Below (scroll down or click here), I introduced to you our first contributing editor, John Fea of Messiah College, whose first blog entry concerns civic humanism, religion, and the eighteenth-century republican tradition. Here's John's next entry, on that much politicized question, "Is America A Christian Nation"?
John Fea: Is America a Christian Nation?
Most of us are no doubt tired of this politically charged question. I know I am. But there is also a part of me that just can’t stay away from it. As someone who teaches at a church-related college in the evangelical tradition, I get this question all the time from prospective students and their parents.
This is why I was intrigued when I saw Hugh Heclo’s article, “Is America a Christian Nation?” in the most recent issue of Political Science Quarterly. In one of the more thoughtful treatments of this topic I have seen of late, Heclo concludes that the answer to this question is much more complicated than both the Christian Right and the secular left tend to make it. (Of course it is!!). Is America a Christian nation? Heclo says that the answer is “yes--no--no--no--sort of--sort of--and no way.”
Here is how he breaks down his answer:
1). America is a Christian nation if “Christian” is defined demographically.
2). America is not a Christian nation in terms of the way Americans regard the “relevance of Christianity to their everyday lives.”
3). America is not a Christian nation in terms of how Americans uphold Christian creedal commitments.
4). America is not a Christian nation in terms of how they behave.
5). America is “sort of” a Christian nation in terms of its legal and institutional structures.
6). America is “sort of” a Christian nation in terms of its moral/republican ethos.
7). America is definitely not (“no way”) a Christian nation in terms of “Christianity’s view of the question.”
Some of us may be disappointed with Heclo’s lack of deep historical thinking and use of poll data to support his conclusions (after all, he is a political scientist), but his article is worth reading. I wonder how American religious life in the late eighteenth-century would fare under Heclo’s criteria for what makes a nation “Christian?”
If you do not have access to Political Science Quarterly (the article is not on-line), the essay stems from a 2004 lecture that Heclo gave at Boston College. You can watch that lecture here.