Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

Christian Nation 2014

We heard John Fea, the Head of the History Department at Messiah College in Pennsylvania at SMU a couple of weeks ago. I decided to read Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

While the early colonists and founders believed in Providence and that God favored America there are caveats that should give us pause. While most citizens probably believed that they were living in a Christian Nation, early behavior suggests otherwise.

Jamestown was founded in 1608 and mandatory church attendance was required. Conditions were harsh and survival uncertain until slavery was introduced and allowed efficient agricultural production. “Slavery brought wealth to the colony and made it possible for some of the leading lights of the American Revolution to protest against their own enslavement under British tyranny.”

The Puritans came to Massachusetts in 1620. John Winthrop, the first governor wanted to build “a Christian civilization that would stand as a city on a hill.” Only those who could testify to a “conversion experience” were allowed to be church members or to vote. All were required to attend church but most did not adhere to Puritan orthodoxy. Dissenters did not fare well – some were required to leave the community, others were killed. While the Puritans came to the New World for religious liberty they did not grant this to others. “The Puritan approach to Indians living in their midst must be viewed as embarrassing for a society that claimed to be Christian in orientation.” Indian conversion was tried but the Puritans needed land and the Indians were in the way of “destiny.” Violence ensued.

While both sought to follow Christian orthodoxy (proper belief) they failed in orthopraxy (correct practice). Public behavior was not guided by Christian principles.

Fea argues that the American Revolution was a product of the Enlightenment’s values of Toleration and Pluralism more than Christianity. In writings leading up to the Revolution Enlightenment political theory was cited much more than Biblical justification for rebellion from Britain.

There are members of my church who have reacted strongly to “politics from the pulpit.” Any comment remotely secular about the current state of affairs or the political climate from the pulpit is reason for a private meeting with the pastor for corrective instruction.

Fea makes a very convincing case that multiple clergy supported (and a few opposed) the Revolution from the pulpit. They often used creative Biblical exegesis to bend their message the desired way.
An example: John Carmichael, a Presbyterian Minister in Pennsylvania preached that Jesus ”can’t possibly have meant that we should love (our enemies) better than ourselves-that we should put it in the enemy’s power to kill us, when we have it in our power to save our own life, by killing the enemy.”
Loyalists (to England) preached from Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 to support submission to English authorities regardless of their moral character.
Polities from the pulpit has been present since the early days of America.

The Constitution makes no mention of God. The Declaration of Independence does, but it is not mention Christianity. It may be a theistic document but it is not a Christian document. It is a document of Independence, not a document of values or human rights.

Our founders were a mixed lot. John Witherspoon was the only clergy who signed the Declaration. While a professing Christian he also supported belief in an innate “moral sense” or conscience independent of the Bible or God’s grace that directed humans to virtuous behavior – a decidedly unchristian belief.
Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, and Washington believed in “Providence” but did not profess to be followers of Jesus. Patrick Henry, John Jay and Samuel Adams (here Fea includes Witherspoon as well) are the founders whom are identified as professing Christians. Samuel Adams was a proponent of Puritan Republicanism – the belief borne out by a study of history that “republics survived only when their citizens sacrificed self-interest for the common good and lived upright and moral lives.” He felt that the promotion of religion was the best way to achieve these goals.

Fea concludes by saying that history is complex and often does not give easy answers. In the early nineteenth century Christians believed they were living in a Christian nation. But our founding documents do not identify the United States as a Christian nation and proscribed the mingling of religion and state. But most state constitution did recognize God and Christianity and many required officeholders to be Christian well into the nineteenth century.

So Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?
For me the simple (and thus suspect) answer is unofficially yes but officially no. Has our nation lived up to Christian ideals? Absolutely not. But who among us has?

Christian Nation

Advertisements

Response to a friend

Freedom Abe small
Dear Friend,

Dinner last night was great as usual. But I was disappointed in my response to your question…”like what?”

When I said that electing opposition candidates was good for our country to keep the majority party (now the Republicans) from having total control of our body politic, I thought that was so obvious that I was blindsided by your question and gave two really stupid responses – taxes and Roe v. Wade.

So let me try briefly to give a more measured response assuming that your question was a serious one.

One of the best classes I ever took in school was at North Texas in the summer of 1964. American Government. I wish I could remember the prof‘s name. He was terrific – did a great Sam Rayburn imitation. But one thing he said that has stuck with me all these years is this.

American democracy works best when three near equal forces are in dynamic tension with each other – business, labor, and government. Big Business, Big Labor, and Big Government if you will. If that tension is diminished or absent autocracy, injustice, even fascism can be the result.

