45% of Americans say U.S. should be a ‘Christian Nation’

by Bob Schwartz

Pew reports that a large majority of Americans say the founders intended America to be a Christian nation, and 45% of Americans say it should still be. Meaning that we should be guided, or, according to some, mandated to follow Christian values.

As a student of Christianity, though not a Christian, I am interested in knowing which values those are, and how well they are being modeled by those who advocate for a Christian America. I start by turning to the teachings of Jesus, rather than the layers of add-ons that have distorted or contradicted those teachings.

For just one example, following is taken from the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan, along with an annotation explaining that the golden rule didn’t begin or end with Jesus. It is basic and foundational, so those who claim we should be living according to Jesus but discard it as optional better go back to the source—or be labeled hypocrites.

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”
Luke 10:25-28 (NRSV)

In the end, the parable [of the Good Samaritan] does not answer the lawyer’s question “Who is the neighbor?” but illustrates how to love. It shows the Jewish questioner what a neighbor does; it does not redefine who a neighbor is.

The matter of how to act as neighbor relates to what is often called the “golden rule.” This was a common teaching expressed in a wide array of pre-Christian texts ranging from Confucian to Greek (e.g., Herodotus 3.142; Isocrates, To Nicocles; To Demonicus) and Jewish (e.g., Tob 4.15 and Ep. Arist. 207), although Jesus may have been the first to connect the golden rule to Leviticus’s love commandment. Matthew, who records Jesus as saying that “the Law and the Prophets” “hang” or “depend” on Lev 19.18 (Mt 22.40), elsewhere quotes Jesus as making an analogous remark about the golden rule: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets” (7.12). Luke cites the golden rule and then explains it with what seems to be an allusion to the love commandment (6.31–36). The Didache, another early Christian text, opens with a gloss on the two Great Commandments (Deut 6.5 and Lev 19.18) explained in terms of the golden rule (Did. 1.2). Paul may be combining the love commandment and the golden rule in Rom 13.10, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law” (cf. Gal 5.14). James likewise seems to allude to the golden rule, called “the royal law,” when citing the love command (Jas 2.8). None of this conflicts with Jewish teaching, and indeed canonical translators and commentators gloss Lev. 19.18 with the Golden Rule (e.g., Tg. Ps–J. ad loc.; Seforno ad loc; Maimonides, Laws of Mourning 14.1)….

Jewish sages cited the golden rule in similar circumstances. According to the Talmud, when Hillel the elder, Jesus’ contemporary, was confronted by a would-be convert who audaciously demanded to be taught the whole Torah while standing on one foot, the sage answered with the famous words: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.” (b. Shabb. 31a).

Michael Fagenblat in The Annotated Jewish New Testament