39 thoughts on “Random Mormon Poll #3: Is the US a Judeo-Christian nation?

  1. The Youtube link has, as evidence that the US is a Christian nation, mention of “The Trinity.”
    I’m a US citizen. I don’t believe the US was founded on the Trinity.
    The US is a country that allows more freedom of religion than (almost?) anywhere else. I’ll stick with religious freedom, and say no to the “Judeo-Christian” nation.
    Yes, Christianity has been a big part of the US. Many (but by no means all) of the founders were Christian. The majority of citizens today are Christian. But, like in the Youtube link, once we start calling the US a Christian nation, it soon becomes “the US is our brand of Christianity nation.”
    Let’s embrace people of all faiths, realize that Americans are Americans regardless of their religion, and that they all have something to contribute to our nation. The things that make the US great are not solely Christian and Jewish ideals.

  2. 11 of the Founding Fathers were non-Trinitarian Christians.

    Richard Price, whom most folks have never heard of, profoundly influenced the American Founding. We blogged about him at American Creation here, here, here and here. His theology, along with Joseph Priestley’s, illustrates the kind of “Christianity” that disproportionately appealed to the Founding Fathers. I put Christianity in quotation marks because Price was a Unitarian of the Arian bent (Priestley was a Unitarian of the Socinian bent). And, as you will see when I quote him below, the “orthodox” of the Founding era did not consider that creed to be “real Christianity.”

    Many things have changed since the founding era, but this is not one of them. The orthodox today [and that includes Protestant, Roman Catholic and capital O Orthodox] still don’t consider non-Trinitarianism to be “real Christianity.” How many times have we heard evangelicals claim Mormons are not “Christians” even though they call themselves “Christians”? A similar dynamic existed in the Founding era, but with theological Unitarians like Locke, Newton, Milton, Clarke, Priestley, Price, John. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, and probably Washington, Madison and many others. I think the key Founding Fathers and the philosophers and theologians they followed probably thought of themselves as “Christians” more so than “Deists” in an identificatory sense. [Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, and Elihu Palmer were examples of “Deists” who rejected the “Christian” label.] However they either outright rejected, hedge on or ignored the orthodox Trinitarian doctrines which the “orthodox” saw as a non-negotiable part of “Christianity.”

    In late 17th and early 18th Century America and England, theological Unitarianism started to spread like wildfire in secret circles. It started to “come out” in the late 18th Century, when America was being founded. I think America’s FFs, disproportionately theological Unitarians, fought so hard for “liberty of conscience” in part to make it safe for secret heretics like them to “come out” and preach their heresy without fear of legal or social penalty.

    Richard Price was one of the first “out” Unitarians. And though he was cautioned about being so “out” with his heresy in America, that didn’t stop many Founding Fathers from expressing interest in his work.
    Carl B. Cone in an article entitled “Richard Price and the Constitution of the United States” published in The American Historical Review, Vol. 53, No. 4 (Jul., 1948), pp. 726-747, reproduces on pages 732 and 733 the Founding Fathers who subscribed to Price’s publication entitled “Sermons on the Christian doctrine as received by the different denominations of Christians.” Among that list are eleven delegates to the Constitutional Convention including Franklin, Hamilton and Washington. Washington, who had nothing but praise for Price’s work, ordered 4 copies!

    Washington also spoke positively about one of Price’s addresses that slammed the Trinity. In a letter to BENJAMIN VAUGHAN, February 5, 1785, GW wrote:
    Sir: I October, and thanks for the flattering expressions of it. These are also due in a very particular manner to Doctr. Price, for the honble mention he has made of the American General in his excellent observations on the importance of the American revolution addressed, “To the free and United States of America,” which I have seen and read with much pleasure pray you to accept my acknowledgment of your polite letter of the 31st. of.

    Here are some of the contents of that address. Price attacks the “Athanasian creed” which is the quintessential statement of Trinitarianism:
    Perhaps nothing more shocking to reason and humanity ever made a part of a religious system than the damning clauses in the Athanasian creed and yet the obligation of the clergy to declare assent to this creed, and to read it as a part of the public devotion, remains.