Fast forward to now – big Labor no longer exists. While people rail against big government, it has been largely co-opted by BIG Business.

The three greatest threats to our democracy are unlimited money in politics (Think Citizens United – corporations are people, money is speech), gerrymandering by whichever party is in the state house, and voter suppression. Business rules government and labor.

And the more power granted to a single force the more self-serving that force becomes and the less well our democracy serves its ideals of freedom, equality and justice.

Democracy is messy. It is supposed to be messy. You bemoaned the Kavanaugh nomination process as being deplorable, especially the Democrats. No argument here. BUT at least there was a process where opposing positions made their case and slugged it out. For an example of the autocracy I fear, look no further than Merritt Garland – no process, no debate, no hearings. Which is worse? I know which I prefer.

I heard John Fea, an admitted evangelical and history professor at SMU recently. In his book Believe Me he develops 3 choices that Evangelicals made that really are not true to the faith but have had wide appeal.
They chose

FEAR over HOPE
POWER over HUMILITY
NOSTALGIA over HISTORY
Evangelicals have chosen Trump over their faith. Trump raises the specter of fear at every opportunity and it works. I think fear of the OTHER is in our DNA.
Christians are taught to be humble but they have embraced Trump’s drive for Power (Woodward’s book is named Fear because Trump thinks that Power is delivered through fear).
Power is almost always antithetical to freedom, equality, and justice (Power corrupts blah, blah, blah).
Finally Make America Great Again. Fea says Trump supporters hear “Great!” (Nostalgia) The historian hears “Again” (History) and asks when are you talking about? There has never been a time when America was great for all its citizens. Maybe great for you but how about ______? (Fill in the blank)

So my point last night, poorly made, was that by electing more Republicans we allow them to
1) cut Medicare and Social Security
2) emphasize school vouchers over public education
3) ignore climate change and continue to abuse our environment (I agree it’s too late – that battle has been lost)
4) offend our allies jeopardizing relationships that have kept Western peace for over 70 years.
5) praise dictators like Putin, Kim Jun Um, and MSB of Saudi Arabia. (I doubt if Mueller will find Trump colluded with Russia – probably because of lack of opportunity. But doesn’t his denying any election interference strike you as odd?)

So I’ll stop there by giving you the last line of Woodward’s book Fear.

John Dowd, Trump’s lawyer, on resigning gave his real reason for doing so

“Because He’s a Fucking Liar!”

No response is necessary.

An Incomplete Memory

I had the most interesting and instructive experience yesterday.

I was driving back from visiting a friend who was rehabbing from a severely broken left femur that required surgery a month ago.

I was listening to THINK, the KERA program with interviews of authors, journalists, and researchers. The guest was Casey Gerald. His autobiography, They’re Will Be No Miracles Here!, tells of being raised by an ex Ohio State football player cocaine addict and a bipolar often absent mother. Nevertheless after high school in Oak Cliff he attended Yale and got an MBA from Harvard.
I did not get his name as I drove but heard him tell of his father Rod at OSU. When the host, Krys Boyd, repeated his name I was suddenly thrust back in time.

One fall many years ago I was watching football on TV. Ohio State was playing an opponent whose name I can’t remember. What I do remember is that the quarterback for OSU was Rod Gerald. (Now when I look him up I see that he was the quarterback for the 1976 and 1977 seasons and led OSU to an Orange Bowl victory in 1977.}

Early in the next year after that football season I was returning from someplace south of Dallas. I went to the Home Depot on Interstate 20 in South Dallas to buy I know not what. What I do remember is asking a store employee for help. I was surprised when I looked at his name tag. On it was written Rod Gerald. I said to him that another Rod Gerald played football at Ohio State. Sheepishly he admitted that he was the same Rod Gerald and had left OSU involuntarily. I do not remember anything more of what he said – was it academic? (I think so) or disciplinary? (I can find no record of Rod Gerald leaving OSU).

So I saw Rod Gerald play football on TV and then saw him a few months later in a Home Depot in Dallas. It was such an odd coincidence I’ve never forgotten it. That I am sure of.

What I don’t remember is the year it happened, why I went to Home Depot, Where I went before or after, or anything else Rod Gerald said to me. That it occurred in 1977 seems earlier than I would have thought because my hazy recollection is that my wife, Cherry, was with me. We were not married until 1979. But we were dating in 1977 so that date is possibly correct. She has no memory of this event but then she wasn’t watching football then.
Maybe there was another Rod Gerald or Rod Jerrell that played later at OSU but I can find no record and that seems unlikely.

My vivid memory of a chance encounter is incomplete but no less real to me and is as accurate as I can recount.

