Thoughts and Perspectives

If the United States is a “Christian Nation”:

Misinformation abounds in public conversations and in historical memory. People give little regard to what, if any, greater truth or impact their beliefs and statements have. Hopes and fears true for one person are not necessarily true for others or are necessarily backed by evidence. This problem especially manifests itself in problematic, consequential ways when people describe the United States as a “Christian Nation.”

What does this even mean? What is a “Christian Nation”? 

Countless blogs have critiqued “Christian Nation”-rhetoric with various comments, questions, and reminders about how the (so-called) Founding Fathers were not Christians and about how founding texts (written and not written) guarantee the separation of Church and State and freedom of religion, for instance. 

Blogs have neglected addressing a more nuanced analysis. What is a “Christian”? Who defines, society or the person, being a Christian? Do we use a binary based on structuralist ideas or spectrum based on constructionist ideas to define “Christian”? Are Catholics allowed to be considered Christian? Mormons? 

When specifically talking about Christian theism: society teaches–through popular rhetoric and, what I will call, “popular philosophy”–that a Christian is one who loves unconditionally and eagerly helps the poor and one who does not value worldly possessions, does not judge, and does not not lie, for example. (Of course, a Christian–by definition–also believes in the God of Western tradition, but this is seldom specifically included in public conversations defining “Christian.”)

When specifically looking at actual actions and behaviors, society teaches that a Christian is one who does not love unconditionally and (almost) never helps the poor and one who does value worldly passions, does judge, and does lie. Look no further than the endless confessions and scandals and illegal actions by those in various elected offices who profess their Christian faith, for example. CEOs are a perfect example, too. As are bureaucracies. (Remember businesses are people, too.) Additionally, we see that being a Christian–according to actual everyday life–is to fear knowledge, to perpetuate sexism, and to physically assault children. Look at who drives efforts to limit the humanity of minorities–the non-cis-male, non-White, non-Christian, non-rich, non-ablebodied, non-heterosexual, and non-adult.

When we talk about being a “Christian Nation” are we talking about what society says that means or how society actually behaves?

Actions speak louder than words.

(And, no, that people are imperfect does not count. Churches may be “full of imperfect sinners,” but there is no excuse for the on-going classism, racism, and sexism in our society. Too many Christians use their “innate” imperfection and already-guaranteed immortality as a safety blanket to be exclusively self-interested.)

Either way we are deleting and/or mislabeling millions of people who subscribe to a different theism or no theism at all and/or people who actually follow higher moral standards beyond words.

Saying the United States is a Christian Nation really does not add anything that helps the imagined community we call the United States develop into something better for people in the United States or outside of the United States. It is the antithesis of freedom and opportunity.

The nation would do well to recognize and then internalize the harm that has been done under the safety blanket of Christianity. Saying the United States is a Christian Nation has the overall effect of condoning evil and violence, inaccurately homogenizing diverse peoples, and holding up “progress” – not that “progress” is particularly possible.  

Andrew Joseph Pegoda

4 replies »

  1. A Christian is one who believes that Christ (thus the name) is the Son of God, that He led a sinless life, sacrificed Himself willingly for the one who accepts this gift, and was resurrected by God after three days, being seen by hundreds of people, ascended (in front of eye witnesses) into Heaven and today sits at the right hand of God the Father, listening to our petitions and presenting them to God–nothing more. All this good deeds business does not make a person a believer, a Christian. Yes, the good deeds are a sign a person is a Christian, but many people of many religions do good things, even dedicating their lives to others. Yes, of course Catholics are Christians–they believe in Christ. Too many people have their own definitions of Christians, as does our culture. The only people who can accurately say(for themselves ONLY) they are Christians are individual Christians. This is an example of ignorance when YOU define or NON-BELIEVERS define what a Christian is. Agnostics and Atheists resent Christians’ misconceptions in definitions and you have just done the same thing. I resent it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Rae, The definitions hypothesized/articulated here were just meant to be an analysis of those provided in popular culture, as the meaning of “Christian” constantly changes and differs according to all kinds of variables when looking from a broad historically perspective.

      Historically, Catholics have been accused of not being “real” Christians or of being some kind of anti-Christian time and time again, especially in the United States.

      Thank you for sharing your definition! I certainly did not intend to misrepresent the views of anyone.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Also – my post was meant to address the potential problems with people calling the U.S. a Christian Nation and using that as an excuse for their behavior (e.g., CEOs). Also, the U.S. is so diverse and so many people rely on freedom of religion / separation of church and state that when people say the U.S. is a Christian Nation everyone is inappropriately homogenized.

      Liked by 1 person

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