Who are we?

America today it seems is torn between two opposing viewpoints. One side claims that the United States is and always has been a Christian nation. The other side says that while a majority of Americans are indeed some flavor of Christian, America itself is not a nation that is inherently Christian. Both sides have convincing arguments that support their stance, however, for America today, the state of the union could best be described as a synthesis between the two.

On the one hand, America can indeed be described as a Christian nation. Two groups hold this argument, almost ironically. The first group that holds this view is certain sections of the Christian base. From this group’s view, America was founded upon Christian principle and therefore should center primarily on views and laws held by the Christian rightGrant Wacker, “Searching for Eden With a Satellite Dish,” Religion and American Culture, (New York: Routledge, 2003), 418.. They do not view this as an excuse to make Christianity a national religion, indeed they do want there to be a freedom to exercise any religion. However, they do want the laws of the nation to hold to traditional Christian values. The second group that holds to this view is the group that sees Christianity as a force that has hijacked the country from the ideals of religious freedomPhillip E. Hammond, The Protestant Presence in Twentieth-Century America (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), 124.. They view America as having been Christianized to the point that free religious practice is something only given lip service too. They see the idea of American being a Christian nation as something to be fought against Robert Wuthnow, “Old Fissures and New Fractures in American Religious Life,” Religion and American Culture, (New York: Routledge, 2003), 361..

From the Declaration of Independence to the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegence to court rulings that support Christian interests, America does seem to hold a biased slant in government towards the Christian end of the spectrumHammond, Presence, 109.. Proponents of this view continuously point out the references to God in the founding documents of the nation to support their claim that it was created upon Christian idealismIbid, 100.. Virtually all of the founding fathers were at least deist and it is arguable that they were sympathetic to the Christian denominations that abounded at the time of the framing of the constitution. Regardless of this, it is a fact that since that time, nearly every President that has taken office has been a Christian.

What is to be made of this then? If every President in history has been a Christian of some sort, does this imply that there does indeed exist an unwritten law that America must be Christian? The answer of course is no. The fact that these Presidents were Christian is reflective of the demographics of America not necessarily the fact that it has been biased one way or the other. America had, until 1965, been predominately Christian in its demographicsIbid, 153.. Even after 1965 there is surmountable evidence that a majority of the citizenry are Christians. However, this still does not constitute a Christian nation simply because a majority of Americans share the same faith.

It is true that in a representative democracy, such as America, the majority rules. So then, this side of the aisle argues, the majority in America truly dominates the rest of it. In this argument by the proponents of the Christian nation theory there does seem to lay some truth. Being representative and having most laws ratified by a simple majority vote, America does indeed seem vulnerable to this oppressive nature. The founders of the country knew this possibility existed within the structure of any democracy and therefore created the First Amendment that expressly prohibited the government from establishing any central religion or favoring any religion above any other. This change to the constitution though did not prevent implicit favoritism from occurring.

While there was no formal statement that any elected official had to be of Christian origin, the fact that nearly every official elected until 1965 was Christian leads to the notion that there was in fact an unwritten public test for an offical to be a Christian. Christian men were assumed to be more patriotic, better family men, and had strong moral character than their non-Christian counterparts. This trend declined somewhat in the seventies, but again is on the riseIbid, 157.. Today, Christianity has become more pronounced as a kind of national identity separating America from the rest of the world culturesRobert N. Bellah, “Is There a Common American Culture?,” Religion and American Culture, (New York: Routledge, 2003), 543.. This identity of patriotism and Christianity had become extremely prevalent since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Since then, the need for Americans to define themselves from the presumed enemy, that is militant Islam, has increased to the point where being a non-Christian seems to stigmatize individuals as suspicious and untrustworthy.

All these arguments, the Christian officials, the presumed Christian founding of the nation, and the identity of Christianity to be patriotic, all point to the triumph of the arguments that America is indeed a Christian nation over the detractors of such a view point. However, on the other side of the coin there are those who point out that the nation is anything but a Christian nation. From their perspective, just because a majority of the citizens in the United States are Christian does not equal America being a Christian nation.

