July 07, 2006
by: jovial_cynic
I've grown weary of the "United States is a Christian nation" argument that seems to spill from the religious-right. It wouldn't be an issue, except that the argument is used to suggest that American laws should align with particular interpretations of scripture... and the interpreters of scripture are generally the ones that have the power to enforce laws, and that lends to all sorts of problems.

Is America a Christian nation? Are Americans obligated to abide by the government's interpretation of scripture?

Back in 1797, John Adams signed and proclaimed this treaty with the nation of Tripoli to the people of the United States. It's a list of twelve articles that detail the rules of the treaty.

Pay special note to article 11:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries. (emphasis mine)

It seems like John Adams and company were pretty keen on making it clear to both the nation and to the muslim population of Tripoli that the United States was not a Christian nation. Some backstory to the treaty is probably necessary to put it into context. It's a bit of a read, but it certainly adds some flavor to our American history.

I'm not opposed to Christian ethics in general. I think that sound biblical principles are a fantastic way to live one's life, raise children, and participate in the community at large; I think that the principles are generally beneficial for both believers and nonbelievers. I'm just not a big fan of government officials telling me what it thinks the bible really says about hot-topic issues. And I'm not a big fan of conservatives and republicans casting themselves as the "moral party" on account of taking an anti-abortion and anti-homosexual stance to swing votes.
np category: religion


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