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Is America A Christian Nation?

Audio

Aired 1/21/10

Religion professor Richard Hughes critiques the powerful and potentially dangerous myth of America as a Christian nation.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): The U.S. Constitution instructs Congress to make no law establishing a religion for the United States of America. It would seem that should settle the issue of whether the U.S. is a Christian nation. But the notion that America is a Christian nation, anointed by God and with a special destiny in the world, has a long history in this country, and more importantly, it remains the cherished belief of many fundamentalist Christians today. What support is there in the Bible or elsewhere that America is a Christian nation, and why do so many Americans want to believe it? My guest Richard Hughes has researched both the origins of this idea and its consequences for America. Richard Hughes is Senior Fellow in the Ernest L. Boyer Center and Distinguished Professor of Religion at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. His book is called “Christian America and the Kingdom of God.” And, Richard, welcome to These Days.

RICHARD HUGHES (Author): Thank you, Maureen. Happy to be with you.

CAVANAUGH: Now we’d like to invite our audience to join the conversation. Do you believe America is a Christian nation? What do you think people mean when they use that phrase? Call us with your questions and your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Richard, how is America portrayed as a Christian nation today? Who are the people making these claims?

HUGHES: Well, Maureen, often it’s conservative Christians but it’s not only conservative Christians. Christian Smith is a sociologist at the University of North Carolina, wrote a book on Christian America and based on his very extensive research, he found that many Americans, even secular Americans, often assume that America is called to be a Christian nation. And, by the way, John McCain, when he was running for president, said in an interview that the constitution claims the United States is a Christian nation. So it’s a widespread belief among many people.

CAVANAUGH: And what does being a Christian nation mean to those people who believe it is?

HUGHES: Well, Maureen, that’s an interesting question. I think, among other things it means that America is good and moral and, beyond that, as you indicated in your opening comments, that the United States has been anointed by God with a special destiny in the world.

CAVANAUGH: And so where does this idea come from? Because I know in your book you’ve researched these ideas.

HUGHES: Well, Maureen, of course as you indicated in your opening comments, the First Amendment is pretty clear, that congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of any religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. And the interesting thing is that many European immigrants who came to these shores in the even 17th, 18th, early 19th century, virtually all of them would have come from countries that had an established church. So many Americans who came here in that time frame fully expected that in some sense the United States would become some kind of a Christian nation. And, of course, they were sorely disappointed by the First Amendment. So now they can’t coerce the country in that direction by force of law so the one avenue that’s left open to them, of course, is persuasion. And persuade they did, they launched, in the early 19th century, a great revival that we know as the second great awakening. It lasted about 30 years, 1800 to 1830, and it was incredibly successful. And, by the way, the effort was not so much to Christianize the nation as to Protestantize the nation. So Catholics, in those days, were viewed outside the pale as well. But what’s interesting is, that effort was so successful that many historians today, looking back on the 19th century, refer to the 19th century as the Christian century.

CAVANAUGH: I know that there are many conservative Christian churches today that go back even further than that, and they talk about the early American settlers and the Mayflower Compact and a covenant that was made on the ship. And it seems that there’s this notion that from the very beginning of European settlers in the United States, that there was this notion that America was a Christian nation.

HUGHES: And, of course, when they point that out, they’re exactly right. But I often think that the United States, in a certain sense, had two sets of founders. One were the Puritans, who came to New England, and that’s the group that you’re speaking of and, absolutely, they did make this covenant with God. They wanted the colonies to be fully Christian with an established church. But in the long run, that’s not the set of founders that really finally made the determination. The set of founders that made the determination would have been those individuals that drew up the Constitution, authored the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment in the late 18th century. So I think one of the things that confuses the issue is that we really have these, in a certain sense, these two sets of founders, one, the Puritans and then the other, the actual founders.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Richard Hughes about his book, "Christian America and the Kingdom of God." We’re inviting your phone calls with questions and comments, 1-888-895-5727. Let’s take a call now from Asher in Fallbrook. Good morning, Asher, and welcome to These Days.

ASHER (Caller, Fallbrook): Hi, how are you?

CAVANAUGH: Great, thank you. Yes.

ASHER: So…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

ASHER: …in my belief that the idea that people hold onto of a Christian America is based on a perception that the precepts of Christianity that our country was founded on are what created the success and security that we’ve appreciated in the past and people are scared of the changes that are taking place in the future and, in that sense, are attached to the idea of a Christian America.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that. And, Richard, would you like to comment?

HUGHES: So, if I understood the caller, he’s saying that people hold to the idea of Christian America because these ideas of Christian morality and so on have given us security, protection from enemies, I suppose. Well, that’s an interesting thought. If that is, in fact, the case, then why have we raised such an extraordinarily large military presence? I guess I don’t really quite fathom the way that organate (sp) would work, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Right. Well, I guess the idea was that many people hold is that America’s prosperity and its prominence in the world is based on the values that the original immigrants came over with, and those values were based largely on the Bible. And I think perhaps – But it’s interesting in your book, Richard, because you differentiate between the idea of an – America as an anointed by God and the idea of Christianity being sort of like the secular or civic religion of this country. Tell us a little bit about that.

