There are two basic schools of thought regarding what it means to be American. The first holds that the US is a product of the Enlightenment, and ought to be governed in accordance with the precepts of that movement. The second holds that the US is a product of Christianity, and ought to be governed with the precepts of that particular movement. The first school of thought tends to focus on the Bill of Rights; the second tends to dwell on the Ten Commandments, at least until it becomes inconvenient to do so.
The question of what the Founding Fathers intended is debatable, if only in the sense that everything is debatable, which is to say that, like so many other things, it is often the subject of debate. But there is no legitimate debate, as the Founding Fathers have already weighed in
, and they would certainly know.
Now, this is not to say that one cannot found a nation on Christianity. After all, it's been done before. The Byzantine Empire, for instance, was the first major political entity to be created by Christians, for Christians, and in general accordance with Christian theology, incomplete though it was at the time.
It all started with a man named Constantine. He was contesting with his brother, Maxentius, over who would rule all the Roman Empire. Constantine tried waging a PR war with Maxentius by claiming that Apollo spoke to him one night to tell him what a great guy he thought he was. Constantine hoped this would give him that oft-sought after "favor of the gods" street cred. In 312, the two brothers came to a reasonable solution to their dispute - the two would assemble their respective legions, meet outside of Rome, and then attempt to kill each other. Constantine failed to bring enough rollers to the rumble, and was vastly outnumbered.
As he would later recount, Constantine was just sitting there, praying to the pagan gods for victory before the battle when he happened to glance at the sun, which he was in the habit of worshiping at the time. Then he noticed a cross superimposed upon the sun, and he heard the words "In Hic Signo Vinces",
which roughly translates to "Use the force, Luke," and much less roughly to "In this sign you will conquer." Inspired and apparently literal-minded, Constantine ordered all his soldiers to paint crosses on their shields. Then, of course, they won the battle. After all, they had painted crosses on their shields.
(Incidentally, hundreds of years later, Christian combatants were still painting crosses on their shields when fighting other Christians who had likewise painted crosses on their shields. Suddenly, the cross-on-the-shield trick only worked half the time.)
Constantine then converted to Christianity, which was a good thing for Christianity, since he was now the ruler of a reunited Roman Empire. However, in shaping a Christian Byzantine Empire, Constantine must have missed a few things. For, after all, if the democratic ideals of the US are derived from the application of the Christian religion, it would only seem to follow that the application of the Christian religion would lead to Americanesque democratic values. Oddly enough, this didn't seem to be the case among the Byzantines. You may notice, for instance, that Constantine forgot to create a process on which his predecessor could be elected, which may be why the transfer of executive power in the Byzantine Empire was much more spirited than it generally is in the US.
Altogether, 29 Byzantine emperors ended up relinquishing power as a result of being blinded, poisoned, drowned, tortured, starved, maimed, bludgeoned, strangled, decapitated, or some combination thereof, generally by Christians who really, really wanted to be Emperor. And each time this happened, it was widely presumed that the victor had succeeded because God had wanted him to. The Byzantines were people of faith.
Now, there's a very simple explanation for all these Byzantine shenanigans: Christianity in and of itself does not lead to democracy, which is why, in the 1500 years of organized Christianity's history, no democracy ever arose in the Christian world. And why would it? Nothing in the New Testament could possibly be interpreted as any sort of endorsement for democracy. Nor is there any mention of the Republic
of Israel in the Old Testament, not even of the People's Republic
of Israel. There is, however, a Kingdom
of Israel, as well as instructions on how badly one may beat one's slaves without facing punishment (the answer, by the way, is very badly).
It was not until the 18th century, in the wake of the Enlightenment, that a small contingent of mostly non-Christian political leaders broke off from a Christian monarchy in order to establish the world's first modern constitutional republic, which, coincidentally enough, would also operate under the first officially non-religious governmental framework in the recorded history of mankind.