Archive for April, 2009

Golden Age

Friday, April 10th, 2009

There is an opinion among some in the religious right that the current troubles in this country can be directly attributed to a departure from some earlier time when we were more moral, responsible, and uniformly Christian. I’ve tried to find when that time was.

The earliest Christian settlement in Jamestown imposed a death penalty for those who “speak impiously of the Trinity… or against the known articles of the Christian faith.”

Jefferson decried the persecution of the Quakers in Virginia and New England in the 1700’s.

The founding fathers created a nation where only land-holding white men could vote, slaves were property, and native Americans were savages.

John Adams signed the Treaty of Tripoli with Muslim nations in 1797 which stated in part, “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”

We fought a civil war to end slavery. It took another fifty years for women to get the vote. It took another fifty years for America to formally recognize that all people were created equal. We are still struggling with how to compensate Native Americans for taking their land and destroying their way of life.

The reality is that there was no God-blessed golden age. The genius of the American experiment is that it is a work in progress. Our struggle isn’t to regain some previous perfect union, but to continue to redefine what a perfect union means.

The wisdom of the founding fathers was their trust in the power of individual conscience. An unlikely coalition of the evangelical Christians (Baptists and Methodists) and Enlightenment-influenced deists (Jefferson and Madison) ratified a Constitution that prohibits any religious test for public office. The right to believe differently made possible every advance in human and civil rights that has come since.