Taken at face value, the question posed in the title of this blog hardly seems worthy of consideration. Of course we were; hasn’t there been a longstanding belief that we were indeed founded as a Christian nation? Isn’t that accepted as common knowledge? If it has been, then that is unfortunate because in this particular case, common knowledge is wrong, and the intent here is to make that evident.

To say that we were founded as a Christian nation would require as proof, references to Christianity and the Christian God in our earliest and most revered of documents, starting with the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration, carefully avoided such specificity. Instead, one finds allusion to “…their Creator….Supreme Judge of the world….(and) divine Providence”. These are generic, secular terms and no more. Anyone who “sees” Christianity in this language is adding meaning that simply isn’t there.

The wording of the Constitution does not stray beyond the limits set in the Declaration. The Establishment and Free Exercise clauses make conditional provision for the use of the phrase “under God” so long as its use makes no reference to a specific religion and/or its deity.

Factually, the matter is settled with finality by the words found in a treaty between our country and the nation Tripoli of Barbary that was ratified in 1797. Article 11 of that document reads:  “As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion….” The remainder of the Article and some additional relevant information can be found on pp. 103-104 of John Meacham’s excellent book, AMERICAN GOSPEL. 

There is no question that our country was colonized (or “founded” if you prefer) by people who were predominantly of one Christian denomination or another. But it is an excessive and erroneous leap to go from that history to the claim that we were founded as a Christian nation. That simply was not the case and the aforementioned book by Meacham details how hard the Founding Fathers worked and argued to keep us secular and free of any attachment to a specific religion. Claims to the contrary are at variance with history and the facts.

 

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