Obama's "we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation" statement has precipitated a great deal of wingnut whining (see David Limbaugh's piece at ClownHall and Jon Rowe's rebuttal) John Nichols brings the snark at The Nation, writing that "Constitutional rewritemen Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly disagree, as does noted historian and Biblical scholar Chuck Norris." Rob Boston observes that "Obama's remarks in Turkey reflect the best of Jefferson's thinking and rebuke people like Gingrich, Bauer and O'Reilly:"
The United States was not founded as a Christian nation. Nothing in the Constitution grants Christianity favored status. In fact, Article VI bans religious tests for federal office, and the First Amendment bars laws "respecting an establishment of religion" while protecting "the free exercise thereof" - for all faiths.
The contrast between the Jeffersonian Left and the Christianist Right could scarcely be more starkly drawn, as Boston observes:
How many times have you heard Fox News Channel blowhard Bill O'Reilly rail against "secular progressives"? Gingrich, O'Reilly, et al, believe "secular" is a dirty word because they insist on conflating it with hostility toward religion. It's not. In fact, the idea of government neutrality on questions of theology is the platform upon which religious liberty rests.
Over at Washington Monthly, Steve Benen asks, "is there anything even remotely controversial about what the president actually said?"
We have a secular constitution that established a secular government. Our laws separate church from state. No religious tradition enjoys official sanction over any other. Of course we're not a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation.
The usual argument is that most of the U.S. population is Christian. That's true, but irrelevant. Most of the U.S. population is white -- does that make the United States a "white nation"? We also hear arguments that most of the Founding Fathers were Christians. That's also true, but also irrelevant. Most of the framers were also men -- does that make our country a "man's nation"?
It's time to retire this old conservative canard. I'm glad to see Obama help out.
Benen is correct that the "Christian nation" myth is long overdue for a trip to the glue factory, but myths--by definition, due to their ability to survive as memes without factual support--are kept alive due to the needs they fulfill. As the central cherished myth of Christianism that links religious beliefs to a desire for power through controlling government and society, their revisionist idea of a "Christian nation" is no less tenacious through being repudiated by the President a single time. (Or a dozen times, or a hundred, or a thousand...just ask Religious Right Watch, Jon Rowe, Rob Boston at Americans United, or Frederick Clarkson at Talk to Action.)
Without erasing the secular achievements of the Founders and over-writing them with myths, though, Christianists would be unable to claim the US as "Christian" in anything but a numerical sense. For all their pretend patriotism and faux reverence for the Founders, the Christianist Right deeply resents and fears our secular nation--especially now that they're worried about losing control of it. In his book Eternal Hostility, Frederick Clarkson writes that they would just as soon erase the Founding altogether and return to the Puritan era:
"Although the United States was the first nation in history founded without the sanction of an official God or an official church, the national ethos of religious pluralism and equality is under attack. It is an attack rooted in struggles between advocates of democratic values and the established theocracies of 17th and 18th century colonial America. Much of the contemporary Christian Right is looking back to what their religious and political ancestors lost when the Constitution was ratified - now they seek a different outcome." (pp. 3-4)
They failed to create a theocracy then--let's hope that their losing streak continues.