Michael Medved Yearns for the Good Old Days of 1817 (or better yet, 1620)
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Thu Oct 04, 2007 at 06:35:27 PM EST
In a new column, movie reviewer Michael Medved comes to the defense of presidential candidate John McCain, who caused a stir with his recent beliefnet interview stating that the US Constitution establishes a "Christian nation." The Founders, yells Medved, of course intended to create a Christian nation. But don't bother thinking about it, because he assures us that his position is "undeniable." Those of us who would argue for institutional church-state separation, and believe the Constitution establishes anything but a Christian government, are "demonstrably and inarguably wrong", he says. Case closed.

Hmm... then again, anybody who could give 3 1/2 stars (out of 4) to the newest Die Hard film might not always know a great argument when he sees it. Plus, his introduction promises "eight undeniable and sometimes uncomfortable truths" but proceeds to list only 5. So, even the counting leaves something to be desired, let alone the logic. His main points in the extended entry below.

He says first - in screaming-voice all caps:
And then he explains how religion was the backbone of morality and civic virtue and I don't see any need to quibble with him here. What I care about is what kind of government they established, not kind of society they did or did not envision, and Medved at least leaves that distinction open, except, uh...D'OH!!...#2
So much for the reasonable benefit of the doubt, eh? Here, Medved talks about Christian church meetings in the Capitol building and national days of prayer and the fact tht some states maintained official churches for a few years after the First Amendment became law, demonstrating their lack of interest in secular government. Two thoughts come to mind: 1)If the founders intended for the Constitution to establish a Christian government, they sure  had a funny way of showing it. Is that how you'd go about it? Making no reference to Christianity? I would think a few direct sentences could have made us an officially Christian nation quite easily, without taking sides between Christian sects; odd that they didn't think to do that. And 2) Does this mean Medved is a proponent of reinstituting official state churches? And holding church services in the Capitol (we have only to decide which brand of Christianity to endorse...)? I've heard many religious conservatives lament that the country has gone astray from Christian principles, but have never heard the argument that it happened back in 1818 when Connecticut "disestablished its favored Congregational Church." Who yearns for 1817?  I suppose the kind of person who would put "freedom of religion" in quotation marks, that's who...
Well, now he's just trying to change the subject.  I thought we were talking about the Founders and, more importantly, the Constitution? Not the "early settlers." Why are we going back that far? Yes, many puritans sought to impose all kind of religious belief into the law. Thankfully, though, the country's founders saw the folly in that approach and chose instead to avoid codifying religion into the Constitution - chose to studiously avoid it, I should say.
Would "secular society" even be a meaningful phrase in 1776? Who is arguing that the purpose of the Revolutionary War was to turn our "society" away from God? Nobody is arguing this - a straw man, pure and simple. And, yes, the war for independence was fought for all kinds of reasons not related to religion. But that's hardly the point. We were talking about the Constitution, remember? Once independence was achieved and the Founders set out to form a new nation, religious liberty was pretty clearly high on the list of priorities.
Also not on point - hey, I'm sensing a theme. Who's claiming the Founders were atheists? Nobody. Yes, they were religious. So what? What kind of relationship did they envision between the mechanics of religion, and that of the state? And how did the enact that relationship into law. That is the question. And the answer is clear and unambiguous: the relationship is one in which religious liberty has room to flourish and the government stays out of its way.

The result of that is a country full of robust religious expression and a dazzling array of religious perspectives. The separation of church and state has protected religious freedom, not threatened it. Those like Medved who would lament our diversity and deny the priority of religious freedom do a disservice to the forward-thinking Founders they champion. The Constitution installed not a Christian nation, but a governmental system that seeks a brand of neutrality toward religion, neither promoting it, nor prohibiting it, a balance that's easier said than achieved, but one that places a priority on freedom, tolerance and individual conscience. Sounds pretty open and inclusive of religion, doesn't it?

But, guess who, according to Medved, is the intolerant one in this disagreement over whether the Constitution establishes a restrictive, Christian nation? Here's a hint: it's not him!

The ludicrous indignation about Senator McCain's recent remarks remains an expression of both ignorance and intolerance, and a mean-spirited refusal to recognize the simple truth in his statements. The framers may not have mentioned Christianity in the Constitution, but they clearly intended that charter of liberty to govern a society of fervent faith, freely encouraged by government for the benefit of all. Their noble and unprecedented experiment never involved a religion-free or faithless state but did indeed presuppose America's unequivocal identity as a Christian nation.
Come on, Michael, call me ignorant if you must, but I'm the one arguing that America is a diverse, tolerant, free nation whose government treats believers of all faiths - and of no faith - equally, thanks to its brilliant Constitution. You're the one who thinks that the nation has the "unequivocal identity" of a single religion, and is wistful for the days when states were officially associated with certain religions and the Capitol doubled as a church sanctuary on the weekends. Say what you will of my way - the Constitution's way - but intolerant it is not.

For a more reasonable response to McCain's "Christian nation" statement, see BJC Director Brent Walker's piece in the Washington Post's On Faith page.

[Cross-posted from the blog of the Baptist Joint Committee]

It seems a common misconception, or intentional misrepresentation, among supporters of the Christian nation idea that the Puritans were "founders" of the US. So, they skip almost 200 years of history and several other colonies. They miss a lesson. The Puritans' complete marriage of church and government ultimately failed, for lots of reasons.

by gertrudes on Thu Oct 04, 2007 at 07:07:40 PM EST

Not only did the Puritans' attempt at theocracy fail, they realized toward the end of the experiment that it had failed.

Also "atheist" was a code word for anyone who didn't subscribe to a narrowly Puritan theology, including Deists, skeptics, Arminians (pre-Methodism), Quakers, etc.

by ulyankee on Fri Oct 05, 2007 at 07:44:41 AM EST

I've had many disgussions with followers within the Religious Right and when they claim this nation was "Founded as a Christian Nation," they're never able to answer the simple question....

"If true, then why did the Founders choose that Pagan invention called Democracy when so many Christian forms of Government were en vogue at the time?"

by Stacey Tallitsch on Mon Oct 08, 2007 at 01:45:36 PM EST

Jon Meacham of NEWSWEEK had an Op-Ed in Sunday's NEW YORK TIMES that captures the whole falsehood eloquently: A Nation of Christians is Not a Christian Nation. This should be required reading for all Americans, especially those who claim to teach history but have actually given in to the propaganda of America as a Christian Nation.

by RevRuthUCC on Mon Oct 08, 2007 at 03:46:07 PM EST

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