[From 10$/Pg] Include Textual Citations ”
Answer DB Allison
When I first glanced at Mark David Hall’s book, Did America Have a Christian Founding, I’ll admit I was a bit apprehensive. I am a strong believer that history must be analyzed from the perspective of the time, and am easily frustrated when I see people try to ascribe our beliefs and customs today onto past cultures. If you look hard enough, you can find evidence to support almost any claim you want to make, but you run the risk of completely alienating evidence from its context. History must be understood from the point of view of those who lived it, not cherry picked by those who are living now and trying to justify their specific worldview.
It was humbling, I’ll admit, to read the opening of Hall’s book, and realize that he shared the same feelings that I did in regards to history. “A book like this may appear at first glance to be an exercise in Christian triumphalism,”1 he admits, but “it is important to have a proper appreciation of the nation’s Christian colonial roots.”2 Hall is not arguing that the founders were Orthodox, sincere, or even good Christians; he is arguing “that the founders were influenced by Christian ideals.”3 The argument has been made that many founders were not religious, or did not include religion in the framing of the country. This couldn’t be further from the truth. As Hall clearly demonstrates in his book, the fact that freedom of religion was so important to the Founders supports their deep respect for religion and the morality derived from it.
Despite my initial hesitation, I would agree with Hall’s assertion that the American founding is based on Christian ideas. I think stating that colonial America was a “Christian Nation” is incorrect, because the federal government never established a national religion. Rather, colonial America was a nation of (mostly) Christians. The reality is that most citizens of the early United States had a high rate of Biblical Literacy. “Virtually all of [the founders] referred to [The Bible] regularly in their public and private speeches and writings. This reality is often overlooked because the founders assumed their audiences were familiar with God’s Word and so did not include textual citations.”4 Benjamin Franklin commented on this disconnect when he mentioned the lack of Biblical literacy he encountered on his travels to Europe.5 The knowledge of Christian practices was pervasive throughout early American society, and it would be foolish to assume it did not have an influence on the Founding Fathers.
The claims Hall makes throughout his books are all backed by evidence found in the letters, speeches, and writings of the founding fathers themselves, with very little input from secondary sources. This allows the reader to trust his conclusions, because they are so readily evidenced by his source material. After spending so many pages dedicated to proving that Christian ideals were ubiquitous in the Founding Era, perhaps the most interesting claim Hall makes is in regards to other religions. “The constitutional order the founders created,” he writes, “has benefited citizens of every faith–as well as those who do not hold any faith at all.”6 Once again, Hall asserts that even though the country was designed by those at least influenced by Christian ideals, it was not a nation created for Christians. It was a nation based on liberty that supported individual rights, and freedom of religion was paramount.
In his last chapter, Hall pivots the focus from what the Founding Fathers believed to what that means for us in our society today. While the religious differences in the colonial era were slight, today our society is much more diverse.7 Hall reminds us that “like America’s founders, we need to work together to figure out how the rights of all Americans can best be protected.”8 We are allowed to bring our religious views into the public square, but by that logic we need to allow others to speak about their beliefs as well. Our nation derives its strength from the people, and from the healthy discussion different points of view generates–at least it should. The Founding Fathers were not afraid of conflict; the numerous debates they had regarding the Declaration of Independence, the Articles, the Constitution, and the delegates of the Ratification Conventions all showcase the value of allowing multiple people to voice their opinions.
As Americans, we must honor the Constitution and promote and protect religious freedom for every citizen, regardless of if we agree with their faith or lack thereof. Hall takes this one step further, however, suggesting “Christians must insist that the religious liberty of non-Christian citizens be respected.”9 Christians are called to love everyone, and be respectful of differences. This does not mean one has to agree with and encourage something they are religiously opposed to, but rather that they show others human decency. I believe Hall accomplished what his stated purpose was. Through a plethora of primary evidence and clear analysis, he was able to demonstrate that Christian ideals and Biblical principles had a significant influence on the founding fathers.