Is America a Christian Nation? January 26, 2010

Is America a Christian Nation?

President of the Secular Coalition for America Herb Silverman has a piece in the new CQ Researcher (PDF) arguing that America is not a “Christian Nation” (p. 17):

America is a Christian nation in the same way it is a white nation. The majority of Americans are white and Christian, but we are not now nor have we ever officially been a white or Christian nation. Those who believe otherwise might be harkening back to the first Europeans who settled here…

There have always been people who erroneously believe the Founders intended to establish a Christian nation. But the framers were careful and thoughtful writers. Had they wanted a Christian republic, it seems highly unlikely that they would somehow have forgotten to include their Christian intentions in the supreme law of the land. And I defy anyone to find the words “God” or “Jesus” in the Constitution.

His debate opponent, president of Lt. Col. E. Raymoore (retired), says otherwise.

Christianity teaches, and most Christians support, a jurisdictional separation between church and state, but not separation of God and government. A secular state is not American, not Christian, nor wise. Civil government must obey God’s laws.

Yeah… I think Herb wins this contest hands down.

Also in the same PDF is this graph about Religious Self-Identification of American adults (courtesy of the American Religious Identification Survey, Trinity College, March 2009).

I’ve seen it before but it never ceases to impress me. Just look at the percentage growth from 1990 to 2008 for the “Nones” (and the drop in percentage of “Total Christians”):

As long as we continue to speak the truth about the world we’re in, constantly knock down the superstitions that plague so many minds (like the one that we’re a “Christian Nation”), and come out as atheists to the people we know, the trend will continue going in our direction.

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  • llewelly

    In God 85% of us trust.

  • Gibbon

    I would be incredibly careful in making the assumption that if someone does not identify with a religion that therefore they are non-believers or non-theists/atheists. A person may choose to still believe in a god or a higher power, or simply be spiritual, but not belong to an organised religion.

    That is the dangerous thing about polls or surveys that try to gauge the extent of belief by asking for religious affiliation; they ignore the fact that there are usually a fair number of people who are theistic or spiritual but are not religious. And Japan is a classic example.

    The majority of Japanese people do not consider themselves religious, but at the same time they affiliate themselves with either the Shinto religion or Buddhism.

  • SoonerHumanist

    What I’d like to see is some figures depicting how many of those people arguing we are a “Christian” nation (George Washington would be appalled) are also vehemently against immigration (illegal or otherwise).

    I would speculate that a large portion of the growth of Christians in this country comes from immigrants from Latin America who tend to be Catholic and devout. If they cut off that immigration source they further weaken their ability to force Christianity down the rest of the country’s collective throats. Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of the nativists also don’t care much for Catholics.

    Just some food for thought.

  • TychaBrahe

    @SoonerHumanist – Not all Central and South Americans are Catholic. A large number are Baptist. But now you know why the Catholic church has been one of the driving forces behind supporting illegal immigration. It is inhumane to deny these people the right to better themselves in our land of plenty (and 10% of their growth in income to the Church, please).

  • Price

    The United States is a nation full of Christians… big differance. They can not reconcile the fact that there are so many of them because the founders allowed people the freedom to worship as they choose.

  • I would be inclined to believe that a great number of the “Refused” are Christians. The extremist kind that walk around with tea bags on their heads. So, it wouldn’t be right to add them to the “Nones”.

    The “Don’t Knows” should probably be counted as “Nones”, though.

  • Andy

    I love asking people who claim this is a Christian nation, where it says anything about democracy in the Bible. Then I remind them of the verses that were used for centuries to support the divine right of kings.

  • Mark

    Herb Silverman wrote in the new CQ Researcher: “…the framers were careful and thoughtful writers. Had they wanted a Christian republic, it seems highly unlikely that they would somehow have forgotten to include their Christian intentions in the supreme law of the land.”

    Sounds like common sense to me. Of course the framers mentioned religion in many of their personal writings but you would think that the supreme law of the land should take priority over any other writings.

    This is the exact same argument that I have with homosexuality and the Christian religion. If God is so against it then how come he FORGOT to put it in the Ten Commandments?

  • Claudia

    I think that the point that “None” is not equivalent to “atheist” is a very valid one, but the massive growth in that demographic is still a good sign. My educated guess is that people likely to say “None” in response to religion are a lot less likely to let religion influence their position on public policy or approve of religion being used to direct laws, even if they ultimately do believe in a god or gods.

    Still, if this data is to be believed there’s been very little growth in the 00’s, I wonder why that is.

  • Ron in Houston

    A lot of things with theists don’t bother me much. This “America is a Christian” nation is one that does bother me. It’s no more than trying to legitimize theocracy.

    It’s also a blatant lie, but I guess that doesn’t bother those who say it much.

  • While “none” doesn’t mean Atheist, it is probably safe to assume there is a similar growth pattern amongst Atheists as “Nones”.

  • anothermike

    I think that these polls would turn out to be more informative if they included a category for “don’t give a damn”. Lots of us just don’t like pollsters, or for that matter, true believers, either in theism or atheism, trying to push us into a category. That said, it is obvious to me that there are serious dangers involved when unstable human beings let their “true beliefs” cause them to do things that are socially disruptive.

  • Valdyr

    Christianity teaches, and most Christians support, a jurisdictional separation between church and state, but not separation of God and government.

