Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Addressing Vox Day’s “Christian Nation” myth (again)

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Anti-“The United States of America is a Christian Nation!” sticker

Vox Day is back, once again claiming that the United States really is a Christian Nation and basing this not-apparently-debunked-often-enough assertion on another round of his peculiar (and erroneous) reasoning. Really, it all essentially boils down to two points: A) A secular government does not equal a secular country (which is certainly news to about every political scientist out there), and B) most Americans are Christians, anyway. Because, if Christianists can’t use appeals to popularity, what else have they got?

For his first argument, Vox begins thus:

For example, it is often said that John Adams, the second president and one of the Founding Fathers, declared that America is not a Christian nation. This statement is cited as proof that America was never a Christian nation. However, as it happens, he did no such thing. In the "Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary," more commonly known as the Treaty of Tripoli, the following clause appeared in the text:

"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, – as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen, – and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

To the careless reader, this would appear to support the atheist position. But the argument that America was never a Christian nation relies upon a common atheist trick, in this case, the substitution of the word "nation" for "government." What is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion? Is it "the United States of America"? Is it "the American people"? No, it is "the Government of the United States of America."

Huh. Vox doesn’t deny that the U.S. Government has no basis in Christianity; he just declares that the government and the country are functionally separate entities. This is certainly puzzling, especially given the number of questions it raises concerning conflicts between governance and populace. If a governing body’s principles or policies apparently don’t act as a representation of the very land and people it is charged with symbolizing and leading, then does that mean that the U.S. is essentially a lawless country? That would be an odd thing to say, given the number and harshness of laws and penalties the U.S. is renown for. Or, if the majority of the public opposes pot criminalization and endorses same-sex marriage, does that mean that the federal government’s continuing crackdown on marijuana possessors and its ongoing enforcement of the Defense of Marriage Act shouldn’t be taken seriously? Better yet, if nearly every single American holds Congress in utter contempt, then does that render the country sans a legislative body at all?

I’m not sure where this notion that a country and its government are apparently distinct entities comes from. Rather, it seems to me that a government is a part of a country, not some overarching entity that smothers it without actually acting as a proxy for its population’s true views and ideals. (Granted, I’m talking about democracies and republics, here, not actual totalitarian regimes that rarely have anything to do with the viewpoints of the people they oppress.) Specifically, it is the most evident and symbolic part of a nation, the collection of individuals chosen by the people, for the people, and thrust into political prominence for the primary goal of ruling them. It therefore seems only logical that whatever goals and viewpoints the populace holds, its chosen governing body should espouse as well, especially when it comes to forming its law of the land. Thus, how can claims that a government’s edicts don’t represent the country it is literally created for the sole purpose of representing hold any water?

However, Vox then makes it clear that he wasn’t saying that the U.S. is a Christian nation in the sense that the country is, but that its people, another part of the whole that is the United States, is. Cue the ad populum:

But the fact is that a government is not a nation. This should be obvious, as the government of the United States of America presently consists of 4.5 million employees and elected officials, whereas the U.S. nation is comprised of around 312 million people, less however many millions of non-citizen immigrants are presently resident within its borders.

The Oxford English dictionary defines a nation as "a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular state or territory." Since the overwhelming majority of the body of American people were Christians in 1776 and 1851, and since 76 percent of Americans still identify themselves as Christians, it is perfectly clear that America was a Christian nation at the time of its founding and remains a Christian nation today.

There is no room for honest debate on the subject. The United States of America is a Christian nation with a secular government. From its inception, it has been a Christian nation with a secular government.

Someone really needs to let Vox know that the fact that a majority espouse some trait or belief does not logically extend said trait or belief to the rest of the populace. For one thing, 76% of Americans may be self-professed Christians (though different sources give different statistics on the subject), but a fraction of barely over three quarters hardly constitutes a super-majority, which is what I would expect is required in order for their trait(s) or belief(s) to be applicable to the country at large. Similarly, despite years of public opinion records on the subjects, no-one can wisely claim that the United States is, as a whole, a pro-gay, weed-smoking mecca of affordable healthcare, abortion rights for all women and trans-religious acceptance afforded to all. The general people may espouse these ideals, but until they become socio-political reality, they simply cannot be labels attributed to the United States with any credibility.

So, yeah. Regardless of what a (not overwhelming) majority of Americans may believe, the United States is not a Christian nation. We have scores upon scores of historical, political and sociological evidence establishing this very basic fact. As the President himself – you know, the democratically elected official representative of America? – has illustrated in one of his most poignant statements:

[…] one of the great strengths of the United States is -- although as I mentioned, we have a very large Christian population, we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation; we consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.

Perfectly stated. Though a democracy is essentially a restrained version of “mob rule”, it shouldn’t be forgotten that whatever the majority thinks cannot inherently be applied to the rest of the country, especially when there are tens of millions who most vehemently reject such ideas. This is one of those things that even supposed “superintelligences” like Vox Day have apparently yet to comprehend.

Edit: 09/08/11 5:12 PM ET
Edit: 10/07/11 8:22 PM ET – Fixed typo in title.