U.S. founded on Christian teachings

Published 10:20 am Monday, July 28, 2008

It must disturb evangelical Christians to read me asserting this nation’s founding fathers could not have intended this to be a specifically Christian nation because the orthodox doctrines of sin and salvation were lacking from the common sense republicanism they espoused. (Indeed, it may be confusing to others for me to acknowledge as much. This is simply a matter of not reaching beyond the historical evidence and remaining honest, even if they might not support my thinking.)

The fact remains, nonetheless, that all the founders consciously built their political theory on the Christian Bible’s teaching on how humans should behave and how society should be governed. In a word, they intended America to function Christianly without necessarily being formally Christian either theologically or ecclesiastically.

That the founders incorporated biblical concepts into American law is everywhere evident in their individual writings, public documents, and symbolic icons.

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Consider, for just one, “In God We Trust.” Some years ago I enumerated such here and refer to you this extensive list. This much simply cannot be successfully denied and ought not be ignored.

Again, what they absorbed into their political theory and, therefore, encoded into national law is an enlightenment philosophy of moral rationalism uncompromised by orthodox realism that recognized the effect of sin and evil upon both the thinking and behavior of humans. The more intensely Christian and particularly biblical of them (and there were several) agreed humans can become capable of such righteous governing, but insisted it is only through redemption from sin and birth into a new spiritual life.

They did not, mind you, claim that only evangelical Christians could govern well or adequately. Especially did they not claim, nor do evangelicals today, that only Christians should be elected to public office. They sincerely recognized they themselves could not have freedom if freedom was not extended to all people, however much they disagree.

I reminded that the majority of the most influential leaders were deists, believing God created humans with the innate ability and willingness to act morally. Both deists and evangelicals believed people should act consciously in obedience to the Bible as the Word of God. The difference is the former felt almost everyone would do so by nature, and the latter believed none would by nature even though some might by civil accident or by cunning.

The latter looked to moral and spiritual redemption as the only sure way to right behavior and urged repentance and conversation. Yet, they recognized an unusually conscientious non-believer might act more morally than an unfaithful believer.

Despite the theists’ great confidence in the moral perfection of humans, if they did not betray their doubts, they at least covered their bets. The very existence of laws demonstrate as much. If all humans lived up to their moral capabilities, everyone would do what is right without legal enforcement. When it came right down to it, even the most idealistic were more realistic in practice than their ideals claimed. All humans, they claimed, could live morally if they really want to, but for those who did not want to there are laws to coerce them.

One of the hallmarks of American government is the elaborate system of checks and balances. Most notable is the separation of powers into executive, legislative, and judicial. Does this reflect the founders’ fears that any one of these might otherwise become corrupt and this be an attempt to thin the probability? I wonder if there isn’t even some unconscious reflection of the tripartite nature of Israel’s government into prophet (judicial), priest (legislative), and king (executive).

Early deists and evangelicals agreed that people should and could govern themselves morally. The latter made provision in their thinking for the corruption of sin, but both agreed citizens ought to behave and govern according to the biblical concepts in which they all believed.

While the founders did not make this nation Christian in form, they did intend for it to be so in spirit.