Does this remind you of a recent tale of a vivid memory that has been savaged for its incompleteness? A reference to that memory in a recent adolescent rant by the President in Mississippi comes to mind.

I didn’t leave medicine. Medicine left me.

I just came from sitting with a friend in the Baylor Emergency Department.  It reminds me how much medicine has changed since I entered it 50+ years ago. Finishing my training in 1972 I was scheduled to leave for Stanford medical Center and a residency in nuclear medicine. However literally at the 11th hour I decided that leaving my two young daughters in Dallas, even though her mother and I were divorced, was something that I could not do. And so several fellow residents at the VA hospital and a Methodist Hospital began forming a medical group that would be located at the nascent Medical City Dallas Hospital, being built by Trammell Crow and Bob Wright. Putting that group together as the Dallas Diagnostic Association is the most memorable job I have ever had.

DDA original nineWe started from nothing and ended up two years later with the best single specialty group in Dallas. Creating the group was fun and being part of it was inspiring. Until the second generation doctors were recruited to join the DDA we were a creative group, willing to take risk.  As one of them later said “we took it away from you.” The fun ended, I left and spent the remainder of my career practicing more or less alone.

Now medicine is corporate, doctors have jobs, and more time is spent filling out forms than treating patients. A good example is the Ebola crisis which occurred at Presbyterian Hospital several years ago. The whole epidemic of Ebola in Dallas could have been prevented had a simple question been asked of the alpha case. “Have you traveled anyplace overseas recently?” But it wasn’t and several people died. Interestingly my 88-year-old friend in the Baylor Emergency Department from a fall was asked that very question, probably as a result of the Ebola episode. But for the three hours we were in the ER waiting for a room, at least five people (none doctors) entered and asked her the same questions about her medicine, her Medicare, did she have an advanced directive, etc.?  Apparently collecting information is valued but sharing it is not. We are wedded to technology and the doctor-patient relationship is mostly of historical interest now.

When I was practicing at the DDA and solo, before medicine changed I was a diagnostician. Patients came with a myriad of problems and my job was to sort them out, identify them, and either prescribe or refer them for appropriate treatment.

1978 in DDA office

However, one of my regrets is that intellectual medicine takes a backseat to procedural medicine. Payment for thinking continues to be undervalued and thus underused. Three unusual cases come to mind that I diagnosed that probably saved lives -a case of *malaria in a college student returning from Mali (Timbuktu) that had not been diagnosed at the UCLA Medical Center;  a case of  *coarctation of the aorta in a young woman who had almost died in childbirth; and an *insulinoma in a middle-aged woman who was having fainting spells. The malaria was treated with medication. The coarctation of the aorta and the insulinoma were treated surgically.

Taking complex medical problems, finding the right diagnosis, and prescribing the correct treatment was the most satisfying medical job I ever had. That may still occur in medical schools but even they are now driven by the profit motive. Technology trumps a history and physical.

I grieve for my former profession.

 

*Malaria is one of the most common diseases in the world, carried by the Anopheles mosquito. The malaria parasite injected into the body by the mosquito causes fracture of red blood cells, fever, and untreated organ failure and death. One of the biggest prizes in public health is a way to prevent malaria, especially in Third World countries.

*Coarctation of the aorta is a congenital malformation that constricts the aorta just below the blood vessels that supply the arms. It results in high blood pressure in the arms and very low blood pressure in the legs and abdomen. How she was able to carry an infant to term with such low blood supply is amazing.

*An insulinoma, or beta cell tumor of the pancreas is an insulin secreting benign tumor resulting in excess of blood insulin driving the blood sugar down and causing people to become weak and faint.

 

Drugs, Choice, and the “Free Market”

I went to see my allergist yesterday. One of the treatments she prescribed was Dymista. It is a nasal spray containing an antihistamine (Astelin) and a corticosteroid (Fluticasone). I have been using these separately with some success but the combination simplifies their use. She gave me a couple of samples that will last me 2 to 3 weeks. She mentioned that my insurance might not pay for it. However, since I generally buy my own medication I was not too concerned about insurance. That is until I looked up the price from the wholesaler that I use and found that Dymista is $175 for 30 doses. If used twice a day, like she prescribed, that is a little over two weeks of medication.

I am all for modern medicine and I think many of the drugs we take have improved health and prolonged life but I for one think Big Pharma has taken advantage of us. And the government has been impotent in curbing their rampant greed.

If you bought Dymista at Walmart, which is the cheapest price I found on GoodRx.com, it would cost $188. Its ingredients Astelin ($30) and Fluticasone($15) cost about $45 for the same amount.

