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When George Washington announced in the autumn of 1796 that he was stepping down as President, all of America was stunned. "How can you retreat?" an alarmed Alexander Hamilton asked the grey-haired legend. "How will our new nation survive without its leader?" cried editorials in newspapers across the countryside. Americans looked to the future with fear and trembling. The young nation was traveling into uncharted waters now. All were aware that the free and democratic society they had created was unique in world history.
Washington achieved legendary status early in life with his heroic exploits during the French and Indian War. He never sought fame however; in fact he spent all his adult years trying to shun the public life. But destiny always seemed to demand that he serve his country one more time. He had no desire to lead the Continental forces against the British in America's War of Independence, but Congress pleaded with him, saying there was no one else. So Washington sacrificed the private life he so cherished and accepted the daunting task-for which he refused financial compensation. He endured with his troops the winter at Valley Forge. After six years of war, and with the aid of the French fleet, he finally forced the surrender of the British General Charles Cornwallis at the Battle of Yorktown. Again, Washington hoped to retire; and again Congress informed him that only he could raise this new nation from its infancy.
Washington was the Electoral Colleges unanimous choice for President of the United States. He expected to serve only one term, but was told that if he did not serve a second this new republic would likely collapse. After eight years as President, Washington decided to retire for good, and no one could persuade him otherwise. For almost 40 years this American legend had been trying to return to the peace and privacy of Mount Vernon and his wife Martha. At age 64 he was getting old. His bones were weary. He may have sensed that he had only three more years remaining in this life. America would either have to stand on its own, or perish. He knew the pitfalls that awaited a nation without a strong leader. But he saw an even greater threat in a people becoming dependent on one man, a dependency that would tend to undermine the very principles of liberty for which they had struggled so long.
If this experiment in constitutional democracy were to succeed, Washington concluded, it would have to succeed without him. To run for a third term would be to turn the clock back and reestablish over the American nation a de facto monarchy, a prospect no one loathed more than Washington. He always placed principle above personal aggrandizement, which is a rarity in the annals of man. Because of this, the legacy he would leave would not be the usual one of tyranny and human misery-but one of political, economic, and religious liberty.
The United States of America is the freest, strongest, and most prosperous nation in human history. We owe this miraculous development in large part to the life of one man - his bravery in battle, his perseverance through hardships, his patience with those who opposed him, his wisdom while in power. What was astonishing about this gallant Virginian, who rode a white horse, was that he actually lived by the ideals of which he spoke. There were not many dry eyes in America when George Washington on September 17, 1796, announced his final farewell from public life. From this moment on, he said, the survival of freedom on American soil would have nothing to do with him, and everything to do with the character of its people and the government they would elect:
"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports," he said. "In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with pious man, ought to respect and cherish them. A volume could not trace all the connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle." Washington knew well that a nation's laws spring from its morals and that its morals spring from its religion. And the religion of which Washington spoke was clear to all who knew him: "It is impossible to govern rightly without God and the Bible," he said.
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In his essay "What I Saw in America," the great English writer G. K. Chesterton observed that "America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed. That creed is set forth with dogmatic and even theological lucidity in the Declaration of Independence." Chesterton was referring to the second paragraph of America's founding document which states: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" (emphasis added). The starting point of the Declaration's argument was faith in man's "Creator," and is very similar to the Apostle Paul's initial proposition in his letter to the Romans: "Because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse" (Romans 1:19-20).
Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration, and believed it was sufficient to assert certain transcendent truths as self-evident. To him God's existence was manifest in creation. Jefferson was not here talking about the God of Islam, faith in whom laid the foundation for a different kind of social order altogether. He meant the God of the Old and New Testaments. Whether Jefferson was himself a Christian is in dispute. But he understood the society in which he lived and who his audience was when he made the case for severing ties with Britain on the grounds that England had "violated the laws of nature and of nature's God."
