Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Is America a Christian Nation Founded on Judaeo-Christian Values?

Time and again, when ostensibly devout Christians here in America want to exercise their right to discriminate against those who do not share their beliefs, they trot out the well-worn nostrum that “America is a Christian nation” or “America was founded on Judaeo-Christian values” as a justification. This “foundation on Judaeo-Christian values” bit is so important, in fact, that some people even think its appropriate to put large stone monuments commemorating the Ten Commandments in courthouses.

But was America or its laws actually founded on Judaeo-Christian values (to the exclusion, presumably, of all other values)?

Well, to start with, we have the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which states in part:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…
So, given the fact that the founders certainly could have specifically stated that America was a Christian nation founded on Judaeo-Christian values and instead chose to state that would be no official state religion, it certainly seems as though the founders at least didn’t think that their new country was a Christian nation founded on Judaeo-Christian values. But maybe that was just an oversight on their part.

Well, what about Article Six of the very same Constitution, which states in part:
[N]o religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
Again, the founders could have stated that only good, God-fearing Christians would be eligible to serve in public office, but instead chose to say that it essentially didn’t matter what religion (if any) somebody belonged to. Still, maybe they just assumed that all Americans would be Christians and this was to prevent bickering between, say, Catholics and Protestants. Hey — it’s possible, right?
And then, of course, we have the famous “Separation of Church and State” as described by Thomas Jefferson:
I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
But surely Thomas Jefferson was an outlier, right? One wacky “deist” in a sea of devout Christians, obviously. Surely the rest of the founders and early Americans were confident that America was, first and foremost, a Christian nation and were not afraid to announce this fact openly, right? Well, not according to the Treaty of Tripoli, which was submitted to the Senate by President John Adams, received unanimous ratification from the U.S. Senate on June 7, 1797, and states in part:
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 [Muslims]; and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan 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.
But, hey — maybe they were just lying for the sake of getting the treaty done. Not that lying is exactly a “Christian” value, mind you, but that’s politics for you.

OK, so depending on your point of view, it’s either blindingly obvious that the founders of this great country did not think that America was founded on Judaeo-Christian values or else it’s blindingly obvious that none of the facts provided above have anything whatsoever to do with the issue and can be safely ignored (“Nothing to see here, folks, move along”). Fine. For those in the latter camp, however, how about we explore exactly what these supposed “Judaeo-Christian values” actually are and see if they do, in fact, form the foundation of our laws.

First up, of course, is the Ten Commandments, which is seen by many American Christians to be the foundation of U.S. law, to the extent that some would erect statues of the 10 Commandments right in the lobby of courthouses, as mentioned earlier. There are various versions, but here’s the most common list:
  1. Thou shalt have no other gods before me. [Hmmmm… I don’t see that enshrined anywhere in the Constitution or other laws of the United States. In fact, as mentioned above, the First Amendment of the Constitution specifically says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” You’d think that if America were indeed founded on Judaeo-Christian values the first and arguably most important commandment would be called out somewhere, right? Interesting…]
  2. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image. [Hmmmm… Again, I don’t see anything about this mentioned anywhere in the Constitution or other laws of the United States. And it’s kinda ironic that somebody would fight to erect a large graven image of the 10 Commandments in front of a court of law, doncha think?]
  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. [Nope, still not seeing it. One could argue, by the way, that putting “In God We Trust” on our money is a direct violation of this commandment. There’s a reason why observant Jews write “G-D” instead of “God”. Ah, well… moving on!]
  4. Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. [Ah, yes — this must be why we have all those laws prohibiting football games and NASCAR races on Sundays. Oh wait, never mind. As an aside, did anybody else find it hilarious when, after 9/11, everybody started singing “God Bless America” at sporting events held on Sundays? Just me, huh? OK, fine.]
  5. Honour thy father and thy mother. [You know, the Old Testament was really explicit about this one. In fact, Deuteronomy 21:18-21 specifically states that if you have a disobedient child, you need to take them outside and have them stoned to death. Gotta love those old time family values! Regardless, I’m not aware of anything in the Constitution or other laws of the land dealing with this. ]
  6. Thou shalt not kill. [Bingo! We have a winner! This one is definitely in the Constitution. Isn’t it? OK, so it actually isn’t. We do have the nifty Second Amendment right to bear arms, though, so I guess it’s OK to kill in some circumstances. But, what the heck — let’s give this one to them, since there are plenty of English common law statutes dating back hundreds of years that prohibit murder.]
  7. Thou shalt not commit adultery. [Um, yeah. Sorry, no laws against adultery. Which is good, I suppose, since most of the politicians would be in jail. Remember back in 2012 and the only Republican running for president that hadn’t had more than one wife was the Mormon? Good times, good times.]
  8. Thou shalt not steal. [Again, not in the Constitution, but plenty of examples from English common law. So we’ll give it to the Christians. That’s what, 2 out of 8 so far? Hmmmm… In other news, it’s a darn good thing that “steal” doesn’t include manipulating the tax code to avoid paying ones fair share of taxes to contribute to the common good, right? I mean, am I right, or am I right?]
  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.[Not really sure about this one, to be honest. Nothing in the Constitution (again), but plenty of laws regarding perjury in a court of law. That probably counts, so that makes 3 of 9 so far. w00t!]
  10. Thou shalt not covet (thy neighbor’s house, wife, servants, animals, or anything else).[OK, I’m going to go out on a limb here and call this commandment positively un-American on its face. I mean coveting your neighbor’s, well, everything, is what capitalism is all about and is what makes this country so great in the first place, capische? Well, maybe not quite, but there still ain’t any laws against it, and that’s a fact!]
OK, so the final tally from the Ten Commandments is a pretty poor showing of only 3 out of 10. Maybe. Not looking so good for this myth so far, but let’s see what a selection of values described in the New Testament can tell us:
  1. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. [Nope, just a restatement of the first of the 10 Commandments. Nothing to do with the U.S. And remember, according to the Biblical account, Jesus said this was the most important commandment of all, so it seems odd not to have it actually enshrined anywhere in our laws.]
  2. Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. [Nice enough sentiment (and in no way original to Christ’s teachings), but not really enshrined anywhere or officially part of U.S. values.]
  3. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world [Interesting how so many conservative Christians think we need laws to prevent gay marriage and abortions due to “Bible principles” and yet rail against government programs that “force people” (via taxes) to care for the poor, the widowed, the orphans, etc. Suddenly, it’s a bad thing for the government to “force” anybody to follow Biblical principles (when it’s a principle they don’t actually want to follow themselves, of course). I’m just saying…]
  4. Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. [Well, seeing as how the United States spends more on its military than, what, the next top ten countries combined, I’m going to give this one a big fat “NOPE!” There’s also that pesky “right to bear arms” enshrined in the Second Amendment to the Constitution to consider. And as for giving people more than what they ask for if they sue you, well, that alone would put more than half the lawyers in this country out of business, wouldn’t it?]
  5. Judge not, that ye be not judged. [Well, there goes our entire legal system down the drain…]
And so on and so forth. Yes, one could try to abstract the “Judaeo-Christian values” into some sort of core beliefs like “treat individuals with respect” or something, but that’s just a modern gloss on what the scriptures that form the basis of Judaeo-Christian values actually state.
And please, don’t even get me started on all the other Biblical laws that most modern-day Christians wholly write off as not applicable. I mean, it’s vitally important that gay people not be allowed to marry since the Bible says that homosexuality is wrong, but divorce? Eating shrimp? Owning slaves (OK, sorry, that one actually was in the Constitution to start with until the 14th Amendment came along…)

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