HUGHES: Maureen, if I could, let me go back first just real quickly to the caller’s question.

CAVANAUGH: Sure, yes.

HUGHES: After – Your comment helped clarify it for me. I think that when people say our greatness is dependent on our goodness, which I think is the argument being put forth here, that idea certainly is rooted in the Hebrew Bible, this covenant that God made with Israel. So God says to Israel, if you will keep my law and if you will follow my ways, I will bless you and I will make you a great nation and so on. The only problem with that in applying it to the United States is that the United States is not Israel. And, you know, we’re an entirely different phenomenon from ancient Israel. But the idea that you’re asking about a kind of civic religion, back in 1967—and many of your listeners will remember this—Robert Bellah, from the University of North Carolina – I’m sorry, University of California in Berkeley, wrote a very important article called “Civil Religion in America” and he pointed out that there is, in the United States, a religion – a religious tradition with all the trappings of a conventional wisdom. It’s not Judaism, it’s not Christianity, but, really, the nation is at the center of that religious tradition and it has its own liturgy, for example. “God Bless America,” “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” “The Star Spangled Banner,” and so on. It has its own sacred shrines, the Lincoln Memorial, etcetera, and that many Americans really do confuse the vision of the Christian tradition with the vision of the American nation. And he called that American civil religion.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls about whether or not America is a Christian nation. Richard Hughes, the author of "Christian America and the Kingdom of God" is my guest. My number is 1-888-895-5727. And we’re asking what do you think people mean when they use the phrase ‘Christian nation’ and apply it to America? Let’s take Greg – a call from Greg in Oceanside. Good morning, Greg, and welcome to These Days.

GREG (Caller, Oceanside): Good morning. When it comes to covenants, I have to wonder about the 451 Indian treaties that the United States made and broke. Historically, this country is basically founded on—I mean, it sounds horrible to say but it’s true—ethnic cleansing and genocide and land theft. And, you know, our money, it says ‘in God we trust’ but I think it’s more like in money we trust. I mean, the present day, you know, Christians are, shall we say, somewhat conflicted, in my opinion. You say you have a right to life, no abortion, but once you’re born or if you’re already here, there’s no healthcare. I mean, if we had a Christian country, I don’t think we’d have insurance companies. We wouldn’t need them. We wouldn’t have homelessness. We wouldn’t have hunger. And if you talk about God’s approval of our country, you know, in terms of our success, well, then what was 9/11 about? Maybe God doesn’t approve of the World Trade Centers and capitalism.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for your comments, Greg. And, Richard, would you like to comment?

HUGHES: Oh, I’d love to comment. I think he’s got a very, very important point. If people who want to claim Christian America, want to root that in the idea of some kind of a covenant that God has made with America, which reads if America will be faithful to God’s law, God will bless America, the assumption obviously is that we are, and have been, faithful. But the caller points out this long history of oppression. He’s correct when he speaks of genocide. He could’ve mentioned slavery. He could’ve mentioned segregation. So many things like that are certainly a part of our history. Having said that, the United States often behaves very morally, too, but it’s a mixed record. So to claim that somehow America is a Christian nation by virtue of the fact that we have lived up to some kind of a covenant with almighty God, that one, I think, really doesn’t wash very well.

CAVANAUGH: You know, our caller mentioned the September 11th attacks and instead of minimizing the idea that America has been anointed by God as a Christian nation, that – those attacks somehow refueled a lot of people’s notion that America has a mission in the world as a Christian nation. Tell us a little bit about that.

HUGHES: Well, Maureen, the book, "Christian America and the Kingdom of God,” the fundamental thesis of that book is that if you measure the idea of Christian America against the Biblical vision of the kingdom of God, the idea of Christian America doesn’t stack up all that well. The Biblical vision of the kingdom of God is a very dominant theme both in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament and virtually every time you encounter that phrase or that concept, it’s used in connection with, A, social justice for the poor, for the dispossessed, for the marginalized, that’s one. And number two, peacemaking, finding ways to make peace. So I have often thought that if the United States had really been and, still, if the United States still is some sort of a Christian nation, maybe we would’ve responded to those 9/11 attacks not by going to war and seeking vengeance but in some way responding by reaching out to the poor, reaching out to the dispossessed. After all, terrorism and terror grows from the roots of poverty and often from the roots of ignorance. So it would seem to me that what we might’ve done would be to address those kinds of issues. I remember the day after 9/11, I watched—we lived in California at the time. And I had the television on and Rector Ed Bacon, rector of All Saints Episcopal in Pasadena, was pleading with the American administration, don’t respond with vengeance, respond with justice. And maybe that’s unrealistic but one can only wonder what the future course of things might have looked like if the United States had taken advantage of that wonderful opportunity to respond to those attacks by seeking justice throughout the world rather than waging war throughout the world. So my point is, if the United States were really a Christian nation then one would think that we would ask some questions about going to war that often don’t get asked.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Richard Hughes. He’s the author of the book, "Christian America and the Kingdom of God." We have to take a short break but when we return, we’ll continue talking about this and taking your calls. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: Welcome back. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. My guest is Richard Hughes, Distinguished Professor of Religion at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania. We’re talking about the subject of his book, "Christian America and the Kingdom of God” and whether America is properly defined as a Christian nation. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And, Richard, I’d like to go back in a moment and talk more about how this notion took hold of conservative Christians in the 20th century but first this is such a diverse nation and I’m wondering what the effect of calling the U.S. a Christian nation with a Christian destiny in the world has on people who, in this country, who are American and are not Christian.

