Is America really a Christian nation?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 23, 2012

I find the resurgence of the, “We are a Christian nation” rallying cry of Christian fundamentalists (by which I was reared) to be the unfortunate and misguided reaction to well-founded anger and fear over the occurrences of the past two decades.

I readily acknowledge that as Western Europeans, our forefathers (and foremothers) were frustrated with the approved Protestant Church of England. When they arrived on these shores, en masse in the mid-17th century, they formed settlements and embraced their various Christian denominations: Methodist, Baptist, Moravian, Quaker, and others.

I concede that there appears to be no mosques or gathering of Muslims, but there also appears to be no Jewish synagogue, Buddhist temple, Jehovah’s Witnesses hall, or Mormon temple either.

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I am aware that Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses were not instituted until the 19th Century, but use them for admitted affect based on the acceptance by my same fundamentalist friends who likely will vote for a Mormon this election.

What I will not concede is that the framers of our founding documents, fighters for our liberty, and promoters of our rights around the world were all fundamentalist Christians.

Some, such as Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Ethan Allen and John Adams, to name a few, had an 18th Century respect for logic and the sciences.

Many of their beliefs, at most, were indeterminate deism, often represented in phrases such as, “Nature’s God” and “Providence.” Did George Washington bend a knee and pray to Jesus at Valley Forge or did he pray to the less-committed version of “Providence” or did he even perform that act oft-replicated in paintings?

I do not know, nor do I care. I do not think it is important to my spirituality or to my standing in America.

Based on the knowledge and the limited additional cultural influences of their day, our founding fathers were radical in ensuring that one denomination would not have any voice politically over another. One example is the “wall of separation” between church and state.

This is one reason we do not have a national tithe (many European countries had this and some still do). I thank our founding fathers for sparing us that.

Over the past two centuries as new cultures arrived on the same shores as our ancestors, we had very little issue with them bringing the elements of their culture, such as food, clothing, art, and even their religious beliefs. I am unabashedly proud of America for this.

We have been improved as a society for permitting the cultures of Latin America, India, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East to participate in the great experiment of a free Republic. We have learned much regarding the peace-loving religions and philosophies of Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, and Confucianism.

My Christian fundamentalist friends showed great love and acceptance from my earliest memories. I am honored to live in such a tolerant society. We may have been founded on Christian principles, but I must avow that, while the majority of America’s population is Christian, it does not mean that our government is, or should be, a Christian government. It should remain secular with the Wall of Separation protecting me when on either side of that wall.

It appears this recent vitriol (and even violence, such as that against peaceful Sikhs the domestic terrorist likely took for Muslims) originated from the anger and fear that tore through our beings on Sept. 11, 2001, when the angry and ugly faces of Islamic extremism were appropriately plastered on our televisions as the perpetrators of the heinous murders of that day.

The fear is well-founded; however, fear is a poor catalyst of proper actions — one can look at the internment camps for Japanese-Americans during the second world war as just one example. We appropriately disdain, despise and castigate all people who would harmfully exploit our openness to other cultures.

Instead of reacting to the hatred and fear that exploded in our beings over 9/11 (and even events in the 1990s), let us remain great, free, and accepting, and deal with violent extremism with thoughtful, sober, and calculated actions (the virtues that made us the greatest nation on earth).

I have hope that we will not continue to isolate and constantly remind our fellow citizens who hold other beliefs than our own that our government is being gracious by allowing them to be here — they are America, they are our government, they are our collective identity, they are us and we them.

I also hope we do not stoop (or stop stooping) to the level of the extremists and get the blood of innocents on our own hands.

Tony Burge, Sr.