Monday, March 12, 2007

On Christianity

Jay says "me too!" to Steven M. Warshawsky:

Historically, he’s right. The American experience has been shaped by Christian thought from the very beginning. The revisionism that the Founders were somehow trying to create an atheistic state only holds if one ignores their own writings, thoughts, and actions. The United States was founded as an inclusive society that was nevertheless built upon a foundation of Christian thought — or at the very least thought which was deeply inspired by Christian principles.

I don't know of anyone, liberal, conservative, libertarian, or otherwise, who thinks that the Founding Fathers set out to create a nation of atheists. But it would indeed be weird to suggest that the Founding Fathers, who were typically not Christian in any way that would be recognized by today's Christians, set out to create a Christian nation. That would be akin to Oral Roberts building a Jewish synagogue.

As for Jay's contention that the United States was "built upon a foundation of Christian thought," well, couldn't that mean anything? Indeed, at no point in his post does Jay stop to define "Christian thought," or "Christian philosophy," leaving the reader helpless to judge the veracity of his claims. Which part of the philosophical underpinnings expressed in documents like the Constitution or the Declaration of Independence does Jay find so undeniably Christian?

Indeed, to play off the title of his post, Christianity and conservativism go together. As does Christianity and liberalism. As does Christianity and libertarianism.

As does Christianity and capitalism; as does Christianity and communism. The Christian experience is sufficiently broad, and the scope of its philosophies sufficiently wide, that it's impossible to say that any ethos, politic, or viewpoint is inconsistent with Christianity. Christians have gone to war and Christians have died for peace, and neither group have felt themselves to be acting contrary to Christianity.

I don't mean to limit my remarks to Christianity, of course. As an atheist it seems obvious to me that religion is, to use the words of Sam Harris, "built, to a remarkable degree, upon lies." Religion can be used to support anything at all, because religion is ultimately built on nothing.

Jay's thesis is ultimately meaningless, because to assert that America was built on a foundation of "Christian philosophy" without actually defining what that philosophy is is an exercise in sophistry. Jay's simply using a tactic of misdirection to portray people he disagrees with as bigots and opponents of faith.

But his revisionist history aside, it can't be denied that our nation was founded on ideas and principles that emerged in opposition to the great excesses and conflicts of a thousand years of Christian meddling in European politics. No student of history can deny that the Enlightenment that shaped American values had its origin in a rejection of the traditional values of Christian, European statecraft - rule by kings who used religion, rather than the needs of the people, as a guide.

When I open the Bible, I see the First Commandment: "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me." When I read the Bill of Rights, I see the First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or preventing the free exercise thereof." Only in the topsy-turvy world of the conservative can the latter be derived from the former.


Post a Comment

<< Home