2007-09-13

Is the US Constitution a Christian document?

From the department of the-devil-is-in-the-lack-of-details:
Most Americans believe the nation's founders wrote Christianity into the Constitution, and people are less likely to say freedom to worship covers religious groups they consider extreme, a poll out today finds.

The survey measuring attitudes toward freedom of religion, speech and the press found that 55% believe erroneously that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation. In the survey, which is conducted annually by the First Amendment Center, a non-partisan educational group, three out of four people who identify themselves as evangelical or Republican believe that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation. About half of Democrats and independents do.
One of the most important events in my young Christian life was reading Roman Catholicism, a polemic against the Roman church by Reformed theologian Loraine Boettner. Although I found some of his arguments interesting, I eventually became bogged down with his arguments based upon the US Constitution. Not being American, and not being in America, I found his arguments quite hollow.

The easiest way to find out how "Christian" the US Constitution is is to do a word search throughout the document. If you're willing, click here for a copy of the US Constitution.

  • Number of times the word "God" appears: zero
  • Number of times the word "Creator" appears: zero
  • Number of times the word "Jesus" appears: zero
  • Number of times the word "Bible" appears: zero
  • Number of times the word "Church" appears: zero

But what about the Declaration of Independence? Surely that document is important too in determining whether or not the founding fathers were believers:

  • Number of times the word "God" appears: once
  • Number of times the word "Creator" appears: once
  • Number of times the word "Jesus" appears: zero
  • Number of times the word "Bible" appears: zero
  • Number of times the word "Church" appears: zero

Here are the passages in the declaration of independence that mention God and the creator:
When in the course of human Events, it becomes necessary for one People to dissolve the Political Bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the Powers of the Earth, the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.

We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
Of course, there is nothing else within either document that indicates who exactly this God or creator is. Moreover, the specific phrase "Nature's God" is quite Deist in its tone (Deism is incompatible with Orthodox Christian belief). The arguments that many Christians have is that these people were believers so therefore these references exclusively mean the Christian God. Yet I have to point out that the basic ideas of Democracy and a Republic are more Athenian in their roots than Judeo-Christian. Moveover, I cannot remember any passage in Scripture that outlines either implicitly or explicitly the idea of a Democracy. Yet are we to believe that the founding fathers of the United States were born-again Christians who saw Democracy as the natural outworking of the Christian faith? The founding fathers certainly believed that a Creator God led them to revolt against colonial rule and establish their own independent nation - yet this idea is nowhere found in the US Constitution later on.

What I would like to do is examine the Federalist Papers in more detail to see what the framers thought of Christianity. I would also like to see a quote from one or more of the framers that shows their understanding and acceptance of the Gospel. Of course people in that era spoke about their devotion to God, including the framers of the constitution... but which, if any, explicitly explained the message of Christ crucified?

Why am I, an evangelical Christian, disagreeing with my brethren on this? Firstly, Jesus said My kingdom is not of this world, which indicates that Christ did not attempt any form of political takeover of either the Jewish state at the time or their Roman masters. Secondly, I think that Dominionism as a belief is unbiblical (the idea that the Church should take over political institutions and enforce Christian laws in a nation). And thirdly I believe that the idea of American Exceptionalism (a belief that America is somehow predestined by fate to be greater than other nations), which has no biblical basis and which came from a worldly philosophy, has been syncretised with Evangelical belief.

If American Christians took both the Bible and their own nation's history seriously, they would come to the inevitable conclusion that America was never founded on Christian principles.

15 comments:

BLBeamer said...

You're right to a great extent. You're not the first person to point this out, but if even a non-American can see it, perhaps it is past time for this fact to be rediscovered by Americans. Note: I meant nothing disparaging by the term "even a non-American". I only meant that most non-Americans would not be expected to have read the US Declaration of Independence or Constitution.

The left in the US has a problem though, in that they have allowed themselves to be portrayed (not always unfairly) not as pro-secular Constitution, but actively anti-Christian.

David Castor said...

I was pretty sure that many of the founding fathers were either explicitly Deist or had very unorthodox Christian beliefs.

I'd definitely agree with you about the idea that Dominionism is unbiblical. I think it is a very strange idea to think that the Kingdom of God is promoted through displays of political strength. I can only see the goals and objectives of the church as being undermined while it assumes any of the power involved in the political arena. As Steve Chalke stated, he saw it as important to always be in the King's ear, but never in the King's pocket.

BLBeamer said...

After some more thought, I'd like to hear what principles Neil feels the US was founded on that are non-Christian? There are examples in the Scriptures where the people voted on leaders or spokesmen, which is certainly a democratic process. How about an individual's rights to life, liberty and property; freedom of conscience; equal justice under law; etc. These are all keys principles underlying the US Constitution. Are they all non-Christian?

