“One of the great strengths of the United States,” declared President Obama in Turkey in 2009, “is … we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”
To be sure, our government is not affiliated with any particular church. But we are a nation built on Judeo-Christian ideals and values. In contrast to post-Christian Europe, and to what President Obama and others incorrectly refer to as the “Muslim world,” most Americans conceive of an America that is inextricably linked with Judeo-Christian notions of liberty, justice, and the relationship between government and man.
As Alexis de Tocqueville observed of 19th century Americans, “The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other.”
How could it be otherwise? The link is imbedded in our founding documents. “We hold these Truths to be self-evident …” served as a striking rebuttal both to the idea of the divine right of kings and the notion that our rights are dispensed by government.
Instead we have, “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.”
From these founding principles arose the most benevolent superpower in history. Contrary to the incessant carping of our President and much of our media, America has established itself simultaneously as a religiously devout nation and as a remarkably tolerant one.
In their recent book, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, David Campbell and Robert Putnam encounter an instinctively tolerant American people. To pluck just one statistic from the Faith Matters Survey, which the authors use as the basis of their book, the overwhelming majority—82%—of self-described “highly religious” Americans believe that even those who do not have religious faith can be good Americans.
The benefits of religious belief are well-known. Pious Americans are happier, more charitable, and better citizens than their secular counterparts. Which helps explain why, as a nation of pious people, America is welcoming to all people.
The secular media and some Muslims exploited the uproar over the construction of a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan as proof of Americans’ irredeemable religious bigotry. CNN ran a special called “Unwelcome: The Muslims next door.”
But it tells you everything you need to know about the fundamental differences between Islamic and Judeo-Christian societies that Muslims from Muslim-majority countries ruled by Islamic governments that impose Islamic law are escaping in droves to come to the U.S., a Judeo-Christian country.
Both the Census Bureau and the Department of Homeland Security estimate that tens of thousands of immigrants from Muslim countries pour into the United States every year. Many are Middle East Christians escaping what has been described as genocide at the hands of Islamic extremists, but millions are Muslims. Despite the “Muslims Under Siege!” narrative, Muslims have rushed to America from the Middle East in record numbers since 9/11.
In fact, according to a large poll by the American Religious Identification Survey, the number of people in America who described themselves as Muslims more than doubled from 1990 to 2008, from 527,000 to 1.35 million. So much for Muslims feeling unwelcome.
American elites are baffled and even embarrassed by America’s religiosity. But without our Judeo-Christian beliefs, we would lose our unique sense of liberty and justice, which attracts so many people from around the world. And we shouldn’t be reluctant to impress on immigrants that while they can practice whatever faith they please, we are a nation whose values are decidedly Judeo-Christian.
In a recent speech, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the central political idea of the Bible is “that men are governed by laws, by moral laws, and not by men; that they have innate rights, innate freedoms. This was a revolutionary idea …”
Western civilization’s notion of God-given freedom and unalienable rights grew out of Athens and Jerusalem and Rome. It was actualized in Philadelphia. And it has inspired ever since. It was evident in Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, and the movements to abolish slavery and to end abortion.
It helped galvanize those who opposed communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, and it animated the Chinese students who held copies of America’s Declaration of Independence in Tiananmen Square.
We are not an exclusively Christian nation. But, as Christians celebrate Easter, the death and resurrection of their Savior, let’s acknowledge an indisputable reality—that it has been to the benefit of Christians and non-Christians alike across the globe that America was founded as, and remains, a country rooted in Judeo-Christian values and ideals.