Thursday, June 10, 2010

If you don't turn the other cheek...

I'm finding myself quite fed-up with the "Christian Nation" zealots. These are the people who claim that because most of our founding fathers were Christian and believed in Christian principals, we are therefore a "Christian Nation." I've never been able to follow the logical leap required for their argument, but let us accept it as true and see how our supposedly Christian Nation was set up to follow Christ.  If we are a Christian Nation (rather than a nation founded by and of mostly Christians) then there should be some evidence that we, as a nation, follow the teachings of Christ.

Lets look at one of Christ's key teachings:
You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
That is pretty strong stuff. And it's not just a one-liner allowing you interpretive license to say he really meant something else. Christ uses multiple examples of how his followers are supposed to behave peaceably toward aggression and give to anyone who asks - there isn't any ambiguity. If we are a "Christian Nation," then shouldn't this central idea of non-aggression be reflected in our laws? I can't find anything remotely like it. Indeed, I'm not sure that many gun-toting, lawyer-hating Americans would want to live in a country whose laws require turning the other cheek to an assailant and giving double to someone who sues you. So strike one - if we are a Christian Nation, there is no evidence in our laws.

As we are not explicitly (or legally) a Christian Nation, perhaps we are implicitly a Christian Nation because of our founders beliefs and behaviors. That is, perhaps it is "tradition" that makes us a Christian Nation. If so, then Christ's teachings should be identifiable in our nation's behavior over the last couple centuries. Let's see, we've been struck on the right cheek a number of times: Barbary pirates in the 1800s, the British invasion in 1812, Fort Sumter in 1861, Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the World Trade Center in 2001. I don't seem to recall us turning the other cheek. Indeed, there are other times where we only imagined being struck on the right cheek (most notably the Mexican-American war and the Spanish-American war) and behaved in a distinctly un-Christian manner. To get to the nub of the problem, I'm not sure how to reconcile Christ's teaching of non-aggression with our Declaration of Independence and our Revolution. Why didn't the founders turn the other cheek to the British wrongs? Wouldn't that be the Christian thing to do? I doubt there are many Christians out there that want a government actually acting on Christian principals. Indeed, the only example of unabashed governmental "Christian" behavior appears to the Bush administration's bank bailouts: "...give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." He definitely followed Christ on that one. So strike two - as a nation, we have not consistently followed Christian principals.

I wish we could put this whole thing to rest. I wish we had some clear legal statement from our early days that we are not a Christian Nation. Then we could get on with being the mixed-up nation that we are and dispense with this nonsense. Oh, wait a minute, there's this treaty with the Bey of Tripoli that was ratified by the U.S. Senate on June 7, 1797, only 10 years after the U.S. Constitution was signed.  The treaty was signed into law by our second president and founding father, John Adams. Article 11 of the treaty reads
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, - as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Mussulmen, - and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mohametan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
Strike three. Now if only facts could shut up the wanna-be Christian Ayatollahs.

Religion in government is about power, not grace.

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