Christian Nation

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I haven't had a chance to write anything today, so I'll post a comment I've been hanging on to that I thought was insightful. This is from Tad Brennan, left on a Left2Right post. The direct link to the comment is here.

There are many senses in which this is a Christian nation--a majority of its citizens are Christian, most of its founders were Christian, it enjoys a cultural heritage that derives from Christian cultural traditions, etc. Is there any of these senses in which it would not be equally true to say that this is a white nation? Would anyone think it was politically innocuous for the leadership of one party to be vehemently declaring that it is a White Nation?

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There is a Christian ideology and ideologies derived from Christianity. There is no "White" ideology that has had any import upon us as a nation.

It's apples and oranges.

Don Herzog later comments about what he takes this sort of argument to be:

it would be unfair to define the identity of the nation in terms of race, because that would exclude others in ways they can't do anything about. But it would be fair, the suggestion might continue, to exclude nonChristians, because they can always convert.

Is that your argument? I'm not sure how that counts as a defense, because religious bigotry (in part based on an ideology) is as bad as racial bigotry. I need more of a difference than that to see how one statement is any better than the other.

Herzog also says:

But whiteness can be exhibited as a culture, a tradition, a set of values, and so on. (Think: Aryan. Or spend some time cruising the genuinely stomach-turning KKK sites all over the net.) I know Bret is far too humane and smart to flirt with any such political identity for our country. But it has been done, in a big bad way, and it could still be done.

It's important to keep in mind that this isn't about whether a sociologist could say this and be speaking true about trends in thought about the historical basis of certain traditions. It's about what a major political party putting it in its official plank is trying to accomplish morally (or perhaps demorally). The sociological observation about the origin of certain traditions has absolutely no weight politically without further assumptions, and it's those assumptions that trouble people in the same way that a statement that it's a white nation should trouble people. Noe one would say such a thing unless they want whiteness to be normative. David Velleman later says:

Like Mr. Ridgely, those who would define America as white can claim that they are making a purely descriptive assertion. Aren't whites the "predominant" race in the country and a "core part of the identity" of the country? So it's just a demographic and historical fact that we're a white nation. Right?

It really does seem to be parallel in that sense, and that's the sense in which it's bad. The sense in which it's bad has nothing to do with whether it involves ideology.

I'm not sure that I buy the intial premise, i.e., that this is a Christian nation. I certainly don't believe that a majority of its citizens is Christian. But let's put that aside for a moment.

Does the U.S. reflect a Christian worldview or philosophy? Yes, albeit horribly. Does it reflect a "White" (I personally don't like being called white) worldview or philosophy? Yes, and therein lies part of the problem. When a particular race - I don't care which one - claims to be superior to others and imposes their practices on others, there are bound to be serious, tragic consequences. But I digress.

The U.S. is a democracy, I think. Not a very good one at times, perhaps, but a democracy nonetheless. Vox populi, vox Dei! (I may have misspelled a word or two there.) It is not a theocracy or even a dei-ocracy (I'm making words up, I fear). It is wrong to declare the U.S. a Christian nation: it does great harm to the Christian mission and - more importantly - disparages the Name of Christ. Plus, it borders on violating the commandment not to take God's name in vain, i.e., to attach His name to an activity in which He is not involved. This is no minor offense.

I agree with Tad's conclusion but personally would have chosen a different way to make the point. But, again, his point is well-taken: to make Christianity part of a political platform is not what this country is supposed to be about. Additionally, to declare this nation Christian is like baptizing a pig and declaring it to be Christian. It's not fair to the pig.

Like it or not, Christians need to dissuade themselves of the notion that the U.S. is "God's nation" and that we're going to effect significant social change through the political process. We need to realize that His purposes are not necessarily our purposes, and vice-versa. Especially vice-versa.

(I hope a little bit of this rant is at least tangentially germane to this discussion!)

I wouldn't argue that we are a Christian nation, I do say that the platform of our thinking is Christian in essence. You can't get the concepts that we believe politically from any other recognizable source. You can make the connections with Christian premises on behavior and law, etc. ( Our ideas of justice, secular ethics... all derive basically from Christianity as opposed to other sources) I think that is due to the historical context, but not limited to it. Not exactly, but the relationship is clear.

