Draft of “Christian Nation” Rebuttal

I wrote a couple days ago about an article I read in a local paper. It was by a Baptist minister and it proclaimed that we live in a Christian nation. I used the comments that readers left and crafted a draft rebuttal piece.

If you have any suggestions as to how to make it better, please leave a comment. If I made any mistakes, let me know. Your help is appreciated!

I’d like to send it in Monday night or Tuesday morning, for what it’s worth.

Rev, Vernon C. Lyons is blissfully unaware of our nation’s history when he says we live in a Christian nation.

His definition of a Christian is someone who “definitely and personally receives the Lord Jesus Christ as our savior.” Yet, that very definition would not apply to the examples he provides. Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams were all Deists. They believed in a God who created the world, but certainly not in the divinity of Christ or in a God who answers your prayers. Lyons writes that our country was “not founded by Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, or Atheists.” But unlike what Lyons would like to have you believe, it was not founded by a group of Christians, either. Not by his definition.

Certainly some of the Founding Fathers were Christian. Still, many original documents –including our own Constitution – were purposely written without references to God and Christianity. That’s a striking omission if our country was, indeed, founded as a Christian nation. To go one step further, the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli (Adams was president at the time) said “…the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” It was passed unanimously by the Senate.

Lyons also wrote that non-Christians do not have fewer rights than Christians. That’s untrue. In fact several state constitutions still contain archaic provisions that atheists cannot run for public office. Thanks in large part to pastors who spread dishonest remarks about non-religious people, there is also unwritten discrimination in the country in the sense that most people would not even vote for an otherwise qualified candidate if the person was an atheist.

Also, look at the following statement: “the constitution would not have ratified if there had not been a bill of rights based on the premise that God gives you those rights not the government.” In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The Constitution explicit says the government’s power comes, not from God, but from the governed. Lyons may want to read that document sometime instead of the Christian Revisionist version of it.

As for comments that our country must be Christian due to the fact that federal offices have Sundays off, we celebrate Christmas, and we swear oaths on the Bible, Lyons is mistaking true religion for what is actually mere tradition.

Reverend Lyons ends his piece by citing a Supreme Court ruling (Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States) that supposedly said we live in a Christian nation. He does not tell you that this ruling had absolutely nothing to do with our nation’s history (rather, it dealt with the issue of whether or not church employees were manual laborers). He also does not tell you that Justice David Brewer (who wrote that opinion) disavowed the very interpretation of his writing that Rev. Lyons is using.

The excerpt Lyons provides does not imply that our nation is Christian. Instead, it merely states that most of the population is Christian, a proposition that was (and still is) undoubtedly true. Furthermore, the excerpt was not a part of the formal ruling, and thus, was not a precedent for the future.

Let’s say for a moment, though, that Lyons is correct.

He stated that “the Bible holds a unique place in [our nation’s] founding and in its history.”

Well, so does slavery.

Even if it has a role in our history, that doesn’t make it right. We can change, and in many cases, we must change. If we ever were a “Christian nation” (an incorrect statement in the first place), we no longer are. And we are better off as a result.

Lyons is the same man who declared a few years ago: “Muslim terrorists kill people. Moderate Muslims do not kill people. Moderate Muslims supply the cash to the militant Muslims.”

I wonder if the people in his congregation ever call him out on his mistakes. Does it take an atheist to point out his errors or does the title Reverend imply that he is incapable or making a mistake?

There were many commenters on my website, www.friendlyatheist.com, both religious and non-religious, who offered up the information I’ve presented. We’re all tired of people like Lyons revising history to sound more favorable toward his personal beliefs.

An apology is in order.

  • http://www.jonstrong.net Jon

    If we ever were a “Christian nation” (an incorrect statement in the first place), we no longer are.

    I think you can cut this out. It only opens the possibility that at one time we might have been a Christian nation. This might be nit-picking, but it tripped me up a bit.

    Be careful with the ad hominem attacks; it can be distracting. On the other hand, it might stir up a lively debate.

    Great work!

  • http://www.kellanstec.com Kellan

    Well said. I can’t think of anything else that needs to be included.

    I like your inclusion of the Treaty of Tripoli. Not many people know about that. :D

  • http://michaeldepaula.com Michael DePaula

    Please refer him to a (most excellent) book written by Senior Pastor of the “mega” Woodland Hills Church, Gregory A. Boyd, called “The Myth Of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church“, published by Zondervan.