HUGHES: Well, Maureen, I can only imagine that they don’t appreciate it very much. I mean, and that’s a very, very good point to make. If we want to claim that America is a Christian nation, one would think that it would be composed of practically all Christians and of course we know that’s not the case. You know, there are about 75% of the American people who claim to be Christians in one sense or another but that leaves another 25% of Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, you can run through the roll call. So, simply the statistics don’t back up the claim.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take a call. Diana is calling from Carlsbad. Good morning, Diana, and welcome to These Days.

DIANA (Caller, Carlsbad): Good morning. Thanks very much for taking my call. So this is such an interesting subject and the thing that I wanted to share with the author is, you know, I’ve had a sense that for a very, very long time that America – it comes about this identification as a Christian nation in a sort of collective attempt to deal with the fact that our society and our history is not very deep but it is very broad. And a way of trying to achieve some kind of common set of values and common set of cultural trappings and traditions, and that this has been sort of the easiest path to that end because of just the sheer numbers of people who identify themselves as Christian. And to your other point about some of the points that you make about how if we are the Christian nation and identify ourselves as a Christian nation and as the kingdom of God, why then do we elect to make some of the decisions that we make in terms of war and other bad decisions that have occurred through our history, I like to think often that, you know, that identification of America as a Christian nation or Christian ideals or a kingdom of God is more an aspiration than what is actually happening today.

CAVANAUGH: Diana, thank you so much for your comments. And I – that – her comments kind of go back to that idea of the civic religion that you were talking about earlier.

HUGHES: Yes, I – That’s exactly what I was thinking, and I think she’s really onto something very important, that certainly in the 19th century, Americans in that time could claim to have – Christians who were Americans could claim to be a vast majority but, of course, that’s hardly true today. But I think she’s right that many Americans want to use that Christian understanding as a sort of civic glue that binds the Americans together but, of course, today it doesn’t work quite so well because we’re so diverse. So that leads me then back to Robert Bellah’s claim about America’s civic faith and, of course, Bellah says that that American civic faith is not Christianity and it’s not Judaism and it’s not Islam but it really draws on Christianity and it draws on Judaism so it really turns out to be a kind of civic glue that can hold many, many people together. But even there, that civic faith because it’s informed so heavily by the Biblical traditions, Judaism and Christianity, that civic faith doesn’t work today nearly as well, say, as it might’ve worked in the 19th century or even up to, say, 1950 because since then the diversity that has come to these shores has not been coming so much from Europe as from Asia.

CAVANAUGH: Right.

HUGHES: And that’s given the United States an entirely different flavor.

CAVANAUGH: You know, Richard, one of the strongest statements in your book, "Christian America and the Kingdom of God,” in a book full of strong statements, you describe that there’s a Biblical and theological illiteracy running rampant in the United States. What is it that you mean by that?

HUGHES: I mean by that, and incidentally, that Biblical and theological illiteracy runs rampant through the United States but it prevails even where one might expect to find a very solid knowledge of the Biblical text, namely in America’s conservative churches. So what I mean by that is I’m just convinced, Maureen, that many Christians even, who claim – who want to talk about, say, Christian America really seldom read that text. You know, it strikes me that if people were to sit down and read the text all the way through and ask themselves, you know, what are the themes that jump out over and over and over again, it’s not about the chosen nation, it’s about the kingdom of God, it’s about doing justice, lifting up the poor, making peace. But the fact that so few Christians seem to get that may indicate that many Christians simply don’t bother to read the text that they want to exalt.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Diana is calling from San Marcos. Good morning, Diana. Welcome to These Days.

DIANA (Caller, San Marcos): Hi. Thank you. You know, I just wanted to let you know that we’re not all Christian out here and those of us that aren’t really feel disenfranchised, alienated, from our government, you know, even to the point where, you know, my kids are being forced to, you know, mention God in the pledge of allegiance and everybody has to pray on a Bible and, you know, we’re not all Christian and what about the rest of us? And we’re Americans as well. Why don’t we get equal say?

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that comment, Diana. And would you like to comment, Richard?

