Joe Biden’s decision to put U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) on the ticket has sparked some discussion about her religious background. It’s broad: Harris was exposed to both Christianity and Hinduism as a child and is now a Baptist. Her husband is Jewish.
This kind of religious diversity might have been unusual in America at one time, but it certainly isn’t anymore. And while growing religious pluralism (which includes the right to be entirely non-religious) may alarm Christian nationalists, who react with dismay to any faith that is not their own, most Americans welcome it. Religious diversity is increasingly common; furthermore, it represents the kind of nation we were always intended to be.
Anyone looking to understand this dynamic would do well to read two books. Peter Manseau’s One Nation, Under Gods explains how America never was (and was never meant to be) a “Christian nation” – legally or culturally. Manseau explains that the native inhabitants of the land were practicing non-Christian faiths long before the first Christian ever set foot on our shores. Early immigrants included Jews, and the men and women brought here from Africa in chains practiced Islam and traditional religions. Skeptics of religion were present from day one. Jax Wexler’s book Our Non-Christian Nation, picks up the story from there, as he explains how Wiccans, Pagans, non-believers and others are demanding the same rights the Christian majority has long taken for granted.
John Leland, an 18th-century Baptist cleric and fierce advocate for religious freedom, once observed, “Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. … [A]ll should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.”
It may have taken a little while longer for that vision to come to life than some people expected, but it is here now, and, despite what advocates of the “Christian nation” myth may believe, it’s not going away.
We are a better nation for it.