Wednesday, December 22, 2004

America - a Christian nation

As a follow-up to Dennis Prager's take on the commercialism of Christmas, here's a piece by another Jew, Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg (via Cassandra). Wohlberg follows a slightly broader theme, but he remakes my point about the secularism that has become Christmas (and Chanukah).
Similarly, Christmas deserves to be celebrated by Christians for what it is: A religious holiday, not a secular one. And it deserves to be observed as a religious holiday, not a secular one. I know many Jews psychologically bar their doors when someone goes on TV and says this is a Christian country. A statement like that bothers me as well. But sometimes we go overboard.

[…]

The fact of the matter is, America is not a Christian country, but an overwhelming majority of Americans are Christian! Why shouldn't Christmas be celebrated across our country? But I say it shouldn't be celebrated because it's a secular holiday. To me, that robs Christians of one of their most sacred days. It should be celebrated in America because 75% of Americans are Christians. And the other 25% aren't being forced to observe it. You want to get up early on Dec. 25th and go to work? Nobody's stopping you! But at the same time, nobody is forcing you to bring a Christmas tree into your home!

To me, the public celebrations of Christmas and Chanukah represent American diversity at its best. Far better that, than the banning of religious symbols as being practiced by the French. Why should children be taught to hide their religious identity rather than take pride in it?

[…]

So let's put the "Ch" back into Chanukah! And, yes, let Christians put Christ back into Christmas. Let us not attempt to secularize our religions, or to blur our religious differences. Let us learn to respect each other's religion. Then there will truly be "peace on earth and goodwill toward all men" … and women as well!

It always catches my attention when I hear someone say that America is not a Christian country, as Wohlberg does here. It's not that I disagree exactly. The term "Christian country" is so semantically vague that there's not much point in debating the issue.

Still, as a non-Christian, I have no problem with the notion of America being a Christian nation. I find it a positive and meaningful characterization, and I think our country is diminished as we grow to deny our Christian heritage.

So I'll use this as an excuse to trot out some quotes I've collected over the years from our Founding Fathers and other great leaders of the past. As I say, I am not a Christian, but I find great comfort in these words and in the faith of a people who are guided by them.
John Jay, First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1816):

"Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty ... of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers."

Supreme Court Justice David Brewer (1892):

"This is a religious people. This is historically true. From the discovery of this continent to the present hour, there is a single voice making this affirmation ... We find everywhere a clear recognition of the same truth ... These, and many other matters which might be noticed, add a volume of unofficial declarations to the mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren (1954):

"I believe no one can read the history of our country without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the Savior have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses ... Whether we look to the first Charter of Virginia ... or to the Charter of New England ... or to the Charter of Massachusetts Bay ... or to the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut ... the same objective is present ... a Christian land governed by Christian principles. I believe the entire Bill of Rights came into being because of the knowledge our forefathers had of the Bible and their belief in it: freedom of belief, of expression, of assembly, of petition, the dignity of the individual, the sanctity of the home, equal justice under law, and the reservation of powers to the people ... I like to believe we are living today in the spirit of the Christian religion. I like also to believe that as long as we do so, no great harm can come to our country."

James Madison:

"We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not on the power of government...[but] upon the capacity of each and every one of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."

John Quincy Adams:

"The greatest glory of the American Revolution was this: It connected in one indissoluble bond, the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity … Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer's mission upon earth? That it laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity?"

Woodrow Wilson:

"America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of the Holy Scripture."

Calvin Coolidge:

"[The Founding Fathers] were intent upon establishing a Christian commonwealth in accordance with the principle of self-government. They were an inspired body of men. It has been said that God sifted the nations that He might send choice grain into the wilderness ... Who can fail to see it in the hand of Destiny? Who can doubt that it has been guided by a Divine Providence?"

House Judiciary Committee (1854):

"[I]n this age, there is no substitute for Christianity...That was the religion of the founders of the republic, and they expected it to remain the religion of their descendants."

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