As we’ve seen, there’s a fundamental difference between an American worldview and a biblical one, but many American Christians often speak of them as essentially the same. Some go so far as to call the United States a “Christian nation.” This is an easy mistake to make, in large part because both Americanism and Christianity are now under attack in the arena of public discourse.
To understand how this confusion happened, it helps to look back over a few basic steps in a centuries-long process:
- Christianity becomes the official religion of the Roman empire (4th-6th centuries)
- The bishop of Rome consolidates power to the point of dominating the church in Western Europe as pope (4th century and following)
- The Protestant Reformation throws Western Europe into religious and political turmoil. Wars along Protestant-Roman Catholic lines result in Western Europe, along with an accelerating splintering and proliferation of Protestant denominations (16th-17th centuries)
- The so-called Enlightenment, by which ethics and morality are based on human reason rather than divine revelation, gains popularity as a means of reconciling religious and political conflicts. Originally, the moral dictates of the Enlightenment closely parallel those of Christian ethics (17th-18th centuries)
- The United States is founded on Enlightenment principles of reason and human rights (18th century). Through universal public education, these values come to be incorporated at a basic and emotional level with the American population at large (19th-20th centuries)
- Scientific discoveries and theories threaten traditional interpretations of the Bible (19th century), and two devastating world wars among traditionally Christian nations undercut popular faith in the practical moral and ethical value of Christianity (2oth century)
- As a reaction to the Cold War in general and the Vietnam war in particular, traditional American values of patriotism, Constitutional order, rule of law, and American exceptionalism, begin to fall out of popular favor as the educational system moves away from instilling these values as an essential element of universal public education (late 20th century)
- Rights-based morality begins to diverge significantly from traditional Christian teachings, particularly on issues of marriage, family, and sexuality (late 2oth century). This divergence accelerates substantially in the 21st century
- Both traditional biblical worldviews and traditional Americanism come under assault by common anti-traditionalist forces (2oth-21st centuries).
In short, Americans have traditionally felt very strong loyalties to both God and country. As both Christian faith and American values have come under increasingly overt attack by anti-traditional forces in recent decades, it is understandable that many American Christians would cling tightly to both as well.