[T]he Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion - Treaty of TripoliSo who are we to believe? Socialist Progressives surely fight the idea of a Christian Founding, and Conservatives seem hell-bent to push the idea at every turn. There are thousands of articles, blogs and discussions on the web pro- and con- about the historical validity of the question. Both sides quote particular founders out of context to push their side of the agenda. Neither side budges an inch. I'm no historian, and neither are most Americans. So what's the answer?
I think we're going about the question wrong. It is impossible and non-objective to try and gauge the personal convictions of men who lived 200 years ago. Even if their letters were replete with paeans to mysticism (which they aren't) it would tell us nothing about their true motivations. Trying to argue this point historically is not going to convince anyone, I'm afraid. We need to take a different approach.
First we need to ask-- IF America were a Christian Nation, what would that mean? Why is it an important question at all?
How do we define a "Christian Nation"?
Is it a nation composed primarily of Christians? If so, Italy is certainly a far more Christian nation than the US. The United States is about 78% Christian, if you believe the polls. Italy is 93%. Panama is 99%. Mexico is 95%. So does the "Christianity" of a nation dependent on its demographics? If so, then this "Christian nation" idea is nothing more than tribalism and racism. It says, essentially, that no matter the form of the government-- whether it be a monarchy, a republic, a theocracy, or a dictatorship-- if that nation is composed primarily of Judeo-Christian peoples then that nation is "Christian". By this standard, in world history we have seen many bloody and murderous "Christian nations" that none of us would want to live in. Israel creates much of its own troubles by being a tribalist country-- insisting on its own "Jewishness" when all that is required is that Israel be a nation that protects all citizens equally. But the tribal or racist standard is corrupt and pernicious wherever it's applied. And if this is a numbers game, I cannot imagine that Conservatives see America as being of lesser moral credit and stature as Hugo Chavez' Venezuela, which is 98% Christian. So we must conclude that a "Christian Nation" is to mean something else in this context besides a mere numbers game.
So, do we define a "Christian nation" as being "founded on Christian principles"? Okay. Which principles are those and what does it mean? First, let's define "Christian principles" as all that which was taught or preached by Jesus in his ministry. Is that not broad enough? Okay-- let's say it is all that was taught by Jesus, his disciples, the church fathers, the Catholic Church, the Protestant churches, and every other denomination of Christianity prior to 1776.
Here is the Sermon on the Mount. I think it may be considered representative of the best Jesus' teachings:
Where will anyone read within this a doctrine of individual rights, separation of powers, a bicameral legislature, ANY of the distinctive features of the American political system?