Thursday, December 22, 2016

Christmas in 1776

‘Tis the season to argue about religion. Or more specifically, to feud about whether to say "Merry Christmas" or "Seasons Greetings" . . . to boycott Starbucks because of its holiday cup . . . or to allow a crèche or menorah to stand on public property.
What would Americans at the time of the founding think about all this?
They would have been perplexed. Perplexed, first, at the ways that we fuss about the public role of religion. The Revolutionary era was shot through with public expressions of faith, from the days of prayer and fasting declared by presidents, to the chaplains employed by the Continental Congress and Washington’s army, to the faith principles undergirding the Revolution itself, especially the notion that all men are created equal. As I explained in my book God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, the concept of a public square stripped of religion would have been deeply unfamiliar to Americans in 1776.
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