Christian Nation Irony

It seems unlikely that at any point in the past the vast majority of inhabitants of the United States were devout Christians with a personal faith, as opposed to nominal Christians for whom their Christianity consisted largely of a “tribal identity” including churchgoing and assenting to some doctrinal beliefs and moral precepts.

Does it not seem ironic, then, that the notion of American having once been a “Christian nation”, and nostalgia for that bygone golden age, is found largely among Evangelicals, those very Christians who emphasize the need for a personal faith, and the inadequacy of a Christianity that consists merely of church attendance, denominational affiliation, or even moral living?

Am I missing something? Why would the very Christians who deny the adequacy of such nominal Christianity today, depict its heyday as a sort of golden age for American Christianity?

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  • Angie Van De Merwe

    I follow a blog site "American Creation", which has been discussing the disagreement of whether America was a Christian nation or not. A good post pointed out that America was a "protestant" nation and argued that "protestants" were protesting the institutional church. Thus, our separation of Church and State. It is an interesting blog site for those interested in our American identity.

  • Angie Van De Merwe

    I think the disagreement "rises or falls" on the question of whether there is a "supernatural identity" or not. Can a human being be totally identitified apart from their material and historical contexts…Paul's argument of our "transcendental" identity. But, I think this has led to a disengagement from the "real world" as a whole. It separated the spiritual and the natural too starkly. And I find that this has resulted in the sectarian nature of evangelicalism….

  • missivesfrommarx

    Interesting thoughts, though I would challenge the basic assumption. How can you posit a distinction between "devout" and "nominal" without implying that there is a true Christianity? I'm not aware that a mutually agreed upon criteria has been found that will allow us to determine what is truly Christian and what is not.To rephrase: is there a way to make a distinction between nominal and devout without relying on a test for orthodoxy?

  • James F. McGrath

    I didn't mean to sound like I was assuming a particular reification of Christianity. I simply meant to point out that Evangelicals generally define Christianity in terms of personal faith, and yet ironically tend to be the ones who hanker after a time when the majority were what Evangelicals would call nominal Christians.Sorry for not being clearer…

  • Eamon Knight

    Cynic that I am (but I think I'm right), I take it as a transparent attempt to swell the ranks, making Evangelical Christianity look like a major historical force, and the fount of American national virtue. That the Christians in question are dead makes them convenient conscripts, as they are unable to object.My perception is that this is a relatively recent development. Back in my Evangelical days (roughly, the 1970s and early 1980s), I recall the perception as being that Christians with a personal faith had never been more than a minority. I think the rise of the Religious Right changed this. But I may have been insulated from American Evangelical self-perceptions, by being both Canadian, and not yet politically aware (young, pre-occupied with school, etc).And to 'missivesfrommarx': I don't think James' question is about True Christianity[tm] (a mirage), but about the reported belief and practice of self-identified Christians. There are those whose religion emphasizes a "personal relationship with Christ" vs. those who treat it as a tribal identity centered around ritual participation and observing a few cultural shibboleths — into which group do the majority of Christians past and present, fall?(Yes, I realize that the "personal faith" crowd is itself just setting up another tribe with attendant markers — but it is a tribe explicitly constructed to be distinct from the "nominal Christian" tribe. Attempting to co-opt the latter in when convenient, but excluding them otherwise, is disingenuous.)

  • bpabbott

    Angie, you are correct, this is a common topic at American Creation. However, the topic of orthodox or otherwise, is more a common thread.Trying to corral the founders themselves or the citizens into specific categories of the Christian faith doesn't play out very well. Especially, when much of what is considered to be basic tenents of the Christian faith are absent in many who thought of themselves as Christian. For example, Trinitarian belief, the divinity of Jesus, etc.Describing the founders as Christian, Evangelical, etc requires special attention as to what those terms are intended to mean.In general, nearly all of the founding period referred to themselves as Christian, but to include all of them under one umbrella requires a rather liberal understanding of the term.

  • Scott F

    I think Eamon is on it. This is a rather handy variation on the conflicting notions held in many an evangelical head – "We are the Silent Majority" and "We are the Precious Remnant of the True Faith." By pushing the Silent Majority into the Golden Past, the cognitive dissonance is relieved and the ringing noise in their ears abates.

  • Lex Fear

    I completely agree.A rarity for me I know.