    I have just finished reading this (after buying a copy for my still-Christian mother) and would highly recommend it to any Christian who is, perhaps, turned off by reading about actual history from any source that is not overtly Christian. I would also recommend it to any atheist wanting to hear a “friendly” Christian voice that strongly dissents from the all too often heard blatherings of the likes of Pat Robertson, et al.

    “Reverend” Vernon C. Lyons, eat your heart out!

  • Don M

    I wonder if the people in his congregation ever call him out on his mistakes. Does it take an atheist to point out his errors or does the title Reverend imply that he is incapable or making a mistake?

    change to:

    I wonder if the people in his congregation ever call him out on his mistakes. Does it take an atheist to point out his errors or does the title Reverend mean it’s okay to make bigoted, ignorant statements (in the name of religion of course)?

    Might be a little too ad hominem … but just a thought. I was thinking how Hitchens has been pointing out that very thing in most of his public speeches and debates lately.

  • http://raphael.doxos.com Huw

    So much has to be denied by those who say we are a “Christian nation” . I like the letter but would add:

    Since his definition is one who “definitely and personally receives the Lord Jesus Christ as our savior.” He has disqualified not only the deists but also the Christians. The theology of “personally receiving” Jesus has only been around since the 1920s or 30s. The puritans were Anglicans as were most of the earliest settlers and many of the founders. Many other were (gasp!) Roman Catholics. They would say they had become Christian at their (mostly infant) Baptism. Only the tiniest minority of these early Americans would have made adult professions of faith *at all*.

  • infideljoe

    To reply to his comment that we were founded as a christian nation. I would quote Thomas Paine “The circumstances of the world are continually changing, and the opinions of men change also; and as government is for the living, and not for the dead, it is the living only that has any right in it. That which may be thought right and found convenient in one age, may be thought wrong and found inconvenient in another. In such cases, Who is to decide, the living, or the dead?”

  • showme

    If you keep this sentence “Does it take an atheist to point out his errors or does the title Reverend imply that he is incapable or making a mistake?”, change “or” to “of”.

  • John

    I’d shorten and tighten the piece up where possible.

    Take out “Lyons may want to read that document sometime instead of the Christian Revisionist version of it.” Sounds snipy, and the paragraph makes its point without it.

    I’d also take out:

    Let’s say for a moment, though, that Lyons is correct.

    He stated that “the Bible holds a unique place in [our nation’s] founding and in its history.”

    Well, so does slavery.

    Even if it has a role in our history, that doesn’t make it right. We can change, and in many cases, we must change. If we ever were a “Christian nation” (an incorrect statement in the first place), we no longer are. And we are better off as a result.

    I think that part is inflammatory, comparing Christianity with slavery. I know that there is cause to do this (parts of the bible endorse slavery), but I think this passage is superfluous to the overall intent of the letter and getting rid of it speeds us along to the excellent summation at the end.

    Let Hitchens/Dawkins/Harris be bad cop. You are our good cop!

  • Jen

    The Constitution explicit says the government’s power comes

    Should be “Explicitly”

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    Wow, infidel joe, that’s a great quote!

  • http://blackskeptic.wordpress.com black skeptic

    Very well written. I learned a thing or two from reading your letter. I hope that the apology is issued!

  • http://uncrediblehallq.blogspot.com Chris Hallquist

    I second Michael’s suggestion about Boyd’s book. Also, Hemant, have you read Susan Jacoby’s /The Freethinkers/? It has some great material about why our Constitution got written the way it did, showing just how significant the first amendment and the no-religious-tests clause were. Some people wanted rules much more open to church-state mingling, but they were defeated. Some states at the time, if I recall correctly, limited the sorts of tests that could be applied–if you were a Christian you were good, if you were a Jew or Protestant you were good, etc.–but the writers of the Constitution decided to let even atheists hold public office. That’s material far more powerful, IMO, than the treaty you cite.

  • Vincent

    I’ll interspurse my suggestions in a hopefully cogent manner.