    Civil government must obey God’s laws.

    WTF? How does that even make sense? I mean, really, not from a “religion makes no sense” standpoint, but just those two statements in the same paragraph. How can you say “we support separation of church and state, but the government must obey God’s laws”? Am I the only one baffled by the incredibly blatant contradiction? It’s two sentences on! He doesn’t even try to be sneaky about it!

  • @Valdyr: Some Christians have this strange believe that the church and its bureaucracy is somehow separate from “God’s law”. These are the same people that say that Christianity isn’t a religion, but still expect their church to be tax-exempt.

  • If God is so against it then how come he FORGOT to put it in the Ten Commandments?

    I never cease to get a rise out of those who put their imiginary friend in the sky up on this pedestal of perfection.

    A supposed infallabe god that makes more mistakes then the average human being… Who would have thought?

  • lilybird

    My school newspaper just ran an article on this:

    They made that stupid (and false!) assertion that the Founding Fathers were all God-fearin, Bible-thumpin Christians.

  • The thing that worries me about this is that there are a lot of ‘Nones’ who have traded organized/institutionalized religion for woo-new age-universal mind-Oprah-Deepak Chopra crap. Not everyone who leaves the church finds reason.

    I think I’d rather deal with arguing against religion than trying to wrangle the greased watermelon of woo. Religion is a fairly stationary target. Woo is like whack-a-mole.

  • Gibbon

    Just on the original issue of whether the United States is a Christian nation. In theory it can’t be, for the same reason that a western style modern democracy can’t be described with any other religion. The government of a modern democracy derives its power from the consent of the governed; a mandate of the masses. And even where the majority may belong to a single religion the government is still serving the interests of all citizens and not just those of the majority religion, so the government can’t serve a religion, even where there is no separation of church and state. The same would also apply to any democracy where there is a state religion.

  • JimboB

    To put it bluntly, claiming that America is a Christian Nation is an example of the genetic fallacy. Even if some of the founding fathers were Christians of varying degrees, it doesn’t mean that the nation itself is Christian. Consider a house analogy. A group of Christians may help build a house and live in it, but that doesn’t make it a “Christian” house. The same fallacy holds for the “America is based on Christian principles” argument. Principles held by Christians are not intrinsically “Christian”. They are often held by other (non)religious people.

    Besides, everyone knows this is a Pastafarian nation 😉

  • @Valdyr
    I caught that too. It’s the churches who “interpret” Gods laws. So the good Lt. Col. made a boo boo. So church and state also means God and government…

    But you can’t debate literalists such as the good Lt. Col.

  • I believe that it’s important to promote “secularism” as a positive value.

    When discussing the topic, it’s better to say “America is a Secular Nation” rather than “America is not a Christian nation” – studies have shown that repeating a concept tends to reinforce it in the listener’s mind, even when it is being negated.

  • Matt D

    While the US may or may not be a “Christian” country (I suspect by most objective measures it is) it sure as shit is a religious country.

    in Australia you can live quite happily as a god-less heathen and no-one ever gets in your face.

    Religion is rarely in the media, and while we have our share of kooks, they dont get a lot of airtime

    There isnt a single “christian” media commenter here. Thankfully, its a non-issue (and no-one ever gets murdered outside an abortion clinic either, go figure)

  • Gibbon

    Matt D

    While the US may or may not be a “Christian” country (I suspect by most objective measures it is) it sure as shit is a religious country.

    In actual fact, the numbers have very slowly decreased over the decades, but there is a far greater politicisation of religion in the USA than in other western nations, and there is a very simple reason why:

    The government is ineffective and not trusted.

    Because the US government hasn’t been able to provide for the people, they have ended up looking elsewhere for the stability and personal security that government is expected to provide, especially in a democracy. And because that hasn’t happened, due to the fact that there are certain people with a lot of money who believe the private sector can serve the people better, the citizenry have looked elsewhere. The private sector hasn’t been able to provide for the people either as those in charge of it have run it to make a profit and not to help the citizens. That leaves just one place to look for the stability and personal security that other governments provide for their citizens: religion.

    Religion is the medicine for social ills when there are no other cures.

    Don’t be surprised when people turn to religion in droves when their government can’t provide for them.

  • Jenny Bliss

    if i remember rightly many of your countries founding fathers were freemasons were they not, rather than your traditional christians? i mean before that became the wacky cultlike orginastion it did later on, i point really at the painting done when the cornerstone of the capital building was laid, george washington wearing mason attire and during his inauguration the person doing the oath of office thing was 1 of the top freemasons at the time, im not 100% sure about the other guys tho heh US history is not exactly my forté but i try ^_^

    first time ive actualy got around to posting somthing since the year ive been vistiting here so.. be gentle! haha


    This type of claim has also been made about Australia. On the account of European settlement. However in my experience people don’t take the “faith” as seriously as perceived in graph/charts like the one shown. Mostly people associate there religion based on there heritage. For example I have been baptised as a Presperterian. I don’t even know what a Presperterian is. So when used to be asked at school what religion my family was I would answer Presperterian. I now anwser none. So If people anwserd such questions based on their actual atheistic beliefs instead giving an anwser based on their family religious backround. Graphs like the one shown would have an overwelming support of the majority of people are not religious.

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