
There is a very vocal minority that has been spreading the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation. I have several problems with spreading this kind of misinformation. First, it’s misinformation. No matter what we wish were the case, we can’t rewrite history. Second, and most importantly, our founding fathers had enough foresight, and experience, to know that a government which is controlled by religion is a very bad idea – very bad indeed!
One needs to look no further than nations like Iran and Afghanistan to see the danger in state sponsored religion, yet many Christians want to promote the same kind of thing in the U.S. I can only assume that this belief stems from the belief that Christianity is the one true religion, and as such will not be subject to the same kind of abuse.
So, let’s take a look at that for a bit. I happen to be a Christian. I believe I know the truth. So, let’s think about the possibility of a Christian nation. What does it mean to have a Christian nation? What flavor of Christianity would prevail?
I know what many might say in response. What people really want is a nation that is founded on the principles of Christianity. Some have even adopted the phrase “Judeo-Christian” to include the Jewish tradition. The problem, however, is that people simply can’t agree on this kind of lowest common denominator religion. Different people have different fundamentals about which they think there should be no disagreement – and we all know that some people are militant about their own brand of Christianity.
It might sound like a great idea to live in a nation where we all believe in God, and we accept basic standards of morality, but who sets the standard? Scripture? Okay, which Scripture? Even Catholics and Protestants disagree on what books are included in Scripture. Martin Luther himself dismissed at least one book of the Bible as not inspired. Oh, and wait a minute, are Catholics Christians? You see where this is headed?
Let’s assume we’ve settled that debate for a moment. We’ve agree on a collection of Scripture. We will now examine all legislation and policy based on a this Scripture. What about the interpretation? I’m not sure if anyone else has noticed, but Christians have widely varying opinions about how to interpret Scripture. I have friends who think all Christians will be raptured into the air to be with Jesus, which will be followed by a period of seven years of tribulation for the Jews (as if they haven’t been through enough already) to be followed by another return of Christ to rule an earthly kingdom for exactly 1000 years. I’m sorry, but I think this is nonsense. Before you dismiss this as not the issue – it is exactly the issue. One, it’s bad theology that leads to more bad theology. Two, this theology is responsible for poor U.S. foreign policy. Three, and most importantly, it might be a non-issue to you – BUT IT IS NOT to some other Christians. What if “they” make the rules?
Or, what if someone like Rick Santorum does? I hate to pick on one man, but he serves as a great example of what might be the problem with a Christian nation. Santorum and I might agree on how one is redeemed, but we disagree on almost everything else. I’m not just talking about the big issues we all talk about – abortion, gay rights, birth control, etc. I’m talking about his emphasis on certain Scriptures over others to support his political ideology. The Bible might say in one place “if a man doesn’t work, he shouldn’t eat” but in other places it says to care for the poor and the less fortunate. It’s time we stop cherry picking verses.
While we are on the topic of misusing Scripture, let’s look at 2 Chronicles 7:14
If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14
There are many who claim this promise does not apply to Americans anyway because it was a promise to Israel. In my opinion, that’s bad theology (one of the corollaries of the bad theology I mentioned above). True, it’s not a promise to America, but it wasn’t a promise to the nation of Israel either. It was a promise to the people of God – the Church. In any case, I think it’s being thrown around in an attempt to accomplish the wrong thing. Many Christians want to use this to convince everyone to be humble, pray, seek, and turn, but the Scripture is clear – if my people. So, just do it. Stop trying to get everyone to do it and do it.
* A note for my atheists friends. I think atheists already see value in a secular society. My comments today were written to speak directly to Christians about this issue. I firmly believe that our society should welcome people of all faiths, and that includes people with no faith. That idea is very important to me, but it was not the point of my thoughts today.