    . . . .
    His definition of a Christian is someone who “definitely and personally receives the Lord Jesus Christ as our savior.” Yet, that very definition would not apply to the examples he provides. Founding Fathers Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams were all Deists. They believed in a God who created the world, but certainly not in the divinity of Christ or in a God who answers your prayers. Lyons writes that our country was “not founded by Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, or Atheists.” But unlike what Lyons would like to have you believe, it was not founded by a group of Christians, either. Not by his definition.

    If you can find any delegates or revoltionary heroes who were jewish or other non-christian theists it would be nice to point to examples, but I can’t think of any off hand.

    Certainly some of the Founding Fathers were Christian. Still, many original documents –including our own Constitution – were purposely written without references to God and Christianity. That’s a striking omission if our country was, indeed, founded as a Christian nation. To go one step further, the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli xxx said “…the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…” It was Signed by President John Adams and passed unanimously by the Senate whose members included many signers of the Constitution.

    Lyons also wrote that non-Christians do not have fewer rights than Christians. That’s untrue. In fact several state constitutions still contain archaic provisions that atheists cannot run for public office or serve on a jury. Thanks in large part to pastors who spread dishonest remarks about non-religious people, there is also unwritten discrimination in the country in the sense that most people would not even vote for an otherwise qualified candidate if the person was an atheist.

    Also, look at the following statement: “the constitution would not have ratified if there had not been a bill of rights based on the premise that God gives you those rights not the government.”

    This is an utter lie. The Constitution was ratified on June 21, 1788. The Bill of Rights was not even written yet. The Bill of Rights was written in 1789 and ratified on December 15, 1791. The reverend should read his history before making stupid statements like this.

    In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The Constitution explicit says the government’s power comes, not from God, but from the governed.

    Um, no it doesn’t. Now you’re making something up. The Declaration of Independence says governments get their power from the consent of the governed. This isn’t a road you want to take since the DoI says governments are created to protect god-given rights. What you could say is that the 10th amendment acknowledges that all powers not given to the government are “retained” by the people.

    Lyons may want to read that document sometime instead of the Christian Revisionist version of it.

    and so should you

    As for comments that our country must be Christian due to the fact that federal offices have Sundays off, we celebrate Christmas, and we swear oaths on the Bible, Lyons is mistaking true religion for what is actually mere tradition.

    Reverend Lyons ends his piece by citing a Supreme Court ruling (Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States) that supposedly said we live in a Christian nation. He does not tell you that this ruling had absolutely nothing to do with our nation’s history (rather, it dealt with the issue of whether or not church employees were manual laborers). He also does not tell you that Justice David Brewer (who wrote that opinion) disavowed the very interpretation of his writing that Rev. Lyons is using. Brewer later said “the government as a legal organization is independent of all religions.”

    The excerpt Lyons provides does not imply that our nation is Christian. Instead, it merely states that most of the population is Christian, a proposition that was (and still is) undoubtedly true. Furthermore, the excerpt was not a part of the formal ruling, and thus, was not a precedent for the future.

    Let’s say for a moment, though, that Lyons is correct.

    He stated that “the Bible holds a unique place in [our nation’s] founding and in its history.”

    Well, so does slavery. (which the bible condones)

    Even if it has a role in our history, that doesn’t make it right. We can change, and in many cases, we must change. If we ever were a “Christian nation” (an incorrect statement in the first place), we no longer are. And we are better off as a result.

    Lyons is the same man who declared a few years ago: “Muslim terrorists kill people. Moderate Muslims do not kill people. Moderate Muslims supply the cash to the militant Muslims.”

    I wonder if the people in his congregation ever call him out on his mistakes. Does it take an atheist to point out his errors or does the title Reverend imply that he is protected from criticism?

    There were many commenters on my website, http://www.friendlyatheist.com, both religious and non-religious, who offered up the information I’ve presented. We’re all tired of people like Lyons revising history to sound more favorable toward his personal beliefs.

    The Reverend owes patriotic Americans an apology.

  • http://off-the-map.org/atheist/ Siamang

    Vincent said:

    In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The Constitution explicit says the government’s power comes, not from God, but from the governed.

    Um, no it doesn’t. Now you’re making something up.

    “We the People…”.

