Friday, September 14, 2007

It's Our Country Too

I often think that part of my commitment to sexual and social justice stems from my earliest experiences growing up Jewish in a predominately Christian community. In second grade, there was a "Hate Debbi Haffner" club, and I was taunted mercilessly by the Catholic girls in my class who were preparing for their first communion. I learned early on what it was to to be the outsider.

I was reminded of those feelings this week when I read the latest poll results from the First Amendment Center. They report that:

*65% of Americans believe that the nation's founders intended the U.S. to be a Christian nation.

*55% believe that the Constitution establishes a Christian nation.

And the number of people who believe that freedom to worship extends to all religious group is down 16% since 2000. Almost half believe that public schools should be able to put on Nativity re-enactments with Christian music.

That makes me still an outsider. Millions of other Americans who practice a non-Christian faith or don't practice at all too.

If this hurts you as it does me, go to First Freedom First and sign the petition after you read this.

And oh, if you are part of the 55%, here's what the Constitution says:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."


eshutt said...

One of the Religious Right's greatest strengths is rhetoric - the other being a strong cash-flow to distribute their rhetoric. The problem is that their conservative religious rhetoric will simply never translate into practical public policies. It's inconsistent with pluralistic America - ours, the most religiously diverse nation in the world. It's all talk. But, it sometimes sounds really, really good.

I often find myself struck at how reasonable the Right's rhetoric sounds. It's easy to argue intellectually, but often carries an emotional appeal that captivates the moment.

Enter the myth of a Christian Nation. The Right seems easily thrown by the difference between a predominately Christian country, and an America in which our Constitution establishes Christianity as the national religion. To them, free exercise and non-establishment are for some reason fundamentally incompatible.

Of course, there is something appealing about a "we're right, you're wrong, end of story" attitude. It's consistent with father-figure, top-down, conservatism. And, it's easy to see the how religious conservatism and patriarchy tend to overlap - in many religious traditions.

But, it's not America. It's not a rhetoric that fits with the fact that men and women, black and white, gay and straight, religious and non-religious people deserve an equal stake in our society.

The constitution cements free exercise and non-establishment. To dispel the myth of the Christian Nation, we can never lose focus that these ideas are always compatible, and that establishing religious beliefs as laws will never be a part of free exercise. No matter how appealing the rhetoric, or how deeply we believe in our faith.

Anonymous said...

I don't know this for certain, but I think that the founding fathers were actually "Deists," to the extent that they advocated religion at all. That's where the symbols on the currency and the "One nation under God," come from. But deism rejects organized religion and revelation, perhaps because it leads to the type of persecution Debra describes from her childhood.

Here is one definition of "Deist" from "The belief that God has created the universe but remains apart from it and permits his creation to administer itself through natural laws. Deism thus rejects the supernatural aspects of religion, such as belief in revelation in the Bible, and stresses the importance of ethical conduct. In the eighteenth century, numerous important thinkers held deist beliefs."

It seems to me that we could all benefit more from the study of ethical conduct than from choosing our poison in the sectarian world. Strangely enough, I also think that if you take Christ's teachings, apart from the interpretations of the Christian church, they are all about ethical conduct. However, Paul of Tarsus might not agree with me on that.

Anonymous said...


Much as I agree with virtually all of your post, you seem to be under the misimpression that the US is "the most religiously diverse nation in the world".


The US is actually one of the most religiously uniform nations in the world. We're actually about as diverse as Iraq.

The US is about 85% Christian.
The largest non-Christian religion in the US is 1.4%

If you count percentages of Americans who declare a religion you see it's even more uniform (and this is probably more accurate since a non-practicing member of a religion don't get counted in that 85% but are still strongly influenced by that religion from their upbringing)

Of those declaring a religion...
95% are Christian
1.6% are Jewish
Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Unitarian and "Other" are each less that 1%

For comparison:
UK: 72% Christian
Israel: 76% Jewish
France: 85% Christian
Iraq: 87% Muslim (with about the same 2:1 ratio of Shi'a:Sunni as the US' Protestant:Catholic ratio)

Worldwide (those over 1%):
Christians 33.03%
Muslims 20.12%
Hindus 13.34%
Buddhists 5.89%

Just thought a little comparison would help the debate.

RGVprof said...


I think when people claim that the U.S. is the most religiously diverse nation in world, they're not talking about numbers, but rather representation. Sure, the U.S. is still overwhelmingly a "Christian nation" if you're just talking about numbers. But there is such a rich diversity of faiths within Christianity as well as outside Christianity. No other country has the sheer number of different religions represented among us here.

Also, claiming that the U.S. is the most religiously diverse nation is partly posturing. It's partly to counter those that claim it's a Christian nation and should forever be. By claiming that it's the most religiously diverse country in the world, one promotes a sort of religious pluralism in which all America's religious traditions matter and are able to contribute.

Having said that, it is disturbing to me that so many Americans hold onto the idea that it is a Christian nation and even that the founders intended for it to be so. This is one of the real pieces of damage brought on by the religious right. We truly have an irreligious constitution, and it is highly intentional. Ultimately, it has resulted in the protection of both religion and the state from one another, and has resulted in a vibrant, active religious landscape. People lose sight of this when they call for a "Christian nation."

Anonymous said...

Debra - While I agree with most of your post, I strongly disagree with the notion that Christian music should not be allowed in the public schools. For example... When I was in high school band, we played a three-movement song that was influenced by Yiddish culture. In this same concert, we were also scheduled to play "Greensleeves" - but there were extreme protests from a number of parents because we were playing "a Christmas song" (obviously, "What Child is This?" was put to the tune of Greensleeves.) We got to play the song in the end - and with good reason. It is a historically vital piece of music - it is the first piece of written music (in the modern form of written music) that we have. (The Christmas lyrics were not set to it for a long time after the piece was written.)

My point is this - I don't think public schools should be allowed to put on Nativity plays either - but I think that there comes a point when our fear of offending others can stand in the way of education. (This, by the way, is part of the logic I use to support teaching evolution in the public schools and NOT mentioning the Christian creation story - education needs to come first!)