By Tom Ehrich

I'd be okay with the United States' being a Christian nation -- that is, a nation striving to live by what Jesus said and did.

Just imagine it. The Sermon on the Mount posted outside every court house, reminding judges, juries and lawyers to favor the poor and to be merciful to those who fall short. And posted in every classroom, reminding bullies to care for the meek, not torment them; reminding those with raging hormones to be pure in heart.

Imagine Jesus' teachings about wealth guiding our bankers, hedge fund managers, business schools and earnest seekers after wealth. His real teachings, not the phony "prosperity gospel."

Imagine citizens standing at the borders and holding out open arms to strangers seeking respite from the storms. Imagine people with food going through impoverished areas sharing with they have. Imagine the Jesus people remembering they how they suffered at the hands of the intolerant, and then respecting the faiths of other people, as Jesus did.

Imagine healing being made available to all, as Jesus dispensed healing. Imagine people being taught, not exploited; treasured, not judged.

And yes, from to time, when the forces of evil declare war on humankind, imagine men and women serving as needed, not buying their way out of military duty; showing courage as best they can, and then returning quickly to their plows.

I know that such imaginings aren't what right-wing religionists mean by "Christian nation." They hunger for a nation in which people live by the prejudices and preferences that right-wing zealots have baptized as "Christian": hating gays, favoring whites, a nation of no handouts to the poor (handouts to bankers are okay), no illegal immigrants, where prayers are public and bullying, not private, as Jesus preferred.

Such a nation might jibe with the intolerance of the early Puritans, the Protestant vs Catholic sectarian warfare brought over from Europe, and the attitudes toward human dignity that prevailed in the slave-owning South. But it would have little to do with the Jesus who actually was.

That's the dilemma, of course. Right-wing religionists have an agenda they want to impose on everyone. They claim it is God's will, when in fact it is just the product of their own fear-driven and nostalgic worldview. Calling it "Christian" doesn't make it so.

Still, it is delicious to imagine a nation in which people joined hands in solidarity, were bold for justice, shared wealth, cared for the least among us, showed light in the darkness, and embraced all that God has made because God made it.

In my opinion, that is what America is supposed to be about. Anything less misses the mark. And the right-wing vision doesn't come close.