A Christian Nation?

Written by Terry Canaan. Posted in Opinion, Politics

Published on February 27, 2008 with 1 Comment

By Terry Canaan, special to Fog City Journal

February 27, 2008

John McCain was down in the polls — way down — in the fall of 2007. Far from being the presumptive nominee, it was widely believed that the Straight Talk Express had been sidelined and was on its way out. So John, believing he had very little to lose, decided to kiss a little evangelical right butt.

McCain had been mending fences with the religious right for some time, carefully distancing himself from his reputation as a “maverick” and recasting himself as a typical Republican robot with no opinions outside the right wing orthodoxy. An interview with Beliefnet offered a golden opportunity.

Q: A recent poll found that 55 percent of Americans believe the U.S. Constitution establishes a Christian nation. What do you think?

A: I would probably have to say yes, that the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation. But I say that in the broadest sense. The lady that holds her lamp beside the golden door doesn’t say, “I only welcome Christians.” We welcome the poor, the tired, the huddled masses. But when they come here they know that they are in a nation founded on Christian principles.

All that poll really proved was that 55 percent of Americans had never read the Constitution — if they had, they’d realize that it doesn’t talk about Christianity at all. McCain, with his decades as a Senator, couldn’t honestly make the same claim of ignorance. Clearly, he was lying to tell the religious right what they wanted to hear. John McCain had entered that self-confirming right wing echo chamber. “Yes,” he might as well have said, “Whatever Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell say about the Constitution is true.”

And that echo-chamber didn’t waste any time bouncing McCain’s message back. That’s the way this whole thing works — you say something you wish was true, wait for someone to agree, then point to them as independent proof of your statement. You say something, wait for the echo, then say, “See? He agrees.”

“The fact that the left-wing Muslim groups vociferously reacted against McCain’s remarks, just added validity to his comments, and indeed value for his presidential nomination hopes,” wrote Christian Coalition blogger Jim Backlin. That Muslim groups objected to McCain’s comment that he wouldn’t vote for a Muslim in that same interview — not the “Christian nation” comment specifically — is beside the point. Muslims are evil and, if they don’t like someone, that someone must be on the right track. The echo chamber sometimes works in reverse.

But more important than where this “Christian nation” crap comes from is the question of why it’s manufactured at all. Why do you need to pretend that law calls for a Christian government when officeholders are already overwhelmingly Christian? Do they believe that Americans’ faith is so weak that they have to trick them into thinking they’re required to be Christian?

The answer to that may be yes — and that worry is not without cause. A study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, as reported by Associated Press, shows that the evangelical right has good reason for concern about their future.

The U.S. religious marketplace is extremely volatile, with nearly half of American adults leaving the faith tradition of their upbringing to either switch allegiances or abandon religious affiliation altogether, a new survey finds.

The study released Monday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is unusual for it sheer scope, relying on interviews with more than 35,000 adults to document a diverse and dynamic U.S. religious population.

While much of the study confirms earlier findings — mainline Protestant churches are in decline, non-denominational churches are gaining and the ranks of the unaffiliated are growing — it also provides a deeper look behind those trends, and of smaller religious groups.

Despite efforts by evangelicals to reach those they call “the unchurched” — i.e., unaffiliated Christians — that segment of the population is growing, not shrinking.

“The U.S. Religious Landscape Survey estimates the United States is 78 percent Christian and about to lose its status as a majority Protestant nation, at 51 percent and slipping,” AP reports. “More than one-quarter of American adults have left the faith of their childhood for another religion or no religion at all, the survey found. Factoring in moves from one stream or denomination of Protestantism to another, the number rises to 44 percent.”

In fact, previous census figures show that Christianity as a whole is headed toward becoming a minority religion by 2030, making up about 49% of the population. How do you ensure Christian political dominance in a nation without a Christian majority?

Convince everyone that it’s the law.

This whole “Christian nation” myth is the religious right making an end run around its own failure to reach the unchurched. “The religious demographic benefiting the most from this religious churn is those who claim no religious affiliation,” AP reports. “People moving into that category outnumber those moving out of it by a three-to-one margin.”

To make matters worse for the religious right, the next generation isn’t moving their way. A quarter of Americans between 18 and 29 are unaffiliated. The evangelical movement is already seeing a drastic decline in influence. The presidential campaign shows that. The candidate making the most noise about abortion and gays and evolution is the absolutely certain to lose Mike Huckabee. Other Uber-Christian candidates like Sam Brownback and Mitt Romney likewise went nowhere. The once mighty religious right is barely registering in the debate.

Given this, it’s no surprise that they’d want to convince everyone that they don’t just have a place in government, but that they are the government — by law and in the Constitution. Whether or not it’s true is irrelevant.

The problem is that the religious right is in a race against reality. This “Christian nation” propaganda is fast becoming a moot point. Is it possible to be a Christian nation in a nation where the majority is heathen? Even if everyone believed it was enshrined in the Constitution, the United State’s institutional Christianity would only be nominal. Christians would not have more influence because of it.

So John McCain, once so eager to kiss up to the religious right, barely talks about religion anymore. The movement is dying and history is moving on. The US, founded as a secular nation, is returning to her roots after a fit of religious hysteria.

Terry Canaan is a former political fundraiser living and writing in Wisconsin. He publishes the blog “Griper Blade.”

