I would suggest to Michael Gerson that one reason that America has been doing a very inadequate job of promoting religious tolerance in the Middle East is that one major political party is completely unaware of the true history of religious tolerance in the United States. In Republican circles, this country was founded by devoted trinitarian Christians, despite the fact that the first trinitarian president was Andrew Jackson, and he only converted after he retired from public life. Most of the presidents who served between Jackson and Woodrow Wilson were no more than nominally religious, with several, including John Tyler, Franklin Pierce, Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and Rutherford Hayes appearing to be completely disinterested in religious life. Others, like Millard Fillmore and William Taft, were unitarians who (explicitly, in Taft’s case) denied the divinity of Christ.

The initial compact that put the “United” in the “States” was an agreement between Quakers and Congregationalists and Episcopalians and Presbyterians and Baptists and Catholics to put aside their religious differences in the interest of creating a central government that would make no laws respecting their faith. The intellectuals who put the Constitution together and then promoted its adoption were not trinitarians, but unitarians who had been steeped in the works of British and French philosophers, as well as the classics produced in Ancient Rome and Greece.

Religious tolerance didn’t just happen. It evolved over time. Congregationalism was still the state religion of Massachusetts until 1833. But, as Americans grew used to having the freedom to adopt whatever religion they chose and live wherever they wanted, a new society snapped into existence unlike any before seen on Earth.

The GOP, however, thinks that pluralism represents a threat to American society and teaches that this country was founded on Christian principles, by which they errantly mean a dogmatic belief in the divinity of Christ.

How can we promote religious pluralism and tolerance in the Middle East if half our country doesn’t even know it was accomplished here at home?

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