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