There were no Moslems, Buddhists, Confucianists, or Hindus present at either the signing of the Declaration, or eleven years hence at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Jefferson was addressing Christians. His entire argument about people having "unalienable rights" is contingent on the existence of God, and One who cares deeply about each and every individual. As Jefferson asked rhetorically on another occasion: "Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that their liberties are the gift of God?"
With no higher lawgiver, the state becomes the highest moral authority, in which case rights are no longer "unalienable," but become subject to the whim of the monarch, dictator, assembly, or the vicissitudes of human fashion. Therefore, warns Paul in his letter to the Romans: "Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God ..." (Romans 13:1). "Unalienable" is another word for eternal, not subject to change under any circumstance. It implies that there are moral absolutes.
If the life of an individual amounts to no more than a brief flicker in history, then the perpetuation of the state, society, or empire becomes the overriding political concern. This was Hitler's philosophy, and it is the driving ideological force behind communism. Inherent in collectivist political systems is the idea that the interests of the individual must be subordinate to the supposed (and I stress the word "supposed") interests of the whole. We begin to hear phrases like "national purpose," "world government," and "social theory"-ideas completely at odds with what America's founding fathers had in mind.
But if, on the other hand, the span of civilizations amounts to less than a blink of an eye in comparison to the eternal life of a person, then the protection of God's most valued creation, the individual, becomes the primary function of government. Indeed, this was the fervent belief not only of Jefferson (who is often portrayed by historians, erroneously, as an agnostic) but also of all the major figures involved in the creation of the American Republic. George Washington was so eager to leave public life precisely because he did not believe in the final claim of the state. He believed in freedom. He had a Christian view of the sanctity of man and the immortality of the soul. Under the American political system, soul, mind, and body are to be free from human constraints to fulfill their destinies in this life and the next.
Even if one does not accept the truth of the Christian faith, prudence argues for the promulgation of its moral code in every area of public life, because history has demonstrated that Christian morality is indispensable to the preservation of a free society. Alexis de Tocqueville in the early part of the 19th century was commissioned by the French government to travel throughout the United States in order to discover the secret of the astounding success of this experiment in democracy. The French were puzzled at the conditions of unparalleled freedom and social tranquility that prevailed in America. Previously, it was thought that where there was liberty, anarchy would inevitably follow because of the inability of people to govern themselves. But in America people were free - and also well-behaved. In fact, nowhere on earth was there so little social discord. How could this be? This is what Tocqueville reported.
"I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion - for who can know the human heart? - but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable for the maintenance of republican institutions. This opinion is not peculiar to a class of citizens or to a party, but it belongs to the whole rank of society." America, Tocqueville added, is "the place where the Christian religion has kept the greatest power over men's souls; and nothing better demonstrates how useful and natural it is to man, since the country where it now has the widest sway is both the most enlightened and the freest." John Quincy Adams, America's sixth President, acknowledged that from the begin-fling Americans "connected in one indissoluble band the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity."
Unless law is anchored in moral absolutes, Supreme Court Justice John Marshall's statement that the government of the United States is a "government of laws and not men" makes no sense. If there is no consensus as to what constitutes the law, often called the "Higher Law," and where it can be found, then we are governed by men and not laws. The colonists believed that this "Higher Law" was a definite thing and could be found in a particular place, namely the Bible, under whose commandments all would be equally subjected: "The right of freedom being a gift of God Almighty, ... the rights of the colonists as Christians ... may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institutes of the Great Law Giver ... which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament," wrote Samuel Adams, the great revolutionary organizer, in his 1772 classic of political history, The Rights of the Colonists.
The notion of the "Higher Law" goes all the way back to Moses, when Yahweh1 handed down His commandments to the people of Israel for their protection. God, through Moses, taught the Israelites how to live with each other, how to order their moral lives and their community, and how to please Him. Mosaic Law taught restraint, and conveyed Yahweh's wishes on how His children were to treat their fellow human beings, whether in person or through the instrument of the state. Jesus broadened the covenant to include Gentiles as well. The new covenant is spelled out in very clear terms in the New Testament. The word "covenant" refers, in the Bible, to an unbreakable contract between God and man; it is an eternal and cosmic constitution that governs our relationship with the Creator.
