Why is christianity not the state religion of the USA?

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,239
SoCal
As for the quotes, Paine was an atheist, Jefferson a Deist, and John Adams a Unitarian. They don't reflect the opinion of all leaders. Certainly, much of that could not be said by politicians these days.

However, remember that the Congregationalist Church remained established in several states in the 19th century.
Benjamin Franklin might have been an agnostic as well.
 

Scaeva

Ad Honorem
Oct 2012
5,630
For one, because some of the Founding Fathers were probably Deists and/or agnostics. For instance, in a letter a couple of weeks before his death. Benjamin Franklin expressed some doubts about Jesus's divinity. This tradition continued later on. For instance, in 1908, future US President William Howard Taft wrote in a private letter that he does not believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Franklin seems to have referred to himself as a Deist in his autobiography.

"Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle's lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist."
 
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Asherman

Forum Staff
May 2013
3,410
Albuquerque, NM
Look at the bigger picture.

Pauline Christianity appealing to the poor and disenfranchised of the Roman Empire became the state religion under Constantine The Great. The shattered Western Empire produced a different and competitive form of Christianity that, (1) mitigated and eventually replaced the often brutal practices of the largely uncivilized tribes of Europe, (2) gave a measure of stability to the Feudalism that came to replace Roman dominance, and (3) protected the literature of Classical Antiquity.

As a primary element in European Feudalism, The Church, the Roman Church shared the top perch with Warlords, cum founders of most European states. The Church became extraordinarily rich and politically powerful. The Pope and the Papal Estates even had their own military arms and organizations. They were, in short, "the establishment". As Christianity converted the pagans of Europe, its institutional powers expanded to embrace almost the entire European population. Theoretically the Pope in Rome was entirely in control, but time and distance made that control difficult at best. Christian missionaries on the ground faced enormous odds in just surviving, and the best of them were strong men with their own interpretations of doctrine. They made daily decisions in how best to convert the "heathen", and that often meant having a wee bit of flexibility. Over time, the Irish Congregation for instance, adopted ways and means not strictly in accordance with Rome. By the late 11th century, Rome still shared domination of Europe with the emerging states. Church, Aristocracy, and Serfs.

The hierarchical nature of the Roman religion put the entire power of The Church in the hands of one man, so it was essential for the ambitious to control the Vatican. Generally the great names of the time did manage to line their pockets out of religion. The Church held the Keys to Paradise and Hades, and sold indulgences that could make the difference to the sinful, and to the Roman Church virtually everyone was a big-time sinner. As the Great Princes became entrenched in power and brought their Feudal Aristocrats into line, the Roman Church was still strong and remained politically too important to cross. The Roman Church, still in competition with the Eastern Church, saw opportunity in helping stem the Islamic tide in the late 8th and 9th centuries. Constantinople was the Guardian at the Gates of the Hellespont, and under great pressure from the expanding Green Flag of the Prophet. The Crusades appealed to emerging notions of Chivalry, and many of the great kings went off to romantic (LOL) adventures in the Near East. The Crusaders, especially the Venetians, made the later Byzantines sorry they ever asked for help. The Crusading adventurers were only partially successful in holding onto the "Holy Land", but very successful at having their eyes opened to a larger and older set of civilized values. They brought home the experience home with them and that may have opened their minds a bit. Even so things didn't change much until doubts and dis-satisfaction with the True Religion got a boost in the aftermath of the Black Death. People died, but not their wealth and property. Whole communities perished, regardless of their religious commitment. How powerful could the Church be, when monastic communities perished and the "wicked" prospered? In the wake of the Plague, labor became more than a religious/feudal obligation, it became valuable and the peasantry increasingly chose gold over blind faith. Intellectually, Europe became more curious and willing to adopt new ways of doing things Print and gunpowder became increasingly available. Galileo took the new-fangled telescope originally used by merchants to get advanced knowledge of shipping, and turned it upward. The thought that the Holy Church could be sooo wrong about the nature of the Universe was a threatening, and the Church tried to suppress and minimize the importance of Galileo and his works. There was increasing trouble in River City during the late Medieval, that boiled over with Luther's nailing a challenge to a church door. Early protestants had a very good chance of being burned alive, but their dis-satisfaction with the status quo lived on in their translation of the Latin Bible into the languages of the people..

