Following the Republican defeat in Colorado and across the nation, Mark Hillman, a leading Republican voice in Colorado, took Thanksgiving as an opportunity to remind his party of its Christian allegiance, despite the fact that the party’s faith-based politics has been its downfall.
Hillman notes that the phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear in the Constitution, yet he neglects to mention that the phrase appears in the letters of Jefferson, who might be taken as an authority on the nation’s founding.
Hillman argues that government is not and ought not be “insulated from faith” and that that various founders and political leaders referenced God and praised Christianity. But that’s hardly the same thing as proving that America was founded on Christian principles. Christianity gave the world centuries of religious oppression. It took the Enlightenment and its commitment to human reason to give us 1776 and the ensuing economic prosperity. Whether the the “Creator” of the Declaration is taken to be some distant God or the natural order, our nature as human beings grants us “certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
“Liberty, equality and freedom have certain biblical roots,” Hillman proclaims — without offering a shred of evidence. Yet for every biblical passage that Hillman might reference endorsing such principles, I can point to ten antithetical to liberty. (Diana Hsieh recently cited a few examples.)
Hillman offers the following false contrast:
Despite our collective and individual shortcomings, Americans have prospered like no other people, but we are foolishly misguided if we believe that our freedom and longevity is the result of mere chance or that it can persevere without demanding sacrifice, humility and resolve from each of us.
It is obviously true that our freedom and longevity have nothing to do with chance. Instead, they owe their debt to a philosophy of reason and individual rights. If we wish to preserve our heritage of liberty, we must look to reality, not ancient mythologies of supernaturalism and their modern interpreters.
2 thoughts on “U.S. a Christian Nation, Hillman Asserts”
As I understand it, Jefferson was out of the country when the Constitution was drafted. In his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists where he used the phrase “separation of church and state,” he never said that Connecticut didn’t have the right to have a state church (which it had until 1819 or so).
When Jefferson was governor of Virginia he did advocate some state support of religion.
Certainly the views of Jefferson are given some deference, but what about Connecticut’s own Roger Sherman, the only man to sign all four of the US’s key founding documents (the Articles of Association, the Articles of Confederation, Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution)? If you go to New Haven you can see his gravestone, in which his profession of Christianity is mentioned.
He was a church elder and a supporter of CT’s established church. His political ideas came from Reformed theology. (There is a fascinating article about him called Reformed Theology and the American Founding: The Case of Roger Sherman by Mark David Hall available on the web.)
The idea that America was founded as a “Christian nation” is untrue, but the claim that the founders were all secularists who opposed religious influence in politics or government support of religion is also untrue. This is one the few cases where the old cliche about the truth being somewhere in the middle is probably correct.
Why would Jefferson be an authority when he did not participate in the Constitutional debates? Conversely, Washington spoke at length about our nation’s Christian roots (as Joe Smith and Tara Ross have documented in their fine book, Under God). Even atheists like Thomas Payne acknowledged that accountability to a Higher Power is essential in a people who wish to govern themselves.
Christianity shares a key flaw with libertarianism, Randism, etc. — that is, its adherents are all human and subject to human flaws and frailties. It then follows that many Christian leaders over the centuries have committed shameful acts under the banner of Christ, but likewise Christianity has inspired many — abolitionists, for example — to courageous acts, as well.
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