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Why America’s Christian foundation is a myth
A new book by constitutional attorney Andrew Seidel takes on Christian nationalism.
- A new book by attorney Andrew Seidel, 'The Founding Myth: Why Christian nationalism Is Un-American', takes on the myth of America's Christian founding.
- Christian nationalism is the belief that the United States was founded as a Christian nation on Christian principles, and that the nation has strayed from that original foundation.
- Judeo-Christian principles are fundamentally opposed to the principles on which America was built, argues Seidel.
You've probably heard it expressed once or twice, by some political pundit or another, that America was founded on Christian principles.
While these sentiments have been floating around American political discourse for a while, under the Trump administration they have become more aggressive. Earlier this month, for instance, President Trump, Attorney General William P. Bar, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo all spoke publicly on the role of Christianity in American life and politics.
A new book by constitutional attorney Andrew Seidel, 'The Founding Myth: Why Christian Nationalism Is Un-American,' challenges that notion in arguably the most comprehensive take down yet of what he calls "Christian nationalism."
What is Christian Nationalism?
Seidel, an attorney at the Freedom From Religion Foundation, defines Christian nationalism as the belief that the United States was founded as a Christian nation on Christian principles, and most importantly, that the nation has strayed from that original foundation.
It is this language of redemptive Christian nationalism, according to Seidel, that is used to justify recent policies such as immigration policy that banned immigration from Muslim majority countries, government funded voucher school programs, the child separation policy at the border, opposition to LGBTQ rights, environmental deregulation, the evisceration of women's reproductive rights, and Project Blitz - an overt Christian nationalist push to rewrite American law.
According to Seidel, the aim of certain politicians is to wipe away the regressive aspects of these policies by incorrectly claiming they align with America's Christian heritage.
"The political theology of Christian nationalism, their very identity, is dependent upon a common well of myths and lies," he says. "Without the historical cover that the lies give, their policy justifications crumble."
Common myths he points to include American verbiage such as "One nation under God" and "In God We Trust." The former was added to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954 and the latter was not required on currency until 1956. The original motto the founders suggested was the Latin phrase E pluribus unum, which translates to "Out of many, one." Other untruths are that the Declaration of Independence references Jesus multiple times, that the founders prayed at the Constitutional Convention, and that our laws were based on the Ten Commandments.
But Seidel's book goes beyond gently correcting historical inaccuracies spewed by Christian nationalists, pointing out that correction is not enough at this political moment. He makes the claim that America's foundation is in direct opposition of the principles found in the Bible.
"Pointing out errors is no longer sufficient," says Seidel. "This book does that, but it takes the next step. It goes on the offensive. This book is an assault on the Christian nationalist identity. Not only are Christian nationalists wrong, but their beliefs and their identity run counter to the ideals on which this nation was founded. They are un-American."
Image Source: Wikimedia
The central question that Seidel sought to answer was: Did Judeo-Christian principles positively influence the founding of the United States of America?
"The answer to that is no, America was not founded on Judeo-Christian principles, and it's a good thing because those principles are fundamentally opposed to the principles on which this nation was built," argues Seidel.
For example, there is a common misconception that America's legal system is based on the Ten Commandments. He devotes an entire chapter of the book to rigorously debunking the myth commandment by commandment.
"When you crack open a bible and read those it becomes very obvious that they are fundamentally opposed to American values and founding principles," says Seidel, who points to commandment number one: I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before me. "It would be very difficult to write a sentence that is more fundamentally opposed to our First Amendment than the First Commandment."
Another founding myth that has prevailed is the story of the Pilgrims and Puritans arriving in the New World seeking religious liberty. It isn't exactly true.
"They were fleeing religious persecution," says Seidel. "But they didn't come to America seeking religious freedom. They actually didn't come to America first."
First, they fled to Leiden in the Netherlands, one of the (inconveniently) freest, most tolerant countries in Europe. The religious freedom there posed a bit of a problem for the Puritans according to Seidel, who says that the followers were exercising their freedom and leaving the faith. It led the church fathers to conclude that they needed to find a new land where they could use the secular law to impose religious law.
"[That's] why they came to the New World," says Seidel. "Not for religious liberty, but seeking the ability to establish tiny theocracies in New England. When the founders looked at that earlier history, they looked at it as an example of how not to build a government."
Claims on patriotism
Image Source: Wikimedia
Ultimately, 'The Founding Myth' is an aim to take away the exclusivity that Christian nationalists attribute to being an American.
"Patriotism has no religion," says Seidel. "There's no such thing as the freedom of religion without a government that is free from religion. America's unique contribution to political science is the wall of separation between state and church. That had never been done before. That is an American original."
This is something that he says we should be proud of, rather than seeking to undermine with myths about a Christian founding. We also, he mentions, should remind Americans that our Constitution demands the absolute separation of church and state.
"We have to raise hell whenever that wall between state and church is breached," says Seidel "This is not a Christian nation. Our Constitution does not belong to the Christians. It belongs to we the people, all of the people. And it's about damn time we start acting like it."
America has outgrown its ‘Judeo-Christian’ label. What’s next?
- Is the Trump presidency a religious cult? - Big Think ›
- ‘Christian nationalists’ less likely to wear masks, social distance - Big Think ›
The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
Philosopher Nick Bostrom's "singleton hypothesis" predicts the future of human societies.
- Nick Bostrom's "singleton hypothesis" says that intelligent life on Earth will eventually form a "singleton".
- The "singleton" could be a single government or an artificial intelligence that runs everything.
- Whether the singleton will be positive or negative depends on numerous factors and is not certain.
Want to Retain American Jobs? Stop Blaming Globalization<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="oxK8j1xN" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="2cf425d7b91ed2a6fc4fe19d065f3408"> <div id="botr_oxK8j1xN_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/oxK8j1xN-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/oxK8j1xN-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/oxK8j1xN-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
The rites we give to the dead help us understand what it takes to go on living.
As the coronavirus pandemic hit New York in March, the death toll quickly went up with few chances for families and communities to perform traditional rites for their loved ones.
Shannon Lee shares lessons from her father in her new book, "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- Bruce Lee would have turned 80 years old on November 27, 2020. The legendary actor and martial artist's daughter, Shannon Lee, shares some of his wisdom and his philosophy on self help in a new book titled "Be Water, My Friend: The Teachings of Bruce Lee."
- In this video, Shannon shares a story of the fight that led to her father beginning a deeper philosophical journey, and how that informed his unique expression of martial arts called Jeet Kune Do.
- One lesson passed down from Bruce Lee was his use and placement of physical symbols as a way to help "cement for yourself this new way of being, or this new lesson you've learned." By working on ourselves (with the right tools), we can develop the skills necessary to rise and conquer new challenges.