HUGHES: Yes, I would. I just think Diana’s point is right on and Diana is underscoring the concerns of the founders. This is why they didn’t establish this nation as a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or any other kind – Their concern was that every American would be free to practice the religion of his or her choice or no religion at all. Thomas Jefferson was very, very clear on that point: Americans should be free to practice no religion at all. So your caller is really, really on target with this one. This nation needs to provide freedom for its citizens to be religious in the way they see fit or not at all.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us, Richard, if you would, some of the ways you see the advocates of Christian America not acting in Christian ways today.

HUGHES: Well, the most obvious thing, Maureen, that comes to my mind is that when we were in the build up to the war in Iraq, even before the invasion of Iraq, Jim Loeb, who is a journalist, did some survey work and found that conservative white Christians favored invasion of Iraq in numbers that exceeded, in other words percentage numbers, that exceeded those even of the general population. And then by the time the war was growing unpopular, those white evangelical Christians still favored this endeavor. And it just strikes me, if the Bible says, as it does, that Jesus is the Prince of Peace and if Jesus says very clearly, you have heard that it was said, love your friends and hate your enemies but I say to you love your enemies and do good to those who persecute you, if we take that seriously we’ve got to put some huge question marks around violence. But I think the most striking thing that’s happened in the last, say, decade would be the fervor with which so many American Christians greeted that militaristic invasion of the nation of Iraq.

CAVANAUGH: And in your book, you also make the point that many conservative Christian movements seem to rely more heavily on the Old Testament than the New.

HUGHES: Yes, indeed they do because if you want to push notions of militarism and invading, you know, countries that one claims are your enemies, you really can’t find any justification for that in the New Testament and it’s spotty justification even in the Hebrew Bible. People will look back, say, to the battles that Israel waged against the tribes in the land of Canaan and say that’s some kind of a model for the United States. Of course, that’s a stretch to claim that Israel is a model for the United States. But what’s interesting is that by the time you get to the 8th century BCE, you get a whole raft of prophets, people like, for example, Hosea, Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, who are really calling into question policies of war. And what these prophets are saying is that Israel’s security does not depend on our fortifications and our alliances with other nations, our security depends on the extent to which we do justice. So the prophets are claiming that, really, the only route to peace and security is justice for all people.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. And Nguyen is calling in Hillcrest, and good morning. Welcome to These Days.

NGUYEN (Caller, Hillcrest): Hi.

CAVANAUGH: Hi.

NGUYEN: Thank you for taking my call. I just wanted to say that America is only Christian on the surface but underneath it is a rotten country. And it’s evident by these rightwing radical nuts, what they’re doing to this country and other country that drag down the good name of Christianity.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for the comment, Nguyen. But this is not something that you agree with, Richard. You love this country.

HUGHES: I do, indeed. And I wouldn’t say it’s a rotten country, I think it’s a marvelous country. But I would agree with one point that the caller made and that is that the Christianity that we claim to characterize the nation is really – it doesn’t run very deeply. It’s fairly superficial. And, of course, this is all – I mean, the point is, how could a nation be Christian? By that I mean, a nation is always interested in its own self-preservation. That’s inevitable. A nation is interested in its own self-interest. But the Biblical vision of the kingdom of God says don’t seek your own self-interest, seek the self – seek the interest of others, especially those who are in the greatest need. So how in the world then could a nation that, by definition, is interested in its own self-interest, in its own prosperity, be characterized as a Christian nation when division of the Biblical kingdom of God runs diametrically opposed to inevitable nationalistic interests?

CAVANAUGH: Craig is calling us now from San Diego. Good morning, Craig, and welcome to These Days.

CRAIG (Caller, San Diego): I just wanted to make a comment. I was an atheist for 25 years and I always had a reason why this nation was not a Christian nation. I am now in the faith for about 5 years and I would have to agree with the author that that’s the conclusion that I have experienced in my life. Now that I’m in the faith, I notice why I never believed in it and that’s because marriages are poor, poor parenting, poor decisions and so on and so forth. So I just want to make that comment and agree with the author in that sense.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that.

CRAIG: If we’r going to be a Christian nation or if we’re going to say we’re Christian then we need to act upon that in every decision that we make and how we give testimony to our life.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for your comment, Craig. I appreciate it. I wonder, Richard, in studying all of this, going back to the Bible and going through the texts that are used to support the idea that America is, you know, the new Jerusalem or whatever, I wonder how you see this idea, this notion as America as a Christian nation actually becoming dangerous for the U.S. and for the world?

HUGHES: Maureen, it’s dangerous when it assures us of our own innocence. And we saw exhibit A of that during the war in Iraq, and we all remember how the administration drew these lines between, on the one hand, the so-called evildoers, we all remember this…

CAVANAUGH: Umm-hmm.

