The creation of the United States of America was the result of two parallel streams: the twin manifest desires for freedom of economic opportunity and freedom of religion.
The Bush theocracy would like us to forget the latter. So thanks are due to Jon Meacham in today’s NYTimes, for a useful reminder.
By JON MEACHAM
JOHN McCAIN was not on the campus of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University last year for very long — the senator, who once referred to Mr. Falwell and Pat Robertson as “agents of intolerance,” was there to receive an honorary degree — but he seems to have picked up some theology along with his academic hood. In an interview with Beliefnet.com last weekend, Mr. McCain repeated what is an article of faith among many American evangelicals: “the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation.”
According to Scripture, however, believers are to be wary of all mortal powers. Their home is the kingdom of God, which transcends all earthly things, not any particular nation-state. The Psalmist advises believers to “put not your trust in princes.” The author of Job says that the Lord “shows no partiality to princes nor regards the rich above the poor, for they are all the work of his hands.” Before Pilate, Jesus says, “My kingdom is not of this world.” And if, as Paul writes in Galatians, “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” then it is difficult to see how there could be a distinction in God’s eyes between, say, an American and an Australian. In fact, there is no distinction if you believe Peter’s words in the Acts of the Apostles: “I most certainly believe now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears him and does what is right is welcome to him.”
The kingdom Jesus preached was radical. Not only are nations irrelevant, but families are, too: he instructs those who would be his disciples to give up all they have and all those they know to follow him.
The only acknowledgment of God in the original Constitution is a utilitarian one: the document is dated “in the year of our Lord 1787.” Even the religion clause of the First Amendment is framed dryly and without reference to any particular faith. The Connecticut ratifying convention debated rewriting the preamble to take note of God’s authority, but the effort failed.
The founders of this nation were not irreligious men, although a religion that allowed many of those residing in the southern states to reconcile faith with the holding of slaves has to be judged harshly (perhaps a topic for another day).
But they understood, apparently better than many of their modern-day successors, that the freedom to practice one’s religion is a cornerstone of this nation.
After all, flight from religious persecution was and has been a consistent motivation for waves of immigration, both before, and for nearly every year since the signing of the Constitution.
[Please click the link below for the complete article — but then please come on back!]
Messers Falwell, Robertson and McCain: Leave the rest of us alone to practice, or not, the religion of our choice, free from coercion and the pernicious attempts to undermine education in this country with “creation science” and the like.
The founders were not anti-religion. Many of them were faithful in their personal lives, and in their public language they evoked God. They grounded the founding principle of the nation — that all men are created equal — in the divine. But they wanted faith to be one thread in the country’s tapestry, not the whole tapestry.
If you want a Christian nation, I’ve got one for you: France! Should you want a pure theocracy, try Iran! Go hence and prosper, if you can.
It’s it for now. Thanks,