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It took a pagan television show about lawyers in the ultra-liberal town of Boston to finally state the obvious—America is a Christian nation. When close to 85% of the population of a country believe a certain thing, you can feel pretty safe with generalities and this was exactly the point of the fictitious case argued Tuesday night on Boston Legal, ABC’s continuance of the popular long-running courtroom drama The Practice.
A business owner, who is a Christian, shows up at the firm asking for legal counsel. A former employee, who is Jewish, is suing the owner because he encouraged prayer and Bible study among his employees. The Jewish man, who has since left the company, said he felt oppressed and discriminated against because of his religion. The Boston Legal attorney, in an amazing bit of primetime television, makes his legal case against the former employee by showing mounds of evidence that America is in fact a Christian nation. The employer, he argues, was simply following the lead of the president and other cultural leaders who openly profess to be followers of Christ. In effect, the show is telling Americans that non-Christian whiners should not only close their mouths and deal with Christianity in America, they should’ve expected it in the first place, because we are a nation that overwhelmingly claims to be Christian. It’s like visiting Saudi Arabia and complaining about all the Islamic beliefs and practices.
In much the same way, Bill McKibben, in Harper’s Magazine, laments about the paradox that is America:
Ours is among the most spiritually homogenous rich nations on earth. Depending on which poll you look at and how the question is asked, somewhere around 85 percent of us call ourselves Christian. Israel, by way of comparison, is 77 percent Jewish. It is true that a smaller number of Americans—about 75 percent—claim they actually pray to God on a daily basis, and only 33 percent say they manage to get to church every week. Still, even if that 85 percent overstates actual practice, it clearly represents aspiration. In fact, there is nothing else that unites more than four fifths of America. Every other statistic one can cite about American behavior is essentially also a measure of the behavior of professed Christians. That’s what America is: a place saturated in Christian identity…America is simultaneously the most professedly Christian of the developed nations and the least Christian in its behavior.
McKibben goes on to argue for a socialistic Christianity along the lines of Ron Sider and his followers, but his point remains. The empirical facts are irrefutable: the vast majority of Americans claim some sort of Christianity, Michael Newdow notwithstanding. This fact does not even need to slip into the past and discern the religious views of the Founding Fathers. It doesn’t need to prove its case with apocryphal stories about the “separation of church and state” and establishment clause ideals. Taking a ten-minute drive anywhere in this country can prove this fact. Christian churches are found on almost every corner in most American towns. This fact can also be proven by taking a walk around any of the colonial towns on the East Coast. I remember giving a German information scientist, Dr. Werner Gitt, a brief tour of Philadelphia before his flight back to Germany. We looked at Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, and other historic relics that Philly has to offer. Dr. Gitt was blown away. He asked me how Americans could even doubt the Christian nature of our country’s origin. He couldn’t believe the number of Scriptures etched in walls, statues, floors, and just about every structure that is older than 150 years in our nation’s first capitol. This, in addition to the poll and survey numbers that reveal at least ¾ of the population in the U.S. profess some sort of Christianity, and you’ve got solid empirical evidence that even an evolutionist can’t ignore.
It’s difficult to know exactly what the Boston Legal writing team had in mind when they wrote this episode, but it seems to be an “art imitates life” situation. A show that concentrates primarily on legal issues will be more relevant when it deals with legal issues that the country is currently wrestling with as well. In this case the writers of the show hit the nail on the head. Regardless of your personal views of the metaphysical beliefs and practices of Americans, we are a Christian nation. And it is this very truth that makes criticisms of our national heritage, present and future, possible.
Many today who disparage Christianity may not know or believe that, were it not for Christianity, they would not have the freedom that they presently enjoy. The very freedom of speech and expression that ironically permits them to castigate Christian values is largely a by-product of Christianity’s influences that have been incorporated into the social fabric of the Western world…This freedom, similar to the freedom that Adam and Eve once had, ironically permits the possessors of freedom to dishonor the very source of their freedom. As Fernand Braudel has so eloquently stated, “Throughout the history of the West, Christianity has been at the heart of the civilization it inspires, even when it has allowed itself to be captured or deformed by it.”
Ironically, as Schmidt makes clear, Michael Newdow depends on the social and political structure that Christianity has made possible in order to make his case against it. If only the lawyers of Boston Legal were real lawyers. They could point out to Mr. Newdow that, “Hey, what did you expect? We are a Christian nation after all. If you don’t like the Pledge of Allegiance, don’t say it. How about taking your atheistic beliefs to a nice Muslim country. They really appreciate and tolerate different views. They’ll be more than happy to make room for you. I hear Saudi Arabia is nice this time of year…”
 Bill McKibben, “How a faithful nation gets Jesus wrong.” Harper’s Magazine, September 2005. Online version: http://www.harpers.org/ExcerptTheChristianParadox.html
How Christianity Changed the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), p.13.