The United States of America is nation of Christians, but not a Christian nation.
Christians have been the majority of the population in the United States for its entire history. The genius of the Founders of America was to recognize that nobody on Earth was a perfect Christian and that every non-Christian had something to teach. They built a state that was not “everything” and was so limited that only very basic agreements were needed.
They designed a commonwealth for imperfect men and for most men. A politician faced no doctrinal test, because Even the deists and the few atheists of the time lived inside a mostly Christian worldview, especially in ethics. Thomas Paine rejected the doctrines of Scripture, but used language steeped in Christian ideas.
Most Americans were orthodox, but even when they disputed doctrine, they accepted more cultural Christianity than they recognized. When they rejected polygamy or agonized over slavery, the Founders operated in a Christian worldview . . . inconsistently. If some had too much faith in reason unaided by revelation, others knew rights were only safe if based God.
So Christians was their world that they could artlessly sign the Constitution in “the year of our Lord.”
Because the overwhelming majority of Americans have always been Christian, whatever tolerance has existed has been Christian tolerance. American Christians defended religious liberty, though they need not have done so. They had the numbers to impose sectarianism, but the true Christianity not to do so.
They privatized the details and assumed a common, reasonable generic Judeo-Christian set of assumptions would be enough.
And it would be enough if government had not grown, but the larger the central government grows the more it must decide. The Founders set up a strong central government, but one with very restricted powers.
The Civil War rightly imposed a more consistent Christian morality on half the nation, but it left a more powerful federal government. Regions like Utah were forced to comply with the assumed morality of a tacit Protestant establishment.
Every act of that establishment, from votes for women to Prohibition, increased the power of the central government. Public schools were strengthened, in part, to keep Roman Catholics out. Good was done, but too often it was done by imposition.
Because most Americans generally were Christian, the growing power of the central overly Protestant establishment was an “acceptable” tyranny. But like all tyranny, seeds of doom were present.
Power gained was power that could be abused. And since no man is consistent with his ideals, whether a secularist deist like Jefferson with his slave mistress or Protestants with their abuse of American Indians in order to civilize them, the growing state power produced growing harm.
Central government took the power to prevent the abuse of state power, but it was all government power.
And now a secular minority has seized some of the old bastions of the Protestant establishment and this expanded state. The wisdom of the Founders is revealed and the imprudence of the old Protestant establishment confirmed.
State power has grown to the point where worldview and religion are consistently questioned. As the state pays for more, it must decide more. These decisions cannot be decided by science . . . no “ought” comes from “is.”
People want to do things, but should they do them?
The answer is to return to a smaller government. We must do good, give universal health care, but dare not use government to do it. In a more diverse culture, it is ever more important to reduce the power of the state in our lives.
Christians do not recognize the ultimate power of the state and so we cannot thrive in an all-powerful tyranny . . . even if we appear to control it!
Mr. Romney has a more limited vision of government and more tolerance for Christian exceptions to power and so he will get the vote of many of the Faithful who would not otherwise consider him.
Mr. Obama represents the dying liberal Protestant establishment that can no longer sustain itself. Most former constituent groups are now “non-religious” and these folk lack a coherent view of ethics.
The future belongs to small-government Christianity: liberty that is not libertine.
Content Director’s Note: This post is a part of our Election Month at Patheos feature. Patheos was designed to present the world’s most compelling conversations on life’s most important questions. Please join the Facebook following for our new News and Politics Channel — and check back throughout the month for more commentary on Election 2012. Please use hashtag #PatheosElection on Twitter.