Is America a Christian nation?

Summary: The dream of Western civilization is the ascent from the darkness into the light, of improvement by each generation. For two centuries America has overcome (slowly) the ugly parts of our inheritance from the Founders. Civil rights for Blacks, women, gays. Shifting from imperialism to building a new world order after WWII based on our ideals. Creating a large middle class and a society with high social mobility. The Boomers have reversed this process in America. The new Conservative coalition of evangelicals, libertarians, and the Tea Party promises to accelerate this change. Here we benchmark the New America with the values of the Christian part of its ruling coalition.

Looking at the news, perhaps the question should be “how many Christians live in America?” Perhaps not many.

American Flag and the Bible, together

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Contents

  1. War
  2. Torture
  3. Boosting the fortunes of the 1%
  4. Making our prisons a Hell on Earth
  5. How the faithful voted
  6. For More Information

(1)  War

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Our increasing military presence — now expanding into Africa — both results from and drives our involvement in local wars, usually insurgencies against governments of some combination of corrupt, brutal, and tyrannical (that doesn’t imply the insurgents are better, of course).  We justify these by pointing to 9-11, an attack by a transnational terrorist group (unlike the local insurgencies we fight), who staged the attack in order to involve us in these foreign wars.

So we have killed tens of thousands, and the resulting destruction (in which we played a part) has killed hundreds of thousands and plunged nations into ruin. We’ve brought down secular regimes with strong women’s rights in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya (Syria in progress), catapulting their women back centuries in time.

I doubt the Prince of Peace would approve.

(2)  Torture

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It’s quite popular in America (so we’ll be doing more of it), making a mockery of our claim to be a “government of laws, not men“. It’s probably been of little use (no, we’ve not used it to defuse a “ticking time bomb”). Even if torture had “worked”, I doubt Jesus would approve.

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Camel walking through the eye of a needle
Luke 18:25

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(3)  Boosting the fortunes of the 1%

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… at the expense of the bottom 80%

We’ll always have the poor among us (Mark 14:7, Matthew 26:11). I doubt He advocated making more of them.

On the other hand, He favored caring for the poor, so I wonder what he thinks of the Right’s war to repeal ObamaCare’s giving the working poor access to affordable health care?

(4)  Making our prisons a Hell on Earth

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Our “city on a Hill” has a remarkably ugly prison system. Overcrowded, violent, with rape an accepted part of the process. To this day I recall my shock at watching the Walker Texas Ranger episode “Division Street” (originally aired 3 February 2001), in which ex-cons tell young kids about jail in Texas: “After a week — after one day — six feet under ain’t gonna look so bad. In prison you ain’t nothing but little girls. Fresh meat, baby. ” Many studies prove the truth of his words. They are especially poignant in a show that so often mentions God and Jesus, about a State run by evangelicals and other church-going (but not necessarily God-fearing) folk.

Such references have become commonplace on our screens. We calmly watch police interrogations in which witnesses are threatened with overnight stays in jail — closeted with violent men, and certain anal rape. Entertainment in America. The Founders hoped for better from us, as in one of their favorite descriptions of their dream:

For we must consider that we shall be a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword though the world.

— John Winthrop, A Model of Christian Charity (1630)

(5)  Politics and Religion: how the faithful vote

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We are the developed nation with the largest fraction of libertarians and devout Christians. They, along with the self-professed “Tea Party”, have formed a political coalition that has begun to re-shape America — working (oddly) in the interests of the 1%. The relationship between these groups has been well-researched, but remains poorly understood by the public.

(a) Inside the GOP: focus groups with Evangelical, Tea Party, and moderate Republicans“, Democracy Corps, 3 October 2013
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Pew Poll: Political Party by Religion
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(b) 2013 American Values Survey: In Search of Libertarians in America“, Public Religion Research Institute, 29 October 2013
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PRRI: Poll of overlap among the Tea-Party, Evangelicals, and Libertarians
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(c)  Also see these polls:

  1. Church Attendance and Party Identification“, Gallup, 18 May 2005 — “Frequency of church attendance strongly related to partisanhip”. More = GOP partisanship.
  2. How the Faithful Voted: 2014 Preliminary Analysis“, Pew Research, 5 November 2014
Fake George Washington Quote about God and the Bible
The GOP is testing George’s theory (although it’s a fake quote)

For More Information

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See this afternoon’s follow-up post: The polls tell us America is a Christian nation, with a Republican, Creationist, pro-torture heartland.