HUGHES: …and on the other hand, the nation that has clean hands. It’s really difficult. By the way, I used to track the number of casualties in Iraq. I think it was a website called Iraq Body Count, something, I don’t remember the exact website, but it was just astounding. I mean, right away more Iraqi civilians had perished by far than the 3000 who perished in the World Trade Center. Obviously, we lament the loss of life in this country but we also must lament the loss of life elsewhere, too. And it seems to me that the myth of Christian America, one of its purposes is to somehow preserve the illusion that this nation is fundamentally innocent and, of course, no nation is fundamentally innocent.

CAVANAUGH: You say in the book that part of that might perhaps come from the fact that America has never really come to terms with some of its grave problems, its grave injustices, slavery and the decimation of the Native American people.

HUGHES: We haven’t. And, you know, and that stands in stark contrast, for example, to Germany, which has really come to terms with the horrors that Germany perpetrated during that pre-World War II period and until the war was over. One of your callers mentioned the genocide that we practiced against native populations, we don’t want to hear that. That’s very – it’s hard on our ears to hear that. The problem is, it’s true. And we have never, as a nation, come to terms with these kinds of things yet, and I think one of the reasons we don’t is because we want to preserve this illusion, this image of ourselves as moral, righteous, and, in fact, even Christian. One more comment, if I could make…

CAVANAUGH: Please, yes.

HUGHES: One of your callers said that he felt that this is a rotten nation, and I said I don’t share that. But let me make this comment. I don’t share it in large part because I’m part of the great American middle class and I’ve been greatly blessed. But sometimes I wonder how people who are trapped in inner city ghettos, people who live their lives out in abject poverty in this country, you know, people who can’t get healthcare and just have to live with debilitating sicknesses, how would they view this country? I think –That’s a fair question, I think, to ask.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Richard Hughes, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

HUGHES: Thank you, Maureen. It’s my pleasure.

CAVANAUGH: Richard Hughes is the author of the book, "Christian America and the Kingdom of God." Many people wanted to join our conversation today. If we didn’t get a chance to have your comment on the air, please go online and post your comment at KPBS.org/thesedays. Coming up, a conversation with music star and now patient advocate, Naomi Judd. That’s next as These Days continues here on KPBS.

Comments

Avatar for user 'jv333'

jv333 | January 21, 2010 at 9:48 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Great segment ... i commend to anyone interested in the research on religion in America to visit http://pewforum.org/

About 70% of Americans (is that adult Americans?) may identify as some form of "Christian" ... however a lot of that is in name only.

About 50% of US adults have changed religions once in their lifetime.

Only about 60-80% of American adults do not attend a weekly religious service. (depending upon whose poll u believe)

And 16% of Americans do not affiliate with any religion...the fastest growing minority.

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Avatar for user 'fauxrs'

fauxrs | January 21, 2010 at 9:50 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

I didnt hear what I really expected to hear. the author is correct of course that the US isnt a christian nation, but I dont think it has anything to do with the fact that we dont act in accordance with scripture. I cant think of a time in the history of the world when christians followed scripture en masse, certainly individuals might have, but entire nations of christians? unlikely.

Its to do with the fact that the constitution makes no mention of religion beyond saying the government cannot endorse one religion over another. If the founding fathers intended the US to be a christian nation with laws derived from christian doctrine they could have done a much better job mentioning that in the consitution. On the contrary, they made sure that there would be no religious test to serve in the governemtn, they made sure that no religion would be preferred over another.

Further not all the founding fathers were christians, many were deists who while they believed a god existed, they didnt all accept the divinity of jesus or even the bible itself. Thomas Jefferson being an excellent example, his personal bible was a redacted version that removed all the miracles and notions of the divinity of Jesus, it also didnt include anything to do with the ressurection. Hardly mainstream christian thought.

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | January 21, 2010 at 10:19 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

A fantastic interview! Richard Hughes knocked it out of the park. He said exactly what it is that I experience in my conversations with Christians. They just seem to have this complete disconnect with what they say they believe in and how they behave, and consequently how they vote. Unfortunately those who really need to hear this and contemplate what was said were probably tuning into Rush Limbaugh or Shawn Hannity.

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Avatar for user 'marlene'

marlene | January 21, 2010 at 11:22 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

In America there are over 200 distinct groups, with different viewpoints and belief systems, defining themselves as Christian. (it gets confusing) So, to begin with, what does it really mean to be Christian? Lets define that first. Then we can pursue some questions..., like,

If America is a Christian nation, why do we have an economic system (capitalism) that encourages and rewards dishonesty, deceit and other forms of corruption? Why is our culture full of influence that promotes unethical behavior? (The concept that "What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" is the embodiment of this and is not a solitary example.) Why do we have National Leaders who are consistently in the spotlight because of their misdeeds in both their public and private lives?

My grandma used to say "the proof is in the pudding" and "actions speak louder than words." Using her maxims as a touchstone, I'd have to say a resounding NO, America is not a Christian Nation. (And wanting to be is not the same as being.)

