I am myself both an atheist and a libertarian conservative and some libertarian conservatives are hostile to the role of Christianity in American conservatism. They feel that Christian conservatives oppress them and make conservatism unduly narrow. I do not feel that way. I have the warmest feelings towards Christians -- and I know Christianity very well, both from upbringing and from a strongly evangelical phase in my teenage years.

There is a good summary of the controversy by Steven Warshawsky. I reproduce below one paragraph from his article that I particularly appreciate and agree with:

"I have long believed that part of being a "conservative" is being respectful of religion. Or rather, to be more precise, being respectful of Christianity. Unlike Orlet, I am not offended when someone says that this is a "Christian nation." It is. America certainly is not a Muslim or Hindu or Buddhist nation. As a Jew, I am deeply grateful for this nation's Christian heritage. No nation on earth treats Jews better. While there are many reasons for this, I believe that Christianity is part of what makes America the great country that she is. And as a fervently patriotic American, I will support and defend this country's Christian heritage to my dying days.

And I have had a privilege and a pleasure Warshawsky has not -- the privilege of once having been an evangelical Christian. And to this day when I listen to the great Protestant hymns -- such as "How great thou art" -- I am always profoundly grateful for the powerful and transformative religion we have inherited from the men of faith who shaped the world we live in.

Warsharsky probably does overgeneralize a bit in some of his other statements, however, and I reproduce below part of a reply to his unduly sweeping claims. I have myself written at some length on the complex historical relationship between Christianity and politics here.

I might just point out here that any such conflict hardly arises where I live -- in Australia. Australians are usually very skeptical religiously so most conservatives are respectful of religion but are not particularly religious themselves. And yet Australia is in some ways more conservative than the USA!


The historical origins of Christian religious tolerance

Christ's command: "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." (Matthew 19:19) should have been sufficient warrant for Christian tolerance but historically it did not work out that way. Excerpt below from The American Thinker

The fact that any and all religions can be openly practiced in America is an outcome of the phenomenon that was very different - and, in fact, exactly opposite - to Christian tolerance; it grew out of Christian intolerance to Christians, and of the oppressed Christians' desire to put an end to it.

This is not as confusing as it sounds. Before the reformation, there was only one Church and only one Christianity, Catholicism - all other ones being successfully suppressed. Reformation - the split of Christendom into the Catholics and the Evangelicals - broke not only the Pope's monopoly on creed but, far more importantly, on his ability to enforce it, because allegiances of those wielding secular power split too. Many powerful princes and communities - first in Germany, but later in Switzerland, Low countries, Sweden, England and France - also took the reformist's side. The split of Christendom into two roughly equal centers of power resulted in wars that were horrifying - far exceeding in bloodshed and misery the present-day's dust-off between Shiahs and Sunnis in Iraq - and taught the European and, later, American Christians that sticking one's Truth, no matter how obviously True, down the neighbor's throat is not going to do anybody any good.

Moreover, the logic of evangelicalism with its stress on coming to God through personal acceptance of Christ, and realization that only the few were really intended to be saved, meant that religious coercion not only didn't make any sense theologically, but was in fact an ultimate act of irreligion. Hence, John Milton could react to the attempt to institute licensing of clergy in the Cromwellian England by describing such clergymen as "hireling wolves whose Gospel is their maw" and appealing to Oliver Cromwell to thwart the efforts of those who "threaten to bind our souls with secular chains." Conscience that was free on any coercion - and hence, free speech and free exercise of religion - were to become the gateways to God.

American Christians got this notion from their English puritan fore-fathers, who came to this conclusion in the crucible of the English Civil war of mid-seventeenth-century. Around 1640 there was a clash between two opposing, intolerant, ayatollah-style forces: Anglican church under heavy-handed Archbishop Laud, and the equally narrow-minded Scottish Presbyterians, a clash which left the puritan non-conformists squeezed in the middle and harassed by both sides, developing in the process a notion of separation of church and state, and producing in Roger Williams a brilliant advocate of the idea that the matters of religion should better be left to each individual alone. The separation of church and state which ensures our freedom to believe just as we see fit was, thus, not an act of generosity on the part of Christians towards non-Christians as Mr. Warshawsky would have us believe, but a vital necessity, effected by the Evangelicals and for the Evangelicals.

And it is this separation of church and state - that in effect outlaws the very notion of "True Faith" which bedevils today's Moslems and causes them to resort to violence - is the main legacy of Christians in America and, being enshrined in the first amendment of the US constitution by the very religious, very Christian, very conservative yet very clear-minded founding fathers, is Christianity's chief contribution to American way of life, and an enduring symbol of the fact that the religious can overcome narrow-mindedness and not be the brainless, intolerant, monomaniacal, homicidal and suicidal idolatrous two-legged creatures like those populating present day's Moslem Middle East.


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