During the height of the Communist scare of the 1950s, certain religious and political leaders pushed through Congress a couple of changes that many Americans now think have always existed. One of those was the adoption of the phrase “in God we trust” as the United States’ official motto. The other was the change to our Pledge of Allegiance to add the phrase “one nation under God”.
It took both the fear of those “godless communists” as well as others fear of retaliation from the fear mongers promoting the red scare to make these changes. It was not an easy time to stand up and object to the insertion of “God” into our country’s documents. Of course, these changes from a little over 50 years ago are now erroneously conflated by many as evidence that the United States was founded based on the Christian religion and thereby is a “Christian country”.
A Christian Country?
In spite of such opinions, there is much evidence to support the contention that the United States was not founded based on any religion. The Declaration of Independence does mention “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” as well as the fact that we are “endowed by our Creator” with certain rights. However, as writer Jim Walker has pointed out, ” the mentioning of God in the Declaration does not describe the personal God of Christianity.”
Our first true legal document – the Constitution – consciously does not mention God. The First Amendment does offer that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” It was obviously important to our founding fathers that we not codify one religion over another.
In 1797, the Senate ratified the Treaty of Tripoli between the United States and the country of Tripolitania which was primarily Muslim (this land is now part of Libya). Contained within article 11 of this treaty was the following: “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 tranquility, of Musselmen; and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan 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.” Neither President John Adams nor the Senate objected to this language.
Although the United States was not “founded on the Christian religion”, one can make a good case that we are a “Christian nation” because Christianity is the largest religious movement within the country. Our form of government is not Christian but a significant proportion of the people who live in the country at this point in time claim to be Christian.
An Unnecessary Debate?
Whether or not that makes us a “Christian nation” depends upon your worldview. Fundamentalists with a more traditional worldview would say yes, while many atheists with a modern/materialistic worldview would say no. These groups can get quite feisty emphasizing their beliefs. The emotional nature of such arguments flies in the face of labeling ourselves as “one nation”, much less “under God”.
Such debates, in my opinion, do not ultimately serve us. The heated discussions say more about the beliefs of those debating than they do about what actions we need to take to bring about the highest vision of our country. To me, such a vision is much larger and more important than who is right in a no-win argument.
If fundamentalist Christians want to believe what they believe and if materialistic atheists want to believe what they believe, then our highest vision should include a country that makes room for all of their beliefs as well as those who believe something else! The only problem is when either faction tries to take their belief structure and impose it on the greater whole of the country through certain legal actions.
A Real Shining City on the Hill?
In my highest vision for our country, we will ultimately and truly become “one nation” when we let go of focusing upon our differences and instead focus upon how we are alike. We will become one nation when we will let go of attempting to impose our will and our beliefs on others. We will become one nation when our eyes become focused upon a common goal of how the United States can be a positive force for the highest possibilities for humanity and the world. This doesn’t mean bringing either our form of government or our predominant religion to other countries.
Instead, United States can be that “shining city on the hill”, in my opinion, when we can let go of our need to be fearful of one another and replace that fear with a sense of care and concern for everyone everywhere. That concern leads us towards actions which ensure that every human being has access to having their basic needs met – healthcare, food, shelter, education, safety. Every person, no exceptions, should be free to live in a world liberated from violence and war. Every person should be able to believe what they wish to believe. Every person should have the opportunity to be prosperous and thrive. And, our planet should be protected from harm so that every person now and every person to come will have a safe place to live.
As each person grows in their understanding of their interconnectedness to all of life, to all of this world, they evolve closer and closer to this higher possibility for humanity. At some point, we release the need to believe in our separation from other people or from the universe we live in or from any creative force which had a role in creating it all. At this threshold in our evolution, our sense of connectedness calls us to let go of our being simply “one nation” and instead realize that we are all part of the same “one cosmos”. We realize that we are no longer living “under God” and instead realize that we are all living and moving and experiencing our very being “within God”. We will know there is only “the One” and each of us are a part of It.