  • Drew Tatusko

    Because they are wrong and have re-written history to substantiate a false ideology. Like dinosaurs as pets for Ken Ham.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    I suppose there's some truth to your opinion, sir. Certainly the majority of Americans weren't Jerry Falwells. But in going after the evangelicals, it misses the larger truth, and calling America's Christianity "nominal" is a bridge too far."…there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America."—Tocqueville, c. 1831More Tocqueville [cribbed from the internet]:(1.) “The philosophers of the 18th century explained in a very simple manner the gradual decay of religious faith. Religious zeal, said they, must necessarily fail the more generally liberty is established and knowledge diffused. Unfortunately, the facts by no means accord with their theory. There are certain populations in Europe whose unbelief is only equaled by their ignorance and debasement; while in America, one of the freest and most enlightened nations in the world, the people fulfill with fervor all the outward duties of religion�?(2.) "The sects [different denominations] that exist in the United States are innumerable. They all differ in respect to the worship which is due to the Creator; but they all agree in respect to the duties which are due from man to man. Each sect adores the Deity in its own peculiar manner, but all sects preach the same moral law in the name of God…. All the sects of the United States are comprised within the great unity of Christianity, and Christian morality is everywhere the same … There is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America."(3.) “The revolutionists of America are obliged to profess an ostensible respect for Christian morality and equity, which does not permit them to violate wantonly the laws that oppose their designs … Thus while the law permits the Americans to do what they please, religion prevents them from conceiving, and forbids them to commit, what is rash or unjust�?(4.) "On my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more I perceived the great political consequences resulting from this new state of things…"(5.) "Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions … I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion – for who can search the human heart? – but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to the whole nation and to every rank of society."

  • liberal pastor

    What is doubly ironic is that the supposed golden era reached its peak in the 1950's without the help of evangelicals in the political arena. They were intentionally uninvolved with a country that was not in their view sufficiently Christian.But for the last two decades they have had a prominent place at the political table and what do we have to show for it? The country has gone to hell in a handbasket, at least from their perspective. (From mine too with regards to what their wonderful Christian Presidents have done to the country.)How ironic, though, that they have such a rosy view of a period in time that they had virtually no part in shaping – again, politically.

  • missivesfrommarx

    Yes, if your point is that the very people that evangelicals would criticize as nominal Christians are also ones they want to enlist in their imagined "Christian nation" then I see your point. Rock on.

  • James Pate

    Because, at least when nominal Christianity ruled the day, people were kept in check, according to the conservative evangelicals' standards. It's related to the way that they romanticize the 1950's.

