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The Truth About Religion in America: The Founders Loathed Superstition and We Were Never a Christian Nation

The claim that America was founded as a Christian nation -- a favorite of Right-wing Christians -- is just not true.

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But let’s concede, just for the sake of the argument, what is patently false: that the nation in fact  was founded on Christian principles and intended by its founders to be Christian. The obvious perplexity that then arises is why the Christian Right is so convinced that a “socialistic, secularistic, and humanistic mindset” has jerked the nation up by its Christian roots. The founding documents framed by our “Christian” forebears are still venerated today. The same protection of religious liberty endorsed by our “Christian” founders is still fiercely championed by political leaders and the courts. So what’s been uprooted? What’s been lost that our “Christian” founders put in place?

The answer, of course, is that nothing has been lost, and the Christian Right knows it. What evangelicals really want is something that never was, and that’s an explicitly sectarian statement of commitment to Christ worked into the warp and woof of national law and public policy. What they want is the Christian theocracy that the founders explicitly rejected. For all their political thundering against the intrusive ways of “big government,” what evangelicals yearn for is strict legal codification of their version of Christian values. What never occurs to the Christian Right is that if the founders in fact  had been Christians intending to create a commonwealth faithful to Jesus’s teachings, the United States today would be a nation quite different from what evangelicals think it should be. There would be no standing army, no divide between rich and poor, no ethnic hatred or closed borders, no persecution of religious dissent, no national chauvinism, a lot less holier-than-thou finger-pointing, and a lot more forgiveness and compassion.

Now, that  would be a shining city built on a hill.

Kerry Walters, William Bittinger Professor of Philosophy at Gettysburg College, Pennsylvania, is the author or editor of twenty-five books, including Revolutionary Deists: Early America’s Rational Deists, a 2011 Choice Outstanding Book; a critical edition of Thomas Paine’s Age of Reason (Broadview, 2011); and Atheism: A Guide for the Perplexed (Continuum, 2010).

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