There is a large number of politicians, particularly those of a “conservative” persuasion that insist that America is a “Christian nation” and therefore only does good in the world, despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Many of them, along with some political pundits and preachers, also maintain that the country was founded as a Christian nation by the forefathers. These views are revisionist myths and completely obfuscate the true nature of both the founding of the United States of America and the actions taken by the government since that founding. Despite being lauded as a bastion of democracy and freedom, the U.S. has never lived up to that hype nor to Christianity’s core precepts. If Christians in America want a nation that acts in truly Christian ways, then they must needs know what is truly going on in their name now and in the past. Additionally we need to stop listening to and voting for parties and politicians whose actions are the opposite of Christ’s teachings of non-violence, loving one’s neighbor, the Golden Rule, open commensality, and care for “the least of these”. Let’s take a look at some of the evidence from American history so we can move from myth to truth and hopefully create a more just, egalitarian, peaceful, and ecologically regenerative world. Click the links for further reading.
The myth that America was “founded as a Christian nation” is easy to dispel. Firstly, there were non-Christians who were prominent during the revolutionary era such as Thomas Paine who called Christianity “a fable”. Deism had an enormous influence on many of the founding fathers to varying degrees. Some like Paine were non-Christian deist, others maintained a hybrid faith of Christian Deism and some were orthodox Christians, typically of some variety of Protestant faith. Others were heavily influenced by “The Enlightenment” and its philosophers. Thomas Jefferson was one of these. He went through the New Testament and removed any reference to Jesus being a “Divine Being” (this is now known as The Jefferson Bible) and believed that the Apostle Paul was “the first corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus”, hardly the views of any orthodox Christianity. Jefferson merely wrote the Declaration of Independence and became the fledgling nation’s second president.
These varied beliefs are not the only reasons that the myth is false. The founding fathers, even those who were orthodox Christians, founded the nation with a clear intention of the “separation of church and state” because the state mandated religions of Europe were the cause of so much turmoil, war, and strife for people who had different religious convictions. This is reflected in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which states: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Christianity certainly shaped the thoughts of many of the founders but it did not dominate the founder’s views, nor were they the basis for the revolution, the founding documents and the new government. To say so dismisses the huge influence of Deism, the “Enlightenment” and the democratic model of the Iroquois Confederacy that already existed in North America, prior to the arrival of Anglo-Europeans.
America in the 19th century was an expansionist, empire building, bigoted nation whose actions were a far cry from the teachings of Jesus. Some of the lowlights were: institutional racism and slavery, wars of expansion, illegally annexing Hawai’i, just to name a few. Much of this was done to make someone money. Slaves provided free labor to slave holders thereby saving them money while denying people of African descent basic human rights, freedom, and decency all of which violate Jesus’ Greatest Commandment and other teachings. James K. Polk instigated a war against Mexico as a means to a land grab that expanded the U.S. territory all the way to California in order to open up more markets for American goods, despite the horrific nature of war and Jesus’ call for his followers to be “peacemakers”. America also expanded due to treaty breaking, land stealing and outright murder of Native Americans in order to secure resources and power over tribal peoples. Buffalo, a primary food source for many tribes, were hunted to near extinction intentionally denying those people of “their daily bread”. Hawai’i was an independent nation until 1893 when the U.S. Marines landed and took Queen Liliuokalani prisoner in her own palace. The United Sates then annexed Hawai’i without allowing the Hawaiian people any real say in the matter. This illegal annexation was done largely at the behest of Sanford P. Dole (yes, the pineapple people) so that white people could get more control and make more profits from the islands.
