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Dangers of Christian philosophy, ideology and the founding of the U.S.

Reader comment on item: A Christian Boom

Submitted by Matthew Kennel (United States), Dec 3, 2002 at 20:00

There are two issues that I can see.

Firstly, the centralized militarism of the Christian Crusades cannot be justified in the text of its religion. Even most of the descriptions of conquering in the Hebrew Bible are nearly always described as historical fact, not divine commandment.

By contrast there are significant elements of the Koran, accurately quoted by Usama bin Laden and his like, that impress the requirement of war and conquest, of Jews Chrsitians and pagans, onto believers. This is not described merely as historical fact but as if it were "`mitzvot"---commandment.

A Protestant Christian Reformation could attempt to "go back" to what they considered more authentic and legitimate Christianity and roll back the secular excesses and baroque anachronisms of the church establishments that had intwined themselvse in political and military affairs. Ideologically this also lead to increased intellectual freedom and rebellion against the authorities of their time. Unfortuantely the same phenomemon in Islam produces UBL. One might conceive of a Reformation in the Islamic world which would contribute to more liberal and "decent" attitudes but such a movement could not be justified textually and theologically as being more authentically orthodox but the reverse.

UBL-style Islamism *is* the closest thing to parallel an Islamic Reformation.

Second, what is the role of fundamentalist Christianity in the European settlement of North American and eventual establishment of the United States? I think it is true that devout Protestant religious sentiment was in fact responsible for the initial immigration and colonization, and desire for religious freedom was a central motivation.

However, I think it is also quite clear from first-hand record of the participants that the central ideology surrounding the establishment of the U.S. and especially its Constitution, was not engendered by any form of orthodox Christianity but, instead, by the 18th century Enlightenment. I think it would be accurate to claim that adherents to this philosophy were generally *less* explicitly religious and devout Christians than was the norm everywhere else in Europe, at least certainly in the areas of public discourse, government and institutions, and in many cases, less orthodox than the norm in their personal lives, beliefs and practices.

It may be so that the Reformation fertilized the soil for Enlightenment philosophy---especially in the questioning of central authority and enhancement of personal rights---but it seems to be a common error among common-day Christian commentators to give credit to the first for the benefits of the second.

The fundamental principles of the U.S. are based on the Enlightenment and explicitly *not* upon Christian religiosity. And it was probably the best thing that ever happened to human civilization.
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