As writer and constitutional scholar John Whitehead points out, the idea of the "Higher Law" is closely connected to "common law," a legal term referring to Christian principles adapted to the legal structure of civil life. The phrase first entered the vocabulary of English lawyers of the 12th century, after King John at Runnymede was forced by Pope Innocent III, English landowners, and the "Army of God" to sign England's first written constitution, designed mainly to protect property rights. Magna Carta, or the Great Charter, is filled with such phrases as: "The King himself ought not to be under a man but under God and under the law, because the law makes the king for there is no king where will governs and not law." And: "Know ye that we, in the presence of God, and for the salvation of our souls, and the souls of all our ancestors and heirs, and unto the honor of God and the advancement of Holy Church... have in the first place granted to God, and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs forever."
The Continental Congress of the United States on October 14, 1774, issued its Declaration of Rights stating that the colonists of the several states were entitled to the protections of the common law of England. Everyone understood this as a reference to a legal tradition beginning five centuries earlier with Magna Carta, whose moral authority was firmly grounded in Christianity. Whitehead points out in The Second American Revolution that the phrase "common law" comes from jus cornmune, which was the canon law of the Catholic Church. "The usages of God's people and the institutes of our forefathers are to be held for the law," wrote Augustine (354-430); and William Blackstone, the great English legal theorist, rephrased the idea in 1765: "Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of Revelation2, depend all human laws," he wrote, articulating the common law principle, which has been with us since Moses brought the tablets down from Mount Sinai. Judges throughout English and American history, following the common law tradition, have often handed down decisions with explicit references to the Ten Commandments. James Madison, known as the father of the U.S. Constitution, put it this way: "We have staked the whole future of the American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future... upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God."
Perhaps with some of this history in mind, the Kentucky Legislature in 1978 thought it important that students understand the source of America's common law tradition and to make the point that the preservation of freedom is a direct consequence of our adherence to the "institutes of the Great Law Giver," as Samuel Adams had said. Thus Kentucky required that the Ten Commandments be posted in the public schools along with the following statement: "The secular application of the Ten Commandments is clearly seen in its adoption as the fundamental legal code of Western civilization and the common law of the United States."
But in 1980, the Supreme Court ruled that Kentucky's decision to post the Ten Commandments in the public schools was a violation of the First Amendment's clause forbidding the establishment of religion. Thus, for public schools to teach the true origin of America's common law heritage, which undergirds the U.S. Constitution and which is specifically referred to in the Seventh Amendment, is now deemed "unconstitutional." This ruling followed the equally astounding decision in 1962 and 1963 banning all religious expression from the public schools. Already, many public schools, in order to follow the spirit of recent Supreme Court rulings, have replaced traditional Christmas programs with "Winter" festivals, and have stopped the singing of such traditional Christmas songs as "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World." This state of affairs bears no resemblance to what James Madison and Fisher Ames had in mind when they introduced the First Amendment, which was intended to guarantee "the free exercise" of religion, not obliterate religion.
The history of America's laws, its constitutional system, the reason for the American Revolution, or the basis of its guiding political philosophy cannot accurately be discussed without reference to its biblical roots. Every President, from George Washington to George Bush, has placed his hand on a Bible and asked for the protection of God upon taking office. Both Houses of Congress open each daily session with a prayer. The phrase "In God We Trust" is emblazoned on all U.S. currency. Witnesses are expected to swear on a Bible before testifying in a court of law. The Christian Sabbath is a national day of rest; many states restrict the sale of liquor and the operation of restaurants on the Lord's Day in order to encourage religious worship and time spent at home. A government official opens each day's session of the Supreme Court with the plea, "God save the United States and the Honorable Court." The Ten Commandments appear on the wall above the head of the Chief Justice in the Supreme Court; which is ironic when one considers that it is this very judicial body that declared it unconstitutional for states to do the same in the public schools. These laws and customs all have their origins in America's Christian past and provide a clue as to the assumptions guiding the creation of America's form of government, assumptions the founding fathers had about man's nature, his place in eternity, and the character of the God to whom he is accountable. It is these ultimate concerns that determine the shape of society.