I agree with david castor that some of the founding fathers were Deists, but certainly not all. Some were explicitly Christian and they were able to support the ratification of the Constitution without feeling that their Christian principles were being violated. Jay's and Weatherspoon's names come immediately to mind, but there were others.

As far as Dominionism, I'm in agreement with Neil and david castor as to my opposition, but the cynic in me wonders how sincere leftist opponents to it REALLY are. Leftists have no problem, in principle, with taking over political institutions and forming them in their own image, but they do oppose someone else forming (or continuing) those institutions in an image with which they disagree.

I completely agree that the syncretisation of American Exceptionalism and evangelical belief is a bad thing.

One Salient Oversight said...

Well I wouldn't exactly call them "non-Christian" in the sense that what they are about is somehow contrary to scripture. I would say, however, that these "non-Christian" ideas do not have their basis in the Christian faith.

For the moment I'll concentrate on Democracy. If Democracy was what God intended all along for mankind to practice, why is it not mentioned explicitly in the Bible? Old Testament Israel was a theocratic monarchy with the King ruling by divinely-appointed right. There were no Senates to balance out the power, or a separation of powers into judicial, executive and legislative (as is explicitly set forward in the US Constitution). God did not give Israel a Democracy.

In the New Testament we see that the new covenant was not to be located within a geographical and political entity any more (as Israel under the Old Covenant was). As Israel was the location of God's covenant people before Christ, so was the church the location of God's covenant people after Christ.

When it comes to the church's relationship with civil power, Romans 13 is very important. Paul says:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

In the context of the time, the governing authorities were quite simply the Roman emperor and the non-democratic agents of civil power under his control. Moreover, this pagan dictatorship used its power to invade and conquer other lands, including Israel. Yet Paul has no problem ordering believers to submit to a corrupt, pagan dictatorship because, he says, it has been instituted by God.

This is not, of course, a passage which somehow shows that Biblical Christians should only wish for pagan, corrupt dictatorships. The meaning of the passage for Christians over time is that they should submit to authorities however they may end up coming into formation.

Thus I would contend that the Bible, at no point, supports any form of Democratic government to the detriment of other forms of government.

There are other areas of your argument that I haven't touched on but I'll just wait until we've looked at this area first before we move on.

BLBeamer said...

Thanks. I responded, however, to what you wrote. If you had written they were not uniquely Christian or originally Christian, then I would not have responded as I did. Saying they were non-Christian gave a different sense to your comments.

I look forward to your further responses.

David Castor said...

Well, what I'd suggest is that there is a definite Judeo-Christian legacy and influence, but this doesn't mean that there was an intention to create an explicitly Christian nation. Furthermore, some of the principles incorporated into the US system are products of secular influence. For instance, the separation of powers and a system of checks and balances comes directly from French enlightenment thinking and more particularly the jurisprudential writings of Montesquieu.

BLBeamer said...

I agree that democracy is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, but that is hardly an argument in and of itself that God does not intend it to be practiced.

You and I both believe the Trinity is a true doctrine because it can be inferred and demonstrated from Scripture. Yet, the word "trinity" nowhere appears in the Scriptures.

One Salient Oversight said...

You and I both believe the Trinity is a true doctrine because it can be inferred and demonstrated from Scripture. Yet, the word "trinity" nowhere appears in the Scriptures.

So by that logic, Democracy can be inferred and demonstrated from scripture yet the word not appear there.

So. Where is democracy inferred and demonstrated in the bible?

BLBeamer said...

So. Where is democracy inferred and demonstrated in the bible?

I did not say that it was except for the few instances I mentioned where the people selected leaders or spokesmen. I was addressing your argument that since the word "democracy" does not appear, therefore God does not intend for it to be practiced. I don't believe that is a compelling argument.

Do you believe democracy is non-Scriptural?

One Salient Oversight said...

I was addressing your argument that since the word "democracy" does not appear, therefore God does not intend for it to be practiced.

I think I see where you're coming from. My apologies if I didn't make this clear.

The issue we are dealing with is whether or not it is right for Christians to assume that the US Constitution is a "Christian" document.

What I am trying to point out is that Democratic forms of government - as expressed in the Constitution - are not mentioned in the bible at all as a form of civil government.

This is not to say that Democracy is contrary to scripture or sinful. The Bible doesn't condemn democracy simply because it doesn't appear in the Bible.

However, you would have to concede that neither does the bible support it - and that is crux of the matter. American Christians cannot argue that Democracy is somehow based on the Christian faith since there is nothing in scripture that mentions it.

Let me try to illustrate this.

