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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What Christian Nation?

(Keywords: , , , the were not members of the )

I got into a discussion about the religious right's argument that the US was founded on christian principles over at Christianity General. I did quite a bit of research and it seemed like a good idea to post some of it here.

First off, it's written into international law that the US is not founded on christianity. The Treaty of Tripoli plainly states, "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries." The treaty was passed unanimously by a congress made up largely of founders and signed by John Adams (we'll discuss Adams religious views shortly).

And, at a moment when the Continental Congress looked like it might dissolve in a heated argument, Benjamin Franklin motioned that they should break for a moment of prayer for guidance. It's likely that Franklin hoped a moment of silence would give everyone a chance to stop shouting at each other and calm down and wasn't motivated by any real hope that Jesus would come down and pitch in. But most important to the argument against a pious group of founders is that Franklin's motion didn't carry.

I found a list of presidential affiliations at Wikipedia and found out that four inarguable non-christians have been elected. John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft were all Unitarians. I didn't include deists because they all have christian demoninational ties as well - mostly episcopalian. These were from Virginia, where episcopalian was the state church - which has led to all the confusion over this 'christian nation' crap. You could really argue these guys either way - deist or episcopalian; Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Tyler, and - maybe - Taylor. Four had no religious affiliation; Lincoln, Johnson (Andrew), Grant, and Hayes.

Oddly, two icons of the extreme right - Hoover and Nixon - were both quakers, which has become a leftist denomination in recent years.

What I find interesting here is that the 'christian nation' argument is again shot to hell. If the US is traditionally christian or even judeo-christian, why have so many presidents been non-christians and non-jews? All together, the number is four definite non-christians. If you include likely non-christians, the number is ten, and if you include the non-religious, the number is fourteen. That means that as many as 33% of all presidents have not been christian and none have been jews.

Maybe it's time to give a jewish guy a chance at it - go Feingold!