    From wikipedia:

    The Preamble, especially the first three words (“We the people”), is one of the most quoted and referenced sections of the Constitution. Indeed, they are the three most important words in the Constitution as they denote the Constitution did not come from a king or an emperor, but from the people themselves.
    The language “We, the People of the United States”, is of singular importance in that it provides that the power and authority of the federal government of the United States of America does not come from the several states, or even the people of the several states, but from an entity identified as the People of the United States of America, with the Constitution serving as a compact or contract between the People of the United State of America, the several States, and a newly created entity: the federal government of United States of America.

    The Constitution is a document of the people of the United States granting power to a federal government. It is an ACT of people giving power to the Government. It’s not just talking the talk of explaining why power comes from the governed, it’s walking the walk.

  • Miko

    there is also unwritten discrimination in the country in the sense that most people would not even vote for an otherwise qualified candidate if the person was an atheist.

    A minor point, but AFAIK the polls on this were only asking about presidential candidates. I’m sure that it holds for some other offices as well, but I don’t know of any data to back it up. If you’ve got a source in mind, I’d also suggest replacing “most people” with a percentage to emphasize that you’re not just making it up.

  • Vincent

    Siamang,
    I don’t think you could fairly describe “we the people…establish this constitution” as “explicitly [saying] government’s power comes, not from god, but from the governed.”
    Implicitly maybe.

    Perhaps the controversy can be avoided by saying: the constitution does not say god gives anyone rights. Instead it says we the people give the government its powers, not the other way around.

    I guess my issue is Lyons says the constitution is premised on the idea that god gave us rights, not the government. Hemant says it’s the opposite (which would be that government gave us the rights, not god), which also isn’t true. The constitution is simply silent on where those rights come from. As people, we just have them, and we have chosen to cede some of them to the government. God isn’t even part of the equation.

  • Darryl

    Hemant, if I were you, I’d tidy up this section:

    Also, look at the following statement: “the constitution would not have ratified if there had not been a bill of rights based on the premise that God gives you those rights not the government.” In fact, it’s the exact opposite. The Constitution explicit says the government’s power comes, not from God, but from the governed. Lyons may want to read that document sometime instead of the Christian Revisionist version of it.

    You have two terms going–rights and power–these are not the same thing. You need to finesse this argument in terms of where rights originate, and who holds them; and what power is, who holds power, and by whom and to whom that power is delegated.

  • Maria

    So much has to be denied by those who say we are a “Christian nation” . I like the letter but would add:

    Since his definition is one who “definitely and personally receives the Lord Jesus Christ as our savior.” He has disqualified not only the deists but also the Christians. The theology of “personally receiving” Jesus has only been around since the 1920s or 30s. The puritans were Anglicans as were most of the earliest settlers and many of the founders. Many other were (gasp!) Roman Catholics. They would say they had become Christian at their (mostly infant) Baptism. Only the tiniest minority of these early Americans would have made adult professions of faith *at all*.

    That’s a good point

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  • http://www.vagabondscholar.blogspot.com Batocchio

    I agree with Jon’s suggestion, in the first comment.

    Thanks for mentioning the Treaty of Tripoli. I wasn’t familiar with that one. A good fact to know.

    I don’t think your letter needs much tweaking, but I often point out when theocrats call America a “Christian nation” they’re employing the logical fallacy equivocation. America is a Christian nation by demographics only. It is not a Christian nation legally. As you note, America was expressly set up not to be a theocracy. Theocrats already have equal rights under the law. What they seek is a privileged position.

  • http://pithingcontest.blogspot.com greensmile

    Freedom of religion that does not include freedom from religion is a selfcontradiction and a hoax. Either we are a free people as we have declared, or we are not and one sect or some collection of them have the keys to our chains.

  • Maria

    Freedom of religion that does not include freedom from religion is a selfcontradiction and a hoax. Either we are a free people as we have declared, or we are not and one sect or some collection of them have the keys to our chains.

    I agree

  • http://www.hells-handmaiden.com John

    Very good article, overall. Well done.

    I took a look at Lyon’s piece. I found it rather amusing that he feels the country is based on the Bible, not the Torah. I wonder if he knows what the Torah is?

    Sometime back I wrote a post called “It is fun to use history for Evil” in response to similar claims about America’s Christian founding. The people to whom I responded dug up pre-revolutionary documents to support their case. Of course, they failed to mention that we revolted against the government that granted those charters.

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  • http://www.christiangovernment.ca Timothy Bloedow

    You should check out my Christian government website and new book, “State vs. Church.”