So it isn't recognizable in a per capita way- which is the thinking behind calling something a "White" representation.

We could look at things from an opposite view. Ok, we don't want to use the "Christian" appelation, well....what then? Everything else is euphemism, although that might be fine, since we wouldn't be talking about Christian in the true sense of the term as member of the church. But what is not fine is denying the fact that the essence of what we value politically is saturated with Christian thinking. We ought to recognize where we are getting the thinking. It just isn't politically comfortable for many people.

Although look at it this way, most people of almost every persuasion agrees that Jesus taught good things. They like his teaching for the most part. If you think of things scientifically, certain experiments with specific ingredients and actions produce specific outcomes. Regularly.

The essence of Christian thought combined with the secular openness produced our system. Islam did not, and we can argue could not. It has different components. The components of "White-ness" didn't produce and doesn't define us. Because there are whites (Caucasions) who have produced other systems. That is why I mentioned ideology.

No matter that we are not a Christian nation, we retain vestiges of the Christian thinking in most areas of Western modern life -even if in a negative sense of reaction against it.

Basically what has to be substituted for the idea of Christian would have to be "traditionally". but in our form of thinking ( as passed down from Reformers) that will be too weak to withstand the pressures of logical argument seeking authority. We seek the authority of an ideology, not some weak vacillating tradition. That could be termed "White" perhaps, though. As in WASP white...which is further limiting to the point of being absurd. Then it is truly culture limited, to a tiny culture segment.
Also, I think a difference has to be made between issues and method. Many sides on issues are not Christian, but the method we have of dealing with things politically is rooted in ideals of each man being equal before God, valuing freedom, but retaining order, the value of the individual, etc.

Just as various political frameworks and perspectives have arisen from white people, so have different political frameworks and perspectives arisen from Christians. We didn't get what we have now until John Locke in the 17th and 18th centuries. Those ideas, ultimately, trace back to pre-Christian Roman thought, anyway, not to the Bible. Christian thought on government assumed monarchy for most of Christian history. Sometimes it involved church-controlled government, as in the case of the Holy Roman Empire, beginning with Constantine. Sometimes it involved more separation, but even with the Reformers there was a close connection between church and state. Being Christian hasn't historically led to anything like what we have now except in the one case when it did, with John Locke and his successors.

I don't think there's a per capita idea behind thinking of our ideology as white. It can from the white dominant culture of the time when the country was formed. Now we've come to a point when mainstream culture in the U.S. is no longer white. It's been so influenced by other things that such a claim is simple ignorant, though it's assumed in cultural practices in black communities when they say things like that Colin Powell isn't really black. Mainstream culture is not raced anymore, at least not in general. (Certain specific practices are.) That wasn't true at the founding of this country, though. There was a white culture that controlled everything, and its ideas formed this culture. In whatever sense that this is a Christian country because of its origins, it's also a white country because of its origins. It just seems wrong to conclude from that that we should put into political party platforms that it's a Christian nation or a white nation.


Bigotry is bad whether it is directed towards someone on the basis of religion, race, or sexual orientation, but there is another way of stating Herzog's point which is that people are answerable for their attitudes in ways that they aren't answerable for their race. I can't hold someone to account for being black or white, but I can hold them to account for believing various theological claims insofar as such attitudes are sensitive to reasons. Might we say that there cannot be ideologies that are grounded in states that aren't sensitive to reasons? If so, we get religious but not racial ideology even though bigotry directed towards either is bad.

Herzog actually didn't think this was a good argument. I just quoted his statement of the argument. He went on to criticize it.

I'm not sure how your defense of the distinction is supposed to have a bearing on whether it's ok to put something in your party platform stating that this is a Christian nation. There's certainly a sense in which ideology is involved with some religions identifications but not in racial affiliations. My point is that that sense doesn't undermine the point of the analogy with saying this is a white nation. That people can change their religious views but can't change their race is irrelevant to whether we should define the nation in terms of either.

You talk about white culture in an anachronistic way, it seems.... do we include Latina as white culture? That is a growing segment, it is Causasian + mixed race.

