I've been seeing a lot of things recently about how America is turning its back on its Christian roots and how things were so much better and more Christian-like in America in times past compared to now. Now, I love America. This is mostly because I just happened to be born here, but it's my home. I am patriotic to the extent of rooting for my country, wanting to see us succeed at what we do, to improve at our failings, and to continue to be a great place to live for many. That being said, I'm not going to pretend that our country is either perfect or has had a wonderful history of being a great Christian nation. I'm going to talk about a bunch of historical facts which have actually been researched. Things that should make you question: "If this is what a Christian nation looks like, then perhaps my view of Christianity isn't what it should be."
Much of what we think of as American history began with Christopher Columbus. He was a man who, upon discovering this "new world," captured and killed over a thousand people from the native population of the land. While God may have ordered Israel to capture territory that He had planned to give to them, I doubt many would find Columbus' actions to be Christ-like. For the next couple centuries, Great Britain continued to conquer this land, bringing disease and killing many more.
Meanwhile, until 1808, America was engaged in the Atlantic slave trade, a practice that should need neither detail nor specific condemnation here (hopefully we can all agree that it was a horrific thing). Again, while slavery can certainly be found in the Bible, most Christians today are very eager to point out that it was not the same as what America was doing then. So, from a Christian perspective, this was not a Christian thing that America was doing, even if many at the time thought it was. This slave trade was absolutely essential to the founding of our great nation; who knows what would have become of the colonies without it? Of course, even with the discontinuation of the Atlantic slave trade, slavery in America continued after this for another 57 years or so. These are not the type of Christian values that I believe in. It is worth noting also that while many Christians used the Bible to justify this, many Churches at the time were opposed to slavery, and were using Christianity to fight against it. Did those churches, which were existing during the foundation of America, feel that America was being founded on Christian principles?
Shifting gears for a moment, another major foundation point of our country is the idea of freedom of religion. Long before the first amendment to the Constitution was written, various laws were being passed in the colonies (as early as 1634) declaring that people should be free to practice whatever religion they want. Now, I've read the Bible, and I'm quite sure that it does NOT teach that people should be free to practice any religion they want. In the Old Testament, the nation of Israel (which absolutely WAS a nation founded on religion) would put people to death for disobeying the laws of God. Not just for things that we have the death penalty for today, like murder, but for all sorts of things which are purely religious in nature. A nation founded upon these Biblical principles would never enact laws declaring that people are allowed to worship other gods. I believe the Bible is absolutely clear that a Christian nation is one that follows the laws of God, where idols and false religions are not tolerated. In today's world, the thing most like Christian nations that we have are churches. It is the churches and their members that have rules about obeying God's law. I suppose Heaven would be a bit like a Christian nation, though I'm not so sure that laws would be necessary to keep people obeying God at that point.
I'm not so sure how relevant the personal religious beliefs were of those who helped found this country. I mean, a very devout Christian can go and found a country while being completely clear that he does not intend for it to be a Christian country. But even so, it is worth looking into because it is an argument that is heard quite often. Now, we can't deny that many of these founding fathers were Christians (to the best of our knowledge, as only God truly knows the heart of a man), but many others were not. James Madison, our fourth president and father of the Constitution, didn't like religion whatsoever. He said "Ecclesiastical establishments tend to great ignorance and all of which facilitates the execution of mischievous projects. Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise, every expanded project." He also has a great many quotes dealing with the dangers of the government being involved in religious enterprise in any way. Thomas Jefferson, our third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, was a Unitarian. Benjamin Franklin had great respect for the teachings of Jesus, but did not worship him as God. The list goes on.
At the time the Constitution was written, what did Christians think of it? Well, the more conservative ones attacked it for being lacking in Christianity. In 1793, Reverend John M. Mason criticized the document, saying that God would overturn our nation because of its godlessness. In 1811, Reverend Samuel Austin said that the Constitution's lack of Christianity would lead to its destruction. For people who wanted a theocracy, who could blame them? As mentioned before, the document specifically declares that people are allowed to commit the greatest sin of all, the only sin that actually matters to salvation: denying Christ and following false gods.
What else about our Constitution at our founding was Christ-like? How about the Three-Fifths Compromise? Let us not forget that the document itself declares that slaves are not fully human, but should count as three-fifths of a person for population counts. That doesn't sound Biblical to me. Of course, this was nullified by the 13th Amendment, but that was years later. After slavery was ended by the Civil War (yes, the hearts of many Americans were so wicked that it took a devastating war to end slavery), for the next 100 years blacks continued to be treated as sub-human. Until 1965, Jim Crow laws were in place, causing great harm to black Americans (we're talking about just 50 years ago, here). If you're over 25 years old, then within your own lifetime more than half of Americans have been so racist as to believe that interracial marriage was wrong. Yes, decades after Loving v. Virginia declared that interracial marriage was legal, more than half of our population disagreed with it. This is yet another one of those things that you can find support for in the Bible if you want to, but which most Christians today would say shouldn't be interpreted that way. Does this sound like a Christian nation?
What's another major principle that people think of when they think of America? Freedom. Independence. Right? If you read your Bible, you'll find that independence is far from a Biblical principle. God created us specifically to be dependent upon Him. He created us to worship Him, to need Him. A nation that says that we are each an individual and have the right to do whatever we want is not one that is following God's ways. Also, let us not forget the Treaty of Tripoli, ratified unanimously by the senate and signed in 1797 by President John Adams, in which he clearly stated, "The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." Did he stutter?
Some may want to point out that our currency says "In God We Trust" and our Pledge of Allegiance says "One Nation Under God." Well, in case you don't know already, this has nothing to do with the founding of our nation. That was added to our paper money in 1956, though it was first used on some coins in 1864. And the Pledge of Allegiance was written in 1892, without the words "under God", which were added only in 1954. Nothing to do with our founding.
So, when were these "good old days" anyway? Were they the 1600s when we were conquering and pillaging and murdering the native inhabitants? Were they the next few hundred years when we were enslaving people based on their skin color? The turn of the 20th century when women couldn't vote and children were forced to work in dangerous conditions? Or were they the 1950s, when blacks were second-class citizens and most of the people attending churches were only doing so because it was just what the culture of the time dictated?
To sum things up, going back to the question I posed in the first paragraph, if the United States is what a Christian nation really looks like, then what is Christianity? That isn't my branch of Christianity. A nation founded on actual Christian principles and values would not allow such things. Anyway, all that to say this: We are not a Christian nation. We are not a nation founded upon Christian principles. We are a nation founded upon many evil things such as slavery, with many non-Christian principles such as freedom to worship whomever you see fit. We have not abandoned our Christian roots. We are simply slowly abandoning a general sense of religious culture as the norm, and this is a good thing. "Cultural Christianity" is becoming a thing of the past. If you are a Christian, celebrate this, for "cultural Christianity" has helped to prevent many from coming to know our Lord.