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Avatar for user 'buttons'

buttons | January 21, 2010 at 12:22 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Impressive program - I may not agree with everything presented, but I really commend KPBS for putting on such intelligent and thought provoking program. Maureen’s interview with KPBS GM Karlo also prompt me to donate again to KPBS. Hope they’ll move such good programs to 8 a.m or 5 p.m so I can catch it more often!

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Avatar for user 'Klonky'

Klonky | January 21, 2010 at 3:42 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

This is the first time I've seen my own discomfort with the mashup of flag-waving and religion put into words. I liked this segment - and I'm sending the link off to friends.

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Avatar for user 'synergy'

synergy | January 21, 2010 at 4:27 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

So as I discussed this great segment today with a co-worker/friend.

She stated that in the bible new and old version, that the bible states "a true believer is to strike down anyone who does not believe"

Wouldn't that make sense or answer our questions that the callers this am and most of us who feel Christians have brought & are first believers for example - 911war, American native Indian genocide, slavery, insurance companies threatening a human life, homelessness & etc....? And not the perception of moral & ethical people???

So then that statement in the bible if written would be the reason the horrible unethical, unmoral things done under the word of Christianity or being a Christian is justified by this section of the bible????

Someone please respond ...

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Avatar for user 'Eddieboy'

Eddieboy | January 21, 2010 at 6:14 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

If you can come away from a reading of the bible with that sort of idea, then you just wasted a good few weeks.

Biblical illiteracy will do more damage than biblical literacy. Put down the TV and video games and take a year or two to open the book, draw on other resources to enhance what it is saying, and then keep an open mind. And don't forget to check it out with your own lived reality.

But remember it is a library of its own sort and it won't make any more sense in reading it cover to cover than would reading any other random shelf of book. In the same way, it is written from so many perspectives and over such a huge period of time that it would not make sense any more than if you took 66 people from the last thousand years and tried to make sense of their personal journals, contracts, creative writing, shopping lists and genealogies. All that underscores that truth requires a whole community.

Contrary to popular belief, it takes a big mind to read it and get something out of it. But if you leave it closed, then you will be prone to silly notions that a nation like ours, with the largest military EVER, crushing debt heaped upon all citizens, an ethic of permanent private ownership of land could possibly be acting with God's blessing. Oh, and this on the day that the court gave the go ahead to corporate giving to candidates! Christian nation? Hardly. Go read your OT prophets and the parables and sermons of Jesus... you'll see. It is really a book that is soooo radically opposed to what America is today.

While some will use the worst of Leviticus to back up their anti-homosexual agenda (as we heard a few days ago on TD), few will be so ready to turn to Leviticus to draw upon the laws governing economics. No usury. Return land and possessions on a regular to people who fell into debt. Let land go fallow every 7 years... What would this nation be without usury (interest/debt)? Free, maybe? Not where we are now? That would be something!

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | January 22, 2010 at 11:51 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

To Synergy: Both the Bible and the Koran give instruction to kill the unbelievers, the sinners, the infidels whatever. When either religion is taken literally, you get people like Major Hasan (shooter at Fort Hood) or Scott Roeder (the man who killed the abortion doctor recently). And while they represent the minority compared to the many believers who do not become violent it's actually the moderates that give haven and support to the extremists. If more people at least became agnostic in their beliefs it would put a stop to having religion wreck our world and our personal lives. AND as a culture and country we'd finally get our priorities straight. We'd stop the pointless wars, and we would have healthcare and education and better cohesion as a people. Then as Americans we could really say that this country is without a doubt the best place in the world to live. But that requires guts, and recognizing that not all people and their ideas are compatible with the kind of society we should want here. "Imagine"

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Avatar for user 'Eddieboy'

Eddieboy | January 24, 2010 at 7:06 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

"If more people at least became agnostic in their beliefs it would put a stop to having religion wreck our world and our personal lives. AND as a culture and country we'd finally get our priorities straight."

Maybe so, but if more people got to the heart of their religion and got past the surface reading, then we might accomplish the same. If those readings don't lead to transformation into better people then they have been read wrong. The people who get their priorities straight are the ones who have done the deep work, the wrestling with texts like these troubling ones that keep coming up.

This type of text needs to always be weighed because the truth in it is not always in the literal expression. So it takes more work than many are prepared to do to draw the healthy and humanizing meaning from them. Fundamentalists of all stripes really don't do that work because they do not wish to have transformative relationships with the Bible, Koran or anything else.

It is the difference between turning to a book for answers (a more fundamentalist leaning) and turning to it for questions. If you consult the text and let it ask you questions, you can use it to open you up. Harsh texts are the ones that confront the reader with the uglier side of our nature, the stuff we are uncomfortable with. Either you can shrug your shoulders and say 'well, that's the way we are, so that is the way I must be too,' or you can really explore what a better response it.