When Hank couldn't get a divorce from a Pope who tended to favor the French, be kicked over the traces and created his own State Religion with himself as head honcho. That started a set of bloody religious wars in the British Isles that still echos today. The Reformation continued to pick up steam, and Rome instituted a Counter-Reformation. The resulting wars tore Europe apart, set families and nations at one another's throats ... and little mercy was ever shown. Believe as I do, or die. Some of the most horrifying and brutal acts of war were committed in Europe in the name of religion. The conflict drove "dissenters" away from their homes in search of sanctuaries and places where they could build Religion in the form of their own True Belief. The New World was opening up, trans-oceanic trade and exploration promised glory, wealth, power and above all to the English and Dutch a place for a new eden. They generally were as chauvinistic and prejudices as their tormentors.

Meanwhile back in Europe the Scientific Revolution continued and was becoming more "respectable" as the Scientific Method was shown to work better than slavishly following tradition. An important turning point was the Encyclopedia of Diderot in the mid-18th century. Voltaire and the Enlightenment built on those previous elements to promote the idea of universal justice and the common worth of all people to think, believe and be free of oppression. The idea took root, and many of the leading people of the time were profoundly moved by the Enlightenment, and no where more than in the Anglo-American Colonies. The American Founding Fathers come in two over-lapping varieties; those who supported and fought for American Independence from Britain, and those who designed, wrote and managed to put in place the U.S. Constitution., The Articles of Confederation were insufficient to prevent the newly independent Colonies from very nearly failing after a major depression and loss of trade following independence. The Colonies called a Constitutional Convention to "fix" the Articles, but instead the Convention decided to scrap the old as virtually unfix-able. In secret, the Constitutional Convention delegates of most States argued for their own State and Class interests, but were so divided that only through negotiated compromises could be adopted. The product of their work originally didn't have a Bill of Rights, and the early Federalists didn't believe any was needed. Mason, a Virginian, thought otherwise and led a popular movement resulting in our first Ten Amendments to the Constitution. The First Amendment guarantees everyone in this country the right to believe whatever they wish without the interference of ... the Federal Government. The adoption of the Constitution changed the nature of the American Experiment from something like the EU to a more centralized government with certain checks and balances to prevent any branch, party, group, religion or individual from gaining too much power.

Americans are traditionally highly individualistic an independent; we generally are quite jealous of anyone, anything, or any barriers to satisfying our own ideas and behavior. "Don't Tread On Me". Even in the beginning of the Constitutional Era, Americans were a very diverse lot. New England was largely protestant and some sects were so strict as to believe babes who died in child-birth went to eternal damnation. The South was still largely a spin off of the CoE, with a strong sprinkling of Scot-Irish Catholics for seasoning. The Eastern Seaboard still had reasonably close ties with England and France, but in the expanding West more individualistic religious notions were very common. Out on the fringes, trappers were even more informal about religion as they took Indian wives. Westward expansion to include the whole breadth of the Continent took less than two hundred years. In the mad rush Westward, where organized religion was almost a novelty, pioneers encountered other religions including the religions of the Amerinds . Anglo prejudices were one factor in the violence and conflicts involved with dominating the Continental U.S. Personal interpretation of the King James by Americans still largely from N.W. Europe only encouraged further protestant schisms. As the West filled up with adventurers, trappers, mining prospectors, ranchers and farmers, their places along the East Coast were filled ... often with immigrants from other parts of Europe whose cultures, languages and traditions were foreign to the Anglo World. There was a strong Natavist backlash against Catholics, Freemasons, and foreigners in general almost before the ink was dry on the Constitution. Way out West where prejudices and White Chauvinism were almost universal, the brutality to "the Other" may have been understandable, but remains never-the-less a shameful chapter in our history.
 