    The sermon further includes the following pro-Unitarian, heterodox sentiments. In the context of arguing religious liberty and equality for all (not just “Christians”), Price asserts:
    Montesquieu probably was not a Christian. Newton and Locke were not Trinitarians and therefore not Christians according to the commonly received ideas of Christianity. Would the United States, for this reason, deny such men, were they living, all places of trust and power among them?

    If you read his work carefully, you’ll see Price identifies as a “Christian,” insists that Unitarians like himself are “Christians” and has much praise for the “Christian” religion. And the liberal that he was, Price believed in granting religious rights for all, not just “Christians.”

    In men like Price (and Priestley!) you are likelier to find the theology of the key Founders, than in for instance, men like Paine. It was something that presented itself as “rational Christianity,” but that the orthodox of the Founding era and of today (i.e., the evangelicals who make up the “Christian Nation” crowd) don’t think of as “Christianity,” but a false heretical system. If Christian Nationalist evangelicals really understood the kind of “Christianity” that appealed to the key Founding Fathers, they would term it a “cult,” not Christian at all, as they do with Mormonism.

    http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2009/01/richard_price.php

  3. My apologies to our previous commenters and anyone who visited this post and were unable to participate in the poll. The poll is now open.

  4. We are not a Judeo-Christian nation because
    (a) there were no Jews among the Founders, and Jews were subtly or overtly persecuted in the country until after WW2,
    (b) our founding documents were based on belief in a God, but not on a belief in a personal God, let alone Jesus Christ,
    (c) many of the founding principles of our democratic republic were based on ancient non-Christian societies like Greece and Rome, whereas Christianity had never had a history of democracy or representative government, and
    (d) although there has always been a preponderance of Christian believers in the United States, we do not have a state church (like many European nations did) and government policy is strictly neutral toward religious organizations.

    There are lots of Christians in the United States, but the United States is not a Christian nation.

  5. I predict that those who vote no will give reasonable arguments to support their vote, while those who vote yes will simply affirm their belief. :-)

  6. Mike, I think your arguments are reasonable, and I even agree with most of them. But sometimes, it takes too much energy to fight out old battles that have been fought a thousand times before, and it’s easier just to click on how you feel. That’s one of the reasons we do these polls.

  7. Geoff, I am with you (not on your answer to the poll, but on #9). I voted “No” in the comments (#9) because my phone does not work on the polls. In the end, it is a silly question that will lead to contention. Much of this is just exhausting as some point.

  8. I think this is a question that can be interpreted as either yes or no, depending upon how you define the phrase “Christian nation.”

    Are we a nation founded upon Judeo-Christian ideals and principles? You bet. I believe that God had a hand in guiding the Founding Fathers as they wrote the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution.

    Now, is Christianity the official religion of the US? No, it is not.

  9. Is the seperation of powers a religious concept at all, let alone a Christian one? Is the equality of man a Christian concept found in the Bible?

  10. Mike #6
    The first publicly practicing Jews arrived in New York in the American Colonies in 1655. For these first twenty-six families came many important Jews and later their Christian descendants. Men such as Haym Solomon, the American Revolution’s leading banker. He is credited as financing the Revolution.

    Patriot Moses Michael Hays, a close firend and business associate of Paul Revere, In 1775, seventy-six men in Newport were asked to sign a declaration of loyalty to the American colonies that included the phrase, “upon the true faith of a Christian.” Hays publicly objected to the phrase and refused to sign, instead offering a letter affirming his belief that the Revolution was a just cause. When, after much wrangling, the Christian portion of the oath was omitted, Hays affixed his name. See Jewish World Review: http://www.jewishworldreview.com/jewish/history9.php3

    Also Rabbi Gershom Mendes Seixas who was called “patriot rabbi”. He moved his congregation from New York to Philadelphia, rather than ask his congregation to pray for George III. He later assisted at George Washington’s inauguration.

