Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Flexible Definition of a True Christian

This Christmas I received a DVD from relatives called, "Is America A Christian Nation," by David Barton. For those who haven't heard of it, it is basically a piece of propaganda designed to support the view that America was founded as a Christian nation, and that everything wrong with the country today is a result of getting away from our close relationship with God. Like most propaganda, it cherry-picks evidence that seems to support its thesis, and ignores or minimizes everything else. As I listened to Barton select quotes from the founding fathers that supposedly indicate their strong Christian beliefs, I was struck by just how flexible the "true Christian" definition can become.

Conservative Christians, fundamentalists, whatever you want to call them, normally have a very narrow definition of what it means to be a Christian. In their view, the vast majority of people calling themselves Christian are not "true" Christians at all. I saw this from my own personal experience growing up. The people we called Christians were those who met certain criteria, such as believing in Jesus as their personal savior, the acceptance of the Bible as the inerrant, inspired Word of God, and the doctrine that salvation was by faith alone, not works. This left out most Catholics, most mainstream Christian denominations, and many other Christians. 

But isn't it amazing how flexible and inclusive the definition of Christian becomes when it is time to argue that America was founded as a Christian nation? There's no question that a modern individual who held beliefs similar to Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, or a number of the other founders would not be considered a true Christian by Christian fundamentalists. But yet they have no problem claiming the founding fathers as Christian, based on cherry-picked statements from their writings.


  1. We're a Christian Nation as in the majority of folks are Christian.

    We are not a Christian Nation as many in my own party want to portray it-- we are a secular Republic and religion has little place in national politics.

  2. True. For most of our history the vast majority of Americans identified as Christian, and even today the latest poll puts it at 78%. I have no problem with the use of "Christian nation" in the sense of the majority religion of the population.

    But as you point out, many of the people who advance the Christian nation argument go way beyond noting that the population is majority Christian.

  3. You might as well be up to speed on another part of the argument. People came to America from being harassed by state church : theocracy. This led many to keep church and state separated so as to keep the church out of politics.
    Those that forward the argument of literal belief in the Bible miss out on the part that stated quite clearly that Jesus had no use for literal interpretation of Temple rules in society at large : theocracy again. If they can't see it, just see what the result is if asked if they sympathize with Pharisees.
    Not all 'believers' are intemperate idiots. That is a function of hatemongering/fearmongering. Here are a couple of sites I found worth looking at