Reverend Needs a History Lesson

A few weeks ago, I noted my frustration with a local reverend who wrote an error-laden article about how our country is a “Christian nation.”

I asked for your help in writing a rebuttal and this was the draft I came up with thanks to your input.

It was finally published as a letter-to-the-editor in today’s paper.

Here’s what it said:

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. In fact, his definition would also rule out the Anglicans and Roman Catholics who founded our country.

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.

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.

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 it’s okay to make bigoted, ignorant statements (in the name of religion of course)?

At least one Christian agrees with me: Pastor Gregory Boyd is the author of The Myth of a Christian Nation and stresses that our country is not and never has been a “Christian nation.”

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.

The Reverend owes patriotic Americans an apology.

Thanks for your help, everyone.


[tags]atheist, atheism, Christian nation, Vernon Lyons, pastor, Jesus, Christ, Founding Fathers, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Deist, Hindu, Buddhist, Jew, Muslim, Anglican, Roman Catholic, Treaty of Tripoli, Christmas, Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, David Brewer, Gregory Boyd, The Myth of a Christian Nation[/tags]

  • Maria

    nicely done

  • http://www.kellanstec.com Kellan

    Awesome work!

  • Carlos

    As a Christian, I do agree with your article. It can, however, be stated that the United States of America was founded by men who believed in God be they deists or Christians.

  • Vincent

    Good work.
    I doubt the accuracy of this sentence:

    Certainly some of the Founding Fathers were Christian.

    at least, if you are still using Mr. Lyons’ definition of Christian that you were just talking about. I think the idea of having a personal relationship with Christ is a 19th century invention.

    And Carlos, no one ever claimed the nation was not founded by people who believed in god. They probably all did, or at most were agnostic. A deist was once described as an atheist before Darwin. When there’s no explanation for the diversity of life, it’s hard not to assume divine intervention. But did they personally accept Jesus? None of those the average American can name did.

  • Lee

    I think it is useful in this subject matter to keep in mind the books written by some of our nation’s founding fathers.

    Thomas Jefferson re-crafted the New Testament to remove the supernatural aspects of Jesus in order to view the morality and philosophies of the man. One of his goals was to get rid of the fluff added by priests and others.

    Thomas Paine critiques organized religion and the infallibility claims about the Bible in his book “The Age of Reason”.

    Both of these men were Naturalistic in their views, and most of our founding fathers were of the Age of Enlightenment.

    In the wake of the headlines and the conflicts we are experiencing currently, I believe we are overdue for a revisitation of the Age of Enlightenment. After all, it is the rationale and logic of the men of this age that spawned our nation… so, I guess it could be said that ours is a nation built upon the foundation of Reason and Enlightenment.

  • HappyNat

    It can, however, be stated that the United States of America was founded by men who believed in God be they deists or Christians.

    Which is what Hemant states in the letter.

  • J.S.Brown

    Thank you, Hemant, for taking the time to respond to Mr. Lyons’ article. The myth that the U.S. is founded on Christianity needs to be dealt with on a regular basis. Believing the myth undoubtedly makes ignoring the separation clause much easier for many Christian citizens.

  • Karen

    Excellent job, Hemant! I’m so glad they printed it. :-)

  • Justin Allen

    thanks for submitting such a letter in response to a continued underlying desire on the part of christians for there to be a connection between church and state. as a jesus follower myself i do not want there to be a connection between church and state–”W” has already proved that the connection can be destructive.

  • Darryl

    This message needs to be heard often in order to counteract, if possible, the propaganda from the religious right. The myth of a Christian founding has become a part of the faith, of the theology, of fundamentalists now. It’s a product of the intrusion of religion into politics. I think a history of this time will show the disastrous results of this intrusion. The fundies are just too hyped and too stupid to see the obvious warning signs that are already present.

    Both of these men were Naturalistic in their views, and most of our founding fathers were of the Age of Enlightenment.

    In the wake of the headlines and the conflicts we are experiencing currently, I believe we are overdue for a revisitation of the Age of Enlightenment. After all, it is the rationale and logic of the men of this age that spawned our nation… so, I guess it could be said that ours is a nation built upon the foundation of Reason and Enlightenment.

    I am reminded often, when I hear our “leaders” pontificate from Washington, how shallow, empty, and stupid our leaders are compared to our Founding Fathers. The argument can be made that intellectually we are and have been in decline since the early 19th century. Jefferson was right when he guessed that the Republic which the Fathers bequeathed us wouldn’t last longer than 100 years.
    There is never greater philosophical clarity and ideological fervor than at the beginning of a great project. Would anyone doubt that the Fathers would rip us all a new one if they could see what our nation has become?

  • http://globalizati.wordpress.com globalizati

    The Badger Count:
    41,989 words (~112 pages)

  • Maria

    The Badger Count:
    41,989 words (~112 pages)

    LOL, wow, is he still going?

  • Richard Wade

    globalizati, we’re all very grateful to you and the other intrepid troll trackers for keeping Trollanosaurus Rex occupied over at that other posting. As long as he stays there and doesn’t wander around, fine.

  • Carlos

    What’s the badger count?

    edit:

    Never mind, I just figured out what you are talking about. That guys pretty long winded huh?

  • Keith

    Hemant, nice job on the article … very well thought out.

    BTW, Richard, you’re comedy over on Badger’s lair had me rolling on the floor. I’ll never listen to rawhide the same way again.

  • Richard Wade

    Thanks Keith.
    There’s another song parody I did last night. I’m really making fun of the others who keep getting suckered into endlessly feeding the troll but they just don’t get it. If nobody responds to him, after ten or twenty more comments he’ll shrivel up and die.

    It’s best not to use his name. He might see it in the “Recent Comments” box and come over to infest this posting. Use “Trollannosaurus Rex,” or “The SteamTroller,” or “He Who Must Not Be Fed.”

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Calling Thomas Jefferson a deist isn’t quite accurate. He was obviously no orthodox Christian, but his views were a little more complicated than that of a watchmaker God. See the comments of Ed Brayton’s post “Judge Jones on the Founding Fathers”.

  • Keith

    It’s best not to use his name. He might see it in the “Recent Comments” box and come over to infest this posting. Use “Trollannosaurus Rex,” or “The SteamTroller,” or “He Who Must Not Be Fed.”

    Thanks for the tip, Richard. And yet another fine parody. :-)