To what extent can atheists be American?

Most people have heard Leftists condemn the Pledge of Allegiance as unconstitutional because it contains the phrase “Under God.” And although the Leftist argument is rather infantile, it nonetheless tends to put conservatives on the defensive. We are forced to argue that, “Well, the First Amendment does not prohibit all expressions of religion on behalf of the government,” or “No one is forced to say the Pledge, or “Even the Supreme Court building has the Ten Commandments posted on it.” These responses are all valid, of course, and other decent arguments could be made against the inane ramblings of the Left.  But the reality is that conservatives can easily take the offensive on this issue instead.

After explaining the aforementioned dilemma about the supposed need for all American public acts to be “secular,” Crude Ideas makes the following point rather beautifully.

[T]his is where many theists . . . seem ready to capitulate. Yes, though they may believe atheism to be incorrect, atheists are by and large good and moral people. A belief in God is not essential to our secular country. We are founded on secular ideals, ones all men can agree to, and God or belief in God is simply not an issue.

Popular move, as I said. . . . Here’s the problem:  It’s a lie. America was founded by Christians and deists of a particularly Christian cultural, moral, and philosophical grounding. There is no way to remove God from the equation without divorcing oneself from the ideals the country both was founded on and relies on to make sense of its identity.

By way of proof, merely consider the Declaration of Independence, our nation’s founding document. In founding the republic, the Founders claimed to be revolting from England and assuming “the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle[d] them.” They were taking advantage of their “unalienable Rights” with which they had been “endowed by their Creator.” They were “appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of [their] intentions.” They were putting their “reliance on Divine Providence” to support them in their endeavor. Could an atheist have written any of that with a straight face?

And I love how Leftists periodically try to argue that, “Well, almost all the Founding Fathers were deists.” By invoking the term “deism,” they generally mean to imply a belief in a deity who created the world but now remains absent from human affairs. But can the Leftists not read? The Founding Fathers were appealing to the “Supreme Judge” and relying on “Divine Providence”! Does that sound like an inactive first cause, or an active Deliverer? These men were theists at least, and in any case the majority were orthodox Christians.

If the ACLU had been running things in 1776, this country would never have been born.

And at this point, we can see where the libertarians tend to go so astray. Libertarians will generally argue that humans have a right to liberty and to pursue happiness, which includes the pursuit of property. But because they reject God as the source of these rights — and a source of a right is generally useful for understanding the right itself — libertarians tend to worship the rights themselves. That is why many of them tend to go so far off the deep end, supporting free drugs and such, and why many of them have become absolute anarchists. They fail to understand that the same God who gave them liberty to pursue happiness did also 1) establish government 2) to serve various moral and productive purposes.

They will argue that, “Of course I have a right to liberty and property — and that liberty means I am free to smoke heroin!” When you ask them to explain the source of that right, they will answer, “Well, no one gave the right to me….I just…HAVE it…because I’m human.” What this basically amounts to is a claim that “I have the right because I say so.” But when it comes to restricting heroin or abolishing capitalism, what happens when a government leader makes a comparable argument? What if he argues, “I have the right to socialize the medical industry…because I say so” or “…because it’s a human right”?

The informed Christian can respond, “No you don’t” and “No it isn’t.” Christians (and to varying degrees, other theists) can respond intelligently because they do not worship either “liberty” itself or merely the idea of rights. Rather, Christians worship a deity who is a source of rights, and who helps them understand their liberty in context. But as Crude points out, regarding the God-inspired commitment to liberty,

A mormon, hindu, catholic, protestant, jew, muslim, deist and theists of wide variety are in principle able to meet these original and long-lasting commitments. The atheist, the person who denies God and with Him God-given rights, cannot. It is not enough to merely be in favor of those rights personally while thinking that ultimately they’re just laws and rules society agrees upon (and then, only for now.)

Overall, an atheist can certainly be patriotic. He can be law-abiding. He can be nice, friendly, and he can even lead a relatively virtuous life. For that matter, an atheist can potentially become a conservative and embrace all the political ideals of the Founding Fathers. But even if he does all that, there is no logical backbone supporting the atheist’s actions. If he denies that we are an America “under God,” then he subtly and unintentionally negates all the values he claims to believe in. Such a denial — by anyone — can only leave us at the mercy of tyrants.

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3 Responses to “To what extent can atheists be American?”


  1. 1 morsec0de July 2, 2010 at 10:15 am

    “Here’s the problem: It’s a lie. America was founded by Christians and deists of a particularly Christian cultural, moral, and philosophical grounding.”

    Strange how they forgot to include all that in the Constitution then…

  2. 2 Drew July 2, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    They *did* include the Christian moral and philosophical grounding. A broad summary of John Locke’s ideas is included in Fifth Amendment, and of course the rest of the document is based largely off his philosophy. If you read his writings, you can see he cites the Bible all the time to derive his ideas. Furthermore, you can see from the inclusion of the Second Amendment that the Founders intended for the population to be able to revolt again against tyranny, and presumably to rely once again on the Supreme Judge to support their revolution.

    But I think the reason the Constitution doesn’t endorse religion more explicitly is because the states already did so. For example, the Tennessee constitution (ratified 1796) prohibits atheists from holding office. People were skeptical of giving the federal government any power whatsoever to regulate the religion between those diverse states. In any case the federal government was expected to be bound to its enumerated powers and bound by the will of the states (especially since the state legislatures elected senators). If the states were religious and the federal government was composed of those states and essentially neutral with regard to religious matters, then you would maintain the Christian system.

  3. 3 Ilíon July 3, 2010 at 7:29 pm

    Tne US Constitution is *not* secular (and it is certainly not in accord with the militant secularism of recent times) … it is non-sectarian; it *assumes* a broad Christianity and is tolerant of non-Christian religion and even of anti-religion — within bounds and so long as those religions (or anti-religion) are not in fundamental social conflict with the broad norms of Christianity.


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