    Later, Emma Lazarus, the poet, who wrote “Give me your tired, Your huddled masses” engraved on the base of the Statue of Liberty was a Sephardic Jew.

    “From the beginning, of course, the spirit that guided the American Revolution had strong Judaic overtones. The Old Testament had become, in many ways, a Revolutionary textbook. For one thing, the Puritans of Colonial News England considered themselves the spiritual off spring of Old Testament characters. Like the Jews, they gave their children Old Testament names. It was to the Old Testament that the Puritans turn to find God. They regarded the New Testament as merely the story of Christ. In England, the Puritans had been called “Jewish fellow travelers,” and they compared their flight to America with the Jews’ escape form Egypt. They called the Massachusetts Bay Colony the “New Jerusalem”. There was a proposal that Hebrew be made the official language of the Colonies (it was on the regular curriculam, along with Latin and Greek, when Harvard was founded, a knowledge of the language being considered part of equipment of a cultivated man). John Cotton had suggested that the Mosaic Code be used as the basis for Massachusetts’s laws.” From The Grandees: America’s Sephardic Elite by Stephen Birmingham page 146

    The Jews may not have been the front men, but they certainly influenced the front men.

  11. Chris H. is right: For all the claims that “we are nation founded upon Judeo-Christian ideals and principles,” the Founding Documents are completely, utterly lacking in any references to a personal God, a personal Savior (by name or notion), the Bible (by name or scripture reference), or any Biblical doctrines.

    But there ARE numerous connections to political philosophers of the age who supported liberty and individuals rights. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are not rights enumerated in the Bible, but you will find them in the writings of John Locke.

  12. @Brian Duffin
    No doubt there were many Christians who participated in the American Revolution, and some of them saw independence in Christian terms. That doesn’t change the fact that the founding documents and arguments are virtually free of allusions to the Bible and its doctrines.

  13. Let’s see what the Book of Mormon says:

    1 Nephi 13:

    12 And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.
    13 And it came to pass that I beheld the Spirit of God, that it wrought upon other Gentiles; and they went forth out of captivity, upon the many waters.
    14 And it came to pass that I beheld many multitudes of the Gentiles upon the land of promise; and I beheld the wrath of God, that it was upon the seed of my brethren; and they were scattered before the Gentiles and were smitten.
    15 And I beheld the Spirit of the Lord, that it was upon the Gentiles, and they did prosper and obtain the land for their inheritance; and I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.
    16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles who had gone forth out of captivity did humble themselves before the Lord; and the power of the Lord was with them.
    17 And I beheld that their mother Gentiles were gathered together upon the waters, and upon the land also, to battle against them.
    18 And I beheld that the power of God was with them, and also that the wrath of God was upon all those that were gathered together against them to battle.
    19 And I, Nephi, beheld that the Gentiles that had gone out of captivity were delivered by the power of God out of the hands of all other nations.
    20 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld that they did prosper in the land; and I beheld a book, and it was carried forth among them.
    21 And the angel said unto me: Knowest thou the meaning of the book?
    22 And I said unto him: I know not.
    23 And he said: Behold it proceedeth out of the mouth of a Jew. And I, Nephi, beheld it; and he said unto me: The book that thou beholdest is a record of the Jews, which contains the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; and it also containeth many of the prophecies of the holy prophets; and it is a record like unto the engravings which are upon the plates of brass, save there are not so many; nevertheless, they contain the covenants of the Lord, which he hath made unto the house of Israel; wherefore, they are of great worth unto the Gentiles.
    24 And the angel of the Lord said unto me: Thou hast beheld that the book proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew; and when it proceeded forth from the mouth of a Jew it contained the fulness of the gospel of the Lord, of whom the twelve apostles bear record; and they bear record according to the truth which is in the Lamb of God.
    25 Wherefore, these things go forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God.
    26 And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.
    27 And all this have they done that they might pervert the right ways of the Lord, that they might blind the eyes and harden the hearts of the children of men.
    28 Wherefore, thou seest that after the book hath gone forth through the hands of the great and abominable church, that there are many plain and precious things taken away from the book, which is the book of the Lamb of God.
    29 And after these plain and precious things were taken away it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles; and after it goeth forth unto all the nations of the Gentiles, yea, even across the many waters which thou hast seen with the Gentiles which have gone forth out of captivity, thou seest—because of the many plain and precious things which have been taken out of the book, which were plain unto the understanding of the children of men, according to the plainness which is in the Lamb of God—because of these things which are taken away out of the gospel of the Lamb, an exceedingly great many do stumble, yea, insomuch that Satan hath great power over them.
    30 Nevertheless, thou beholdest that the Gentiles who have gone forth out of captivity, and have been lifted up by the power of God above all other nations, upon the face of the land which is choice above all other lands, which is the land that the Lord God hath covenanted with thy father that his seed should have for the land of their inheritance; wherefore, thou seest that the Lord God will not suffer that the Gentiles will utterly destroy the mixture of thy seed, which are among thy brethren.
    31 Neither will he suffer that the Gentiles shall destroy the seed of thy brethren.

