Is America really a Christian nation?

Curtis Powers

Is America a Christian nation? With the election season descending upon us in full force, it’s a topic that has resurfaced with prominence in the past few weeks thanks in large part to Glenn Beck with assistance from Sarah Palin. Who else, right?

As college students, you’ve probably heard various theories ranging from the Founding Fathers being Bible-believing Christians, to them being atheists. If you haven’t, you should check out the movie, “Split: A Divided America,” on Hulu. It was made in 2008 and explores why there is such political polarization these days which includes theories about the Founding Fathers.

As mentioned above, the actual event that sparked this article comes from Glenn Beck. He held a revivalist gathering on the Mall in D.C. calling the nation back to God along with taking back civil rights. Something like that anyway. Sarah Palin was there, too, so you know it was definitely legit.

And in case you missed it, this summer Hobby Lobby put an ad in various newspapers with Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Franklin on it with the phrase, “In God We Trust.”

As with many things, the truth of the matter lies somewhere in the middle.

Back in 1984, Donald Lutz, of the University of Houston, wrote an article entitled, “The Relative Influence of European Writers on Late Eighteenth Century American Political Thought.” He sought to figure out how influential various writers were on the Founders.

To find influence, he counted the number of times various authors were cited political literature from 1760-1805. That way, both negative and positive citations were included. As counter-intuitive it may seem to include negative citations, think of it this way, the more influential you get, the more you get attacked.

His findings were a little surprising. He found that the Book of Deuteronomy was the most frequently cited book in this time period. In fact, the Bible was the leading category over the time period, garnering 34 percent of all citations. The second category was the Enlightenment writers — mostly Montesquieu and Locke — at 22 percent with the Whigs in third at 18 percent.

It may not be as surprising when you consider almost all of the various signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were Protestants.

However, it is worth noting that the major leaders of the Revolution were mainly Deists. Those guys Hobby Lobby put in their ad promoting America as a Christian nation? Deists.

I also suspect many of the other signers’ Christianity was one majorly influenced by Enlightenment philosopher John Locke.

Locke’s philosophy was heavily influenced by Christianity. As he says in his Letter Concerning Toleration, “The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all.”

However, Locke believed the religion of his day was weak and needed a more adequate defense from reasoning about nature and the source ideas as was seen in his famous work, “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.” This led his Christianity to the liberal end of the spectrum.

He also had various beliefs that seem to run counter to Biblical Christianity. For example, he believed that the mind was born with a blank slate.

So the folks who claim that America is a Christian nation are partly right. Christians did found our nation, but they did so with theological convictions that many who advocate this claim would feel very uncomfortable with.

They’re also partly wrong as our nation was also influenced by other sources as well. It should also be noted that there is very little to no reference to God, Jesus, religion, etc. in our founding documents.

So when you hear Glenn Beck or anyone else call America back to its Christian roots, don’t be fooled by overly simplistic answers. The truth isn’t something that you can fit on a bumper sticker.