Sunday, March 18, 2012

Was America Founded a Christian Nation?

There are two ideologies regarding America’s religious heritage: 1. that it was founded on a Christian belief system, or 2. that it was founded on the separation of church and state.  The belief that America was founded as a Christian nation dates back to the Providential Religious philosophy, which states that America’s success was granted by God because it was founded in order to be the proverbial “city on a hill” to be an example of Christianity to the rest of the world.  Evidence used to support this theory is found in the Puritan’s quest from Britain in order to escape persecution from religious tyrants.  The Puritan’s desired the freedom to worship God in the way that they saw fit, and not the way that a king or a totalitarian religious leader told them to (similar to the modern day Catholic controversy).  This thesis does not speak for all people that came to America or the natives of the American continent, and therefore cannot be conclusive evidence that the United States was founded solely as a Christian nation.
The belief that America was founded on the belief in separation of church and state is based in part in the Providential Secular philosophy.  This view states that the Constitution was written in the heart of the Enlightenment period, where religion became less popular and “science” and “logic” replaced it as the socially acceptable school of thought.  The phrase “separation of church and state” is not actually mentioned in the Constitution, but was a phrase that Thomas Jefferson used in a letter to the Danbury Baptists to assure them that the new government would not interfere with their religious practices.  Many who subscribe to the separation of church and state view believe that this works both ways and that the church should not have anything to do with the government either.  History provides evidence to the contrary however, with the examples of churches run on a state level in colonial Massachusetts and Maryland.  These state funded churches were considered acceptable; it was the federal or nationally mandated churches that the American people wanted protection from.
            It is difficult to take the small section of the colonial population (the Puritans) or the colonial equivalent to an email reply from one of the Founding Fathers and base an entire nation’s religious views on just that information.  However, I am more inclined to belief that America was founded as an essentially Christian nation, as the European founders that wrote the Constitution did not base their value system on Islam, Buddhism, Eastern mysticism, or any other religion besides Christianity.  The very words of the 1st Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” indicates that the founders desired to be free to practice religion, not be separated or protected from it.  56 men signed the Declaration of Independence, and 52 of them were indeed active members of their respective churches.  While not all of the colonists, natives, or even the founders themselves were Christians, the United States Constitution was in large part based on Christian principles and values which is why they are such a controversy today.


  1. I disagree with the premise that the argument for the US being founded as a Christian nation includes the idea that our collective success has been granted by God, or that the nation was created to be the "city on a hill" as it were. While there is certainly room to make that argument, I believe the larger controversy is over whether or not the founders themselves setup the founding documents as exclusive of religion or inclusive of it. Were they believers? Did they intend to create laws that forced religion and government to be wholly separate? The answer to this is most assuredly no. Even the letter from Jefferson as you pointed out was to demonstrate that the federal level of government would not interfere with the practice of faith nor make laws requiring it. Even the most atheistic of the founders Benjamin Franklin called the assembly to pray as they were writing the constitution: "Before I sit down, Mr. President, I will suggest another matter; and I am really surprised that it has not been proposed by some other member at an earlier period of our deliberations. I will suggest, Mr. President, that propriety of nominating and appointing, before we separate, a chaplain to this Convention, whose duty it shall be uniformly to assemble with us, and introduce the business of each day by and address to the Creator of the universe, and the Governor of all nations, beseeching Him to preside in our council, enlighten our minds with a portion of heavenly wisdom, influence our hearts with a love of truth and justice, and crown our labors with complete and abundant success!" in summary, the founders were essentially all Christian, but wanted the constitution to reflect their desire for freedom of religious expression. I think you brought it together nicely at the end. Thank you for your thoughts!


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