Adam Lee does well to remind all of us that the founding of this country was certainly and deliberately secular.
He is also right that the idea of a Republic would have been strange to many readers of scripture. But believers need not agree that they must believe that the church, or scripture, only knows biblical theocracy. Most Christians and Catholics would not conflate A “Christian Nation” with biblical culture. Biblical understandings of blood, and the ambiguous stories behind the Israelite monarchy’s establishment, do not require that a Christian should support a kingship model of government, the “biblical theocracy” Lee describes. The closer Christian view is: do the best with what you’re given, but struggle for peace.
Irresponsibly, Lee doesn’t distinguish between the various interpretations of the Catholic Church, its descendants, mainline denominations, Rabbinical traditions and those of fundamentalist traditions.
The first objection is simple: the church catholic has never believed the scriptures are unitary texts. Or that all parts of scripture are equally authoritative. The bible’s role has never been to be the complete set of knowledge a Christian has. Lee’s method of interpreting scripture is that of an Atheist, which is closer to the view of a fundamentalist, rather than a Catholic or mainline Christian. He removes his interpretation from the church’s traditional self-understanding and implicitly denies that the church may change its interpretation.
Furthermore, Lee conveniently glosses over thousands of years of thought that distinguished the temporal and the eternal, the earthly and the heavenly. The church has always maintained a difference between the state and the church, with the assumption that the state’s role is different, if subordinate.
Lee noted well that Christians have had a variety of beliefs. It is unfortunate that he does not extend that wisdom to his later claim about “biblical government,” a phrase that is foreign to the Catholic church, an innovation to orthodox thought, and one that should be rightly condemned. At times, the Catholic church has argued that kingship is better than democracy; but it has also argued that tyranny is the worst form of government. But in all cases it has argued that human government is distinguishable from the kingdom of God. And as far as protestants believing in the divine right of Kings, I think Charles I, to name one king, would disagree. Unfortunately, Lee not once refers to the doctrine of the two swords or the two kingdoms. Jefferson and Madison would have understood them.
Lee uses an argument about blood to make his case. But that the church did not have the scientific knowledge about blood says little about what the church truly believes. Was the church, or the religion, different in its thinking than other religions at that time? Was blood purity about disease or was it about resisting empire? Lee misunderstandings the meaning of blood laws and their place in the culture. He can only infer that religious people believed incorrect things. And yes, like everyone else at the time, they did.
Adam Lee reminds us that there was a time when atheists, such as our founding fathers, had a more sophisticated, subtle and nuanced view of religion. They were members of churches. They were friends with clergy. They understood how strong religious institutions built up the republic. But in a Balkanized age, our contemporary Atheists lack that same kind of magnanimity, creativity or understanding of the religious imagination, implicitly admitting with fundamentalists that it is the biblical inerrantists who represent the only true form of Christianity.
Admittedly, there are good reasons to be scared of the Christian Dominionism that has taken a foothold in American culture. But Lee doesn’t seek to understand the roots of such theology or why it appeals to anxious Americans. Lee’s polemic is mainly useful for riling up Atheists. But it’s not good biblical criticism. It shows little historical awareness of the church’s self-understanding. And it denies that many Christians defended, theologically, the foundation of a secular Republic.
It would behoove Religion’s detractors to learn more about the subject.