In this culture war, when one side thunders, "we are a Christian nation" (or Judeo-Christian) and the other side roars back, "no we are not," the two sides seem to shout past one another, perhaps meaning different things, or, I think, many don't even understand what they mean when they spout such platitudes. Let me give some brief thoughts on how we are and are not a Christian Nation.
The United States is:
1) Demographically: Overwhelmingly predominately Christian (just like we are overwhelmingly predominately white);
2) Culturally: A mixture of both Christian and Pagan. Western Civilization has two sources a) Jerusalem (our religious or Christian source) and b) Athens (our secular or Pagan source). Christianity may have become dominant, but the Pagan or Profane never was completely wiped out. I agree with Camile Paglia that Western Culture is and always has been every bit as much Pagan as Christian. From Aquinas's coopting the teachings of the Pagan philosopher Aristotle (and let me thank those members of the medieval Catholic Church for preserving Greco-Roman philosophy), to the Renaissance, to the Enlightenment, to the Romantic period, the Secular/Pagan is every bit as important to Western culture as is the Christian.
3) Publicly: Our government is secular-or neutral on matters of religion. Race is the best analogy. Even though we are overwhelmingly a white nation, our public institutions ideally are colorblind. This sentiment in regard to religion is best summed up by the Treaty of Tripoli which states that "the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."
The statement in that treaty is, I think, a statement of historical fact. That document is often invoked in this "Christian Nation" battle and I've heard it said that 1) the phrase in question never made it to the final document, 2) treaties are federal law on the same level as Congressional legislation, therefore it's the law that we are not founded on the Christian religion. On the other hand that the treaty expired after a couple of years, therefore it's no longer law; 3) that the US made a desperate overture to Muslim pirates (the terrorists back in the day)....
None of this really matters; if you examine our two founding documents, -- the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution -- it's clear that the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion. If it were, these documents would have said so. The Declaration and/or the Constitution would have invoked Christ or the Trinity, or would have cited Biblical passages; they didn't. The Declaration invokes a "Nature's God" (show me in the Bible where God is referred to as "Nature's God") and the Constitution leaves God out of the document entirely.
Now, as I mentioned, Christianity was and is a big part of our culture, therefore a document coming out of a Christian culture inevitably will be sprinkled with language that denotes this (yet, because our culture is equally Pagan, there will be Pagan language in there well).
And those who would argue that our Constitution mentions the Christian God show their desperation by clamoring onto the most minimal Christian references to be found there. For instance, in replying to the charge that the Constitution mentions not God, Thomas Krannawitter argues
In fact, the Constitution explicitly mentions God in Article VII, which dates the Constitution "in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven."
The fact that someone cites the customary way of stating the date in Christian cultures as "proof" of God in the Constitution goes to show how little that side has to offer. Western nations have, until recently, used the letters "AD" after the date. What do you think those letters mean?
When the constitution mentions "Sunday" will these folks argue that we were founded on Sun worship or "Thursday," the worship of Thor the Thunder God?
Note the fact that civil governments are in no sense properly founded on Judeo-Christianity doesn't mean that all references to religion need to be stripped from the public square or otherwise cleansed from our culture.
Western Culture is a unique admixture of Christianity and Paganism. As I've written before in the context of examining the Christian and Pagan elements of Christmas,
And what makes the West special is this unique combination, this tension between Athens and Jerusalem. The orthodox and the Pagan agree on some matters, vehemently disagree on others, borrow from one another and create separately and together. Indeed, this tension enabled the West to be the greatest creative force there ever was.
Another classic example is the LA County flag that features both a Christian Cross and a Pagan goddess of Justice. Or the friezes at the Supreme Court, which feature a public display of Moses and the Ten Commandments, surrounded by historical Pagan lawgivers. As this article notes,
[Moses] is given equal prominence with lawgivers from a variety of religious backgrounds, including Islam, Confucianism, sun worship, and both Egyptian and Greco-Roman paganism. While Moses is shown holding the tables of the Ten Commandments, Muhammad is shown holding the Quran, the primary source of Islamic law, and the first pharaoh, Menes, is shown holding the ankh, an Egyptian mythological symbol representing eternal life. Other figures are shown holding secular legal documents. England's 12th-century King John is shown holding the Magna Carta, which he signed, while the Dutch legal scholar and statesman Hugo Grotius is shown holding his 1625 book, Concerning the Law of War and Peace, one of the first books on international law.
If you don't believe me, check it out for yourself.
Sometimes I get the impression that the ACLU-type secularists want to strip all religious references from the Public Square. Note, the ACLU is often terribly distorted by the right-wing as wanting to stamp religion out from society altogether, like the Soviets. This is a terrible slander. The ACLU zealously defends the right to worship, but in private.
But as the case with the ACLU attempting to remove the cross from the LA County Seal reveals, some secularists of that mindset seem to want to strip anything religious from anything connected with government.
It would be better if secularists demand a public policy that accepts that civil governments are not properly founded on any religion (Christianity or any other) and government as such must remain neutral between the religions, and between religion and non-religion, but leave alone those religious references in the public square that 1) are made by private parties pursuant to a generally applicable neutral program or rule, and/or 2) reflect that Christianity (like Paganism) is an important part of the history and Culture of Western nations.