The blatant claim that the American experiment, at its foundation, was highly influenced by those basic principles we call “Judeo-Christian, and that the survival of contemporary American vigor depends on those principles, is bitterly challenged in certain sections of our current society. It is alleged that our political foundations were established by hard drinking, hard nosed, pragmatic men who valued the philosophy of Locke and Hume more than that of Jesus or Moses. We are told that these men downplayed religion and believed rather in the creativity of Man, the abstraction, without any kind of dependence on some unknown Being they called the Deity, who, at best, might have created the Universe but then having done so, left man to his own devices. And off the Deity went “somewhere” to find some way to pass the time.
This paper will attempt to demonstrate that indeed the country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, that these Founders were, for the most part, believing Christians and that the future strength and unique meaning of the Country profoundly depend on how these Principles impact on the way we presently govern and live. Those who challenge this paper’s proposition attempt to justify their disagreement by pointing out the enormous diversity in modern America where languages, cuisines, religions, musical tastes, customs, philosophies of life, fads, dress modes and myriads of other factors, all shout out for their perception of the REAL American way. And quite rightly, since we are guaranteed by a “Constitution” the right to “shout out” our personal views.
From temples, Mosques and churches, from crescents, stars of David and Crosses, from every little sect, regardless how bizarre, comes the claim that THIS (my way) is the way of today--- the real tempo of our country. THE way or MY way is the right one for me---so we all say. Almost demoting citizenship to a formality, the craze for roots and personal identity has permeated our society. Is “E pluribus unum” a reality today? Is there any kind of melting pot melding us all together where we present a united front to the World?
Our belief in free speech somehow allows us to burn our own flag (under certain conditions), to have our Senators compare our military to the regimes of Hitler and Stalin and Pot Pol, to imprison Joan Andrews for demonstrating, non-violently, outside a Florida obituary, while homosexual protestors vandalize a Church service and receive merely a warning from an activist judge. The ACLU and Mr. Kuntzler-types can, with hyperbolic curve predictability, “be there” to help exonerate the most violent citizens while “Upholders of the Law” are derided and hassled as they strive to maintain a tranquil society. Some citizens want all public signs to be bilingual. Some want ONLY the mother tongue of English. The differences, the antitheses, the contradictions are clearly too numerous to list.
It is a huge nationwide Rorschach-like test, challenging each of us to imprint HIS/HER perception of what America really means in the current environment. Each of us wishes that his personal perception would form the “American” way, understandably, since in our system everyone has the right to say what “ought to be.” My own sense is that under all the “diversity” and fluid interpretation, lies an ingenious application of the Judeo-Christian concept of life’s meaning. Ecclesiophobes might experience an M.I. or an apoplectic flush on hearing that our colonizing ancestors came to America initially, for the most part, to escape religious persecution in Europe, (England and Holland, for example) and to have an opportunity for true religious Liberty. And to miss this point is to be lost in these myriad attempts to understand ourselves.
As early as 1620 when the Pilgrims (or Separatists) compiled the Mayflower Compact in Provincetown Harbor, we can see the stated meaning of “ settlement” in this country. “For the Glory of God and the advancement of the Christian Faith.” (cf. the Compact) Later in the 1630’s the Puritans, under John Winthrop, stated their mission. “…..that we shall be as a City on a hill---the eyes of all people are upon us..” (from John Winthrop’s Book, “ A Model of Christian Charity.” Interestingly, THEIR notion of a free community of equal men pre-dated John Locke by seven decades. Their social philosophy was, in fact, based upon the Law of God, not of man.
