Friday, December 02, 2005

USA founded on Christianity?

A coworker was lamenting about how Target or someone was calling "Christmas trees" "Holiday Trees" or somesuch out of pressure from non-Christian groups. He went on to say that we have let too many Muslims into this country and that this country was founded by Christians. I normally have a "no religious or political discussions at work" policy, but I had to challenge him on his last point at least.

Do you think this country was founded by and/or for Christians? If you do, I would love to know on what you base that belief.

In the meantime, I have a challenge for you. Find "God", "Jesus", "Christianity", "religion", or any form of these words, in the Constitution of The United States. Hint: "religious" is in the Constitution once, and in the Amendments once as well. Homework assignment: Find where they are used, and quote the sentence they are used in.

Here's a link to The Constitution:

PS I'm sure you'll be excited to find a date referrence of "the Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord". Extra credit: If you find this an endorsement of Christianity, do a little research into where the names of the week come from and report back.


Uncle Fatso said...

Iteresting challenge... Wasn't Thomas Jefferson (among several) well-known Humanists? I'd probably change the statement "This country was founded by and/or for Christians." maybe to state that it was founded by Judeo-Christian thinkers/philosophers/whatevers intent on protecting the right to be a Jedeo-christian thinker or any other kind of thinker/phlosopher/whatever.

Rowan said...

Actually, uncle fatso, they were mostly deists.

Rowan said...

One article put it fairly well:
Contrary to the claims made by some from the Religious Right, America was not founded as a Christian Nation which was then later undermined by godless liberals and humanists. Just the opposite is the case, actually. The Constitution is a godless document and the government of the United States was set up as a formally secular institution. It has, however, been undermined by well-meaning Christians who have sought to subvert its secular principles and framework for the sake of this or that "good cause," usually in the interest of promoting this or that religious doctrine.
Jeanette B. Welch points to something perhaps even more important than the absence of any serious references to "God" or "Christianity" in the Constitution: also absent is any delegation of authority in religious matters to either elected politicians or appointed bureaucrats. People working for the government are granted civil and political powers, which is to say that they have authority over civil matters but absolutely no religious powers are granted in the Constitution.
This is very, very important. People seeking to eliminate or even just soften the separation of church and state frequently advocate policies which would, in effect, grant authority over religious matters to politicians and government bureaucrats. For some reason there is the misconception that people working for the state should have the power to decided when is a good time to pray, what religious documents should be endorsed, or what sort of god people should acknowledge.
Nowhere in the Constitution, however, will you find even the slightest hint of such authority being granted. It's curious that those who think that such authority does exist are also those who tend to argue against interpretations of the Constitution that stray from the plain text or original understanding. Not even the most tortured interpretation from the most "activist" judge would be able to identify any authority over religious matters in the Constitution.

As did this exerpt taken from The Nation:
If we define a Christian as a person who believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ, then it is safe to say that some of the key Founding Fathers were not Christians at all. Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Tom Paine were deists--that is, they believed in one Supreme Being but rejected revelation and all the supernatural elements of the Christian Church; the word of the Creator, they believed, could best be read in Nature. John Adams was a professed liberal Unitarian, but he, too, in his private correspondence seems more deist than Christian.
George Washington and James Madison also leaned toward deism, although neither took much interest in religious matters. Madison believed that "religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize." He spoke of the "almost fifteen centuries" during which Christianity had been on trial: "What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution." If Washington mentioned the Almighty in a public address, as he occasionally did, he was careful to refer to Him not as "God" but with some nondenominational moniker like "Great Author" or "Almighty Being." It is interesting to note that the Father of our Country spoke no words of a religious nature on his deathbed, although fully aware that he was dying, and did not ask for a man of God to be present; his last act was to take his own pulse, the consummate gesture of a creature of the age of scientific rationalism.