You think that John Locke was not influenced by Christians such as Samuel Rutherford? You think that he was more influenced by pre-Christian Roman thought? I'm surprised. The Christian thought you describe crumbled in the face of such arguments as those represented in Lex Rex.

I think you are right about the changes in us as a "raced culture", but if we look at "ideology" the Americanization of the different groups which now make up our nation still hold ideas that you can still see have the roots and vestiges of Christian thought. Lots of those ideas are embraced by secular views, they just don't want to call them Christian because they don't identify that way. That is fine, but you can't call these purely "Enlightenment" ideas either.

I also agree that it took the mix of a secular and Christian mix to result in what we have now. I would most attribute that to the primitive wide open circumstance of settling the American continent.

I feel the big problem is the hostility to all things Christian, even when they like those things.None of us, our ideas or our culture are spontaneously initiated, ex nihilo ( to borrow the term;)

I guess the challenge is to hold the theology lightly in secular institutions.To recognize the good influence while not pushing membership. I think that was a characterization of those early founders.

I'm not talking about white culture now. I think it's not just inaccurate but racist to describe mainstream culture as white now. I've written at length about that at length before. I was talking about mainstream culture at the time of the founding of this country as very white. If that's the basis for calling this country a white nation, then it seems parallel enough to saying this is a Christian nation on the grounds that most of the people who founded the country were influenced by Christian ideology and cultural characteristics.

I don't think John Locke was most influenced by anything but the arguments he thought were good ones. He was a philosopher, and philosophers of his caliber don't always just take ideas wholesale. They rework them and make them their own, particularly if they first found them in a culture that's been dead for 1000 years. His reasons for supporting a Roman style of government were his own. That doesn't make it not a republic. It's the same basic idea. His grounds for it and development of it departed in many ways from the Roman way of doing it, but the basic idea was originally in the Roman republican system.

I wasn't very clear on the white culture thing. I was saying that I thought you spoke of white culture as we would speak of it now, as a lump. At the time of Americas formation the cultures were more delinated by national culture and strongly so. So it was Spanish, French, etc, and not racial as white in a conglomerated form. We might say they were all white colonists, but they would not have identified in that way; I do not think so, although they lumped other cultures, usually under the 'benighted' or 'heathen' appellation.

Additionally, they would have called themselves Christian as a group. Race certainly was important, and I can see why the original comment-idea struck you, partly because in those times they didn't thread out ideas as being superior, but races and cultures as being so. But our job (collectively), in agreeing to the idea of political platform and labels, is to determine whether something rightly lays claim to giving rise to our form and ideals of Civitas.

Your profession is the study of philosophy, so I am clearly at a disadvantage here, but I still am surprised how quickly you dismiss the idea that philosophers -even of creative calibre- are not influenced by others thoughts and writings.

It seems that Christian ideology with the secular philosophy became the anvil and hammer for the formation of what we now have. Can we properly leave out either in the definitions and retain the product?
I have arrived at the place in this discussion where I can see the problem in demanding that we use the words "Christian nation", but I also see that if we do not use those words, there is not enough base knowledge in the culture of what type of code we as a nation have adhered to in our foundations, and what we may yet affirm.

So, in effect, are we reaching a Catch-22 here?

Do you believe a purely secular emphasis can continue to maintain civil objectivity(fairness,balance)? We assume, properly, that religion by itself won't, but can we assume that secular minus religious will?

Just thought questions, not challenges.

I was talking about what counts as white by our current concepts of whiteness. The founders of this country fall well within that. Their own racial concepts were very different, but the ones that matter are the ones someone would have in mind when saying now that this is a white nation.

I'm not sure why you think I dismiss the idea that philosophers are influenced by others' thoughts and writings. I certainly didn't say anything like that. All I said is that what convinces philosophers when they read others' thoughts and writings is when they encounter an argument that they think is convincing. That's what doing philosophy is about. It's about going where the arguments lead. Most philosophers don't invent all the arguments out of nowhere, but it's their being convinced by those arguments that leads them to their positions. What might make an argument seem convincing can easily be socially conditioned, but that doesn't mean it's not an argument convincing them.

