A trend that is disturbing to many of us, including myself, has been gaining traction among evangelical fundamentalist type Christians recently. It is the insistence of some, perhaps many, that the United States of America is a “Christian” nation and always has been because it was meant to be. While most would not be disturbed by this, it is worth noting why some of us are and should be.
Let me begin by stating that no one I know or ever have known actually disputes that Christianity was an integral part of the founding of this great nation. Neither do I dispute this for, to do so, one would have to ignore much of American history. So, basically, I have to emphasize at the outset that few, if any, are actually stating that America was not founded, in part, on Christian principles and that we should be guided, in part, by some of these principles. But the key words here are “in part”. The sad fact of the matter is that there are those who cannot accept even this limitation, for they want it ALL.
I am gratified to be able to state that even Hal Lindsey, in his encore presentation of “Does the Flag Still Wave?” from July 3, 2009, actually stated that America was “certainly never a Christian nation” but was a “Christian-guided nation”. THAT is TRUE.
That having been said, after seeing more than one program on one or another religious channel over the weekend espousing the idea that America was indeed founded solely on Christianity, when Lindsey’s program aired last evening I was prepared for the worst from him also. And even though he was right in the above statement, he was still incorrect in some of his observations, some of which were not only inconsistent but also illogical because he drew conclusions from statements made by certain founding fathers and others that did not logically follow from those statements. The statements and quotes cited were statements of opinion and cannot logically be taken as fact. In so many words, for those who have not studied logic, one cannot deduce a logical conclusion from a premise or set of premises that are merely statements of opinion.
Now, this was a flaw in Lindsey’s presentation while the others often reached back beyond the founding of this nation to statements made by some at times prior to the founding in order to justify their belief that America was founded as a Christian nation. In one such instance (and Lindsey touched on this also) the Mayflower Compact was cited. I am not going to get into this too much, but if there was ever a tyranny in America, it was among those who formulated this compact (although early Virginia was not far away from this in its own right). I think that everyone has heard of the witch trials and burnings that happened among the Pilgrim settlers. But few know that at least one, and I think maybe more, instances of this type also happened in old Virginia also while it was still a colony. Is this the type of government that some wish for us to live under today? I hope not!
Still, getting back to Lindsey, he talked about how by the early 1900s “all kinds of men’s ideas began to be read into the scripture” and that these ideas swept through the universities and seminaries, etc. He is, in fact, partly right here also. There indeed was a movement which initiated a “new” reading of the scriptures and other religious texts from that time period onward. As he stated, it is called “Neo-Orthodoxy”. On his program, Lindsey defined it as “denying the inerrancy and divine inspiration of the Bible” adding that it meant that the Bible was not “literally true” and that “‘revelation’ of scripture is based on one’s personal experience”. Here Lindsey is a little mixed up. The definition of Neo-Orthodoxy, as found on dictionary.com is “a movement in Protestant theology, beginning after World War I, stressing the absolute sovereignty of God and chiefly characterized by a reaction against liberal theology and a reaffirmation of certain doctrines of the Reformation”. Quite the opposite of what Lindsey is saying here. But, I that there was a movement countered by this Neo-Orthodoxy is obviously the point he was trying to make here.
Lindsey continued to lament that during the 1960s and 1970s professors would give students failing grades for expressing any Christian point of view. Now, as shown in documentation, Lindsey is exaggerating here as many others have also done. The fact of the matter is that students were (and are) not failed for expressing Christian viewpoints. They have been and sometimes still are given lower grades if they are unable to back their viewpoints up with concrete evidence. Stating that the Bible says it and it is the inerrant word of god simply no longer cuts it.
Lindsey further states that the founding fathers were “pro-God”. OK, I will give him that to some degree, although most were Deists. He quotes John Adams from 1798 to illustrate: “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It’s wholly inadequate for the government of any other”. Lindsey adds that what Adams meant was that our government was founded with the assumption that the majority of the population would be Christian and have a Christian world-view. Thus, they would naturally be moral (an assumption found to be incorrect time and time again, I might add). Further, Lindsey stated that: “Great liberty could be given because they could be trusted to be moral”.
Lindsey goes on to state “One of the things that was most prominent in the minds of those who founded this country and wrote our constitution was that they had lived under governments and regimes where the government had absolute power. And the thing that was repeated among them over and over again was ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely'”. Well, here Lindsey is also a little mixed up because the quote was actually coined by John Dalberg-Acton, 1st Baron Acton (10 January 1834–19 June 1902), so Lindsey is placing a quote as much as at least a half a century before it could possibly have been uttered! But perhaps the founders were thinking such a thing. After all, they had indeed, in some instances, escaped from tyrannical regimes in Europe which, incidentally, happened to be Christian.
Lindsey proceeds: “And with their Christian point of view and their Christian thought they knew from the Bible that all mankind is born with a sin nature. . . . Because of this they formed a government with “as little power as possible”. Because they were seen as moral, according to Lindsey, they were entrusted with great freedom.
So, Lindsey posits that the founders trusted the population to be moral because they were mainly Christian and, therefore, created a weak government because of this trust. That is a logical fallacy if I ever saw one!
Lindsey goes on to quote a handful of others, all of whom were also offering their opinions, which cannot be taken as facts. But then he sets into Thomas Jefferson when he cites the comment of Jefferson that there was a wall between church and state, calling it a “falsehood”. This is also an opinion, but the difference here is that Lindsey and others on the Christian right hate this opinion while endorsing the others. Neither logical or consistent. But immediately afterward he quoted Jefferson thus: “To the corruptions of Christianity (There was a book with this title “Corruptions of Christianity” in Jefferson’s day which he read and is referring to here) I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian in the only sense in which he wished anyone to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others”.
Lindsey added that “Jefferson was simply saying that government should not ordain any one religion as the only religion”. That is true. But Lindsey seems to have no idea what the “corruptions of Christianity” Jefferson refers to indicate here.
Lindsey ends with “The Founding Fathers always believed and assumed that the major religion in America would be Christianity” but that they still allowed “freedom of worship”. They “feared most . . . a state religion or a state denomination”.
Now, while much of this is reasonable, the inconsistencies and illogic in this framework are clearly evident. I will only add that our government was modeled on the ancient Roman Pagan governmental system of the Republic (with a president added), not modeled on the despotic Christian kingdoms which many at that time believed to be “god-ordained” and “god-established”. They made this choice exactly because these tyrannical systems simply did not work.