    Judeo-Christian indeed.

  14. I vote that we’re a Judeo-Christian-Muslim-Hindu-Buddhist-Athiest-Agnostic-etc. country (not necessarily in that order).

    Which is to say, I find the concept of “Judeo-Christian Country” to be completely devoid of meaning, absent some sort of explanation of what the speaker means. Which means that, when most people use it, they don’t really know what they mean.

  15. @Sam B.
    It’s usually code words for forcing a certain brand of fundamentalist Protestant semi-theocracy upon a larger society that would rather have religion be a personal, private matter.

  16. Also Rabbi Gershom Mendes Seixas who was called “patriot rabbi”. He moved his congregation from New York to Philadelphia, rather than ask his congregation to pray for George III. He later assisted at George Washington’s inauguration.

    Now for the interesting part with regard to early Mormonism: Rabbi Gershom Mendes Seixas had a son, Joshua Seixas, who was the man hired to teach Joseph Smith and the Kirtland Elders the Hebrew language. Further, Rabbi Gershom Mendes Seixas had a daughter who married Abraham Jonas. She died quite young, but he went on to be the Masonic Grand Master of Illinois, who cleared the way for the establishment of Nauvoo Lodge, and made both Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon masons “on sight.” Abraham Jonas had a brother, Joseph Jonas, who married another daughter of Rabbi Gershom Mendes Seixas, but like her sister, she died early in the marriage.

    Small world, eh?

  17. @Geoff B
    Gotta call you on the disctinction between the subject of this post, which is whether vis-a-vis international relations, the US is Christian or whether the occupants of the promised land face consequences if/when they reject Christ.

    (PREMISE: the United States does not comprise the entire promised land. I know that that is not doctrine, so just calling that out as my personal premise.)

    So, when differentiating between a Christian NATION and a Christian PEOPLE in the context of diplomacy with a nation struggling with secular identity, it is not relevant to talk about the values underlying domestic policies. Mr. Obama was dealing with acts of state and whether Turkey’s foreign policy and the US’s reciprocation would be based on sectarian or secular world views.

    As a Christian PEOPLE I would argue that we have been the embodiment of a chrematistic–if not an imperialist–NATION.

  18. Interesting dialog, though I am sad to hear the usually rehtoric about America as a Christian nation with Christian values that so often perpeuated in Christian churches across American, LDS included.

    American’s founding was not at all based on religion, it was based on the principles of the Enlightenment and Reason. See the book Without God, Without Creed (Princeton U Press). Though some of the founders were Protestants, most were deists or otherwise intellectuals not interested in religion. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Ben Franklin were not religious people; they didn’t even believe in the traditional Christian god, if they even believed in a organized higher power (though they were involved with freemasonry which was a religiously neutral belief in a higher power). Much of the talk about religion’s involvement in founding the early republic is myth perpetuated after the 1820s by Protestants that claimed religion led to the founding of America, but it was really a political nation founded outside of the religious sphere and without religious influence.