"We'd stop the pointless wars, and we would have healthcare and education and better cohesion as a people. Then as Americans we could really say that this country is without a doubt the best place in the world to live. "

I don't think that is the case. It doesn't follow that a religion free place would automatically give us that cohesion. Our civic religion really is capitalism, and that is far from a mechanism to bring cohesion or war. And, the Bible goes to great lengths to challenge our tendency toward inequality, love of power, and social disintegration, so maybe there is a place for it, eh? Bad reading of holy texts will get you bad results. Good reading will get you good results. Our problems don't result from the existence of the Bible or what it says. They result from our understanding of it, or lack thereof.

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | January 25, 2010 at 10:48 a.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

"Good reading will get you good results, Bad reading of holy texts will get you bad results."

I really disagree with the above statement. I think what you mean is if you ignore the crazy stuff and only follow the reasonable stuff (stuff you find reasonable) then it might be helpful to your life and community.

Might I suggest a really fun read by A. J. Jacobs: The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible.

A real hoot, it's printed in English, and was not translated from Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or even Old English. Wink.

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Avatar for user 'teacherkay'

teacherkay | January 25, 2010 at 5:59 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

Wow! I love this interview. It will make for a great discussion at our church - yes, our Christian church. Not all religious organizations take scriptures literally or equate religion with blind patriotism. And yes, the Jacobs book was thoroughly enjoyed by the book club at our church. It's a hilarious, and enlightening read.

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Avatar for user 'Eddieboy'

Eddieboy | January 25, 2010 at 6:02 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

What I mean is if you let the crazy stuff ask a question of you, and you dare to meet it and consider it--how it speaks to you, what if any relevance it has today, etc-- then you can move accordingly. Obviously stoning people has passed out of use as a form of discipline, but many other texts are thorny just the same and require us to weigh them just the same, to see if or how they can inform our lives now. Interpretation is everything. Discernment is the key to interpretation. Does it make better people of us?

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Avatar for user 'SinnerSavedByGrace'

SinnerSavedByGrace | January 28, 2010 at 3:05 p.m. ― 4 years, 10 months ago

The author of the title of the interview did their job well by asking an open-ended, provocative question and tying the subtitle in with an inflammatory statement using the word ‘myth’.

To answer the title question it needs to be given more specificity. We must give it a reference in time by adding to the title “…Christian Nation” 'now', and, “...Christian Nation” 'at its founding'.

Starting with the latter first, “...Christian Nation” 'at its founding', consider what one of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll, said. And he is just one of several with the same viewpoint (others examples: John Adams in a letter to Zabdiel Adams, June 21, 1776, Patrick Henry in a letter to Archibald Blair on Jan. 8, 1789, and Ben Franklin in an address to the Constitutional Convention June 28, 1787, among others. Research them for yourself).

The quote: “Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying {to speak disparagingly of; denounce as faulty or worthless; express censure of} the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime & pure, [and] which denounces against the wicked eternal misery, and [which] insured to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.” (Source: Bernard C. Steiner, The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers, 1907), p. 475. In a letter from Charles Carroll to James McHenry of November 4, 1800

Looking at the statement “…Christian Nation” 'now', the fact that this question is even being seriously asked reveals the state of things now. While there are great things being done daily by our Christian brothers and sisters, they are often overshadowed by the forces of darkness.

The interview, though it starts out by ignoring the fact that our Constitution has both an Establishment Clause, and, a Free Exercise Clause (only the Establishment Clause is mentioned) did raise many very valid and perhaps shameful examples of the failings of man. Yet remember, a nation is simply made up of people, and as scripture tells us; “for all” {including me} “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NKJV). Thus the need for a Lord and Savior, one who has the perfect balance between justice and mercy. See John 3:16.

Let’s take this interview as an encouraging challenge to show the true heart of Christ.

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Avatar for user 'johnny'

johnny | February 1, 2010 at 10:59 p.m. ― 4 years, 9 months ago

The question "is America a Christian Nation" is a pretty simple one. The answer is yes, obviously, American was founded by Christians and hundreds of years later most Americans identify themselves as Christians. Our currency says "In God We Trust". So it's not really that difficult, is it?

Of course Christianity is not the state religion here as Islam is the state religion in Islamic countries. We don't whip you or chop your hand off if you criticize Christianity. It's in the constitution. Again not a real toughie.

But when you pose your question as dispelling the "dangerous myth of America as a Christian nation" it's plain you have no interest in these no-brainers. Your real purpose is to reinforce your anti-Christian message in the minds of those who can't think for themselves (KPBS audience).

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Avatar for user 'randolphslinky'

randolphslinky | February 2, 2010 at 10:21 a.m. ― 4 years, 9 months ago

It's obvious that the most recent postings here are from individuals who either didn't listen to the interview, read it, or simply won't. As for those who "can't think for themselves (KPBS audience)" I'll just have to count myself among that group, but then, what do call the group of people who believe in incredible myths? I wonder....

