Are you reading, Sarah Palin?

I’ve been casually interested in the “Christian America” movement and reinterpretation of America’s Christian founding (or questionable history thereof). I gravitate toward books that attempt to show that America was not founded as a Christian nation, and find them compelling, especially in the face of all the ill-founded, poorly researched, right wing over-generalizations. Thus, I found this brief passage from historian Carl Trueman to be provocative in that it points to contemporary appropriations of this topic, while most book-length treatments on the subject mainly examine the historical evidence. The context of this passage is in a discussion of the “genetic fallacy,” which happens when “historians are guilty of the error of allowing the origins of something to determine its current nature or meaning” (p. 158). Whether America was founded as a Christian nation or not, this excerpt is dedicated to Sarah Palin.

“Many readers might well be thinking at this point that this fallacy is so obviously problematic that it cannot possibly have much force within the writing of history today. True, its flaws are obvious; but, in fact, it does enjoy considerable vogue in some quarters. Take, for example, the most radical wings of the Christian America movement where the argument is that America was founded by men motivated by and large by their commitment to the Christian faith and their desire to build a Christian nation. Thus, America was and is – or at least, ought to be – a Christian nation, and her founding documents embody Christian virtues. This leads to interpretations of the present that can engage simply in anachronistic value judgments on actions and events; or, perhaps in a more sinister way, connect America to events in biblical prophecy, God’s providential plans for the world, etc.

“Few would deny that America’s founding documents embody civic virtues, though what makes those virtues distinctively Christian is surely rather debatable. Thus, the significance of the impact here is perhaps less on the actual writing of history than on the subsequent use of such history in contemporary politics; but it is useful to identify exactly what the underlying problem with such history is.”

-Carl Trueman in History and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History (Crossway, 2010), p. 159

One thought on “Are you reading, Sarah Palin?

  1. My observation in this discussion is that usually people mix up concepts and definitions so that it's not helpful, and it's confusing – and even wrong.My first caution to remember, is that America was not founded as "one nation." Each of the colonies was independent and each had a different charter. Yes, the NE colonies were established self-consciously as "Christian" in fact they enforced a state church (congregationalism). They so merged church and state that they saw themselves as God's new Israel. But each colony was different and because one colony was "Christian" does not mean they all were. Maryland was RC and Georgia and Virginia were only "secular" commercial contracts. So when we speak of America being founded as a "Christian nation" to what point in history is one referring? Not the original colonies. I don't think the argument can be made that 1776 documents established a Christian nation. Usually documents from a NE colony are referred to and imposed on the whole "nation."And my second reminder, is just because there was a Christian consensus – most of the population were protestant (whether they were regenerate or not is another question. The Great Awakening in the 1770's did result in more genuine conversions) cannot be equated with the nation in its legal laws established the country as Christian. I suppose the parallel would be just because most of the population was Anglo in the 1770's cannot be equated to say that this nation was established TO BE an Anglo country.

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