The Bible does not speak about bacteria, yet it is obvious that God created bacteria as part of the created order. Why did God not reveal the secrets of bacteria to his covenant people? Moreover, God obviously knew that, at some point in human history, antibiotics would be developed that would be able to combat bacterial infections. The result of God not telling us about bacteria and antibiotics is that multitudes have died. Yet God is not evil, and his choice to not let us know about bacteria is because the Bible was given to us in order that we might be able to know about God's character and how to live our lives as his disciples.

In the same way, God knew that, centuries before Christ was born, that a political theory called Democracy would be created in Ancient Greece that would become a very dominant and effective means of politics in the last few centuries of the 2nd millennium. Yet God makes no mention of this in the Bible.

There are many things that God has used to bless us that is not found in the pages of scripture - plastics, silicon chip technology, the steam engine, antibiotics and so on. Democracy is one of these things. Yet despite this we cannot label Democracy as a natural outworking of Christian belief, otherwise ancient Rome would've become a Democracy under Constantine instead of a theocratic dictatorship.

Democracy is as non-scriptural as antibiotics - yet we can still see it as part of God's gift to us as a way of promoting peace and prosperity for the church.

BLBeamer said...

In my experience, I can only think of one politician who claimed the Constitution was nearly as inspired as Scripture. He was a minor candidate for governor in my home state about 25 years ago, who happened to belong to an alternative (i.e., pseudo-Christian) religion. I honestly can't think of a single instance of anyone referring to the Constitution in the sense you are trying to refute.

Do you have examples of this? If so, please share them. I'm struggling to see what your objective is. You seem to be trying to disprove a position that no one or very, very few seem to hold.

Are there forms of government that you believe are non-Scriptural or that Christians ought not to endorse or practice?

One Salient Oversight said...

You seem to be trying to disprove a position that no one or very, very few seem to hold.

Actually you seem to have misread the intention of both the original article and my comments.

The problem is that many Americans believe that the Constitution has a Christian basis. This is not the same as inspiration. What I've been trying to do is show that the Constitution does not have a Christian basis.

If you believe the Constitution has a Christian basis then you link Democracy with Christianity.

Are there forms of government that you believe are non-Scriptural or that Christians ought not to endorse or practice?

Any form of theocracy in which citizens are sworn to adhere to a certain religion (Christian or non Christian).

Apart from that, Christians have the freedom of opinion on the matter. That's why some Christians prefer governments that a "big and intrusive" while others prefer ones that are "small and limited".

BLBeamer said...

Actually you seem to have misread the intention of both the original article and my comments.

I did err, but not in that way. I was careless in how I phrased my comments. Forgive me if I seem argumentative, I'm not trying to be. My intent is just trying to make sure I understand the definition of terms as you use them. Our brief discussion where I attempted to clarify what you meant by the term "non-Christian" illustrates my intent, hopefully.

The problem is that many Americans believe that the Constitution has a Christian basis.

I’m not sure about that, at least in the manner you seem to be saying. I will try to be careful here, but the Constitution does have a Christian basis inasmuch as the founders were all Englishmen/Scotsmen from a society that was overwhelmingly “Christian”. While not all were believers, their world view was greatly informed and developed by exposure to Christianity. I’ve never read anything from the founders that indicates they even considered the possibility of the population of the US ever being anything but predominantly Christian. It’s impossible to know what interpretations or presumptions the survey participants held, but as an American I am fairly confident that is how the majority of the participants meant it.

If you believe the Constitution has a Christian basis then you link Democracy with Christianity.

Again, Democracy is linked with Christianity in the fashion indicated above. But democracy is certainly not anti-Christian, either, as we both agree. It certainly seems to be most successful in countries with Christian traditions.

Any form of theocracy in which citizens are sworn to adhere to a certain religion (Christian or non Christian).

I like that definition since it eliminates idolatry of all kinds. I think the only improvement would be to add that those forsaken non-Christian religions include secular ones as well. Many of my leftist friends don’t consider their secularism a religion. I do. I'm not implying that secularism only has adherents on the left, by the way.

toywrench said...

Instead of arguing, why not everyone take a break and actually do research to find out what the founding fathers actually believed, journalled, did for a living, wrote in documents, said in speeches, and promised to the colleges they went to. Furthermore, reading the Bible cover to cover and trying to find the original intent of those authors would lead to new discoveries, such as the fact one book of the Protestant Bible also does not mention God, ever. All of these documents, including the Bible are available online.

dennis curci said...

Old post but interesting.There was no king in old Testament Israel .The people rose up and asked God for one .He gave them Saul .It was said they would have to pay taxes from that period going forward because of this change. I would say Kings came from God and are chosen by God. A borne again Christian knows in his heart right from wrong and needs no Religion to tell him or her.