I recently attended a lecture hosted by the Secular Coalition of America, whose topic proposed to explore the spread of religiosity in American politics. As could be expected from the very name of the group, the discussion turned into a denunciation of the mixing of faith and politics, of church and state, and into the glorification of ‘the scientific method’ over irrationality, even of atheism over faith. The Coalition is not alone in this, and is but a representative group at the state and federal levels of a segment of American society–that segment which advocates an absolute separation of Church and State, as in the French Republic for example. To them, the United States is a country founded not on Christianity, but on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The other segment takes the opposite position: to them, the United States is a country founded on Christian values, and the faith of the Founding Fathers is a witness to it. In the first part of this post, we will see in what historical context American political institutions were created. In the second part, we will see that, as a Western country, these institutions, as European institutions, carry the legacy of Western history.
If we want to consider the place of Christianity in America, we must first remember that the country was not born in isolation, but in the frame of the European Enlightenment, and therefore and more generally, it is a component of European civilization. The problems that are are affecting the US today are problems common to both Europe and North America. The differences between them are not differences of culture but minor differences that arise out of a separate development for about two centuries. If it is wrong to treat the Founding Fathers as Christian zealots–the Jefferson Bible witnesses against it–they were no atheists either.