“Nation” vs “government”


I see Vox Day is up to his usual form. Writing for WorldNetDaily, he tries to dilute the impact of the Treaty of Tripoli by a bit of heavy-handed framing.

[T]he argument that America was never a Christian nation relies upon a common atheist trick, in this case, the substitution of the word “nation” for “government.” What is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion? Is it “the United States of America”? Is it “the American people”? No, it is “the Government of the United States of America.”

Notice it’s the atheists who are trying to “trick” you into confusing the American nation with the American government. No Christian (like David Barton, for instance) would ever try to conflate “nation” and “government” in such a way as to make it sound like our laws and government institutions (e.g. public schools) had a right and/or obligation to give preference to Christianity.

Vox’s usual schtick is to bring up some truth or half-truth, and then spin it in some way as to make it sound like one or more atheists are wrong. So on the one hand, he does say some things that are correct, like this:

There is no room for honest debate on the subject. The United States of America is a Christian nation with a secular government. From its inception, it has been a Christian nation with a secular government.

That’s a pretty accurate statement, and I especially like the way it relegates the works of people like David Barton to the realm of dishonest debate. But true to form, Vox tries to turn that into a liability for the atheist, as though atheists were at all shy about acknowledging the fact that Christians are in the majority here. Obviously atheists will cheerfully grant that what the government is supposed to be, and what the majority of the people are, are two different things. There’s not even any point in trying to deny the majority of Christian faith in this country (and as many atheists point out, this fact is the root of a lot of our problems!)

The half-truth that Vox exploits is that the Christian nation debate often fails to observe that distinction between the Christian faith of the majority of the nation and the Constitutionally-mandated secularism of the American government. And that’s not the atheists’ fault. It’s not the atheists who are fighting to push government-mandated Christian prayers into public schools, or to insert “Under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance, or who are erecting monuments to Biblical passages like Exodus 20 or who are enacting laws and pushing constitutional amendments designed to enforce Old Testament prohibitions against homosexuality.

Obviously, in the middle of a debate over whether or not public school teachers should be burning crosses into their pupil’s arms, the defenders of secular government may not always take the time to spell out precisely the difference between “nation” and “government,” since in many contexts the two terms are legitimately interchangeable. And that’s all the pretext Vox needs not only to pretend that atheists are “tricking” people, but also to insinuate that secularists are destroying American freedoms.

The main reason American liberties have been systematically reduced since 1851 is because the influence of Christianity throughout the nation has declined. How can freedom possibly be said to come from the U.S. secular government when most of the constitutional protections devised by the Founding Fathers were erected to guard against that very government?

Like, for example, the freedom to own black people as slaves, and the freedom to exploit children as cheap labor, and the freedom to force women to give birth against their will, and the freedom to treat homosexuals as naturally inferior and undeserving of equal protection under the law, eh Vox? And I’d love to know what it was about Christianity that died in 1851, causing God to leave our liberties undefended.

He never quite gets around to explaining how the “nation” would go about restoring its secular freedoms without depriving the government of its secularism, nor does he explain how those liberties were ever protected in the first place except by that secular government. I’ll grant you that we’re seeing an erosion of our American liberties, e.g. the evisceration of the First Amendment (at the hands of Christian activists up to and including Congress and the President) and of the Fourth Amendment starting with George W. Bush and continued inexcusably by Barack Obama. But Christianity is not now and never has been any defense against tyranny. Why do you think our founding fathers came here to get away from the Christian nations of Europe? Vox is right about the problem, misleading regarding the cause, and fatally wrong in his implied cure.

Comments

  1. leftwingfox says

    He never quite gets around to explaining how the “nation” would go about restoring its secular freedoms without depriving the government of its secularism, nor does he explain how those liberties were ever protected in the first place except by that secular government.

    Given his libertarianism, I suspect that’s an easy one: Eliminate the government wherever possible. Stop providing public schools, social services and scientific research; let the church do it privately.

  2. rwahrens says

    The one thing I constantly get angry over is that the theists have hoodwinked most of into believing that schtick about how many Americans are christian.

    A number of recent polls have shown that the 40% number of weekly church attendees is overinflated – by almost 100%!

    Take this site:

    http://www.trincoll.edu/depts/csrpl/RIN%20Vol.1No.1/RIN%20Vol.1No.2/Church_lies_polling.htm

    It illustrates clearly how polls in the past have exaggerated church attendance.

    Also, this site:

    http://www.religioustolerance.org/rel_rate.htm

    Covers this subject very well, too.

    I would also contend that this tendency to lie on polls extends to those who self identify as christian as well as those who claim to attend church. If anything, I would note that people would probably be MORE likely to lie, in order to avoid letting the pollster know that they are not christian!

    These figures have been bandied about for so long that they are still being taken for granted, yet we also know that church attendance has been dropping by about 2% per year – are we certain that these folks are simply christians not going to church, or are they christians that have abandoned religion altogether?

    My point is that the atheist/not_religious movement has gained so much strength in recent years, not ONLY because of the Internet being here for us to find each other on, but because our numbers have grown faster than is truly realized, because of this “traditional” set of polling “facts” having kept the real numbers hidden for so long.

    After all, isn’t argumentum ad populum a major christian tactic? It sure wold lose its punch if the people of this country began to realize that christians weren’t a majority after all, now wouldn’t it?

  3. rwahrens says

    Dang, first paragraph:

    “…theists have hoodwinked most of into believing…”

    should be:

    “…theists have hoodwinked most of us into believing…”

    And in the last paragraph, “wold” should be “would”!

    Stupid keyboard…;-)

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