How Much Blame Do Ordinary Christians Deserve for Christian Nationalism?

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Among atheists who enjoy discussing atheism online, one question comes up often. Are ordinary Christians responsible for Christian nationalism? This is an interesting question, but we need to phrase it better. Responsibility is more complex than a yes/no question implies. It exists on a continuum from no responsibility to a great deal of responsibility. If we are serious, we should be asking about degrees of responsibility. How much responsibility, if any, do ordinary Christians have for Christian nationalism?

The United States has a problem with Christian nationalism. The Capitol insurrection made that clear to everyone, though it had been clear to many of us for some time. And yet, most Christians in the United States are not Christian nationalists. They aren't Christian extremists, fundamentalists, or evangelicals. This is where we need to start, reminding ourselves who the ordinary Christian is.

Who Are These Ordinary Christians?

I'm using "ordinary" in this context to mean "common" or "typical" and not "mundane" or "boring." I'm also selecting the word because it conveys something non-threatening. Ordinary Christians should not be a source of fear. They do not pose the kind of threat to democracy that Christian nationalists do. At least, they are not opposed to democracy in the way Christian nationalists are.

Ordinary Christians vary in their political views. Some are liberal on many issues, and others are more conservative. Being conservative doesn't make them Christian nationalists. Some conservatives are atheists, after all.

Some ordinary Christians have a nasty habit of voting for Republicans. This doesn't make them Christian nationalists either. At least, it didn't use to. The Republican Party didn't use to embrace Christian nationalism to the extent we now see. Still, not all Republicans running for office are Christian nationalists. And not all Republican voters support Christian nationalism, though far too many do.

Most ordinary Christians attend churches that don't preach Christian nationalism. They don't knowingly donate money to Christian nationalist groups. Many are not filled with hatred toward those who differ from them.

Do Ordinary Christians Deserve Any Blame?

It seems absurd to assign any blame to ordinary Christians for Christian nationalism. Why should we blame people who aren't causing problems for those who are? That doesn't seem fair. If you are a Democrat, how much blame do you deserve for what the fringes of your party do?

What about ordinary Christians who deny that Christian nationalism is a problem? Many do so. Until recently, it often seemed like most did so. Might they deserve somewhat more blame than zero?

What about ordinary Christians who defend any form of Christianity from criticism? Some are so sensitive to criticism that they refuse to tolerate any of it. If they defend even the most toxic forms of Christianity, might this warrant some blame?

Do ordinary Christians contribute to a context in which Christian nationalism can thrive? Many atheists claim they do. Are they correct? Could Christian nationalism persist if not for this context? Would it make sense to assign some blame to ordinary Christians for this reason?

Christian Nationalism Lite

I realize we don't need a new term, but I'll offer one anyway. I'm going to call it "Christian nationalism lite." The idea is that some ordinary Christians support some aspects of Christian nationalism. They do this even though they aren't Christian nationalists.

They are Christian, and they think it would be better if others were Christian too. For them, being a Christian means one is more likely to be a good person. Who wouldn't want more good people? It isn't that they hate non-Christians, but they'd prefer more Christians. I hate to have to be the one to tell you this, but this sentiment isn't limited to white Christians either.

They also embrace American exceptionalism. This is the only country they want to live in. They recognize that we have our share of problems, but they love their country. They tire of hearing others criticize it. Some might even have trouble separating belief in their god from their patriotism. They believe their nation is "blessed."

These things aren't quite enough to make people Christian nationalists. The Christians I am referring to aren't interested in a theocracy. They value others' freedom of (and from) religion. They believe their religion is better than the rest, but they aren't inclined to force it on anyone. Some, though not enough, even support the separation of church and state.

Assigning Some Blame

One could argue that "Christian nationalism lite" normalizes Christian nationalism. I'd agree with that. People who put Christianity on a pedestal make it seem less remarkable when others do so. People who claim that America is "the greatest country on Earth" make it easier for others to do so. People who insist America is "blessed" open the door for those who'd like to claim divine inspiration.

Ordinary Christians don't deserve as much blame for Christian nationalism as Christian nationalists. They may deserve more than zero blame, though. And what of those who won't join the rest of us in working against Christian nationalism? I'd argue that they do deserve some blame.

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