    America is political nation, and religion shouldn’t be involved. Mixing religion with politics is a bad pathway. America could be considered comprised of mostly Protestants, Catholics, Jews, atheists, and other religions, but its hardly homogeneous. Religion should have no role in politics, and often those who make political decisions based on religions teachings are missing the practical issues at hand or derailing human progression. A person should make political decisions based on what is good for the nation as a whole, for its citizens, and not based on their religious beliefs. (there are morals outside of religion is my point, so no need to interpret this as an extreme statement) But in all honesty, history has shown how science, progressive reform, equality, freedom, and other issues are always hindered by religious bais.

    I am assuming this post might start a small wildfire or resentment by a few. But can we honestly say otherwise with an educated answer?

  19. Nick #22 Interesting. I already knew about the Seixas teaching Joseph Smith Hebrew. What I did not know was the Jonas angle with the Masons. Do you have a source for that? I would love to read more. Thanks

  20. @Zach
    I was with you completely until you claimed “history has shown how science, progressive reform, equality, freedom, and other issues are always hindered by religious bais.” That is a gross overstatement.

    There are some examples where religion stood in the way of these things, sure, but there are also many examples of human rights and intellectual advancement coming only *because* of religion (particularly Christianity).

  21. Mike,
    Agreed, you are very right, there are some examples, but within the Christian societies of Europe, the later is prominent. I should have stated ‘generally’ when I said that. Fair?

    But even today, issues of abortion, stem-cell research, homosexuality and other issues are often opposed by religious groups on the basis of religious reasons. (though not all, of course) (and in saying this I am not taking the position on these issues, merely just using them as examples). The Catholic Church regularly excommunicated scientists (sometimes killed them) in early Europe. The science debate was hotter than the homosexuality debate today among religious groups. Protestants regularly persecuted people in Europe and America (such as Mormons and Catholics) because these believed differently. Religion can lead people to pursue ideas outside the scope of Enlightenment Reason, or just plain common sense, and move behaviors from that of Virtuous citizens.

    In saying this, these are not absolutes, but sometimes generalizations since all people are different, and there are always exceptions to the rules. Thanks for your response.

  22. the United States is a secular nation that bases its laws on Judeo-Christian principles. It is not a Judeo-Christian nation. The principles we espouse we claim will work with any situation, whether it be an Islamic state, a Buddhist state, or an atheist state. There is much borrowed from other cultures. For example, democracy is not a Judeo-Christian ideal, and it doesn’t come from a Judeo-Christian culture. To not acknowledge that, when we press for democracy so strongly, is an affront to democracy and its true founders. We may not like that the ancient Greeks were not Christian, but rather polytheists, but that’s not their problem. Our most prized principle, and characteristic comes from pagan polytheists. Are we ready to acknowledge that?

  23. Re #19: How does 1 Nephi 13 prove that we are a Judeo-Christian nation?

    Re #25 and 28: My sense is that the notion that people need to check their religion at the door in order to participate in public forums is waning. Part of this is because, IMO, many of the religious people that want to participate in these kinds of forums are more sensitive to how they bring their religious convictions into play. The thought seems to be something like, “We shouldn’t force our religious beliefs on those who cannot be persuaded by them, but neither should we pretend like we can ignore part of who we are.”

  24. Smallaxe is correct (of course). Even within liberal political philosophy, there has been a move towards greater inclusion (and greater respect) for religious beliefs in the public square. This does not mean that “The Bible said so” of “The Book of Mormon said so” are particularly appropriate arguments since they are mostly bad arguments. However, look at Obama. While he insist (rightly so in my view) that we are not a Christian nation, he also points to his own faith on a regular basis and refers to Christian ideas. Hmmm, sounds like me. I knew I like that guy for a reason.

  25. “However, look at Obama. While he insist (rightly so in my view) that we are not a Christian nation, he also points to his own faith on a regular basis and refers to Christian ideas. Hmmm, sounds like me. I knew I like that guy for a reason.”

