Is America a Christian nation? Some Christians eagerly point to the word “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence (1776) as evidence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Who is this “Creator”? Is it Yahweh, the Christian god? Is it a placeholder into which you can imagine any god so that Muslims can imagine Allah or Hindus can imagine Brahma?
No—the opening sentence clarifies: it’s not Yahweh but “Nature’s God.” At the time, this phrase was understood as the deist god of Enlightenment philosophers like Spinoza and Voltaire. Deism was popular in Revolutionary America, and Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, and other founding fathers were either deists or inspired by the movement. Deism imagines a hands-off god, a creator who, once the clock is built and wound up, leaves it to tick by itself.
The role of this “Creator” is clarified in the Declaration:
Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
In other words, the Creator has no role at all in government. We’ve turned our back on the divine right of kings, where the king was God’s representative who served at God’s pleasure. God isn’t the foundation on which authority rests. No—it’s the consent of the governed. The buck stops here, which is very empowering.
Remember that the purpose of the Declaration was to inform Britain that the colonies wanted to become independent. When government becomes abusive, the recourse isn’t to appeal to God:
Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Again, we see that the government rules at the pleasure of the people, not God.
While the Declaration of Independence doesn’t give Christians what they may imagine it does—an acknowledgement of the existence of the Christian god and his sovereignty over this country—this exercise is largely irrelevant. The Declaration isn’t the supreme law of the United States. That is the Constitution, and it’s secular. Watch out for Christian revisionist historians bringing up the Declaration. That’s the white flag of surrender because they know that they have nothing where it really counts—the Constitution.
Photo credit: Wikimedia
See Michael E Buckner’s essay, “The Unchristian Roots of the Fourth of July,” http://www.infidels.org/kiosk/article41.html on the Secular Web for more. –Ed Buckner (proud father of the writer of said essay)
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The likelihood that the US is a Christian nation is directly proportional to the number of occurrences of the words “God”, “Jesus”, “Christ”, “Christian”, and “Bible” in the Constitution.
You want a nation where there’s no doubt about their religious affiliation? None better than one that puts it right up front as the 1st word in their name: the Islamic Republic of Iran.
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You forgot to mention Paine who is thought to have been somewhat of ghost writer of the DOI.