Monday, June 06, 2005

More on the History of Religion in America

Sometimes, not often as historical education is lacking sorely in modern American, you see reference to a phrase from the Treaty of Tripoli (1796) used as "proof" America was never intended to be a "Christian" nation. It is: "As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion...."

However, going to the source, specifically Article 11 of the treaty, we learn something a little different.
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
The words "Musselmen" and "Mehomitan" are just words of the era for Muslim.

It just goes to show that going back to original sources, instead of taking received wisdom for writ, and looking at context, instead of arguing explicitly from short stretches of text isolated from that context, is preferred.

What seems, to me anyway, clearly said in this Article is that America is not a nation, as were most European nations of the time and was Britain our forefather nation, a country that had a state religion. Britain explicitly was a country whose church was the Church of England (Episcopalians to us Yanks). Britain could find common cause and history in the other Christian nations of Europe. But an explicitly Muslim nation like the Tripoli of Barbary in this treaty would by definition be antithetical and inimical to a de jure Christian nation.

The point of this article is to say that America has no State religion, and especially no Christian State religion, and therefore holds no inherent animus against any Muslim (or Judaist) nation. It is clearing ground so that two nations may meet as equals and friends, and from this enter into a treaty as equals and friends.

It doesn't say America was not founded on Christian principles or isn't a nation comprised by an overwhelming majority of Christians of innumerable stripe and denomination. We were, those principles being the moral base of the people who devised and constructed our nation and our makeup being mostly Christian. But, by keeping government out of the religious lives of its citizens, we were freed from a tremendous amount of civil strife and left free to adapt our society to whatever new religions and denominations that may arise.

That is our genius and our future.

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