January 6, 2012

The United States of America is (not) a Christian Nation.

Seven points on why we’re not a Christian Nation—but a nation for all religions, and those with no particular faith.

1: Stephen Colbert, on America as a Christian Nation.

2: And:

3: Also:

“Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”
~ Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, February 10, 1814.

4. If we really were a Christian Nation…

5. Are we a Christian Nation? No.

6. We repeat: no:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

7. Finally, our President:

“One of the great strengths of the United States,” the President said, “is … we have a very large Christian population — we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”

The President was promptly criticized by some Republicans for those (entirely accurate) remarks.


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Mark Ledbetter Jan 7, 2012 6:20pm

On culture wars…

For historical reasons, there are two culture groups in America that have been battling for centuries. They battled in England, most dramatically in the English Civil War of the 1640s. They escaped each other to Massachusetts and Virginia, where they seeded northern and southern culture. They continued their battle, most dramatically with another civil war. Even now, though members of each side moved north, south, and west, the battle continues to rage with neither side really understanding the other.

When the central government makes the decision, the culture war can only continue and intensify. Since this is not a war that can be won by either side, it can only continue to rip apart the great American experiment. One of the big issues of contention now is abortion. When the decision on this is national, there can be only one solution and only one winner. When YOUR side is on top, you naturally support national solutions. But what about when the other side is on top? You attack.

Mark Ledbetter Jan 7, 2012 6:22pm

“Certain rights are truly national, no?”

Actually, not national. Universal. Rights apply to all individuals universally. The problem is how to insure that rights are protected. When power is centralized, the potential for abuse increases and the power itself becomes harder to oppose. You can argue that centralized power has protected rights better than local power in certain cases, like Jim Crow. But that one case does not automatically justify a big-power philosophy, especially when you are aware of the larger history of the development of Jim Crow. The impulse of liberal thinking (I’m using liberal in the 19th century meaning) should be towards decentralization of power.

Mark Ledbetter Jan 7, 2012 6:20pm

JDL: “I'm not sure I understand your last point about decentralization diffusing cultural wars.”
Ele: “Certain rights, like freedom of religion, are truly national no?”

ML: Thanks for asking.

First a general overview. States Rights, intertwined as they are with slavery and Jim Crow, certainly have a bad name in America. But you could make an argument that powerful central government and suppression of States Rights should have an equally bad name. In the past, the central government protected slavery and made it viable through fugitive slave laws. In the 20th century, powerful central government made possible Pax Americana: the American war machine that encircles the globe, huge standing armies even in peacetime, and the Military-Industrial Complex that dominates modern America.

The theory is that power should be as diffused as possible: most to the individual, then to localities, then to state, and finally, the minimum possible to the most dangerous of potential power centers, the national government.

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Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of Elephant Journal & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat.” Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword’s Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by “Greatist”, Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: “the mindful life” beyond the choir & to all those who didn’t know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | His first book, Things I would like to do with You, touches on modern relationships from a Buddhist point of view. His dream of 9 years, the Elephant “Ecosystem” will find a way to pay 1,000s of writers a month, helping reverse the tide of low-quality, unpaid writing & reading for free online.