Is America a Nation Founded upon Christian Principles?

Huffington Post – Religion published a recent article by Robert Crawford titled America is Not a Christian Nation. Curious, reading through the article has raised some concerns and a need to correct misinformation about America and how our great nation was founded upon Christian principles. It is an important subject matter to discuss because of the cultural shift that is happening in our nation today. This cultural shift is moving us further and further away from the very principles our founding fathers have embedded in the sacred documents of our national governance and institution as a people.

Crawford opens up with this assessment:

I’ve been seeing a lot of things recently about how America is turning its back on its Christian roots and how things were so much better and more Christian-like in America in times past compared to now. Now, I love America. This is mostly because I just happened to be born here, but it’s my home. I am patriotic to the extent of rooting for my country, wanting to see us succeed at what we do, to improve at our failings, and to continue to be a great place to live for many. That being said, I’m not going to pretend that our country is either perfect or has had a wonderful history of being a great Christian nation. I’m going to talk about a bunch of historical facts which have actually been researched. Things that should make you question: “If this is what a Christian nation looks like, then perhaps my view of Christianity isn’t what it should be.”

There are two points of consideration here. First, America is a nation founded upon Christian principles, however is not a nation based on a theocratic governance. There is a significant difference between a nation based on a theocratic form of government compared to a nation that operates on Christian principles and values. The second point focuses on the misinformation and inaccuracy of interpretation of supposed facts in order to arrive at a specific conclusion. Crawford’s conclusion is for an individual to question “If this is what a Christian nation looks like, then perhaps my view of Christianity isn’t what it should be.” It is an inaccurate misrepresentation and false assumption.

One encounters the first inaccurate reporting of historical facts in this next point:

Much of what we think of as American history began with Christopher Columbus. He was a man who, upon discovering this “new world,” captured and killed over a thousand people from the native population of the land. While God may have ordered Israel to capture territory that He had planned to give to them, I doubt many would find Columbus’ actions to be Christ-like. For the next couple centuries, Great Britain continued to conquer this land, bringing disease and killing many more.

Historical accuracy and reporting is a necessity. In addition, one ought to take great care in interpreting historical facts within its appropriate context. Granted, Christopher Columbus is taught as a hero in discovering the Americas (he actually discovered the Caribbean islands and parts of South America) there has consisted a growing controversy over Columbus and his discovery of America (See, Time Magazines Article “The Trouble with Columbus” published on October 7, 1991):

At the heart of the hubbub lies a fundamental disagreement, not so much about Columbus himself as about the Columbian legacy. What, in other words, did the enigmatic Genoan set in motion when he first reached the New World? In one version of the story, Columbus and the Europeans who followed him brought civilization to two immense, sparsely populated continents, in the process fundamentally enriching and altering the Old World from which they had themselves come.

The writers of this article also comment:

Increasingly, however, there is a counterchorus, an opposing rendition of the same events that deems Columbus‘ first footfall in the New World to be fatal to the world he invaded, and even to the rest of the globe. The indigenous peoples and their cultures were doomed by European arrogance, brutality and infectious diseases. Columbus‘ gift was slavery to those who greeted him; his arrival set in motion the ruthless destruction, continuing at this very moment, of the natural world he entered. Genocide, ecocide, exploitation–even the notion of Columbus as a “discoverer”–are deemed to be a form of Eurocentric theft of history from those who watched Columbus‘ ships drop anchor off their shores.

What we see here are two different views about Columbus and the discovery of the New World. The problem, as mentioned previously, is the harm in interpreting historical data from a present day mindset. This is a logical fallacy. Crawford makes this fallacy by judging crimes of humanity from a modern-day context without consideration of the historical data and context. Prior to Time Magazines article, Newsweek published an article on September 1, 1991 regarding the same 500 year celebration of Columbus discovery. In this article, we find this:

The problem is that those who denounce Columbus today, like those who used to glorify him, are looking at history through contemporary glasses. For all sorts of reasons, minority populations, non-European cultures and tropical forests enjoy a lot of sympathy these days. If these are your primary concerns, it’s fairly easy to paint Columbus and the early explorers as people who oppressed the local residents, smashed alien civilizations and chopped down a lot of trees. It’s a damning portrait. But it also leaves a lot out.

Above all, it leaves out the fact that this encounter was inevitable. This is not simply to state the obvious: that if Columbus hadn’t set sail in 1492, some other European voyager would have made the trip soon afterward. The key point is that whoever made the first crossing and whenever it occurred, the consequences for the people of the Western Hemisphere would not have been much different. To expect otherwise is to ask that history be rolled back long before 1492 and that its course be plotted along other lines entirely.