May 2019
14
greece
Substantially because of the ideology of freedom and equalitarism of that time. Rationalism a part, they knew that religion divided and since they weren't all Christian in the same time [there were Protestants, Catholics ... not to underline the presence of not a few confessions ...] the Constitution prohibited a religious connection for a government [or to impose a religion]. So it was impossible to have a government religion.

So the best choice was to endorse freedom of religion.
But they could still include a vague phrase like " Christianity is recognized as the official religion of the country. Nevertheless freedom of religion is guaranteed to all residents. Also Congress shall not recognize a particular denomination" It's not that hard, other countries have done exactly that
 

Asherman

Forum Staff
May 2013
3,410
Albuquerque, NM
See my post above, and ask questions if I was unclear or if any elements require more detail. In the 18th and 19th century, before the world began to shrink down to the size of a village hamlet, exposure to foreign cultures, religions, etc., was very limited, and chauvinism was extreme EVERYWHERE. China, India and Japan all looked down on the rest of humanity as inferior, just as Europeans, Africans and American Indian Peoples did. So the Abrahamic religions dominated Europe and as Europe looked outward they carried that religion wherever they went. Western technology and value system was almost impossible for native systems to resist. So during the 18th and 19th centuries, European religious sects took it as a given that their way was the True Way, and would ultimately replace all other religions as a matter of course. This was true of the gazillion "Christian" sects and Islam from Africa to SE Asia, with a small but dedicated group of Mohamadans in NE China. In China, Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist believers tended to get along reasonably well and shared many tenants of belief ... Christianity was not at the time ecumenical or compatible with Chinese religions, and that was true across most of Asia. In India Christianity and Islam were imposed on a very rigid socio-religious country by True Believers. And so forth. As the historical trends reaching back over five thousand years resulted in Europe being the first to transition from traditional belief to the Scientific Method, Europe became the Colonizers instead of Asia, Africa, or the Americas.

European dominance might have continued with the sort of brutal coercion that had existed in somewhat analogous behavior patterns that had existed previously by human tribal groups. That is the sort of thing that might have been cited for those who argue for a single TRUE GOD and Religion ... Fate v. Free Will; open-minded thought v. the condemnation of any sort of reservation of the TRUTH. That may need clarification. The important point is that People can learn from their past and evolve from one Weltanschaung to another. The Reformation and Counter-Reformation started the ball rolling in Europe toward thinking as superior to believing. Even today, many Europeans and Western Materialist societies retain a certain fixation on Religion and hold doubts about the value of reason. Humans are a curious mixture of belief and doubt, chauvinistic prejudice and understanding that we are all brothers and sisters.

In 1787 few Americans had the least personal contact with any of the other human religions beyond Christianity and Judaism. Jews after the Diaspora were scattered mostly into Europe proper and along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, where they maintained their religion while surrounded overwhelmingly by Christian zealots. The American Indians were "benighted savages given to superstitious paganism", and should welcome the chance to become peaceful Children of God ... according to their sectarian beliefs. So in most of the world during the 18th and 19th centuries religious prejudices remained strong around the world, but the Abrahamic Relgions dominated as Europe dominated. In 1787, I suppose the Constitution might have included a "State Religion of Christianity" if all the different versions didn't regard all others as damned to hell. The memory of how destructive religion was in Europe from around the time of the Black Death, I believe was a major factor, but it was the Enlightenment coupled with the Scientific Revolution were the driving factors in how the Founders dealt with the question of religion.
 
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royal744

Ad Honoris
Jul 2013
10,694
San Antonio, Tx
But they could still include a vague phrase like " Christianity is recognized as the official religion of the country. Nevertheless freedom of religion is guaranteed to all residents. Also Congress shall not recognize a particular denomination" It's not that hard, other countries have done exactly that
But they could still include a vague phrase like " Christianity is recognized as the official religion of the country. Nevertheless freedom of religion is guaranteed to all residents. Also Congress shall not recognize a particular denomination" It's not that hard, other countries have done exactly that
Why should we as a country do that? What’s the point? Religion is not the government’s purview and is thus irrelevant to the running of a country.
 
