I’m not a fan of people believing that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. I could probably spend several blog posts outlining why that isn’t true. I could point to a number of scholars who have done some actual research into the history of the U.S. and the Founding Fathers in order to determine that fact—including many who are Christians themselves. But that isn’t my real problem with the claim that we used to be a nation of God-fearing people.
No, my real problem with that belief is that it is so chock full of privileged bullshit that it’s hard to unpack it all. There was never a time in United States history when the majority of people behaved in a way that resembles genuine Christian faith.
Oh, sure, we had a time when people at least had the semblance of living in a way approved by twenty-first century evangelicals. Men worked, women tended hearth and home, and people dressed modestly and didn’t talk too openly about sex. People owned Bibles and attended churches (if there were any nearby). But that’s pretty much where it ends, in terms of an overall code of conduct.
While some people may actually have been living out real faith, other people were busy hunting witches, killing natives, owning people, and preventing women from voting. (You could try to argue that slavery isn’t forbidden by the Bible or that slaves in the U.S. weren’t all treated badly, I suppose, but I’d like to see you try to argue that one race owning another race is okay even by the Bible’s standards, or that there haven’t been lasting consequences of chattel slavery.)
Maybe we should move forward in time to the twentieth century. You know, the idyllic times of the first half of the century, before the 1960s ruined everything. You know, the time when we put Japanese people in internment camps, stuffed our cities full of immigrants, made people with brown skin drink out of separate fountains, and hunted
witches communists. Oh, wait.
When the things we’ve done wrong catch up with us and creep into our quiet, “good” suburban neighborhoods and schools, we sit up and take notice. We think that we’re going to hell in a handbasket, unlike all those previous generations who were blissfully unaware of where we went wrong. We’re sure this is because more and more people are identifying as something other than Christian, an obvious sign that we’ve collectively abandoned Jesus.
None of that is remotely true. The reason it seems so bad now isn’t that we’re less moral or less Christian than we used to be. We’re just a hell of a lot more honest about ourselves. It’s time to stop living in the past. It doesn’t help anyone to demand to return to the “Christian values” of yesteryear. That does nothing to make the world a better place. Instead, we need to find ways to live our faith that don’t just come off as moralizing. We need to actually right the injustices in the world, rather than pointing out what we think are other people’s moral failings.
When are we going to live what Jesus says in Matthew 25?
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.