Some modern thinkers dismiss any notion of a religious basis for American political thought, declaring that ancient Greek and Roman thought (plus the experience of the Enlightenment) really generated the Declaration of Independence. But scholars like French historian Michael Velly and Dr. Gary Amos (“Philosophical And Biblical Perspectives that shaped the Declaration of Independence”) have demonstrated that the concept of “Inalienable rights” could NOT have come from Greeks and Romans who were polytheists and who never subscribed to equal rights. The Declaration’s concept of man’s endowment by his Creator with these rights would never have occurred to the Greeks or the Romans. But Jefferson’s language is highly compatible with Biblical concepts and Biblical world view. This view is strongly held by David Limbaugh in his book “Persecution” from which I have garnered much of my conviction about the Christian roots of the Declaration. Even granting the possible skepticism of Jefferson and Franklin (and a FEW others) I have learned that it is demonstrably untrue to state that the Declaration was based on Greeks, Romans and the Enlightenment
It is only because men are created in the image and likeness of God that they are entitled to equal treatment and inalienable rights. This is quite different from the French Declaration of the rights of Man or the whole secular humanist position.
The supposition that the Founders relied heavily on “Deism” is dismissed by M.E. Bradford of the University of Dallas who researched the backgrounds of the Founders and found interesting results. 56 of the 57 signers were practicing Christians. And Jefferson who has been called a Deist (more probably a Unitarian) wrote (according to David Barton, in The Founding Fathers and Deism, 2002): “I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of Jesus.” Incidentally, there are some historians who claim that the Declaration was really written by Nathaniel Greene, months before Jefferson took pen to paper. (Cf. David McCullough of the book “1776.”) But it is also clear that the so-called secularist Jefferson believed in the positive power of religion when he wrote the following. “No nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has ever been given to man and I as Chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example.” (cf, J. Hutson and Religion and Founding of the American Republic. Lib.of Congress.)
The two writers most highly quoted, as background influences on the Founders, were Blackstone and the Frenchman Montesquieu, both strong believers in Theism. We can note the following examples. “Men make their own laws but these laws must conform to the eternal law of God.” (Montesquieu) and “Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of biblical revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say no human law should be suffered to contradict these.” (Blackstone)
It is similarly inaccurate to tag George Washington as “Deist.” We might as well call him “anti-environmentalist” since he went around chopping down trees. In fact, he was a dedicated vestryman in the Episcopal church, trained from child hood in the habit of prayer to the God of the Bible. Researchers have found his personal daily prayer book called The Daily Sacrifice, the prayers of which clearly show that he was no Deist. Many of us would wish we could create prayers such as his. For example, “…..bless my family kindred, friends and country, be our God and our Guide this day and forever for His sake who lay down in the grave and rose again for us, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen..” And “Daily frame me more and more into the likeness of Thy son Jesus Christ that living in Thy fear and dying in Thy favor, I may in Thy appointed time attain the resurrection of the just unto eternal life.”
David Barton, insisting that Washington was a strong Christian, says: “he was an open promoter of Christianity. For example in his speech on May 12, 1779, he claimed that what children needed to learn above all was the religion of Jesus Christ and that to learn this would make them greater and happier than they already are.” Washington’s famous remark about religion is most relevant here: “True religion affords to government its surest support.” Can it be other than the Judeo Christian framework of his culture?
Hamilton, Madison and Jay were all openly believing Christians. One might consult their writings now known as the Federalist Papers for confirmation of this point. We remember that Madison who spoke 161 times in the Constitutional convention was the one who said: ‘RELIGION IS THE BASIS AND FOUNDATION OF GOVERNMENT. He also said: “We have staked the whole of all our political institutions…… to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” It might also be noted that Hamilton believed that society’s two objectives were 1) the support of the Christian religion and 2) the support of the United States. (America’s God and Country by Wm Federer Fame Publishing, ’94) Is Jefferson’s fear that the Supreme Court might become an oligarchy trampling on the rights of the majority currently becoming true?
If one denies the Judeo-Christian coloration of this historic period, we had best bring in the 7 year old boy to shout that “the King has no clothes on.” It is so obvious to an objective eye that is difficult to treat such denials seriously. So self evident was it that Alexis de Tocqueville, the French historian, made his famous observation, “...for Americans the ideas of Christianity and liberty are so completely mingled that is almost impossible to get them to conceive of the one without the other.” And “there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America…” and “…I am certain that they hold it (Christianity) indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions.”
