Cultural Christians: Can They Save America?

By Milo Jones | Posted July 10, 2023

Fill in the blank: “Our Father which art in heaven, __________________ be thy name.”

When that question was asked on the gameshow Jeopardy! recently, the three otherwise smart contestants stood in silence until the host answered, “Hallowed.”

How could they not know the first sentence of the most widely cited prayer in Christianity? According to Illinois Times writer Scott Reeder, the silence of those contestants indicates “our society is becoming increasingly ignorant of matters of faith.” Thus, “we are losing the common reference point the Bible has brought our culture.”

What Atheists Used to Know

After reading about the gameshow controversy, Reeder contacted a high school friend who had competed on Jeopardy! in 1988. “I would have had the answer because I would have heard it used in movies and books,” said Reeder’s friend. “It was part of our culture’s Judeo-Christian heritage.” 

That 1988 contestant, who later converted to Catholicism, was an atheist!

A few years ago, Reeder interviewed an associate professor of legal studies at the University of Illinois-Springfield. The professor said that in one of her law and society classes, not one student knew who Pontius Pilate was. At the time, she was teaching from Roscoe Pound’s tome What Is Law where Pound discusses, “What is truth?” That, of course, was the question Pilate asked Jesus before He was crucified.

In the days of America’s founding, any educated atheist would’ve known that the Olive Branch Petition—a document sent to King George III to avoid war with Britain—was a reference to Noah’s dove returning with “a freshly plucked olive leaf” (Genesis 8:11). And when Abraham Lincoln, wanting to avoid a civil war, addressed a convention with the words, “A house divided against itself cannot stand,” everyone present would’ve known he was quoting Jesus (Matthew 12:25).

“Could an American leader use a biblical reference today and be understood by all? Probably not,” according to Reeder. The Bible is no longer “a shared cultural touchstone.”

A Butchered Bible

A shared knowledge of Scripture, however, does not necessarily make a nation Christian. Many who signed the Declaration of Independence were deists. They believed that God does not interact with His creation but leaves it to operate on its own inbuilt laws. Consequently, there are no miracles. There is no resurrection.

A glaring example of this belief among our founders is Thomas Jefferson’s work The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, also called The Jefferson Bible. Taking a penknife to the four Gospels, Jefferson cut and pasted his own version, “shorn of any sign of the miraculous or supernatural.” It begins with an account of Jesus’ birth devoid of angels or prophecies, and it ends with the words, “There laid they Jesus, and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.”

For this year’s Independence Day, Fox News Digital featured an article on Jefferson’s work, “completed … in 1820 after 15 years of effort.” His goal, as he explained it to John Adams, was to piece together “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” A church history professor told Fox News Digital that Jefferson, although denying Christ’s divinity and resurrection, “believed Jesus was a moral human teacher … the greatest teacher ever.”

Our third president might not have considered that a great moral teacher would never claim to be something he is not—like the Son of God (John 19:7).

The Devil’s Penknife

“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose,” said a character in one of Shakespeare’s plays. That should be obvious to anyone who has read Matthew 4. In Jesus’ second temptation, the devil sets Him on the pinnacle of Jerusalem’s temple and says, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone’” (v. 6).

Here the devil takes a penknife to Psalm 91:11, cutting out the phrase “to keep you in all your ways”—in all the ways of obedience, that is. Verse 1 also provides context, for only “he who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will remain secure” (AMP). Who would expect to be safe when leaving a walled city during a siege? Similarly, God cannot protect us from evil when we step outside the boundary of His holy law.

After the Jeopardy! contestants were befuddled by the Lord’s prayer question, Twitter erupted with comments about the state of our country, which needs “to get back to the Bible.” One person tweeted, “How can those Jeopardy! nerds not know this answer. Have they never listened to Iron Maiden?” But such a tweet belies the real problem. If the devil can cite Psalm 91, why can’t a heavy metal band write the song “Hallowed Be Thy Name”? No, the occasional Bible reference in a country’s pop culture is not proof of that country’s conversion. As it was in Shakespeare’s day, so it was in the 1980s.

When God counsels us to hide His Word in our hearts (Psalm 119:11), He’s not talking about a mere intellectual memorization. In the original Hebrew, the verb “hide” means “treasure,” and the noun “heart” includes the feelings and the will alongside the intellect. Only as we memorize God’s commands with a sincere purpose to obey them can they keep us from sinning against Him.

There’s a time to mourn for a nation’s biblical illiteracy—but not without first mourning for churchgoers who use the devil’s penknife to justify a wrong course or a bad habit. When we fail to internalize God’s “precious promises,” through which we become “partakers of the divine nature, [escaping] the corruption that is in the world through lust” (2 Peter 1:4), we deny our Lord’s “divine power” (v. 3).

Isn’t that what deists do?

To learn more about the religion of the Enlightenment, see Pastor Doug’s presentation “Jesus, Provider and Sustainer.

Milo Jones
Milo Jones is a writer and editor for Amazing Facts International and lives in College Place, WA.

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