  • ElderChild

    DISCLAIMER: The following testimony is given regarding the religious systems of this wicked world, not individuals. Recorded for revelation, not condemnation, in hopes there would be those who would "see" and "hear", for all who do so will "Come out of her"(this world and it's systems of religion) indeed and Truth! Who is the 'catholic/christian' 'jesus'? Truth is that the name 'jesus' is the transliteration of a name into english from the latin 'Iesus", latin being the language of pagan catholicism! And so it is that all biblical translations from pagan greek manuscripts are prejudiced according to the will of christianity's latin mother, she who calls herself catholicism. Consider, those 'bibles' translated from the pagan greek manuscripts. Why is it that most all of those 'bibles' transliterate The Name of The Messiah as "jesus"? That question needs be asked because "jesus" is the transliteration of The Messiah's GOD given birth Name from the latin language "Iesus", not the greek "Iesous"! The correct and proper transliteration of The Messiah's GOD given birth Name from the pagan greek manuscripts would be "Jesous" in modern day english. So who, or what, gave the translators the liberty, or the authority, to change the greek "scriptures" as they did when they used the pagan latin, rather than the pagan greek transliteration of The Messiah's GOD given birth Name? Truth IS the name 'jesus' was first "imag"ined some six hundred years past! Truth IS there was no 'j' sound in the english language prior to that time! Truth IS the name 'jesus' was not spoken for some 1400 years after The Messiah ascended unto HIS HIS GOD and Father! And The Messiah's GOD is The GOD of His Brethren and The Messiah's Father is The Father of His Brethren. The Messiah, "ascended to His GOD" and was the "first-born of many Brethren", The Messiah was "The Beginning of The Creation of The Only True GOD". The Messiah('christ') is "the mediator between The Only True GOD and man". The Messiah's GOD given Hebrew birth Name when translated into today's english would be Jo(e)shua for the greek word "Iesous" used for the Name of The Messiah is the same greek word used in the greek translation of The Old Covenant for "Jo(e)shua", the son of Nun. Should not The Son of The Only True GOD be called by The Name given to Him by His Father and GOD? Yet His exalted title is The Messiah, The Son of The Living GOD, for as there is only One True GOD, so also there is only One True Messiah, Ye(ah)shua (Jo(e)shua in modern day english)The Son of GOD! And The Messiah testified, "I ascend to My GOD and your GOD, to My Father and your Father"! Truth also testifies that the name 'jesus' was "imag"ined during a time 'the god of this world'(he who is "the father of lies") and his 'christianity' declared to be the 'reformation'. Prior to the 'reformation' there was no 'j' sound in the english language and there never has been a 'j' sound or letter in the greek or Hebrew language! Indeed 'catholicism' was reformed, in the sense of being restructured and made to appear differently outwardly. The various 're-formed' systems of religion were, and are, her offspring! And they all bear the 'mark' of their 'god' 'jesus'! Either they name one head of their three headed pagan 'god' 'jesus' or they make the one they call 'jesus' their 'god', or declare their 'jesus' to be but an angel or prophet. All of pagan 'catholicism's' so-called 'christian' daughters are but harlot systems of religion fornicating with ' the god of this world', he who is "the father of lies".They fornicate with "the god of this world" because "they love his world, it's things", and "their own lives in and of his evil, wicked world!" The Messiah testified of an "evil world" and He ascended to His GOD and Father! And The Messiah's GOD and Father is also The GOD and Father of The Messiah's Brethren, HE WHO IS The ONLY TRUE GOD", HE WHO Has No 'god' nor 'father', for HE IS "The One GOD, Father of ALL"! (continued)

  • ElderChild

    "Truth" Tesifies: "The Messiah is The Son of The Living GOD"! catholic/christian" folklore: 'jesus' is 'god' or 1/3 of a 'god' or an angel or ???? "Truth" Tesifies: "Love your enemies! Turn the other cheek"! "catholic/christian" folklore: fight and war in the flesh! kill your enemies. "Truth" Tesifies: "The world is evil"! Come out of her, MY people"! catholic/christian" folklore: we can change this world and make it 'better'. "Truth" Tesifies: "The WHOLE world lies in wickedness"! catholic/christian" folklore: there are righteous nations, the usa and others. "Truth" Tesifies: "Love not the world or the things of this world"! "catholic/christian" folklore: love this world and thank 'god' for it's things. "Truth" Tesifies: "Pagans observe days, months and years"! "catholic/christian" folklore: christmas, easter, halloween, 'good' friday, etc. "Truth" Tesifies: "Serve The Only True GOD and HIM alone"! "catholic/christian" folklore: serve family, country and their "imag"ined 'god'. "Truth" Tesifies: GOD asks, "What building will you build unto ME"? "catholic/christian" folklore: various buildings dedicated to their "imag"ined 'god'. "Truth" Tesifies: "As The Messiah suffered so His Brethren will suffer"!" catholic/christian" folklore: eat, drink, be merry, especially during x-mass season. "Truth" Tesifies: "GOD helps those who cry unto HIM for help"! "catholic/christian" folklore: 'god' helps those who help themselves."Truth" Tesifies: "NO man has seen The Only True GOD"! "catholic/christian" folklore: many saw their "imag"ined 'god' 'jesus'. "Truth" Tesifies: "GOD is Spirit and a Spirit has not flesh and bones"! "catholic/christian" folklore: except for their "imag"ined 'god' 'jesus' that is."Truth" Tesifies: "When you pray do so in private"! "catholic/christian" folklore: pray aloud so that others might hear. "Truth" Tesifies: "Swear not! Let your yes, be yes, your no, no"! "catholic/christian" folklore: put your hand on their 'bible' and swear to their 'god'. The Messiah testified, "That they might know YOU, The ONLY TRUE GOD, and The Messiah, Whom YOU have sent"! The Messiah testified, "Love Your Enemies"! islam, judaism, catholicism, christianity,,, etc. Religious systems of this world and all alike they are, for they have fought and killed both near and far; And then once a week or multiples times a day they pray, yet as hypocrites they begin each new day; Days that are filled with deceit and lies, for in their religious systems Truth cannot abide; And so the fruit of death is born of their religious ways, for life is but a pawn in the wicked game they play! (continued)

