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Are we a Christian Nation?

In National Political News on November 23, 2010 at 6:32 pm

With the advent of the Christian Right over the past several decades, an interesting and often vitriolic debate has ensued. Many of the conservative persuasion are pushing for a return to more traditional Christian values, while many of the more liberal persuasion find themselves besieged by a call for any religious push. This push comes with some rather interesting dichotomies and contradictions. Those on the religious right feel a need to bring the nation back to some greater moral center, in some ways vis-a-vis the legal code and in others a more cultural call to arms. This debate has come to involve the founding of the nation and  what the Founding Fathers themselves appeared to believe. In this article, the modern, more salient arguments will be explored first  and the true meaning of the Founding Father’s words and actions will also be discussed in the latter end.

Religious Faith in the U.S.

With over 75% of the United States population responding as Christians, our nations is overwhelmingly Christian in its heritage and religious identification. This number alone appears to strengthen the hand of the Christian Right, but much of that changes when the varied number of Christian denominations and faiths is considered. When the nation was founded, the varied sects of Chritianity present was but a handful, today it is over 1500. These groups also differ greatly with respect to overall doctrine. Many groups consider themselves highly ‘progressive’ and liberal, such as Unitarian oriented churches, while others are far more conservative in the Evangelical and even Catholic mold. This diversity calls into question any universal Christian call for a more theocratic regime. Surely none of these faiths can make a claim to speak for all Christians or people of faith.

The Christian Right has gained a toe-hold within the Republican Party over 30 years in the making. With the 2010 mid-terms now complete and the Tea-Party movement taking a greater hold within conservative circles, another contradiction has arisen. With respect to the Tea-Party, many divisions exist among the rank and file and not the least of which is a coming inability to reconcile libertarian views from some with the more religious clarion call by many others. Though any platform for the Tea-Party is truly non-existent, the forces within the movement found themselves united in the recent election cycle by ambiguous definitions of freedom and the greater crisis created by the stagnant economy, particularly the unemployment rate. While these issues served as a tool to unite many in the Tea-Party, including some liberals, factionalism remains. If one listens to numerous radio and television broadcasts focused on the conservative viewpoint, the splintered nature of the Tea-Party movement and the Republican Party as a whole becomes all too apparent. These divisions will eventually cause many to leave the Tea-Party and push for alternate agendas primarily based upon differences concerning social issues.

Whether it be men of faith such as Jerry Falwell or conservative media magnates such as Glenn Beck, this call has focused predominantly on issues such as gay-marriage and abortion rights. This call has often been wrapped in some veiled, discriminate message over increasing the ‘freedoms’ and safeguarding the ‘rights’ of the nation’s citizens. This message attempts to create an argument that would ultimately appeal to a greater, more secular-minded audience. As the 2010 mid-terms have shown, the only message coming out of these conservative groups that resonates with middle America relates to secular issues such as unemployment and the weakening economy and including issues such as the national debt and debates over federal entitlement programs. The swing-vote in America is concerned less with Christian doctrine than many on the Right seem to believe, as many who voted Republican in 2010 also voted for Obama and the liberal agenda in 2008. This is one of the many reasons why Obama still retains a strong, legitimate chance at a second term.

As noted, the advent of the Tea-Party brought together many differing groups, including many from both parties. Of these, a greater reactionary point of view was espoused to a percieved liberal agenda of the White House as well as congressional leadership. Though this percieved liberal agenda brought both libertarians and Christian fundalmentalists together, the libertarian mindset contains more of a desire for a laisezz-faire economic and political system when compared to those of the Christian Right. Many advocates of a libertarian mindset do not recognize any Christian demand for greater theocratic control. The libertarian viewpoint revolves around greater freedom of choice for the individual citizen, both socially and economically. These are the conservatives of the Barry Goldwater era, when many politicians had very real differences with their colleagues on the other side of the aisle. Goldwater styled conservatives would be remiss to think they should gain greater freedom from the liberal left, just to give it up under a Christian theocratically based regime. Our most recent Republican President struggled to meet these two demands coming from the Right, though his appeal to and election by the Christian Right was a quiet, political coup detat when one considers the moderate nature of other recent Presidents.

With factional differences within the Tea-Party yet to be worked out, the Christian Right has attempted to utilize the Founding Fathers in their rhetorical style. This rhetoric rests itself on the words of the Founders themselves and predicates itself upon what was nearly a completely Christian population at the time of the nation’s founding. Many on the Left disagree with this analysis, noting that most of the Founders were also highly educated, Enlightenment thinkers. The question at hand then truly entails as to which side is correct? The answer is simple and yet not-so simple. The truth is neither side is correct when one looks at the true history of this founding group. Some were truly deists, such as Thomas Paine. Others, such as Benjamin Franklin,weren’t devout, but saw the value of the religious organizations in support of a young and fragile nation. For most others, the Christian Church was something they publicly supported, but privately questioned. As many quotes by nearly any member of this founding group that the Christian Right can summon to support their cause, so too can quotes be dug up to contradict that very same viewpoint. Imagine John Adams and Thomas Jefferson using speeches to rally the people and support the churches that formed the foundation for communities across the nation, but contrasting that image with two elder statesmen questioning the merits of the church in their own private correspondence. This places both sides at odds with the differing perspectives espoused by the other. The Founding Fathers must have thought the Christian Church to be important enough to place a public value on their existence, but not enough to strengthen that place in our founding document, the U.S. Constitution.

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