Man can never escape his religious nature. Everyone holds a certain world-view. Atheists, such as Madalyn Murray O'Hair and Bertrand Russell, are every bit as religious as Francis of Assisi, John Wesley, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The atheist believes passionately, and hopes dearly, that God does not exist, that there is no life on the other side of the grave. The theist, specifically the Christian, believes with equal passion that God does exist and that one's choices here on earth have a bearing on one's eternal destiny. Neither faith can be proven definitively in the sense that a mathematical equation can be proven. But is is clear to anyone who has met Madalyn Murray O'Hair and Mother Teresa of Calcutta (I have met both of them) that their religious faiths have a direct effect on their behavior, their views of their fellow man, and their attitude toward life. Moreover, I would venture to guess that a government established under the direction of Mother Teresa would be far more pleasant and humane than one set up according to the prescriptions of Madalyn Murray O'Hair, and that even the atheist would prefer to live in a society governed by Mother Teresa.
Agnosticism is no less of a faith than Christianity or atheism. The agnostic does not know if God exists, but he is firmly convinced that if God exists, it makes no difference in his life. The agnostic's world-view is every bit as self-contained and closed as that of any other religion or ideology, and has a direct impact on the way he chooses to live and the kind of society he would establish.
In the minds of many Americans, to say that one is an agnostic is to suggest that one is tolerant, a moral relativist. Agnostics generally like to present themselves as relaxed and easygoing. America has become politically and culturally agnostic, and the Christian faith in the minds of many has come to represent intolerance. Cited as evidence is the Christian conviction that there are moral absolutes - a notion that sounds authoritarian and dogmatic, even to some Christians. The principle we are offered as a substitute is a fuzzy agnostic "pluralism."
Now pluralism in theory sounds appealing to almost anyone. The word connotes a non-confrontational, humane, alive and-let-live attitude. But under the agnostic pluralistic regime in practice we have seen quite the opposite. The Supreme Court's abortion ruling, for example, with a stroke of the pen overturned laws in all 50 states and millions of unborn babies have since gone to the slaughter. The decision states explicitly that religious belief can have no bearing on how we determine when human life begins. But, in the name of pluralism and tolerance, why not? Even William O. Douglas, one of the most liberal Supreme Court justices in history, admitted that "we are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a supreme being." Since man, left to his own devices, has not provided a satisfactory refutation of the biblical position that life begins at conception,3 why shouldn't our laws also adopt that position rather than run the risk that as a society we are condoning mass murder? Should we not err on the side of caution and protect life until it is proven definitively that there is no life in the womb?
The answer is that agnostic pluralism logically excludes moral absolutes. Such assertions as "thou shalt not steal," "thou shalt not commit adultery," and even "thou shalt not murder" are open to debate and are adjusted to suit the "needs of the times." Agnostic pluralism releases man from the constraints placed on him by God, and absolutizes "man as the measure of all things," as Protagoras put it. Thus, it becomes up to the in dividuai or a court to determine when life begins and whether or not it deserves protection. Proponents of so-called pluralism feel compelled to ban religious considerations from public discourse because they know, instinctively if not intellectually, that their faith is in direct conflict with the God of the Bible, and that in the end the two positions are irreconcilable.
