What Made America Great

Painting by Rembrant Peale, White House Historical Association

For over 200 years the Thomas Nelson Company has held its goal to “honor God and serve people.” This made the publisher’s actions last week all the more interesting as they bowed to public pressure and pulled conservative author David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies from their publication.

I know people who have followed Barton’s work, but I personally haven’t read any of his books or watched any of his videos. It does appear, however, that the criticism of his factual accuracy is warranted to a degree—many who came out against the book are conservative scholars. I’m not a fan of the world of public pressure/boycott, but I do like the idea that conservatives are trying to pursue truth rather than simply promoting of an ideological viewpoint.

The Liberty Window, Christ Church, Philadelphia, after a painting by Harrison Tompkins Matteson, c. 1848
Courtesy of the Rector, Church Wardens and Vestrymen of Christ Church, Philadelphia (101)

Over the years Barton has painted an ultra-conservative picture of our founding fathers—a perspective that may lack merit. We know for certain that several framers of our nation, Jefferson included, were either Deists or had modified Deist leanings. Although they professed a general belief in God, they didn’t necessarily see Him as being active in the affairs of men. The majority, however, did profess a strong belief in the Bible and the Christian faith (as acknowledged by a fairly recent Library of Congress exhibition).

The controversy over Barton’s book encouraged me to consider the differences between the mindset of our founding fathers and that of those in positions of influence today. What I see are definitive trends that apply to their general, collective sentiments, but not necessarily to every individual involved.

Our early leaders felt strongly that, as a nation, we were dependent upon God’s providence, provision, or whatever you want to call it. The idea of the separation of church and state was that government should not establish, enforce or restrict any particular religious beliefs regarding the general populace—not that government should be free from all traces of faith.

Painting by Howard Chandler Christy – Public Domain

How do we know this? An honest look at history is all we need. Many came to our nation in pursuit of religious freedom. They had tired of the European patterns of kings and queens ruling the church and/or religious leaders ruling the government. True faith in God should be free to flourish in an environment free from government restriction or oppression.

The very First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution establishes this freedom by proclaiming “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It should therefore come as no surprise that the U.S. Capitol building is engraved with Scripture, that it played host to Sunday church services for many years and that national days of prayer were commonly proclaimed by the President and Congress during times of national need. Such acknowledgement of our dependence on God is the foundation of our nation’s greatness.

How does all of this differ from today’s political and cultural landscapes? We are moving toward secularization and away from any sense of dependence upon God. My last post highlighting the recent mission to Mars points toward a much larger cultural movement. Such a direction is of course necessary for the goals of humanism to flourish. Humanism demands that the intent of the U.S. Constitution be rewritten. Freedom can no longer mean freedom from tyranny and oppression, but rather the freedom to do whatever those with greater influence desire. For all of this to work, by necessity, the barriers of religious belief must be removed. And one by one they are falling; a crèche removed from a local town square, a religious group barred from campus representation, a fast food company (owned by conservative Christians) threatened by the mayor of a prominent city.

By Gustav Dore – Public Domain

What we see unfolding before our very eyes is but the tip of the spear of a humanistic philosophy born in the Garden of Eden. Eating the fruit of the forbidden tree did not produce the desired outcome. Distancing an entire nation from Divine grace will end no better. The separation of church and state (as previously defined) is necessary; the separation of humanity from God disastrous. Eroding our First Amendment rights of religious freedom will mean only a return to tyranny and oppression in a nation that once stood as a shining example of greatness to the world around us.

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2 thoughts on “What Made America Great

  1. Bob, I regularly learn a lot from your posts on faith and our walks with God, but these posts based on Christianity and America feel like we live in different countries. After all, I can’t think of a better place on Earth to live as a Christian, where we have more freedoms and advantages than any other country that I am aware of. I have lived almost my entire life openly as a Christian (through peaks and valleys of course) and I am not aware of a single time that I have suffered discrimination because of my faith. I am sorry for the length of this – but I would like to share some of my life views to show why I believe we are extremely blessed to face very little discrimination in the US as Christians. Because I have a lot of experience with people of other faiths, I have seen much more discrimination first hand against them:

    1. For instance, since 9-11, the group percentage-wise that has seen the most violence against them are Sikhs. Since 9-11, because of their trade mark head covering, even though they are not Muslim (and that it shouldn’t matter if they were), they have been beaten, killed, and the hatred towards them has culminated so far with the shooting in the Sikh temple a few weeks ago. As a Christian in America, I have never feared that someone was going to hurt or even kill me because of my faith, yet Muslims, Sikhs, Unitarian Universalists (have experienced multiple shootings) and other faiths face this every day in America.

    2. Recently a mosque in Tennessee was burnt down after an attempt a month prior had failed. Since 9-11, between 13 and 28 mosques have been set on fire or bombed in the US (depending on sources). Also, many mosques have been refused zoning rights because of this prejudice. As a Christian, I have never feared that someone was going to set my Church on fire because of my faith. Christians in other countries may face this, but here we are extremely blessed in America.

