Steven K. Green, Next Notable Book in Christian Nation Debate


Jon Rowe

Jon Rowe is a full Professor of Business at Mercer County Community College, where he teaches business, law, and legal issues relating to politics. Of course, his views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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38 Responses

  1. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Sounds like a fine resource to affirm my own personal preferences and biases, to wit, that the Framers sought to create a government that would form public policy from a secular basis, with minimal influence from any particular religious sect or creed.

    Does the book cross the line into polemic? The excerpt seems nicely academic in tone.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    My basic theory is that none of the Founders intended the United States to be a Christian nation and that all or most of their successors in office new this to. The problem was that ever since the Puritans landed in New England, a decent plurality of Americans saw America as an extension of the Protestant Reformation. Its why 19th century Americans got so bothered about the practice of non-Protestant religions like Roman Catholicism, Judaism, Buddhism (which people referred to as Heathenism) even though the Constitution granted religious liberty.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to LeeEsq says:

      “My basic theory is that none of the Founders intended the United States to be a Christian nation”

      And therein lies that kernel where, I think, so many people on both sides get tripped up.

      I think you’ll find that there were indeed quite a few of the nation’s founders who absolutely wanted a Christian nation. It’s one of the chief reasons why adding FoR to the bill of rights was such a tenuous proposition at the time. Of course, equally incorrect is the notion that *all* of the Founding Fathers wanted a Christian nation.

      In fact, pretty much any statement that starts with “what all the Founding Fathers wanted” and thens continues to bolster a current-day Culture War argument on either side is propagandist twaddle, because the Founding Fathers weren’t universally much of anything in their thinking. Within a certain parameters, they were all over the map — which is why they spent years hammering out all of the wording, intention, and compromises embedded in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and then put them all in writing.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Can anybody provide any evidence on which of the people at the Constitutional Convention wanted a Christian nation? Name names and provide good evidence for what they specifically meant?Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to LeeEsq says:

          You clearly have never read our former friend Tom van Dyke’s writings elsewhere (mostly over where Jon has written much of his stuff as well).Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to LeeEsq says:

          @leeesq If you’re really curious, I would highly recommend to you any one of these books — or better yet all of them:

          So Help My God, by H. Forrester Church

          American Gospel, by Jon Meacham,

          Founding Faith, by Steve Waldman

          For Cause and Comrades, by James McPherson (You should also read McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom. Not for this issue; just because it’s space awesome.)

          Empire of Liberty, by Gordon WoodReport

      • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Tod Kelly says:


        I can understand folks being interested in the extent to which the Founding Fathers (alleluyah!) were Real Christians on a purely academic perspective. What I can’t understand is folks – usually Christians – who think that something important about our current politics follows from claiming (or maybe even arguing!) that the US was founded as a Christian nation. I mean, I get that they think the last 250 years of secular liberal dysfunction has corrupted our American Soul (and caused hurricanes and floods to boot), but we’re still a nation of laws (in theory) and none of them are the Christian God’s law. What do they think is at stake – other than their feelings – by even making this an issue?Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Stillwater says:

          Channeling the van Dyke:

          Because, if one believes that our current national values descend from those of the Founders, and those values were based on certain religious or ethical views, then those views are still relevant today.

          Speaking for Chris, however, I couldn’t care less, and those who focus on the Christian component of those values and tend to ignore many other important components.Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to Stillwater says:

          @stillwater it goes way back to Plato in some circles; and we all know Plato was a good Christian!

          ALITO: People like Plato wrote in favor of that, did he not?
          BONAUTO: In favor of?
          ALITO: Same-sex — wrote approvingly of same-sex relationships, did he not?
          BONAUTO: I believe so, Your Honor.
          ALITO: So their limiting marriage to couples of the opposite sex was not based on prejudice against gay people, was it?
          BONAUTO: I can’t speak to what was happening with the ancient philosophers.


        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Stillwater says:

          @stillwater To be honest, I’ve never really understood the entire debate except at an academic level.

          When I’m being less than fair, I tend to think that part of it has to do with a narrative in certain circles that the 1960s (or FDR) ruined everything about America, which is oft coupled with the seductive illusion that prior things were not only just, they were fairly static and agreed upon. (e.g.: Everyone always agreed what free speech was because it was plainly obvious, and then the Warren Court came along and now it’s activist judges all the way down. Because apparently John Adams never happened.)

          In my more fair moments, I tend to think it’s because myth and tradition are simply powerful things for all of us.