1 Comment

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  1. Huck know it’s a Christian Nation and wants to make sure it stays that way:
    Dump McCain

    By Adam Graham on Feb 28, 08

    John McCain’s condemnation of Bill Cunningham for his vigorous attack on the ability of Barack Obama to be Commander in Chief and for mentioning Obama’s middle name is the latest step in John McCain’s career of appeasing his enemies and attacking his friends.

    I received a call from a reporter in rock-rib-Republican Idaho Falls asking me to comment on the discontent with John McCain. Republicans in that area of the state are down. John McCain should still win Idaho, but GOP turnout will most likely be down. The result: many good people will lose legislative races, maybe even Congressional races, thanks to John McCain.

    It?s this way across America. A friend in Tennessee told me of a Congressman trying hard to get people at a Lincoln Day Dinner psyched up about supporting John McCain, but had little success. The Republican base is set to stay home in droves this year and the only motivator John McCain can provide is fear: fear of Obama, fear of Hillary. That will not be enough. There are enough people on the right for whom politics is a take it or leave it proposition. If you cannot speak to their dreams, hopes, and highest principles they will not show up. And John McCain cannot do that. Alan Keyes said it best, ?There’s not a single constituency of true conservatives that doesn’t have one of John McCain’s knives stickin’ out of our backs.?

    It isn?t happening. Yes, the Democratic candidates are frightful, but that?s not enough. Bill Clinton?s liberal record in Arkansas, nor the fact that he protested his own country overseas in a time of war, nor his various unpatriotic acts were enough to stop his campaign.

    Let us be objective for a moment. America is fed up with government. It is fed up with its President and gives him approval ratings in the 30s, it is fed up with its Congress and gives them approval ratings in the 20s. In a time of discontent, that empty rhetoric of change can, as it did in 1976 and 1992, overcome the fact that the Democratic Candidate is wholly unfit to be President of the United States.

    If I?m wrong and McCain wins, then what do we win? Do you think after four years of John McCain, conservatives will be happier or more discontented? Will the liberal and moderate voters who John McCain is counting on elect a Republican Majority in Congress, or will they more likely vote for liberal Democrats? Whether McCain wins or loses, conservatives lose.

    Some choose to sit helpless in this malaise. Some try to make a mockery of our political process by crossing over to the Democrats to cast a sabotage vote for Hillary to stop the Barack Obama train. I say, it?s time to stop the John McCain train.

    Those who are finding John McCain unpalatable often conclude there is no alternative. We?re told that Governor Mike Huckabee has been eliminated from this process and that it?s mathematically impossible, and the math is clear. Yet, as Governor Huckabee pointed out recently in Ohio, if the math is so clear, why does every news site have different numbers?

    The math is only ?clear? if you count unpledged delegates. Only pledged delegates are required to vote for a candidate on the convention floor. According to the Green Papers, John McCain has 874 delegates, Mike Huckabee has 210, Ron Paul has 5. What remains are many states with primaries ahead, as well as a large slate of delegates that are not pledged to any candidate. There will be several hundred delegates that could be free agents at a convention should John McCain not reach magic 1191.

    Voters in states such as Ohio, Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Indiana, Kentucky, Idaho, South Dakota, and New Mexico could hit back at states that thought their voice and their vote shouldn?t matter by supporting Huckabee and forcing a vote on the convention floor. Maybe, his inability to seal the deal will convince delegates who may be leaning McCain right now to change their mind.

    Many people say Huckabee is even worse than McCain. This analysis is incorrect. Huckabee is not a perfect conservative. However, he can be trusted on several issues on which John McCain cannot be.

    John McCain supports handing our sovereignty off to the International Criminal Court and the Law of the Sea Treaty; Mike Huckabee doesn?t.

    Mike Huckabee has a consistent record of supporting the second Amendment; John McCain doesn?t.

    John McCain supports using your tax dollars to destroy human embryos; Mike Huckabee doesn?t.

    Those concerned with securing the borders may not believe Huckabee on the issue because of some proposals he made while Governor of Arkansas, however, Governor Huckabee has made ironclad commitments by signing pledges by Numbers USA and Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) to not have amnesty. I trust Duncan Hunter and Jim Gilchrist on the border, and they trust Huckabee. Meanwhile, John McCain has not pledged to oppose amnesty and he has convinced no major figure on border security that he is serious about protecting our nation?s borders.

    Finally, while Huckabee has had his differences with many conservatives, he?s not made his career antagonizing every part of the Conservative base.

    At this point in the race, John McCain is taking the tact of Bob Dole. Dole, in the waning days of the 1996 campaign after he won South Carolina, quit debating because he knew that appearing in a debate beside other candidates could only hurt him. It?s a sign of weakness and an inability to defend your ideas. If McCain is afraid to take on Mike Huckabee, what?s Barack Obama going to do to him in the fall?

    I?m under no allusions that Huckabee has a great shot of winning. The odds are against him.

    However, I remember him being in single digits and facing the end of his campaign in August when he finished second in the Iowa strawpoll. I remember us being told the Huckaboom went bust in late December, and then he won the Iowa caucuses. I remember reading his political obituary after the Florida primary and within eleven days, voters in eight states gave him victories. Governor Huckabee has the type of character and determination to beat the odds that I refuse to underestimate him.

    However, whether he wins or loses, I will not be on the sidelines moping as the GOP heads for defeat in November. I have given funds, and I?ve made calls into Texas. I will expend every effort I can, and if that fails, I can rest in the knowledge that I didn?t roll over and accept the coronation of a man who will lead the GOP to defeat this Fall.

    What about you?