As much as I love the internet, I am really annoyed by how many myths and mistruths are fostered by it. I’m not really sure where this particular myth got started, but it was probably even around before the internet age. Which myth? I’m sure you know the one: “the United States began as a Christian nation.”
That’s wrong, and no amount of believing it will make it so. Was the U.S. founded with Christian moral principles in mind? Mostly. Was the U.S. founded by people who believed in God? Yes. Was the U.S. founded by Christians? No. While a few of the founding fathers were Christians (most notably George Washington), the majority were deists.
The “age of enlightenment” was still going strong, and French enlightenment philosophy had a strong grip on the minds of our founding fathers. This meant that they wanted to found the nation on a belief in God, but they believed in not locking the entire country down to one religion, so it wasn’t The Christian God.
Thus the newborn republic was imbued with the concept of “separation of church and state” right from the start, even though that particular phrase wasn’t used at first. A country in which men were truly free had to be one where no particular religion could be favored or forced upon the people.
One current problem with this concept is that some people on the liberal end of the spectrum think “no religion” means “no God” and are trying to force the mention of God out of public life. This obviously wasn’t the view of the founding fathers, since they themselves believed in God but simply didn’t want to force their views on other people.
Another current problem is with conservatives reacting to the liberals’ position. Since liberals are trying to completely remove God from public life, conservatives are fighting back by trying to insert Christianity everywhere possible in public life. Now, I’m a Christian, but this is not the right way to go.
This is exactly what the founding fathers didn’t want to happen! If the current majority religion gets thrust upon everyone, whether or not they want it, then it sets a precedent for later generations. Just because Christianity is currently the majority religion doesn’t mean it will always be so. What if someday another religion gains a majority following in the U.S.? We wouldn’t want that religion thrust upon us, so why do we think we have the right to thrust our religion upon others? What happened to the golden rule?
The core problem lies in the misinterpretation of Christ’s teaching that He is the only way to get to God. While I believe this to be true, it is frequently misinterpreted, e.g., “since what I believe is true, then I have the right and obligation to show everyone else how wrong they are…and since their religion isn’t true, I won’t allow them to practice it.” While I may be disappointed that other people believe in wrong and kooky things, I will defend their right to believe them, since each person is ultimately free to make his own choices.
One last observation puts the nail in the coffin (for me, at least). Christ Himself wouldn’t want Christianity thrust upon people unwillingly! While He was on Earth, He never forced himself upon anyone, which is part of the reason He didn’t want to be involved in government. His message was (and is) all about a change of the heart, not a particular practice or group policy.