The 20th and early 21st century continue the tradition of empire building by the United States. Again these actions are against everything that Jesus taught. Like wolves in sheep’s clothing, propagandist from the media and government spin lies and perpetuate myths to further power and increase wealth. In 1948 the Head of the Policy Planning Staff of the State Department outlined the government’s agenda with the following memorandum
We have about 50% of the world’s wealth but only 6.3% of its population. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real test in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world benefaction-unreal objects such as human rights, the raising of living standards, and democratization. (Quoted in Lies My Teacher Told Me, p. 221 by James W. Loewen)
What that memorandum says debunks all notions of “just wars” to help the oppressed. It says that human rights and democracy are the OPPOSITE of the objectives of U.S. foreign policy despite what the politicians and media talking heads say. The use of the word ‘relationships’ highlights the many and varied dictators the United States has either installed, backed, or propped up in order to maintain this “position of disparity” where the United States and its citizens are consuming far more than their share of the world’s resources while benefiting from its wealth and luxuries at the expense of people nearly everywhere else. Rather than redistribute wealth as Jesus taught (Luke 18:22), the goal of the U.S. is to create unfair advantages in order to consolidate wealth and power.
This is clearly seen in the case of the U.S.’ intervention in the Central American nation of Guatemala about which I wrote my senior thesis at Millersville (PA) University. For years US companies enjoyed the economic benefits of brutal dictator Jorge Ubico’s time in power there. When reformist presidents (first Juan Jose Arvelo and then Jacobo Arbenz) were elected then tried to get United Fruit Company to pay fair value in taxes for the lands they were profiting from, the US ambassador to Guatemala told the politicians in D.C. that something had to be done to “protect American capital”. Arbenz was also a proponent of agrarian reform and wanted to localize control of ports, transportation and electricity in order to benefit the people of Guatemala rather than American companies. In response to this lost relationship, the U.S. instituted a propaganda campaign against the Arbenz government with claims that it was rife with Communists and then orchestrated a coup with the C.I.A. that installed Castillo Armas as a dictator more friendly to U.S. “interests” (i.e. profits and control). The aftermath of Armas’ installation has been one of violence, suppression of human rights, and racial bigotry against the indigenous peoples that continues to this day.
The same sort of actions in Latin America were rife when Hugo Chavez was president of Venezuela. The U.S. wanted more control of Venezuelan oil profits but Chavez instead kept the oil money in Venezuela and instituted many reforms that helped the poor throughout that country. When propaganda against Chavez didn’t work, the C.I.A. attempted to orchestrate a coup against Chavez that backfired as Chavez’s overwhelming support took to the streets. Incredibly this was all filmed by a documentary film crew from Ireland and was made into the film The Revolution Will Not be Televised. I personally traveled to Venezuela in January of 2006 to attend the World Social Forum and to do research for a paper I wanted to write on Chavez. While there I saw evidence of many of the reforms in place to ensure that literacy, nutrition, and university education were available to ordinary citizens and not just the elites. Everyone that I interviewed supported Chavez except one Argentinian woman. His opposition primarily came from the hyper wealthy there and the power brokers in the United States.
The most recent example of this kind of foreign policy is the “Global War on Terror” which has been waged for the past 14 plus years. Launching this monumentally evil, expensive, and hear breaking enterprise, former president George W. Bush called it “a Crusade against the evil doers” in typical propagandist rhetoric of US against THEM. The actions of the U.S. have created more terrorist, more violence, more instability, and a state of permanent warfare. Unfortunately this is intentional as is shown in government documents obtained by the Freedom of Information Act. It’s evidenced by the fact that in it’s mission to “maintain disparity” the U.S. uses the world’s largest military force to bully people into submission and to protect rogue terrorist states like Israel and Saudi Arabia. The official line is different of course. We’re supposedly “fighting Islamic extremists” who are a threat to the United States but as Jesus said, Satan cannot cast out Satan, and we cannot stop terrorism by supporting terrorist or engaging in state sponsored terrorism. Nor can we do it by denying refuge to refugees, many of whom are fleeing the violence created by American bombs, drones, and “boots on the ground” troops.
This is a huge amount to take in and process and many books have written about the violence and evil of U.S. foreign policy (and the policies of our allies). I had to go through that process myself after leaving the Marines and getting a history degree. Jesus is incredibly clear in his teachings about how human beings are to behave towards one another and America by its policies and actions is doing the polar opposite. If we know that these things are going on and do nothing or if we as a people actively support them, then we are failing to live up to the example that Jesus set and can in no way claim to be a Christian nation. In my next post, I will examine some ways that America could much better exemplify Jesus and his teachings of compassion, peace, and love.