  • ElderChild

    "Pure religion and undefiled before G-D The Father is this, to visit the fatherless (those children who know not The Only True G-D, Father(Creator) of ALL) and widows(those who have not "experienced The Messiah and The Power{Our Father} that raised Him from among the dead") in their affliction and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the world……." (James 1:27)Simply, all other religion is impure and defiled……. And notice that "pure and undefiled" religion is for the individual, a Brother or Sister doing The Will of Our Father, led of The Holy, Set Apart, Spirit……. And "Brothers and Sisters" is not "religion", for what are Brothers and Sisters if not Family? Would not The Family of The Only True G-D, Father(Creator) of ALL, "The Body of The Messiah", be much closer than a natural, fleshly family? What is declared to be "religion" today is truly the devil's playground……. Multitudes have been seduced by " the commandments and doctrines of men", the devil's theo'ry'logical advocates! And theo'ry'logy has bound the common people in the chains of "strong delusion". The Only True GOD has given HIS Call to "Come out of her, MY people", unto all who are held captive by this wicked, evil world and it's seductive religious systems, and especially the ones called "catholicism" and "christianity". Because of them, "The Way of Truth is evil spoken of" ;-( (2 Peter 2:2)"The mother of harlots", "catholicism", and her "protesting" "christian" daughters, as well as today's "judaism" and "islam", are but seductive harlots fornicating with 'the god of this world'! They believe in, and are authors of, death! The Messiah testified, "Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die!" And then He qestioned, "Do you believe this?" YES! And you? Do you believe?The Only True GOD would have us "set our affections on things above". For HIS Children desire that which is eternal, and have quit serving 'time' in the prison that is this wicked world. And HIS Children have heeded The Call to repent and: "Come out of her, MY people!" They have "Come out" of this wicked, evil world and it's systems of religion for they realize that "the WHOLE(not just a portion) world is under the control of the evil one". (I John 5:19) Sadly, a wicked, worldly "christianity" and "catholicism" are reasons why "The Way of Truth is evil spoken of"! (2 Peter 2:2) Yet there is Hope! For Miracles do happen! Hope is there would be those who "set their affections on things above", Heavenly things, for all who do so will quit serving 'time' in the prison that is this world! Worldly systems but feed "the lust of the eye, the lust of the flesh and the pride of life" and such systems are of mankind's "imag"ination, and mankind's "imag"ination is under the dominion of "the father of lies", he who is "the god of this world", he who is "d"evil spirit of darkness that genders but death, destruction, perversion, fear, confusion, greed, lust,,,,, "every evil work"! Sadly, mankind's "imag"ination is destroying the earth(land, air, water, vegetation, creatures) and perverting that which is Spirit(Light, Truth, Life, Love, Peace, Mercy, Faith, Grace, Hope,,,,,,, etc.). Please take heed unto The Only True GOD's Call and "Come out of her, MY people"! Come out of the perverse, destructive, evil world and it's sytems of religion! Once again, "Pure religion and undefiled before GOD The Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself uncontaminated by the world." (James 1:27) Simply, all other religion is impure and defiled! So heed The Call and "Come Out"!Experience Peace in Truth, in spite of the dis-ease(no-peace) that is of this wicked world and it's systems of religion, for "the WHOLE world is under the control of the evil one" indeed and Truth……. francis

  • James F. McGrath

    ElderChild, you may be unaware of the niceties of blog etiquette, but filling three comments with things that are not directly related to the post on which one is commenting is considered spamming.If you make no further posts (unless they are short ones actually discussing the subject of a particular post) and leave it at that, I'll let it slide this time, and assume you simply didn't know better.

  • Angie Van De Merwe

    Elder Child,If your "I" must die for others, then, my "I" must demand that your "I" submit to my "I"s adversion to your type of supernaturalism.Then, what? My "I" is empowered, through your "I"s disempowerment. I don't believe this is just!

  • Anonymous

    ah, they just don't make old-timey fundie mysogynists like this anymore.

  • Matt Kelley

    Two words: revisionist history