    3. I have international guest speakers come into my World Culture class that I teach every semester for my students to interview. In an average semester, I have 25 – 50 international students come into my classes and there are some standard questions that the students ask (as well as questions that they ask on their own). One question has been – have you ever experience racism / prejudice or violence against you while in the US. Over the years, I have heard hundreds of speakers talk about this and the vast majority have experienced some racism / or prejudice and many have experienced violence. This is especially true of our Muslim guest speakers – Getting yelled at to go home, called terrorists, having Homeland security harass them even though they have done nothing wrong. The violence against them has been especially disturbing – and most refuse to report it because they fear retribution or bringing more attention to themselves. This is something that as a Christian, I have never had to fear happening because of my faith in America.

    4. My wife (as you know), is the person that gets called in the middle of the night if one of our international students is severely hurt or in trouble with the law. While I can’t disclose too many specifics, I can say I have seen entire set of front teeth knocked out, broken bones, faces slashed, etc. And in most of those cases it was made clear that it was race or religion motivated. Now, we do live in an area where there is a lot of Klan activity, but the vast number of incidents is disturbing.

    At the same time, I have seen multiple students harassed by police and Homeland security because of their nationality or faith. For example, one student went hunting with a friend and the friend posted the picture on Facebook – the Muslim student was visited by Homeland Security, had his room torn apart (pillows / mattresses cut open), many things ruined, and has since been consistently harassed (while his Christian friend did not suffer the same indignity). Two other students were arrested for what I would say were false arrests, but at the most, trumped up charges and were not allowed to make international phone calls. Because they were new to the US and did not have connections, one sat in jail for 6 months and another for a year. Both were eventually released with all charges dropped – neither sued or took any other action for this because of fear of retribution. As a Christian in America, I have never had to experience this.

    5. We also have many benefits – for instance, Churches (and other houses of worship) are tax exempt. As a Christian, I am happy about this – but why do we get this advantage that saves Christians tens of billions of dollars each year? It is only a recent exemption (I would have to double check, but I believe late 70’s).

    6. Finally, as straight Christians, the advantages that we get are tremendous. Christians or non-Christians that are not straight or are single do not get the 172 rights and privileges that our government gives straight people – including, on average, 200,000 dollars, in tax advantages on average over the course of a lifetime. As straight married people, you and I have more rights and advantages than single or gay people in most states.

    — These six reasons (and others) are reasons that I just don’t understand the Christian discrimination argument (or that we are less of a Christian nation than we previously were). While there are some incidents of discrimination against Christians, generally, we do not have to fear violence, our houses of worship being burnt down (or bombed, or not allowed to be built in the first place), being harassed by authorities because of our religious beliefs, or many other forms of discrimination. While I can see some people claim that boycotting Chik-fil-A is discrimination – I do not understand it at all. Boycotting is a right that has been used since our founding and has frequently been used by Christians (JC Penney recently had boycotts for having Ellen as their spokesperson and another boycott for having same sex couples in their ads – and I could name 100s of other times Christians have boycotted groups – usually for being pro-LGBT, Muslim, or even Mormon). Boycotting (and showing support for Chik-Fil-A) is a fundamental part of the first amendment and not discrimination.

    As far as having crosses or other religious items in the public square – this Christmas look for how many Christian scenes are in the public square – then look for how many Muslim or Atheist scenes there are… We clearly have the advantage there. We have ”God” on our currency (which I am very against – attaching God to the symbol of Mammon is disturbing to me) and Christian symbolism throughout our public documents and debate. Every modern president has been a professing Christian (though, depending on how you feel about Mormonism, that might change with this election). There has only been one open atheist and one Muslim in Congress and none in the Senate (despite our religious demographics being very different than at our Founding). So, we are represented much more than any other faith and receive advantages because of that representation.

    Since WW2, God in the public square has increased even more, with ”In God we Trust” showing up on money in 1956, ”under God” added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, a national day of prayer being celebrated annually at the White House, and Christian symbolism appearing throughout government buildings more in the last 50 years than the previous 150 combined. I am not saying these are bad things – just advantages in America that Christians have that no other religion gets.

    So, with Christians receiving so many benefits and other faiths so much discrimination in the US, I feel as if I live in a different country than you have expressed in posts like this. My question – after reading about my experiences with people of other faiths and discrimination – shouldn’t we be thankful for how blessed we are in this regard? That we have so many religious freedoms, more than any other faith in the US and more than most other countries? Thanks for your thoughtful post as always, I just have a hard time seeing where you are coming from in this post – perhaps further explanation would help?

    1. Jeff, I won’t have time to respond more fully for a couple of days but I do want you to know I took a glance at your comments and I honestly agree with much of what you are saying. However, over the years I have seen trends evolving that have powerful, long-term implications.

      I think your emphasis on thankfulness is entirely appropriate. I probably wouldn’t have even included these posts except that these trends fit hand in hand with what transpired with Adam & Eve in the Garden.

      I do appreciate your thoughtful comments and will give them more consideration when I have a little more time.

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