Monday, June 23, 2008

Religion in American History Blog:

I'd like to thank Dr. John Fea of Messiah College and the Religion in American History blog for his kind words on my blog research and plugging American Creation. If I may return the favor, Religion in American History is a great, informative blog, one I regularly check. Fea writes:

One of their contributors, Jon Rowe, is the most dogged critic of the Christian America thesis I have ever run across and I have learned much from reading his own blog over the last few years.

As some of you know, I am writing a popular book for the church tentatively titled "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Primer for Christians," so needless to say I will be checking American Creation often.

I look forward to reading his book. As for my being the most dogged critic of the Christian America thesis, I think perhaps that title belongs to Chris Rodda. Though I am dogged and indeed, probably overly engage in shrill rhetoric when mentioning the names of David Barton, William Federer, and D. James Kennedy -- the "Christian America" villains -- I try to replace the "Christian America" thesis with a nuanced and balanced view that appreciates the role religion in public life had at the time of the American Founding. A warm, benign theism, invariably spoken in generic philosophical terms that connected Christianity with non-biblical religions, a "Nature's God" that grants men unalienable rights.

Where we run into a problem is when public supplications to God conflict with the equally valid Founding principle that all citizens, including atheists or polytheists ought to be treated as equals. It's equality, not separation, that often leads to the muting of publicly endorsed "God-talk." Even John Adams, a very religious man, but a heterodox unitarian said:

“Government has no Right to hurt a hair of the head of an Atheist for his Opinions. Let him have a care of his Practices.”

–- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, June 16, 1816.

Whether an atheist simply hearing (or seeing) publicly sponsored God-talk that makes him feel like a second class citizen is a "constitutionally actionable" harm I am not convinced and I think reasonable people can and should debate the issue. But the point that needs to be stressed is equal rights for everybody in regard to religion is a foundational American ideal.

As to whether I/we should continue to use harsh rhetoric when dealing with the aforementioned Christian America figures, that's a current matter of debate at American Creation. I think Rev. Brian Tubbs is probably right that the gentlemanly thing to do is engage in civil, scholarly debate, not always be in shrill rhetorical attack mode. Though with Barton and Kennedy, sometimes it's difficult to resist temptation.


Anonymous said...

A strict interpretation of the United States Constitution does not allow the government to publicly promote the slogan, "In IBM We Trust." The "IBM" logo is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution, and I don't see how anyone can stretch the principle of "implied powers" to say that federal agencies should be able to use public money to advertise the merits of IBM over any other vendor of information processing services.

Does promoting IBM over other similar vendors promote good citizenship any better than a person who uses an abacus? I'm sure a genuine luddite would be glad to discuss the issue.

Jonathan said...

Good point. In a secular society, religion gets equal protection with other competing secular interests, with "business" as the quintessential example.