All gods require submission: either we will submit to the God of Scripture, immutable and unchanging, or we will submit to the ever-shifting god of human convenience. Agnostic pluralism, too, is a jealous god. It is a militant philosophy, a closed system that in the end cannot tolerate other creeds. Thus, when a minister or a clergyman takes seriously unfashionable Christian doctrines which condemn sex outside marriage, homosexuality, abortion, and feminism, and injects his views into the political debate, he is immediately denounced as a "reactionary." Indeed, he can count on being the victim of a character smear campaign by Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union, People for the American Way, and various abortion rights and gay groups, whose complaints are given ample air time in the national media. Their attacks on religion are often hysterical, and their approach bears no resemblance to the tolerant, pluralistic society they purport to promote.
The problem with the word pluralism is that it is misleading. There really is no such thing. Our society, for example, does not accept polygamy as a legitimate way to live because it is anti-biblical and, therefore, counter to the American tradition.4 Moreover, there are many things our culture tolerates, but does not condone. We tolerate homosexuality, but do not condone it. We don't live that way here, and the fact that we don't is a reflection of our understanding of right and wrong. We tolerate promiscuous lifestyles, but don't condone them. There are those crusading under the banner of pluralism, however, who are not satisfied that we put up with adultery; we must endorse it, promote it as liberating. And not only is abortion a constitutional right, but it must also be financed by the taxpayers, even by taxpayers who believe doctors who perform abortions are the moral equivalent of Joseph Mengele. Georgetown University, a Catholic school, lost a lawsuit to a group of homosexual militants because it refused to subsidize a gay student organization. Thus we get the feeling that something more than "pluralism" is being foisted upon us.
Pluralism is a loaded word, intended to tip the scales against a certain kind of absolute it does not like, specifically that embodied in the Judeo-Christian moral code. In place of the old morality, we will get the new morality-one that's more relevant-namely that "nothing is real except our world of desires and passions," as Friedrich Nietzsche phrased it in his book Beyond Good and Evil. Formally, this philosophy is not called pluralism, but secular humanism. The problem Christians have with secular humanism is not that it is truly pluralistic, but that it subjects man to the sentimentality and enthusiasms of the moment. Indeed, history has shown that secular humanism - the view that man is the sole judge of the world, including morality, the shape of society, and the value of the individual - is very bad for humanity.
In the American context, the secular humanist philosophy was illustrated well in statements by two senior Supreme Court justices, Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan. "A too literal quest for the advice of the founding fathers seems to me futile and misdirected," said Brennan in 1963. "I do not believe that the meaning of the Constitution was forever fixed at the Philadelphia convention," added Marshall in May 1987. "Nor do I find the wisdom, foresight and sense of justice exhibited by the framers particularly profound. To the contrary, the government they devised was defective from the start." As a consequence of this judicial philosophy, a Supreme Court ruling in recent decades has become like a lottery. Says Justice Antonin Scalia, the Court is "in a state of utter chaos and confusion."
Under the Marshall and Brennan view of the law, political power rather than "nature's God" (Jefferson's phrase) becomes the sole arbiter of the law of the land, and this conforms precisely to the framers' definition of tyranny. The First Amendment, established for the purpose of protecting free expression and the free exercise of religion, can be turned on its head to make the utterance of a prayer and the posting of the Ten Commandments in a public school a criminal offense. What at another time would be thought unthinkable can quickly become the governing philosophy of a nation. The progressive income tax, for example, now taken for granted, would have been considered in George Washington's day an egregious violation of the constitutional guarantee of "equal protection under the laws." What was once illegal can in an instant become a constitutional right, which can in turn be reversed overnight. Under such a regime, political disputes rapidly become more violent, as we saw in the ferocious and dishonest attacks launched by Senator Edward Kennedy against conservative Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork. Secular humanism at its core is materialistic, situational, and a matter of individual and social convenience. The law under the secular humanist approach becomes pliable, like "Silly Putty," to be molded by the impulses of those in power, whether this power happens to be a dictator in the mold of Joseph Stalin, or the nine people in black robes who preside over America's highest court.
