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Miniblog #146: Mark Noll on the Christian American Concept

by Carson T. Clark on November 12, 2012

This deserves its own miniblog:

I think quite a bit of the modern debate over whether the United States had a Christian origin or not is not driven by a concern for getting the history right but is driven by a concern for public life in the present. Contemporary political discussions fog up the historical question because if people have a particular point of view they want to work for in the expression of religion in public space, or the denial of the expression of religion in public space, the tendency is to grasp hold of bits and pieces of that early history that supports what I want to say. On the question of the Founding Fathers, there were some—like, for example, Samuel Adams of Massachusetts—who would inject very explicit language about Jesus and about the need for salvation but there were those like Thomas Jefferson who would have been much less inclined toward the traditional understanding of Christian faith. But in the current debate Adams is grasped hold of by people who want to defend the Christian American concept; Jefferson is grasped hold of people who want to defend, as the authors of one book called it, ‘a godless Constitution.’ So the history gets muddled and is brought to bear for current debates. And I actually happen to be quite sympathetic with many of the proposals in public of people who claim a Christian American foundation but I also think they do their efforts in the present a disservice by exaggerating some elements that were present in the Founding period and neglecting some of the unsavory parts of early American history that were also a major fact in America’s founding. – Mark Noll

  • Adam Cirone

    So the origin of the United States is due to Christians and non-Christians coming together and doing their best to create a government that benefits people on both sides and upholds justice. What if we shared the same attitude today?

  • SamHamilton

    Wait a second… Is Mark Noll saying that the founders didn’t all agree on everything and that it would be difficult to begin any statement with “The Founders believed…” unless you were going on to talk about something in the very broadest terms? Hmmm…

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