          But yeah, I don’t get it. If tomorrow morning they uncovered a letter by G Washington to Jefferson saying the government should never feed the poor, it wouldn’t really change my opinion on safety nets. If they uncovered one from Jefferson back to him adding that two men should be allowed to marry, it wouldn’t really change Tim’s on SSM, any more than both men’s owning people makes anyone I know pro-slavery.Report

      • I’d be pretty surprised if any of the Founding Fathers were in favor of interracial marriage. (Franklin, maybe, though I suspect he’d have stopped at interracial fooling around.)Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to LeeEsq says:

      I suspect Tod is right. There were plenty of Founding Fathers who were the imperfect heirs to the Enlightenment but there were also plenty of Founding Fathers who really would want the United States to just be an expansion of the Protestant Reformation and this strain of thought has never (and probably will never) die.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        I think that’s a fair cop, although my suspicion is that there were more members of the first school of thought then the second, at least within the crew of 53 or so well-educated landowners who met in Philadelphia over that remarkable summer.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Burt Likko says:


          Probably, it fit the age of the times. I think we could also celebrate between the crew of 53 as you call them and the facts on the ground in their home states.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to LeeEsq says:

      My basic theory is that, whatever the particular religious inclinations of any individual founding father, none had a majority, or even a plurality large enough to impose any one sect over the others. Freedom of religion was a necessary cease fire. It also makes for a damn fine principle, but I doubt that this is why it was enacted.Report

  3. Avatar greginak says:

    It always like the people who had influenced teh founders had either experience or knowledge with the horrors that religious violence can do to people. The English Civil War was brutal. They had seen how religion can divide and inflame the worst passions. They were looking to avoid all those old divisions and problems which had repeatedly ripped apart Europe.Report

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    There was another book that came out recently that argued that Corporations helped found and fund the modern Religious Right as an anti-New Deal measure/Report

  5. Avatar zic says:

    more and more, the thoughts of the founding fathers are, like the thoughts of god, often divined, often without aid of a divining rod, a ouija board, or even a magic eight ball, let alone a copy of the federalist papers.Report

  6. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    I think the problem is, I think most of the Founding Father’s thought America should be a christian nation, but note the small ‘c’ there. Their idea of a christian nation was their short hand for “good, peace loving people” showing up was out of the question since the idea of many true atheists, or frankly, large amounts of non-Christian’s were not even something could happen since ya’ know, all the non-Christian’s were halfway across the globe. In other words, more Kiwanis Club Christianity than fire ‘n’ brimstone.

    So, well, I think the current Christian Right is wrong in that the most of the Founding Father’s wanted a theocracy, I also disagree with my hardcore athiest acquaintances who try to act like the Constitutional Convention was a Richard Dawkins meeting.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      Many of the Founders, I really hate this term do we have anything better, actually didn’t even contemplate America as a small c Christian nation. They new very well what separation of religion and state meant. May I offer this letter from our first President on the matter:

      Thomas Jefferson also argued that if Muslims were to come to the United States, they to would religious liberty.

      The successor to the Founders also realized the full implications of separation of religion and state like President Tyler, who regarded it as the most radical and noble experiment of the Constitution.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Remember to distinguish Founders (the men and women who fought for independence, particularly their leaders) from Framers (the men and women whose political debate resulted in the Constitution of 1787 and its subsequent Amendments).Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to LeeEsq says:

        @leeesq You’re making the error of pointing to the writing of those that won the debate, and declaring it proof that there was no dissent.

        Seriously, go read one of the books I referenced. There were numerous reasons that the Bill of Rights were added later, and most of the reason were instances where they couldn’t get consensus on them. It took lots — *lots* — of politicking.Report

        • Avatar Chris in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          Also, the writings he’s pointing to don’t make the point he’s claiming they do.

          Anyway, we now have a person who’s spent years studying and debating these questions, even blogging with the enemy (the “Christianists” like TVD) for the better part of a decade. Hell, he used to post so much about this stuff at PL that I’d get sick of it (I may even have told him that once or twice), and by then he’d been at it for some time. Point being, we’d all do well to listen, if this topic piques our interest.Report

          • Avatar Dave in reply to Chris says:


            Jon was one of my earliest influences when I first waded into the constitutional debates. I used to read PL years ago and Jon’s own personal site.Report

    • Avatar aaron david in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      I would say that @jesse-ewiak has the right of it. This is after a lot of religious wars on the continent, and the various groupings of dissenters in English religion (your Shakers, Quakers and whatnot’s) coming over to the new world. They might have written a letter to the Jews, per Leeesq, but for the most part I do believe that they were Christians of one strip or another. And with all of the anger and strife of various groups of that faith, worked it out that no one group would be elevated. Nor one group discriminated against.Report