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The Religious Roots of American Extremism

Some say the nation's proclivity for extremism is religiously grounded

Was the United States founded as a Christian nation? The question invites a "yes" or "no" answer, fracturing conversations about the role of religion in American public life along ideological and partisan lines. But the truth is far more complicated.   

Liberal and progressive Americans celebrate the enlightenment strains of American origins—the rise of modern science, the constitution of a non-sectarian republic. Their heroes are American revolutionaries (think Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson) who explored the cutting edges of intellectual life in the late 18th century.

On the other hand, conservative Americans, especially religious ones, lionize the American founders who were enthusiastic defenders of the Christian faith–Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry are favorites. And many enlightened revolutionaries like Jefferson, conservatives rightly note, remained devoted to the religious institutions and values that shaped their lives.

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