At present, secular humanism in America is still held in check by a Christian tradition, though much faded. We have heard often the assertion that Jesus was a good moral teacher, but nothing more. (How reliable a moral teacher can He be if He lied about who He was?)5 Even the most trendy secular humanist in America wants to preserve some aspects of the moral code handed down from Mount Sinai and the Sermon on the Mount. But as the string connecting public policy with America's Christian past becomes longer and longer, and eventually snaps altogether, the New Testament God will not be replaced by nothing. Man is a spiritual being; when one faith is eliminated, a new god will rush in to fill the spiritual void. Throughout history, this has been a man-made god called the state.
In just a few short years the public sector has ballooned so that it now consumes about one-third of the entire U.S. economy-and most of this has occurred since the ban on prayer in public schools in 1962-63. It's not surprising that a people who would permit the government to outlaw God from a major part of life would simultaneously acquiesce in the submerging of other rights, once thought "unalienable." For if God becomes irrelevant to the public life of a nation, then no freedoms are truly sacred. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty," the Apostle Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians (3:17). "We must obey God rather than men!" the Apostle Peter warns emphatically in the Book of Acts (5:29).
Alexis de Tocqueville foresaw the likely consequences of permitting the erosion of America's moral foundations, and predicted that if this occurred, we would see the rise of a new form of despotism, unique to democratic societies; over its people, he wrote, will stand "an immense, protective power which is alone responsible for securing their enjoyment and watching over their fate ... it gladly works for their happiness but wants to be the sole agent and judge of it. It provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, makes rules for their testaments, and divides their inheritances... Thus it daily makes the exercise of free choice less useful and more rare, restricts the activity of free will within a more narrow compass, and little by little robs each citizen of the proper use of his own faculties."
Responsibility for one's actions and the ability to choose one's destiny is an essential component of both the American dream and the Christian faith. There is no virtue in being forced by other men, who are all equal in God's eyes, to make sacrifices. The virtue is in freely choosing the right course of action. But as Americans increasingly permit the state to make decisions on their behalf-to be the sole judge of "compassion" (a buzz word for a new government program) - it is not surprising that Americans also begin to lose their moral bearings, culminating in complete confusion over what constitutes right and wrong.
There is a myth aggressively promoted in modern American society that to be released from "the chains of religious obligation" is to achieve liberation for the individual, sometimes called "self-realization" or "self-fulfillment." As writer Joseph Sobran notes, we are continuously reminded in history classes of the sins of Christianity-the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem witch trials - as if these episodes represent the essence of Christianity. In fact, they only prove the reality of original sin and the corruption of human nature, which is a central doctrine of both the Old and New Testaments. The lesson we are supposed to learn from focusing on the worst moments in Christian history is that as faith faded more and more into the background, man was able to free himself from bondage. But the opposite is, in fact, the case. As a substitute for religious obligation, we have found our fates increasingly sealed by the decisions of faceless bureaucrats, Internal Revenue Service tax auditors, and unelected Supreme Court justices. Government has crept its way into almost every aspect of human existence, making decisions for individuals and consuming resources in ways not at all envisioned by the framers of our constitution.
Tocqueville warned of the threat to liberty posed by this ever-expanding paternalistic power, covering "the whole range of social life with a network of petty, complicated rules. . . through which even men of the greatest originality and most vigorous temperament cannot force their heads above the crowd. It does not break man's will, but softens, bends and guides it; it seldom enjoins, but often inhibits action; it does not destroy anything, but prevents much from being born."
If unchecked, the state will inexorably set itself up as the absolute authority in all areas of life, beyond which there can be no appeal. The law becomes whatever suits those who hold the levers of power, who proceed unrestricted even by their own consciences. Expedience becomes the final standard by which all is judged. If we continue down this path, we will have only ourselves to blame. By behaving like goats, we have started thinking like goats; and by abdicating responsibilities, Americans have gone a long way towards surrendering their freedoms. "No private rights are of such little importance," warned Tocqueville, "that they can safely be left subject to arbitrary decisions." The erosion of our constitutional protections, he wrote, "deeply corrupts the mores of a nation and puts the whole society in danger, because the very idea of right tends constantly among us to become impaired and lost."
