Did You Say We Are a “CHRISTIAN NATION?”

In today’s Washington Post, Susan Jacoby reviews Stephen Prothero’s book Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know -- And Doesn't (HarperSanFrancisco, 2007). Here are a couple of mind boggling excerpts:

Americans are … the most religiously ignorant people in the Western world. Fewer than half of us can identify Genesis as the first book of the Bible, and only one third know that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount.

Approximately 75 percent of adults, according to polls cited by Prothero, mistakenly believe the Bible teaches that "God helps those who help themselves." More than 10 percent think that Noah's wife was Joan of Arc. Only half can name even one of the four Gospels, and -- a finding that will surprise many -- evangelical Christians are only slightly more knowledgeable than their non-evangelical counterparts.

Check it out: http://www.bu.edu/religion/faculty/bios/prothero.html

And… http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/

And… I don’t feel quite so cynical having written the following.

Did You Say We Are a “CHRISTIAN NATION?”

(With apologies to my friends of other religions)

How many times have you heard, “We are a Christian nation,” from politicians of all stripes? Mostly from the religious right. And there’s all that talk about moral values…

If we are indeed a “Christian nation,” I figure we should be pretty hard-core about two points, Truth and The Golden Rule.


“Thou shall not lie or give false testimony” (Sixth Commandment)

“Seek ye the Truth, and the Truth shall make you free.” (Christ at the Last Supper)

That means no spin. No twisting facts, no rationalizing bad behavior, no justifying evil means. A Christian nation would believe that truth is sacred in a free society; that truth is the foundation on which all else in public life would be built. A government built on lies, half lies, half truths, shaded truths and the slimy science of propaganda is truly a castle built on sand.

One of the most common evasions of truth is simplism. Merriam Webster Online Dictionary: The act or an instance of oversimplifying; especially: the reduction of a problem to a false simplicity by ignoring complicating factors. Especially if those factors don’t support your position. The most beguiling spin is to take some of the truth and to ignore the rest.

Citizens of a genuinely Christian nation would say that the truth, the whole truth, is the standard.

Then there’s the…


Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12).

Well, that seems pretty clear. Looking at current social programs, taxation, foreign policy, etc. questions our commitment to this ideal, a tough principle to follow. Sometimes it hits us in our pocketbooks or our pride. But do we keep coming back to the principle, striving to incorporate it into our approach to government?

However, that’s the easy part. The toughest of all admonitions on the Golden Rule is in The Sermon on the Mount (also by Jesus, BTW):

Ye have heard it said,  'An eye for an eye and a tooth
for a tooth.' But I say to you, do not resist one who is
evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn
to him the other also; and if any one would sue you
and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well;
and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him
two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not
refuse him who would borrow from you. You have
heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor
and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, Love your
enemies and pray for those who persecute you..."
(Matthew 5:38:45 RSV)

Whoa! How can we turn that into governmental practices? That goes way too far for practical, common sense folks. How many politicians these days say: “Better to send foreign aid that troops. Maintain honorable alliances even when your allies don’t see things your way. Forgive debts from people who can’t pay you back. Support universal human rights.” Imagine how a world would view a superpower with those positions. Talk about the “moral high ground!”

For threats from terrorists, despots and criminals, there’s plenty of room for reasonable action and stay in the “Christian” column: "When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own palace, his goods are in peace." (Luke 11:21 RSV). No "turn the other cheek" to really bad guys.

And when corporate greed grinds down on all the innocents defined in the Beatitudes - you remember: the poor in spirit; the meek; the mourning; those hungry and thirsty for justice; the merciful; the clean of heart; the peacemakers and the persecuted (Matthew 5:3-10) - a “moral value” is to take corrective action – legal or legislative – because it’s a Christian belief that, “The love of money is the root of all sorts of evil.” (1 Timothy 6:10).

So next time you hear someone saying the U.S.A. is a “Christian nation,” say it’s a good idea, then ask some tough questions.


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