To The Editor - Summer 2007
I read your article ["History is Powerful: Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters" by Fred Clarkson] in the most recent Public Eye with great interest. I'd heard the comment about the United States being a Christian nation many times during my breaking with the worldview of my parents and their church-going friends. I'm now approaching my 65th birthday, so those discussions happened a long time ago - but they still have a kind of hold on me, as do many such perspectives learned in one's formative years.
So I found your article a breath of fresh air, and one that targets an important ideological prop of the dominant culture today. Also, you take pains to argue on grounds that the Christian Nationalists will have a hard time finding fault with - quoting Jefferson, the Constitution, and various religious leaders of the revolutionary period.
But I was troubled by one aspect of your article and wanted to share my concern with you. In arguing against Christian Nationalism, you inadvertently give them purchase for their arguments right at the outset - by taking at face value that the United States is essentially a European nation. It seems to me that seeing relevant history beginning with the Jamestown landing accepts, and locks us into, a settler version of U.S. history. What about the native peoples who were here already? These peoples are clearly not part of the worldview of Christian Nationalism - but shouldn't they be part of ours? And if we accept and bring into the story the reality of the Indian peoples and their struggles, doesn't that upset right from the start that fiction that "we" are a Christian nation.
The vision of a country we need to uphold, in my view, is one that finally comes to terms with this wretched past of genocide. It should give due place in the country's creation story to the native peoples - and to their continuing struggles for self-determination. Given the continuing centrality of expansionism, or empire-building, in U.S. life today, getting things wrong back at the beginning can unwittingly lend support to the way the dominant forces picture the U.S. role today.
I realize that these points go deep into the self-image of many people in the United States, and do so in unsettling ways. They are not easily accepted, since people want to feel good about the country and its origins. It's good that there was the light of religious tolerance enshrined in the Constitution - and that's the main point of your article. But the real source of enlightenment is the history of all our people.
–Chip Smith, Fayetteville, North Carolina
Vol. 22, No. 2 :
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