Mylan Pharmaceuticals is charging four times as much to combine the two drugs into one formulation. It is much like charging $3 dollars for a cup of coffee and a dollar for cream and then charging $17 for coffee with cream.

This is an example of the “free market” that conservatives think solve all economic ills. If regulators would get out of the way and just let the market decide we would all be better off.

What never seems to come up is why regulations are necessary in the first place. The term “government overreach” is a favorite term of conservatives but what they fail to understand and acknowledge is that the overreach began with players in the market, pushing the legal and moral limits for power and profit. Regulations are a reaction to wrongdoing in the marketplace to try to serve the “common good.”

Until we as a society decide that pharmaceutical price gouging cannot be tolerated the Mylan Pharmaceutical’ s of the world will continue to manipulate and take advantage of consumers for their bottom line benefit.

In a review of William Cavanaugh’s book Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire, Alex Abecina says, “Cavanaugh contends that the so-called ‘free-market’, having been detached from objectively good ends, actually leaves consumers vulnerable to economic enslavement under an advertising saturated society, controlled and surveyed by a small handful of transnational corporations. This small but powerful sector possesses the research and marketing ‘know-how’ to produce artificially created consumer desires that are capable of dictating our choices for us.”

Freedom in a “free market” involves freedom to make informed choices, taking into account ethical concerns of fairness and the common good. Absent those parameters the “free market” is just about greed.

Healthcare: Public or Private?

Amid all the hullabaloo about repealing the Affordable Care Act a little noticed meeting took place in Dallas in June.

Dr. Tom Price, the Secretary of Health and Human Services and former Georgia Congressman, met with eight Dallas doctors. How they were chosen is uncertain but the mix was representative of one of the things wrong with healthcare in America. Six of the doctors were male and represented surgical subspecialties or anesthesia. Two members were female and were family practitioners. The minimalizing of primary care input into the debate is regrettable.

The HHS website reported on the meeting that it was very long on complaints but very short on suggested solutions. Sort of like the majority party in Congress.

I have contended for some time that if I gave anybody a magic wand and said “Fix healthcare in America.” That person would be unable to come up with a solution acceptable to all.

President Obama reportedly said,” If we were starting from scratch, a single payer system would make sense.” But we aren’t starting from scratch. Our health insurance system evolved as a way to give workers benefits without raising wages. Then unions fought for it and it became an expectation. Then President Nixon introduced the Health Maintenance Organization Act of 1973 and the “BUSINESS” of Medicine was off and running. And thus we have large hospital organizations that one doctor said are really only construction companies funded by sick patients. It is hard to pass a hospital these days without a crane in the sky signaling more building. And those buildings must be utilized and thus the other thing difficult to escape is advertising billboards on major thoroughfares. Did you know the United States is only one of two industrialized country that allows direct advertising of prescription pharmaceuticals to consumers? (New Zealand is the other)  “Ask your doctor…”   has become as ubiquitous as “This Bud’s for you.”

Say what you will Big Pharma, Big Insurance, and Big Hospitals are not going away. I have always believed that single payer with its lower administrative overhead and universal coverage was the best solution in a perfect world. And it still may be the solution America ultimately comes to. But what do we do about all those health insurance executives and employees?

Consider this before you answer. According to CMS (the agency that administers Medicare/Medicaid) there is roughly one Medicare/Medicaid employee for every 21,800 insured lives. For Health Insurance Companies there is one employee for every 340 insured lives. In other words a CMC employee handles 64 times as many lives as does an employee of private insurance. Score one for single payer.

But are we going to put over 500,000 people out of work? I think not. So is there another way to consider? Many students of healthcare policy advocate for a system like Switzerland’s which utilizes private insurance. Although it is the second or third costliest of the industrialized nations it is still 6% lower as a percentage of GDP than the U.S. (17.3 % for U.S. and 11.5% for Switzerland). So a Swiss system might save 6% of our GDP, a significant amount. So what are the tradeoffs to an annual saving of upward of a trillion dollars? The tradeoffs are: 1) Coverage is mandatory. 2) The Government defines the basic minimum policy that must be offered. 3) The Government controls prices for hospitals and doctors.  And 4) although now only a Swiss healthcare proposal, Government negotiation of drug prices will produce further savings.

For conservatives the “G” word is anathema. But they must face the facts that no profit driven system for healthcare has ever worked without some control on usage and pricing. Somebody has to decide how we use these resources. The doctors who met with Price want unfettered ability to treat and charge what they like. I did too when I was in practice. But we are only a small part of one of our nation’s obligations to its citizens: to promote the general welfare. To solve the problem of healthcare we are all going to have to give up something. If we can agree on that then maybe a compromised solution will be possible.