America's founding fathers understood very well the principle that faith and freedom go together, and that one cannot survive long without the other. Daniel Webster, the great statesman, lawyer, and orator of the early days of the Republic, in a speech delivered on December 22, 1820, at Plymouth, Massachusetts, in celebration of the Pilgrim landing at Plymouth Rock, underscored this point: "Finally, let us not forget the religious character of our origin," said Webster. "Our fathers were brought hither by their high veneration for the Christian religion. They journeyed by its light and labored in its hope. They sought to incorporate its principles with the elements of their society and to diffuse its influence through all their institutions, civil, political, or literary. Let us cherish these sentiments, and extend this influence still more widely, in the full conviction that that is the happiest society which partakes in the highest degree of the mild and peaceful spirit of Christianity."
It is not surprising, therefore, that the enemies of liberty very often first attack the religious institutions of a nation. The Romans brutally persecuted the early Christians because they were seen as a political threat. It being counter to Christian teaching to worship false gods, Christians refused to acknowledge Caesar as god-man, and proclaimed instead Christ to be the God-Man who ruled even Caesar. When the Pharisees attempted to trap Jesus into denying Caesar's authority, Jesus answered: "Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's; and to God the things that are God's" (Matt. 22:21). What Jesus meant here was that Caesar's authority was negligible when measured against God's. He was de-sanctifying the state, a point that was certainly not lost on Caesar.
In communist countries today, Christians and Jews are the first to feel the wrath of the state. The Bible is viewed as subversive and, therefore, outlawed reading by the Marxist god of dialectical materialism. Priests, ministers, and rabbis are routinely jailed as inherently threatening to the underlying premise of the totalitarian state. Secular ideologies take many forms: Marxism, Nazism, Socialism, and various forms of collectivism. All are incompatible with the God of the Bible because all end in the rule of man over man, with the aid of an enormous governing apparatus attempting to squeeze human nature into unnatural shapes. That those in America who are always promoting a larger state role in the lives of the people tend to be the same ones who shriek about Christian involvement in politics is no accident; for they have placed their faith in a different god.
Liberty is under attack in all quarters of existence; in brutal fashion by totalitarian powers abroad, and in more subtle ways by an ever-expanding bureaucratic welfare state here at home. Our situation in fact is similar to that of the colonists when they decided to stand firm on first principles and declare their independence from British rule. What is needed today is less of a revolution than a reformation in American thinking, a sweeping away of the intellectual debris that now hides America's past.
There has been a concentrated attempt in American academic circles to recast the Christian-based American Revolution in the image of the virulently anti-Christian French Revolution, which predictably ended in tyranny. Liberation of the individual was not an idea of the philosophes; it was a Christian idea, and specifically a Reformation idea, as America was settled overwhelmingly by fundamentalist Protestants. The Mayflower Compact, signed by the Pilgrims in 1620, is proof that the "social compact" was a blueprint for government enacted by Christians long before thinkers of the Enlightenment claimed to have arrived at the notion through human "reason." Separation of church and state was not a reaction against religion, but a reaction against the state; and it was not introduced by skeptics, but by Protestants largely for religious reasons. The revisionist pens of such 20th-century historians as Charles Beard, Henry Steele Commager, Gary Wills, and the standard textbook writers have gone a long way toward altering America's heritage to conform to an agnostic, secular humanist creed. "To destroy a people you must first sever their roots," wrote Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The plan of this book is to correct the many popular misconceptions about America's past, repair the damage inflicted on our nation's heritage by the liberal history lesson, and to tell the true story of the unfolding of an idea we often take for granted - the idea of liberty. Our mission as citizens is to rediscover exactly how it is we came to be Americans so that we will understand exactly what is required to remain Americans.
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Published by the Christian Defense Fund.
© Copyright 1997 by the Christian Defense Fund. All rights reserved.
© Copyright 1988, Benjamin Hart