See all posts about Libertarians and the Tea Party.

Other posts about Christianity:

  1. Should we fear that religion whose believers have killed so many people?, 4 August 2010
  2. Wisdom of Rush Limbaugh: Are *YOU* a good Christian, like Joseph Kony of the Lord’s Resistance Army?, 16 October 2011 — If Obama’s against them, Rush is for them.
  3. God and the Tea Party Movement, 30 March 2012
  4. The difference between Christianity & Libertarianism marks a line between America & the New America, 11 February 2013
  5. Is America a Christian nation?, 19 December 2014
  6. The polls tell us America is a Christian nation, with a Republican, Creationist, pro-torture heartland, 19 December 2014

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10 thoughts on “Is America a Christian nation?

  1. I haven’t done a reliable quantitative survey, but my impression from those who vociferously post on online comments, newspaper letters columns, etc. is that, oddly, the people who believe that organized religion (preferably Christian, or at least JudeoChristian, but not IslamoJudeoChristian) is the foundation of morality, and that atheism or even separation of church and state result in no morality; are more inclined to support torture, as long as it’s useful. And to some degree, even if it’s not useful, as long as it’s torture of “them”, not “us”.

  2. Neat stuff from Democracy Core n Gallup.

    Quite depraved place this Country has become. Only a third oppose Torture? Enough said. These type of sociological things take time to develop, are based on causative ideas and will continue unabated for some time. Fairly obvious now just anecdotally viewing common interactions of people

    Breton

  3. I have no quarrel with the substance of any of these observations. They are sad, disturbing, and true.

    I do wish folks who could and should know better would stop reinforcing the misconception that “libertarian” means what today’s American conservatives think it means. (They seem to mean something like the political component of Objectivism.) When a word has a history of over 200 years, casually redefining it to fit the contemporary balance of power has the effect of excluding valuable and long-considered perspectives from discussion, and eventually even from thought.

    In some quarters, of course, that is the point. In this forum, I’m confident that it is an unintended side-effect. None-the-less, it leads to easy ignorance of the fact that “freedom” can be, and long has been, conceptualized as something deeper than a death match with rules.

    1. Coises,

      I do not understand your comment.

      Political labels, as commonly used (i.e., outside academia) refer to the people living today who self-identify with the term.

      18th century libertarians had little in common with those of today. Ditto conservatives or liberals. The meaning of political terms changes over time. Awareness of those changes provides a useful perspective, but the past meanings of these labels are no more real or accurate than those used today.

      The map is not the territory. The label is not the thing itself.

    2. According to the Wikipedia article I linked, the redefinition to which I object is unique to the United States:

      The term libertarianism originally referred to a philosophical belief in free will but later became associated with anti-state socialism and Enlightenment-influenced political movements critical of institutional authority believed to serve forms of social domination and injustice. While it has generally retained its earlier political usage as a synonym for either social or individualist anarchism through much of the world, in the United States it has since come to describe pro-capitalist economic liberalism more so than radical, anti-capitalist egalitarianism.

      So it’s not really a “past meaning”; just one that mainstream discourse in the United States has chosen to marginalize by changing the meaning of the language used, in the past and in the present, to talk about it.

    3. Coises,

      I have no idea what you are attempting to say. The Wikipedia article clearly states that the first use of the term “liberarian” dates back to the 18th century, and has (like all political labels) varied over time and space.

      As for the “by changing the meaning”, that makes no sense at all to me. Libertarians are quite clear and extremely vocal what they mean (with the usual high degree of variation among them, as with all political labels). They need no help. They’re valuable useful idiots for the 1%.

    4. In more practical terms, it troubles me because most Americans have come to believe that libertarian socialism is an oxymoron. There is a whole quadrant of political belief (e.g., lower left here) that is barely considered in the US, because the (mis)use of language has led people to believe it can’t logically exist.

    5. Coises,

      I don’t share your fascination with labels, or the unrealistic expectation that some central bureau will devise and enforce clear definitions for political terms. Discussing the labels is imo a waste of time, although that appears to be a minority opinion.

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