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Asherman

Forum Staff
May 2013
3,410
Albuquerque, NM
Through most of history religion was highly relevant to government ... everywhere. Wherever you look you will find government and religion ... and a legal system. Just confining this to the European experience, Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire marked off the victory of Christianity when it became the State Religion. The Church provided stability to the Feudal model, and any monarch worth his salt had the blessing of the Church. Much was preserved in the cloisters that served as models for modern Roman mimicry. Reformation and Counter-Reformation tore Europe apart as the new Nation States fought over the bone of religion. Religion is an almost visceral need for humans, it nurtures and cements society's taboos, it is the sub-conscious baggage we carry whether we are "religious" or not. As human's can not entirely escape the chains of superstician, so human governments will be influenced as well.

We aren't so bound by our inherited traits so much as our brothers who chose a more natural form of making a living; we can look ahead and learn from the past, we can adapt and modify the whole planet if necessary to our survival and comfort. Some religions are more dangerous than others, and few are more intolerant than the Abrahamic faiths whose histories are particularly gory. Contention between religions, which all are finally reduced to a simple matter of belief, would lead to despotism of the worst sort if Secular government is not constrained. The U.S. Constitution is one of human-kind's best and most idealistic attempts to prevent any one religion ... however defined ... from dominating all others. That is a fundamental cornerstone for representative government.
 

Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,239
SoCal
Franklin seems to have referred to himself as a Deist in his autobiography.

"Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of sermons preached at Boyle's lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them; for the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist."
Huh. So he was a Deist. So, did he believe in God, but simply had doubts that Jesus Christ himself was God and/or God's son?
 
Jun 2017
2,974
Connecticut
I'm really glad that it isn't but i find it weird. Even today, one in three Americans want it to be; i assume this number was much greater in the late 18 century, and given that the usa was,even then, a functional representative(if not democratic intially), republic you'd assume that people would have elected representatives who would make Christianity the state religion.
But it didn't happen. Why?
In the 17th and 18th century different sects of Christianity weren't really viewed as the same religion. A lot of states established state religions think a handful might still have them or just now gotten rid of them but the country's different regions had different predominant religions. Asking that question in 1776 would not be treated the same way by even religious people. Also a healthy amount of the founders were atheists or agnostic, which at the time was referred to as "deism". But generally even the people who'd support Christianity as a state religion would be confused because the way they'd see it is the country was Christian without saying as most the people were Christian but what sect is what mattered for societal reasons. This was pre/early scientific revolution the secular v religious debate was fundamentally different than today.

But yeah in the context of the 18th century Pan Christianity wasn't really a thing. The one thing people of all sects had in common was trying to get away from people of other sects in Europe so don't know why they'd want to recreate similar scenarios.
 
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Futurist

Ad Honoris
May 2014
22,239
SoCal
In the 17th and 18th century different sects of Christianity weren't really viewed as the same religion. A lot of states established state religions think a handful might still have them or just now gotten rid of them but the country's different regions had different predominant religions. Asking that question in 1776 would not be treated the same way by even religious people. Also a healthy amount of the founders were atheists or agnostic, which at the time was referred to as "deism". But generally even the people who'd support Christianity as a state religion would be confused because the way they'd see it is the country was Christian without saying as most the people were Christian but what sect is what mattered for societal reasons. This was pre/early scientific revolution the secular v religious debate was fundamentally different than today.

But yeah in the context of the 18th century Pan Christianity wasn't really a thing. The one thing people of all sects had in common was trying to get away from people of other sects in Europe so don't know why they'd want to recreate similar scenarios.
I thought that Deism was the belief in God but also a belief that he doesn't intervene in our daily lives? If so, Deism would be different from both atheism and agnosticism.

As for different Christian sects, it's quite interesting that some of them are not fully embraced by contemporary Christians even nowadays. For instance, Mormons.