    Sounds like George W. Bush, and I doubt you liked him. I am not impressed with his “Religion speak” as his actions speak louder than his words. Those actions for me are a despot wanting desperately to be loved by other despots. The only thing in his way is the Constitution of the United States, and he is slowly getting rid of that.

  26. Jettboy,

    I actually never did mind Bush’s religious rhetoric. Nothing against him personally at all, though you are right that I disagreed with many (though not all) of his policies.

    “Those actions for me are a despot wanting desperately to be loved by other despots. The only thing in his way is the Constitution of the United States, and he is slowly getting rid of that.”

    LOL. Thanks for the good start to my morning. I was trying to address the issue religion in the public sphere. You insist on making it a partisan bickering match. I am still smiling.

  27. This whole dispute revolves around the ambiguity of the word nation. Culturally, the United States is generally speaking a Judeo-Christian nation and always has been. However, so far as the government is concerned, we have never been one – more like a that of a general non-denominational God fearing civil religion.

  28. I think Mark D. makes a good point that is worth remembering.

    Smallaxe, I read 1 Nephi 13 as discussing the founding of the United States primarily and other American nations. Columbus was moved by the Holy Ghost. The Bible is the book that proceedeth from the Jews and was an important founding document for many Americans, both in the United States and elsewhere. The Pilgrims and Catholic conquistadores were Christians inspired by a Jewish Bible. Therefore, the foundation of the Americas is “Judeo-Christian.”

  29. Good points Geoff, Mark D. and many others.

    I think regardless of our political leanings and beliefs on whether America is or is not a Judeo-Christian nation, we all expect good government. The scriptures are replete with examples of what happens to the people when the government and people are evil.

    Proverbs 14:34- Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people.

  30. @Geoff B.

    “Founding” and “foundation” could be thought of as two rather different things. What I get out of 1 Nephi 13 is as follows:

    God brought gentiles to the promised land. He used them to punish the Lamanites. God prospered them in the land. Since they were humble he gave them power to fight against the mother Gentiles. They brought with them the Bible. The Bible has already been corrupted by the GAC. Many of the Gentiles stumble because of the corruptions. The Gentiles will not totally destroy the Lamanites.

    I am more tempted to read this as an account of a “founding” rather than “foundation”. This is how the founding of the Gentile nation took place (although I suppose some would have a problem reading this in terms of the founding of the US). The founding refers to historical events. The foundation refers to the principles on which the nation is based on. If we want to talk about extracting principles from this account, I’m not sure what we’ll come up with. Undoubtedly it would include things such as the rightful persecution of Native Americans, which I imagine we would agree is not a foundation for the nation.

    I suppose we could also take the other route, which would be to say that things such as the persecution of Natives were in fact part of the foundation (slavery was too of course), but that the foundation has changed. That being the case, why are the current values of the nation necessarily Judeo-Christian ones? Even if we say that Christians were the ones to bring these values to bear in the founding of the nation, doesn’t it matter that these values transcend the boundaries of Christianity? Even if these founders incorporated these values in the name of a Christian God, which many would say they did not do, these values all have a history and that history most certainly extends beyond simply Christianity.

  31. Smallaxe, good, thoughtful comments. I guess I would answer that there is a big disconnect between the intent of the founders — Columbus, Cortez, the Pilgrims, Washington, etc — and the results. If you read the actual historical documents, many of the founders were intent on setting up a Judeo-Christian paradise. That is what the BoM is referring to. The fact that their efforts fell far short (massive killing and dislocation of native populations, slavery, etc.) is another issue.

  32. And to follow up on this, I will point out that there is no perfect answer to the poll question because in some ways we are a Judeo-Christian nation, and in other ways we are not. My personal opinion is that the intent of the founders, from Columbus on to Madison, Washington, etc, was to set up a nation founded on Judeo-Christian principles in which all religions would be respected. So, forced to choose in an imperfect poll, I choose “we are a Judeo-Christian nation” even though that answer is incomplete.

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