How Christian Beliefs And Values Are No More Creditable With America’s Founding Than Islamic Ones

Gary Bauer displays a hilarious sense of grievance in his article “If Christians Were Treated Like Muslims”. I want to take a few posts to fully dissect all of its self-absorbed, phony, distorted victimhood. The first three sentences merited a full post themselves, so here we go. Bauer starts out with the following falsehood:

Few Americans would deny that Judeo-Christian beliefs and values informed the Founding of this country and that they continue to shape much of American life today. Nor would many of us deny that Americans who embrace Islamic values are a distinct minority here.
I raise these two facts because of an emerging reality: that, in a variety of contexts, American Muslims are treated better than American Christians.

Regardless of what few or many of us would say, these statements are vacuous and ridiculous. What about “Judeo-Christian” beliefs and values uniquely influenced the signature American political achievements that quintessentially define us as a country? Where are democracy, representative government, separation of powers, the limited executive, rights to trial by jury of one’s peers, prohibitions against unwarranted search and seizure, prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments, rights of redress against the sovereign powers, the notion of federalism, the separation of religion and government, the equality of all before the law, or the nearly absolute freedom of peaceful speech, expression, religion, and assembly anywhere to be found directly and specifically in Judeo-Christian beliefs and values?

Those governmental and moral principles are nowhere specifically articulated in the Bible with any significant more clarity or specificity than they are in the Koran and, in fact, on the contrary the Bible in numerous places promotes anti-democratic, anti-egalitarian, anti-representative, anti-liberal values just as often as the Koran does. They’re both authoritarian books. I mean, we can find slavery in the Old and New Testament, was that the uniquely Judeo-Christian value integral to the founding? Is that what Bauer wants to claim credit for?

The difference between modern Islamic theocracies and Western democracies is not that the latter are founded on the uniquely Judeo-Christian beliefs but, rather, through a centuries long process culminating and accelerating with the Enlightenment, the Western world successfully overcame its authoritarian, hierarchical period of domination by Christian authority and carved out a secular sphere in which the values of science, technology, liberty, equality, decentralization of power, and freedom of conscience could thrive. Any Jewish or Christian belief or value one would like to twist into somehow the real and indispensable source of any particular quintessential American value is so non-specifically a source for the corresponding distinctively American value, that one could just as easily twist any of a number of just and wise sounding Koranic passages to get the same effect.

The extent to which the unique beliefs or values of the Bible or the Koran at all endorse or indispensably source American values is absolutely minimal. The very genius of America is the Declaration of Independence’s claim that the rights being claimed were self-evident. Implicitly in declaring the moral and political principles on which they declared independence “self-evident” they were saying that these beliefs and values required neither special acknowledgment of any traditions nor even of rational argumentation. They were supposedly plain on their face.

This means that anyone–whether or not they were Christians and deists like the majority of our Founding Fathers–could understand and acknowledge their beliefs and values. They needed no biblical derivation.

Even the “Creator”cited in the Declaration of Independence (but of course, not the Constitution) did not require a uniquely Biblical formulation but was part of an alleged claim to self-evidence. The extent to which they cited a Creator was the extent to which this was a universally recognizable concept and not a tradition specific one. This conception of a Creator was so broad and inclusive and rationalistic as to be amenable both to the anti-supernaturalistic deists as it was to the devoutly Christian ones.

In other words, the uniqueness and specialness of America is precisely in its audacious claim to be founded specifically on rationally self-evident and non-tradition-specific principles and beliefs. Invocation of the necessity of one religion over another for either the source or justification of distinctively American principles is as antithetical to the true beliefs and values that distinctively characterized America.

The quintessential and characteristic Christian beliefs are in things like monotheism, trinitarianism, the belief in a self-sacrificial/resurrecting incarnated man-God, propitiations for sins, divine jealousy, divine retribution, intolerance of other religions, conversion of all the world to one religion, divine command ethics (which is antithetical to the supposedly self-evident kind the Founders appealed to), divinely commanded genocides, hostility to the wealthy and the powerful, etc.

The one distinctively New Testament specific value that Christianity might be seen as the direct source of inspiration for is the principle of tolerance of despised and vilified minorities. Jesus’s “Good Samaritan” is as clear and classic a model of someone championing and dignifying a group treated with racism and intolerance as we have in the entire Western tradition. (Though even it can be improved upon now that we have a culture which has advanced and deepened its appreciation for the virtue of tolerance even beyond where Jesus had gotten).

But, in a cruel irony, it is precisely, this distinctively Christian value, which is increasingly admirably becoming a quintessentially American value and in part due to the direct and indirect influence of Christianity, that Dr. Bauer does not have himself. Dr. Bauer is a pharisee ruefully, and not to mention pathetically falsely, whining that the Samaritans get more respect than the Jews because people dare to follow in Jesus’s example and bend over backwards to stress the equality, dignity, and basic goodness of those hated Muslims.

So, way to go, Mr. Bauer; way to falsely imply the patently untrue—that the most characteristic and vital American values and beliefs are somehow necessarily connected to participation in the Judeo-Christian tradition—and way to undermine the one argument that you might have been able to convincingly deceive people of, that Christianity is a unique source of tolerance.

It is true that Christianity deserves a ton of credit from a historical perspective for American tolerance. But even tolerance is not good because of Christianity, tolerance can be justified and adopted purely on secular grounds and Christianity’s support is now quite superfluous to maintain this virtue. And, in present times, Christianity itself is clearly a greater impediment to tolerance than it is a promulgator of it. Exhibit A: Gary Bauer.

For Bauer’s long, deeply false, intolerant, irresponsible, and self-pitying whine about how much better Muslims allegedly have it than Christians in contemporary America read here or stay tuned for my upcoming posts in which I delve deeper into it.
Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • Teege

    I think when a lot of people refer to “Christian beliefs and values” they’re really talking about western Christian culture in general. They have a pleasant but ill-defined sense of identification with the dominant Christian culture in the USA and confuse that (culture and traditions) with “beliefs” and “values” which do have specific definitions, as you pointed out. And since they connect in a sloppy and vague way all that is honest and good about America with Christianity, it follows (again in a sloppy and vague way of thinking) that they can’t see anything “American” in secular principles or even secular language. They’ve co-opted American democracy and pretend it’s Christian, because if it’s not Christian, how can it be good?

  • Randomfactor

    In other words, western Christianity is founded upon the values and behavior instilled by the American secular government as spelled out in the Bill of Rights and Constitution.

  • DavidCT

    Most Christians are not all that familiar with what the bible actually says. More of them can name the 7 dwarfs than can name the 10 commandments. Granted it is a longer list but Disney has a clearer message than God since people can remember it better.

    Thank you for this summary. Christians seem to have missed the fact that their morality is nothing but obedience to authority right or wrong.

  • Jamieson

    Culminating
    in November 2013 a nationwide effort to reach people across the United
    States with the Gospel of Jesus Christ with Billy Graham. In the middle
    of one of the busiest places on earth, a giant billboard features a
    quote from Billy Graham, urging people to tune in Nov. 7 to hear the
    Gospel message. Just weeks before his 95th birthday, Mr. Graham is
    telling the nation, “With all my heart, I want to leave you with truth.”


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