Saturday, October 13, 2007

Thoughts on the Christian Nation

This post is inspired by recent reading at You Made Me Say It, Spanish Inquisitor and No More Hornets.

Much of the Christian anxieties around the issues of "in god we trust" and "one nation, under god" revolves around the notion that these these are parts of our nation's traditions (traditions that they highly approve of) and don't want changed.

I was telling my wife (a Christian) about the 1997 Treaty of Tripoli in which our government clearly stated "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries." The President of the United States of America at the time was George Washington.

My wife is a naturalized U.S. citizen and still does not know our history in depth. At first she thought that this Treaty of Tripoli must be some sort of anomaly. She looked me with raised eyebrows and, as if holding a trump card, said simply "one nation, under God".

So she was duly impressed when I informed her that neither the words in the pledge, nor the words "In God We Trust" on the money, were there from the beginning.

When I also pointed out to her that, as incredibly important as she finds Jesus personally that if the Founders had shared her feelings, when establishing the Constitution, they almost certainly would have had the words "Jesus Christ" appear in several (if not many) places.

The fact that they did not, and barely mention (pretty much with a collective shrug) "God", should speak volumes about their intent. When you realize that it is true that most of the Founders (not all) were indeed Christians (of various sects), then one can only reasonably conclude that they were determined to leave "Jesus Christ" out of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights, Federalist Papers, etc. Hardly what one would expect from designers of a "Christian nation".

Even though my wife is an immigrant, I truly believe there are many (if not most) natural born citizens who still are not aware of these facts. Once properly educated, there will be less resistance to the proper discontinuation of these terms on money and in the Pledge. Is it a big issue with me? Not at all. But that doesn't mean that it shouldn't be changed.

UPDATE 10/14 - In the opinions section of this post "The Exterminator said...
Just two minor corrections to your details:The Treaty of Tripoli was formalized when John Adams, not George Washington, was president.And there is no bare mention of god in the Constitution. There's no mention whatsoever

I'm happy to be corrected. God was mentioned in the Declaration of Independence, but it is in the most general, non-Christian sense, and the Declaration has exactly zero impact on the laws by which our nation lives under.


PhillyChief said...

Most people have no idea about the Pledge or the motto. It's been over 50 years now, and to someone in their 20s, that IS ancient and removing the offensive parts as tampering with tradition. I've actually heard this from people online.

Education can't hurt, only I have doubts that it'll help as much as you think.

John Evo-Mid said...

I hope I didn't sound like a Pollyanna. I certainly don't mean to say that it would simply end the controversy and the Christian nation will say "oh, I see. Well, by all means take god out of the pledge and off the money"! LOL!

You know how I am. I'm just a big believer in getting valid information to people. It HELPS it making rational decisions.

The Exterminator said...

Just two minor corrections to your details:

The Treaty of Tripoli was formalized when John Adams, not George Washington, was president.
And there is no bare mention of god in the Constitution. There's no mention whatsoever.

Otherwise, I suspect that we're in full agreement, although I may be a bit more vociferous in my condemnation of "under god" and "in god we trust." Both of those phrases should be dropped immediately. I think the uses of those slogans are unconstitutional attempts at establishment of religion, which, as all of us in the Atheosphere know, is forbidden by the First Amendment.

Yes, on a practical level those phrases don't mean much. But words do convey messages, even if only subliminal ones. We atheists are forced to spread the word of god every time we reach into our wallets. The nation's children are forced -- perhaps not physically, but certainly psychologically -- into accepting that we are a country "under god" every single morning of their school lives.

Those instances of propaganda piss me off no end.

John Evo-Mid said...

Thanks for the corrections. I'll note them in an update at the bottom of the post. I believe in education for myself, as well as others!

As to your comment about "although I may be a bit more vociferous in my condemnation of "under god" and "in god we trust." Both of those phrases should be dropped immediately", I would probably associate myself more closely with the Spaniard on this one. I do want people to understand the history and to beware of the offensive nature of it to non-believers, but it's not a critical issue on my agenda.

"Those instances of propaganda piss me off no end."

I understand and appreciate your passion on this.

ordinarygirl said...

Great post, John.

I think what most people fail to realize is that many of the founding fathers were not in the strict sense Christians, but Deists (including Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin).

Also, even Washington, who was Christian, in more of the strict sense, still showed tolerance. When he wrote to the Cherokee nation he said this,

"I now send my best wishes to the Cherokees, and pray the Great spirit to preserve them."

Notice he didn't say "your Great spirit" he said "the Great spirit" in more of a unitarian sense.

Jonathan Rowe has some great posts about the history of government and religion in America at his blog Positive Liberty. Here's one such post:

John Evo-Mid said...

Good points, OG. I should have made more of the fact of deism in the founders. There were many that were Christians, but several of the real intellectual leaders of the revolution were deists.

That is an interesting quote from Washington. Not at all what you would expect one of our current Christofascist leaders to say.

Sue said...

All of the usual arguments about the dominant god-idea are only about whether the conventional emotionally primitive, patriarchal, mommmy-daddy, good-luck "creator" exists or not.

John Evo-Mid said...

True, Sue. However, for most of us who consider ourselves atheists, rationalists, free-thinkers, based on a scientific view of the universe, we have no reason to invoke ANY god(s), even in the self or in the "whole".

I can appreciate where you are coming from. I have often said, that if someone held a gun to my head and said "you can't be an atheist, so choose a religion" - I'd be a Buddhist.

There is a lot of positives in it. I really like the fact that when the Dali Lama was pressed on the question "What if science falsifies one of your tenets, he replied with a shrug - "Then we change that belief".

That's a philosophy I can live alongside in peace.

Thanks for checking out my blog! :)

Brendan said...

I'll add to the exterminator's correction: the U.S. Treaty with Tripoli was unanimously ratified by the Senate in June 1797 (not 1997, as your post indicates). I know it's only a typo, but I thought you might like to hear about it. Think of the children! (Who might be looking to plagiarize your blog for their school papers.)

I also wanted to note that great minds think alike.

John Evo-Mid said...

Absolutely a typo unless you aren't going to credit me with knowing that Washington wasn't around in 1997! LOL! I need to be more careful.

I don't know that "great minds think alike", Brendan. More likely I had your post swimming around in the forefront of my brain when talking to my wife. There's other great examples, so it's interesting I used one that I undoubtedly read on your blog a couple of weeks ago.

Credit to Brendan, everyone!