In particular, European civilization would have to be recast. What drove Columbus westward was not just a search for a lucrative new trade route to Asia. It is too simplistic to picture him and the other European explorers as mere money-grubbers, early real-estate developers who lucked into an entire continent to subdivide. Money was obviously important to them, but they were also animated by a certain restlessness and curiosity. The voyage into the unknown, after all, had been part of European culture since the days of Odysseus. To some degree this questing instinct was bound up with religious zeal: look, for example, at the search for the Holy Grail and the history of the Crusades. On a more mundane level, it was often a social necessity: families were large, houses were small, land was scarce, and so young people were encouraged to leave home and seek their fortune. Missionaries set out to preach the Gospel. Merchants set out to find new goods and new markets to sell them in. Armies sometimes led this process, sometimes followed. The spread of Western civilization was built on intrusion, intrusion almost as a way of life.

Today, it’s fashionable to think of all that as hateful. It is linked with imperialism, colonialism and racism–the great pejoratives of our time. But this intrusive habit is also linked with some qualities that we find more attractive: a fascination with new ideas, a knack for scientific discovery, an ability to adapt and change. The impulses that lay behind the voyage to the New World were by no means so uniformly nasty as they are sometimes portrayed.

By the same token, the civilizations of the Western Hemisphere were not so uniformly admirable. Much is now made of how well native societies were adapted to the environment, how they respected the rain forest and the prairie. Less is made of the more horrific habits of some native societies: endemic warfare, torture and human sacrifice.

This is where Crawford displays, not only historic inaccuracy in his comment, he does so through a more contemporary lens of his own assumption and biased perspective.

The second problem with Crawford’s assertion is mentioning Israel going in and taking the Land that YHWH promised. This comparison has nothing to do with how the New World was discovered.

Third, it was not Great Britain that conquered the New World. Historically, after Columbus reported back to the King and Queen of Spain, many of those who came over to the New World were the Spanish Conquestadors, One of the more famous traveler’s of the Spanish Conquestadors is Pedro de Ceiza de Leon.  He managed to chronicle his travels throughout the New World, specifically documenting the historical civilizations of the Inca’s in Peru. His works are published today and worth reading.

Mr. Crawford turns his attention on Slavery in the early colony of American history:

Meanwhile, until 1808, America was engaged in the Atlantic slave trade, a practice that should need neither detail nor specific condemnation here (hopefully we can all agree that it was a horrific thing). Again, while slavery can certainly be found in the Bible, most Christians today are very eager to point out that it was not the same as what America was doing then. So, from a Christian perspective, this was not a Christian thing that America was doing, even if many at the time thought it was. This slave trade was absolutely essential to the founding of our great nation; who knows what would have become of the colonies without it? Of course, even with the discontinuation of the Atlantic slave trade, slavery in America continued after this for another 57 years or so. These are not the type of Christian values that I believe in. It is worth noting also that while many Christians used the Bible to justify this, many Churches at the time were opposed to slavery, and were using Christianity to fight against it. Did those churches, which were existing during the foundation of America, feel that America was being founded on Christian principles?

Again, we find some historical inaccuracies regarding the founding and colonization of early American history. It was not essential to the founding of our great nation. What was essential in founding our great Nation is the coming of the Puritans due to heavy religious persecution in Europe under the King of England and the Protestant reformation. This carried over, with hostile results, into the New World and the founding of America. In addition, slavery has always been part of the human progress and evolution. Even in the Ancient Near East, when an empire conquered another nation (or people) much of their own history was destroyed and that culture assimilated within the new culture and national identity. Going back to Israel and the conquering of the land of Canaan. Long before Israel, Egypt engaged in some form of civil war that had religious undertones and Akhenaten (Amenhotep IV) was the first to institute a monotheist form of belief and worship.

Slavery existed long before the founding of America. And, it was not just people of African descent that were enslaved. Those who came to America were also indentured servants to work off their passage from the Old World to the New World. In Africa, Slavery was part and parcel of the society. And, within the context of slavery in the Bible, even Israel had laws regulating slavery. Therefore, slavery was part of the historical context – again, we do well not to judge from a modern context and interpretation, we ought to take great care in looking at the historical context and interpret it within its historical context.

In the next article, I will address the remainder of Crawford’s position about religious freedom and the founding principles of our nation on Christian virtue, morality and religious freedom.