An important political consideration of any nation, is when the nation attempts to assert a dogma or doctrine as the foundational beliefs. Dogma and religious doctrine are static concepts, that is they do not change with time. Ethical paradigms can change, as society changes. If a nation is built upon an ideology of 2,000 years ago, then the population may find itself oppressed by ideals many no longer feel are relevant.
Religious morality issues are seen in many Muslim nations, where Islamic belief is also legal affirmations. If the religion says that same gender relationships are illegal, then so too does the law affirm this. Even if a large portion of society changes its views, the religion is a constant, never changing state. For the religion, there is never a time for such change.
The argument I propose in this article is not about Christianity and its role in America. Instead I want to discuss the role of Christianity in American culture. Christian values are often presented as a necessary requirement for American governance. This is usually stipulated under the presence that America was founded as a Christian Nation. By this reasoning, such people expect America to abide by the morality laws of the Bible. These very same laws that the early settlers had fled from their own persecution.
The American Revolution was not the result of one specific thing. Rather, it was an escalation of force that was brewing over several years. However, several key contributions pushed the start of the revolutionary war.
Some early settlers were seeking Freedom from government enabled religious persecution. While it can be argued that those escaping religious persecution where themselves persecuting others… we’ll leave that for another discussion. 1 For the sake of focus, let us consider that many early settlers were escaping persecution.
Taxation and Laws Without Representation
What is the cause of almost all wars? It often comes down to Power or Money. Early Americans began to feel the pinch of Britain’s demand for the American colonies to start paying taxes on their labor, as well as obey various English law.
“That it is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people, and the undoubted right of Englishmen, that no taxes be imposed on them, but with their own consent, given personally, or by their representatives. That the people of these colonies are not, and from their local circumstances cannot be, represented in the House of Commons in Great-Britain. That the only representatives of the people of these colonies, are persons chosen therein by themselves, and that no taxes ever have been, or can be constitutionally imposed on them, but by their respective legislatures,” read the passage.https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/250-years-ago-today-no-taxation-without-representation
Due to feeling unfairly taxed (and not represented in government), the colonies began to push against British rule. This in turn lead to a tit-for-tat response. Back and forth this went until the colonies formally rebelled in the Declaration of Independence.2
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.https://www.ducksters.com/history/declaration_of_independence_full.php
The colonies made it clear: if a government infringes upon their pursuit of happiness and liberty, then it is the right of the people to abolish such governments. This would lead to war, a war that defeated the British Empire, giving birth to America.
A common criticism today, is that America needs to go back to the “Christian values it was founded with.” But was America founded on Christian values? How do we even determine that?
Theology is a complex animal. Among different Christians we may never have full consensus, yet there are statements made by Jesus in how one is to live their life, how to treat others and the Bible holistically has information regarding the issue of rebellion.
What I will reject on the onset, is any evidence of “Christianity” in the form of religious language in the Declaration of Independence (or any other political/governmental document). It isn’t enough to declare “God” when you feel like it, to therefore claim “Christianity is involved.”
Instead, I insist we use the teachings of the Christian faith to determine a mapping of ideals to actualities. In other words, I will conjure forth the messages of Jesus and Paul the Apostle, as well as Jewish law. In this regard we can see where the Bible addresses the specific issues of violence, conflict, war and rebellion.
Teachings of Jesus
As this isn’t a Theological discussion, I’m going to limit the teachings of Jesus to only topics that correlate to this subject of the American Revolution. If the message of Jesus correlates, then we have a fit. If not, then perhaps the nation wasn’t founded on Christian principals at all.
13 Later, they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to catch Jesus in His words. 14 “Teacher,” they said, “we know that You are honest and are swayed by no one. Indeed, You are impartial and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them or not?”Mark Chapter 12:13-17
15 But Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denariusb to inspect.” 16 So they brought it, and He asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
“Caesar’s,” they answered.
17 Then Jesus told them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
Taxation is directly discussed. It is no new feeling that people felt unjustly taxed. This is a common plight among people who struggle to get by. In Mark 12:13-17, Jesus is directly asked if it is lawful to pay taxes. What Jesus responds with, is that you should go ahead and give back to Caesar what is his, and to God what is God’s.
What does that mean? Well if you’re a literalist, you might think this is about Caesar. However, in reading through the life and teachings of Jesus, time and time again it is seen that he pushes off mundane affairs. His message was not about creating a Kingdom of God in this world, but rather in seeking it in the next.3
Clearly the message of Jesus was not one of rebellion over the sake of taxation, regardless of how unfair it may seem.
Views on Wealth
Holistically approaching the message of Jesus, we can comfortably say that he’s instructing those who would listen, to not get caught up in the mundane world of greed, or even needs. As he instructs elsewhere, people shouldn’t even be concerned over their physical needs.4. Even more to the point is this quote:
19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[a] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.Matthew 6:19-24
22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.[b]
As seen in the passage above, Jesus wasn’t concerned with earthly money, this was the lesson he taught those who followed him. He told them not to store up their faith and treasures here in this world. Whether this treasure is made with your own two hands, bought with silver or acquired through force… this is not the treasure to seek, and in seeking it, one may lose their own self.