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Avatar for user 'expat'

expat | October 27, 2010 at 11:04 a.m. ― 4 years, 1 month ago

*sarcasm on*
I agree with johnny: obviously, the Distinguished Professor of Religion at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania has an interest in reinforcing anti-Christian messages.
*sarcasm off*

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Avatar for user 'MarkW'

MarkW | October 27, 2010 at 11:14 a.m. ― 4 years, 1 month ago

If by "Christian" you mean self-righteous, self-indulgent, uninformed, lustful, egotistical worshippers of money -- then YES.

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Avatar for user 'oli123'

oli123 | October 27, 2010 at 11:23 a.m. ― 4 years, 1 month ago

First of all, what is a Christian? If we can answer that, we will be able to know if America is a Christian country or not. In my opinion, the idea of believe in God does not necessarily attribute a nation to a group religious. America is the most mysterious land in the planet. If we looking at the country structure, it is really difficult to say America is a Christian country. In fact, there is no existing Christian country today. What a Christian country would have done better ? We all known the religion history including the Christianity.

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Avatar for user 'perche'

perche | October 27, 2010 at 11:25 a.m. ― 4 years, 1 month ago

Thank you for hosting this program. I appreciate the rare opportunity to hear a discussion that supports the concept of compassion and interconnection between all people. This is a concept that runs through all religions but is all too often lost in the fighting that so many so-called religious or spiritual practitioners find necessary to engage in an attempt to exert their religion's superiority over others. Christianity is a beautiful religion in theory and many practice it from the heart in a positive way. As with any religion, the original teachings can be lost or corrupted and much of what we see happening today in America's Christian fringe movements does not represent Christianity in a positive light. Additionally, there seems to be an overriding attitude that Christianity is "the American" religion and that all others are somehow less "American". This is a country founded on diversity and with that diversity comes varying cultural and religious practices. All of which are equally worthy and deserving of recognition and tolerance. Do unto others . . .

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Avatar for user 'RegularChristian'

RegularChristian | October 27, 2010 at 1:02 p.m. ― 4 years, 1 month ago

Thank you for putting a sane Christian on the air. So nice not to hear the usual rantings of right-wing fundamentalists. We want more!

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Avatar for user 'dialyn'

dialyn | October 28, 2010 at 7:32 a.m. ― 4 years ago

What is egotistical is to assume "America" can only refer to the United States and that everyone must be Christian within its borders and that Christians have any lock on ethics (some of the most corrupt people I've heard of are religious leaders who abuse their power). We have extremists in this country that are every bit as dangerous as the extremists in other countries and for the same reason: religious dogma and intolerance. We seem to learn nothing from history. We allow ignorant screamers to take over our airways and shut out anyone with a moderate position. We deserve what we get if we let those same people take over the government.

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Avatar for user 'Rem'

Rem | October 30, 2010 at 3:50 p.m. ― 4 years ago

I think the christian people who wish this were a christian nation feel superior. I think christianity instills a sense of superiority, to which the christian is addicted. The manifestation of this has been a historically long vicious persecution of those who are not believers or who violate their “morals.”

However, since the scientific revolution, it has been harder and harder for the religious to claim supremacy. To many, christian fundamentalists, protestant or catholic, are seen as a superstitious lot with a nasty, intolerant disposition.

The christian has a belief of superiority that is not affirmed by the larger rational populace. Supremacy requires agreement. To feel superior, and then to be challenged by rational arguments for which they can offer no good answer is a cornerstone of their anger. The christian knows rational knowledge will not vindicate their position. If you doubt this, ask a christian to provide testable, falsifiable evidence of their god and watch their face contort. Rational knowledge impedes the christian from their historical status. It is their great enemy.

Politically, christian supremacy has been historically buttressed by the state. Their supremacy is challenged and impeded most by a secular government, with a secular constitution. Secular democracy is the other great enemy.

The christian is further challenged by any criticism of biblical “morality.” That is why the christian gets so agitated by gay rights and women’s rights, two groups that were unapologetically oppressed by christians and justified by christian philosophy. Secular social movements for equality is the third great enemy.

To regain their elevated standing, the christian must attack our Constitution. They must convince others that our Constitution is somehow christian so as to further modify it to their religious end. Since a rational analysis of constitutional history confirms the constitution’s secular nature, the christian MUST obfuscate, lie, and bully. Truth, honesty, and rationality do not matter. All that matters is their elevation. All that matters is getting their christian sensibilities solidly into our Constitution. Obfuscating, lying and bullying are to be expected and are a matter of course. It is all they have.

It cannot be over-emphasized that the rational-secularist must understand that this is not about religion, per se. It is not about understanding a god. It is not about bringing in a better America. It is not about a better morality. It is about restoring the supremacy of christians. Once in power they will viciously attack all remnants of secularism: tolerance for other religions will be eliminated, women will be lowered, abortion will be outlawed, gays will be tortured and killed, and all secular knowledge that contradicts their mythology will be outlawed.

There can be no middle ground here. All rational secularists must oppose the fundamentalist claim on our secular Constitution.

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