As for the etymology assignment:
Sunday: O.E. Sunnandæg, lit. "day of the sun," from sunnan, oblique case of sunne "sun" + dæg "day," from a W.Gmc. loan-translation of L. dies solis "day of the sun," which is itself a loan-translation of Gk. hemera heliou. Cf. O.N. sunnundagr, Ger. Sonntag "Sunday." Like other weekday names, not regularly capitalized until 17c. Sunday school dates from 1783 (originally for secular instruction); Sunday clothes is from 1642. Sunday driver is from 1925.
Monday: O.E. monandæg "day of the moon," from mona (gen. monan) + dæg (see day). Common Gmc. (cf. O.N. manandagr, O.Fris. monendei, Ger. Montag) loan-translation of L.L. Lunæ dies, source of the day name in Romance languages (cf. Fr. lundi, It. lunedi, Sp. lunes), itself a loan-translation of Gk. selenes hemera. The name for this day in Slavic tongues generally means "day after Sunday." Phrase Monday morning quarterback is attested from 1932, Monday being the first day back at work after the weekend, when school and college football games were played. Black Monday (1359) is the Monday after Easter day, though how it got its reputation for bad luck is a mystery. Saint Monday (1753) was "used with reference to the practice among workmen of being idle Monday, as a consequence of drunkenness on the Sunday" before [OED]. Clergymen, meanwhile, when indisposed complained of feeling Mondayish (1804) in ref. to effects of Sunday's labors.
Tuesday: O.E. Tiwesdæg, from Tiwes, gen. of Tiw "Tiu," from P.Gmc. *Tiwaz "god of the sky," differentiated specifically as Tiu, ancient Gmc. god of war, from PIE base *dyeu- "to shine" (see diurnal). Cf. O.N. tysdagr, Swed. tisdag, O.H.G. ziestag. The day name (second element dæg, see day) is a translation of L. dies Martis (cf. It. martedi, Fr. Mardi) "Day of Mars," from the Roman god of war, who was identified with Gmc. Tiw (though etymologically Tiw is related to Zeus), itself a loan-translation of Gk. Areos hemera. In cognate Ger. Dienstag and Du. Dinstag, the first element would appear to be Gmc. ding, þing "public assembly," but it is now thought to be from Thinxus, one of the names of the war-god in L. inscriptions.
Wednesday: O.E. Wodnesdæg "Woden's day," a Gmc. loan-translation of L. dies Mercurii "day of Mercury" (cf. O.N. Oðinsdagr, Swed. Onsdag, O.Fris. Wonsdei, M.Du. Wudensdach). For Woden, see Odin. Contracted pronunciation is recorded from 15c. The Odin-based name is missing in Ger. (mittwoch, from O.H.G. mittwocha, lit. "mid-week"), probably by infl. of Gothic, which seems to have adopted a pure ecclesiastical (i.e. non-astrological) week from Gk. missionaries. The Gothic model also seems to be the source of Pol. sroda, Rus. sreda "Wednesday," lit. "middle."
Thursday: O.E. Þurresdæg, perhaps a contraction (influenced by O.N. Þorsdagr) of Þunresdæg, lit. "Thor's day," from Þunre, gen. of Þunor "Thor" (see Thor); from P.Gmc. *thonaras daga- (cf. O.Fris. thunresdei, M.Du. donresdach, Du. donderdag, O.H.G. Donares tag, Ger. Donnerstag "Thursday"), a loan-translation of L. Jovis dies "day of Jupiter," identified with the Gmc. Thor (cf. It. giovedi, O.Fr. juesdi, Fr. jeudi, Sp. jueves), itself a loan-translation of Gk. dios hemera "the day of Zeus."
Friday: O.E. frigedæg "Frigga's day," (see Frigg), Gmc. goddess of married love, a W.Gmc. translation of L. dies Veneris, "day of (the planet) Venus," which itself translated Gk. Aphrodites hemera. Cf. O.N. frijadagr, O.Fris. frigendei, M.Du. vridach, Du. vrijdag, Ger. Freitag "Friday," and the L.-derived cognates O.Fr. vendresdi, Fr. vendredi, Sp. viernes. Of the Gmc. goddesses, Freya (q.v.) corresponds more closely in character to Venus than Frigg does, and some early Icelandic writers used Freyjudagr for "Friday."
Saturday: O.E. Sæterdæg, Sæternesdæg, lit. "day of the planet Saturn," from Sæternes (gen. of Sætern, see Saturn) + O.E. dæg "day." Partial loan-translation of L. Saturni dies "Saturn's day" (cf. Du. zaterdag, O.Fris. saterdi, M.L.G. satersdach; Ir. dia Sathuirn, Welsh dydd Sadwrn). The L. word is itself a loan-translation of Gk. kronou hemera, lit. "the day of Cronus." Unlike other day names, no god substitution seems to have been attempted, perhaps because the northern European pantheon lacks a clear corresponding figure to Roman Saturn. An ancient Nordic custom, however, seems to be preserved in O.N. laugardagr, Dan. lørdag, Swed. lördag "Saturday," lit. "bath day" (cf. O.N. laug "bath"). Ger. Samstag (O.H.G. sambaztag) appears to be from a Gk. *sambaton, a nasalized colloquial form of sabbaton "sabbath," also attested in O.C.S. sabota, Rus. subbota, Fr. samedi. Saturday night has been famous for "drunkenness and looseness in relations between the young men and young women" since at least mid-19c. Saturday-night special "cheap, low-caliber handgun" is Amer.Eng., attested from 1976 (earlier Saturday-night pistol, 1929).
How wonderfully Nordic. Quite Stellar!

Uncle Fatso said...

Right, right, right.... I think I knew that they were Unitarians, not Humanists...I don't know where that mixed up in my head.

I think it does need to be noted, though, that while many founding fathers were deists, there were also many Christian fellows contributing, and there was quiete a bit of Christian influence; opening and closing prayers and benidictions etc.

I read an interesting book with some stuff I didn't know about relating to this very topic--I'll have to go dig it out so I won't misquote or misrepresent what it said.

Uncle Fatso said...

Well shoot. I think I put that book in a box of books sent back to Seattle already. Maybe I'll try and find the info I was looking for online...

Dave said...

Wowee Rowan! You are an A+ student!! Excellent work, and the articles you quoted are great. Thanks!!

Uncle fatso, thanks for contributing as well!


PS By the way, here's the two references to religion in the Constitution:

In Article VI:

Clause 3: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

In the First Amendment:

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.

Rowan said...

Thought of you when I saw this.