Do not store up treasures in this world, Jesus says… you can not serve God and money (mammon), he continues on. This message of his is certainly “not of this world.” In fact he states as much to Pilot, when he assures the Roman leadership that his kingdom is not of this world:
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”John 18:36
The cares of this world are really not the focus of the message of Jesus, for even an earthly Kingdom is beyond his scope.
Jesus instructed that no person should harm another. This was taught to such an extreme, that even an attacker was to be treated with respect. The classic expressions of this are in the passages of turning the other cheek to one’s abuser – as well as giving to the thief more than they take:
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.Matthew 5:38-40
Does this sound like the doctrine of waging war over taxation? This, like Buddhism, is a very hard philosophy to follow. One is to remain calm and compassionate, even in the face of direct abuse. If one takes something from you, you are instructed to give even more to the taker. Hardly the doctrine of rebellion.
Teachings of Paul
While Paul is not the Christian redeemer, he holds a place of authority in the Christian doctrine. Paul elucidates various concepts to different churches and believers of his day.
Be Subject to the Higher Powers
Consider the message in his letter to Rome:
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.Romans 13
2 Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.
3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same:
4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
5 Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake.
6 For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.
7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.
The “higher powers,” Paul is referring to are non other than government. Paul is instructing people to treat government authority figures, as though they are the hand of God. This institution would sit with Christian for nearly a thousand years, considering the King of a nation to be as God’s representation on earth.
Paul declares that not only are you to “do good,” and obey the higher powers, but you are to pay tribute to them (meaning taxation) without question. He also adds a condemnation, that if a person resists the higher power (government), then such rulers will use their weapons to smite them.
Pauls views of Slavery
Like it or not, Paul was also averse to any form of change, including resisting one’s earthly masters. In speaking to those who were deemed “slaves,” Paul writes the following:
5 Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.Ephesians 6:5
I don’t agree with Paul, nor do I agree with Jesus for the most part. Their message is one of keeping the status quo, to die well. They sought a “real life,” beyond this one. This life was a series of tests, where one would work counter to one’s own nature (resisting not government, nor slavery) in order to obey and be subservient.
While this isn’t my particular joy, this is the teachings of Christianity. Through Jesus directly, and Paul indirectly, the Christian faith has an established set of morality. One is to treat government as godly, not disobey, pay the taxes and ask no questions.
Old Testament Law
Even more chastising is perhaps the Old Testament view of rebellion. To understand this, we must understand what Rebellion was to the Hebrews. To them it was in alignment with witchcraft, that is to say, with Lucifer / Satan. Satan was the opponent to God. In their story Satan defies God and rebels to take a portion of heaven with him, to earth.
That is how rebellion was treated in the Old Testament. There was no allowance for rebellion, even within children:
9 For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him.Leviticus 20:9
Throughout the Old Testament, there are stories of people worshiping “other gods,” and such people were destroyed entirely.5. With this in mind, we can now read and understand the severity of the following passage, regarding any form of rebellion:
23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, he hath also rejected thee from being king.1 Samuel 15:23
While 1 Samuel is speaking specifically to an event, the statement is a morality one. The seed of rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. Again, I don’t follow this belief, but the foundation of Christianity certainly did. As we’ve seen any form of rebellion was met with death. Believing in other gods (spiritual rebellion) was met with massacre. Cursing one’s parents (teenage antinomianism) was met with execution. Rebellion in general, was seen as witchcraft, which was punishable by execution.
Clearly, the notion of a nation born out of rebellion, to engage in conflict, war and death, over the issues of personal liberty and taxation are just out of bounds of the Christian faith. The basis for this conclusion is not met on the fields of modern church powers, or some pastor with a political axe to grind, rather it is met with the mapping of the teachings of Jesus, Paul and the Old Testament doctrine, with that of the actions of the American colonies.
Therefore, any morality formed being pushed into law, not he basis of this being a Christian nation, is without merit. This nation was not formed on the guiding principals of Jesus. In fact the very notion of Liberty, Freedom and Rebellion is in alignment with another god altogether!
In the least, we should be able to see that the goals of Jesus were to deny the world. This is echoed throughout the teachings of Paul. Paul goes to the extent of stating that one should be subject to the authorities that rule over us, including paying taxes. Jesus saying the same, but Paul adds the admonition that those who defy and rebel against government deserve the sword that will be brought down upon them. As the message of Jesus was regarding “another world,” the physical world was to be shunned. It was lived in, sure, but shunned to the extent that one not cares for the things of the world (money, possessions, power, etc.)
I can see no justification for America being a Christian nation. While the verbiage of our founding fathers included “under One God,” or “under God,” these statements are in the least window dressing for an audience and at the most a reference to a very different view of God.
- Deuteronomy 13:13-19