Again, as with the other viewpoint, this view is shared by two contrasting groups. The first group sees America as never being Christian in the first place. They see the nation has being built as a secular nation in which no religion would ever take precedence over any other. That being said though, they do feel that those who would want it to become a solely Christian nation have hijacked America. The second group is a group of fundamentalist Christians who feel that while the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, the country has long since been stripped of its roots and has been secularized. They point to the fact that recent court rulings have been detrimental to the Christian religion while being biased towards other faiths and atheism.

This idea of America being a secular nation starts with the assumption that the founders of the constitution did not want any religion to interfere with the running of the country. Under this theory, the first amendment was a move to separate church and state from affecting one another. The fact that Christians have been in power since that time and have dominated the political landscape is viewed as an anomaly that is counter-intuitive based on the constitutionHammond, Presence, 111.. This is the basis for the movement starting in the 1930s to move America back to its supposed roots and out of the hands of the Christians who controlled it.

That being the case, a movement started that began to strip government, and by association modern culture, or any reference to Christianity in favor of a more diverse faith community representation. It was felt that for too long, Christians had oppressed other faiths and cultures with their own. After 1950 and the rise in the immigration rates from non-Christian nations such as Asian and middle-eastern nations, this movement took even more precedence as pundits of inclusivism began to systematically start prying Christianity’s hands off of the countryIbid, 158..

This move has involved several stages. First was the outcry of children being required to recite, not only the Pledge of Allegiance which included reference to God, but also a school prayer. This was seen as an explicit attempt to Christianize the nation and a direct disregard for the constitution. So the required prayers were removed from the public school setting. The next phase was to try and remove the restrictions that existed on media outlets to filter out obscenities and show only “appropriate” programming. Of course, these restrictions were place there by Christians and so again the separation of church and state was used to begin cutting the presumed hold they had on culture. The final phase was to start to remove Christianity from modern culture to make way for an equal playing field for all religions to be represented.

As a result, America has seemingly become more secularizedDavid Chidester, “Baseball, Coca-Cola, and Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Religion and American Culture, (New York: Routledge, 2003), 478.. From the secularist standpoint, this was the way the country was set up and therefore it is where it should be headed. From the Christian standpoint, it is an all out attack on what they view to be the core of what it means to be an American. They see the moves of secularists to be in retaliation against the Christian faith itself. It may be true that the secularization of America from the Christian perspective has proceeded too far and too quickly, however, the move does seem to have merit. The role of being Christian today as opposed to a century ago is no long an unwritten requirement as it once wasHammond, Presence, 160.. There are now many faiths within the construct of the American government and none of them, including Christianity, is willing to make a move to revert back to the non-secularized culture.

From these two perspectives, that America is and America is not a Christian nation, a fusion seems to occur. Those who say that America is a Christian nation admit that Christianity is a term of patriotism and that laws and regulations need to reflect again the morality of the Christian virtues that the country was presumably founded on. These folk also decry secularism as an attack on Christianity, so they admit that America has become secularized. On the flip side, secularists say the nation should be secularized as spelled out in the constitution but point to the fact that Christianity has taken over most of the American culture. Could it be that America has reached equilibrium? It would seem as though both sides view the other as being the dominant movement in American society today. How long this might last though is uncertain. It is true that religious fervor has been on the upswing since the 1970s but how much of that is Christian and if that trend will continue has yet to be determinedIbid. 154..

In the end, the question seems to elude the answer it seeks. America seems to both Christian and secular, or neither depending on the point of view. It is a precarious balance that could tip in any direction during these trying times. Will America reject Christianity for good sometime in the future in favor of a multi-faith society? Or will the silent majority rise up and defend the supposed attacks on their way of life? It may be too early to tell.

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