I'm not sure why we can't simply insist that we speak more precisely and not say things that no sane politician would ever even suggest given how people are likely to take it. They can say exactly what those have defended them have tried to say is what they really meant. If they say that in a more careful way, then doesn't it solve the problem? You don't need to call this a Christian nation to point out that its origins involved Christian principles. I can't therefore see any reason to point out that it's a Christian nation unless you want to say more than the simple point that Christian principles were involved at its founding.

I appreciate your patience and time in this discussion, first of all!

I get what you are saying in your reservations about naming this as a Christian nation.. although I think you are joking about sanity issues.

There are probably many things that go into the reason behind saying it in that way. Intellectual laziness might be one. But there are other possibilities, such as the fact that nations get pigeonholed by their ideological labels. Sometimes by the other guy. Like the label Christian itself, that came by the opposition if I remember right.

We would all choose 'democratic' and have no problems with that, but if we say it is secular, what do we really mean? Not much. France is our parallel in some ways and our antithesis in others,so what separates our definition from that of France? I think it is what we now call Christian ideology, but is -more exactly- the Reformation Christian ideology. If I were to continue this on your level I would have to do the time in reasearch and reading and get back to you. We have surpassed the place I could try to convince you of why I believe this way,and I must recognize my limitations now.

I had a sort of analogy I thought of today. Solomon and the baby. In making a political public platform( the baby) we ( in Solomon's seat) are asked which is the mother of this baby? Is it the Secular? Or the Christian? One or the other is primarily the mother. Not a perfect analogy, but if we say that secular ( Enlightenment, Locke, Greek and Roman ideas, etc) is the primary seedbed, can we find that this produces and maintains it as it was brought forth? I think we can see this in France, but if we will not see it, I think the present antagonism of today's secularism toward Christianity will illustrate it in time.

I do think that Christian ideas are continuing to be the main part of our Civitas concept, but I am also seeing that there is a rift that has developed. I think this is what engines the present political acrimony. There is a 'double leader' to the tree, now. one still informed by Christian concept and the other rejecting that and formed more strongly upon the secular.
Perhaps the matter which we didn't need to articulate about our ideals in the past is now at a sort of 'vote'. Perhaps we are now choosing whether we favor Christian ideals or not, as a nation.

The trouble is that they are not looked at as ideas or ideals, they are looked at as religion. I wouldn't say that was less accurate or worse, but it is creating a decision.
"I was talking about what counts as white by our current concepts of whiteness."
I thought so. Then we are back to the apples and oranges, because they neither founded anything on our concept of that... and we do not -even now- have what would be a recognizable ideology centered within that idea of "whiteness". So it doesn't matter as do the ideas of Christian-based code of conduct,values, and direction.

Christian-based, not Christian... although I see that would cause a conflict. Okay, Jeremy, where are we? We don't want to use the term "Christian nation" for good reasons. Partly because the balance is more strongly on the religion label than on the ideological one. Partly because there has been a real shift in the base of the populace.

Then, too, I think that the impetus for Christians is to hold the line on historical revision ( making sure that the influence of Christianity on early America gets its due) and also to maintain the fact that a sizable number of Americans represent this, still. Secularism is not a neutral, it is in fact a competing religion in its present form.
Perhaps that is part of the problem.
I do not see a good outcome for this, I wonder if you do.The more I think about it the more I see it impacts in an ever widening ripple, which I won't elaborate on, because I take too long to say things...

"I was talking about what counts as white by our current concepts of whiteness."
I thought so. Then we are back to the apples and oranges, because they neither founded anything on our concept of that

What we currently talk about as whiteness existed then, even if they didn't refer to things in the same ways we do. What was there that we call whiteness was responsible for slavery, among other things. Many cultural patterns today are still founded on this. See my normative whiteness and racial narratives posts.

I don't disagree with most of what you're saying. I do think it's wrong for a government to be secular in the sense many have insisted a government should be. If the government is secular in that sense, then it's already established a state religion of agnosticism. That violates the 1st amendment.

I feel we have reached a satisfactory denouement in the discussion and I thank you for patiently following through.. what (lol) started out as a short post....

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