The two clauses of the First Amendment (1. no establishment of religion and 2. free exercise) clearly were written to RESPECT religion, not to diminish it. Practically all constitutional lawyers hold that both the clauses were designed essentially to promote religion by prohibiting FEDERAL interference. Serious scholars like George Goldberg, believe that unbridled judicial activism, in an attempt to make sure that no religion is “established” have gone far beyond the intent of the framers. The founders, on the other hand, appointed paid chaplains, asked for official prayers, funded projects to buy BIBLES for Indians, engaged personally in fasting and appeals for Divine assistance, approved currency with religious significance, (i.e. In God we trust and Annuit coeptis). There are innumerable modern instances (to the chagrin of the secularist) of government directly aiding religious expression. The prayer “God bless the Court” has begun the deliberations for over 200 years of those who deliberate whether or not religious behavior is un-constitutional. The “looking the other way” and the walking on juridical eggshells is nothing less than hilarious.
America is the strongest, freest, most generous country in the world but our experience of freedom is a direct outgrowth of the Judeo-Christian religious structure. This religious dimension is foundational to our liberties. Our Liberty is in peril if the Judeo-Christian consensus weakens.
Interestingly enough, I find some of my “liberal” colleagues espousing Moral relativism as a component of the brave new world where all will be free and mature and loving. I hasten to remind them that historically we have lost our freedom wherever there is no absolute. I believe that the absence of a moral absolute made it possible for tyrants of the 20th century to do their monstrous deeds. With no absolute principle, minority rights are jeopardized, perhaps even those of the majority! When one holds to the principle that “one must do what one must do”, he can be essentially upholding the evil principle that “ends” justify the means. Our Founders based their political thought, not on Machiavelli, but on the Goodness of God and on the belief that all men are made in His image and THEREFORE must be treated with respect and equality. Secular systems boggle and weave with high sounding phrases but ultimately slip into ambiguity trying to find a lasting reason for universal respect and equality.
Limbaugh in his challenging book, Persecution, interviews several current thinkers one of whom is Dr. D. James Kennedy. He exposes the shallowness of “relativism” by reminding us that the great Albert Einstein taught “Relativity applies to physics, not ethics.” And a darling of the relativists, Sir Julian Huxley while on public television honestly said ‘I SUPPOSE THAT THE REASON WE LEAPT AT THE ORIGIN (Darwin’s Origin of Species) WAS THAT THE IDEA OF GOD INTERFERED WITH OUR SEXUAL MORES.” Incidentally, if one would dare question the Darwinian theory of evolution,, he would discover quickly that there is little tolerance for dissent. I wonder if the secularists in attacking the Religious basis of our Country could be so honest? For them does any kind of illicit personal behavior or even the desire for it trump God’s law?
Why make such a fuss over “Relativism”? We are told by the secular world that we should be “tolerant.” And therein lies the point for the future! Dr. D.J. Kennedy notes that “tolerance is the last virtue of a degenerate society” and that “when you begin to allow every kind of immorality and degeneracy and perversion imaginable, the one thing you will not allow is to have anybody criticize you for doing these things.”
He remarks somewhat jocosely that no one is overly concerned about the view of the Zoroastrians implicitly explaining much of the overt anti-Christian animus. The Christian thought is the real enemy of the Postmodern or moral relativist.
Dr. James Dobson teaches that faith and freedom are two sides of the same coin saying that freedom, without faith, will degenerate into anarchy and chaos. And the only way to combat chaos is to LIMIT personal freedom through tougher, more intrusive laws, expanded police presence and bigger prisons. Dictators emerge from that circumstance.
In America, many of the elements of the Judeo-Christian mode become foundations to the secular civil law. Note “Thou shall not steal.” “Thou shall not murder” “Thou shall not bear false witness toward thy neighbor.” Dobson claims that the entire Western way of life came about with Judeo-Christian principles replacing the ideologies of the Greek Roman world which celebrated immorality and cheapened human life.
It is said that the belief of “Coram Deo” (in the sight of God) is an aspect of lawfulness, keeping individuals from turning liberty into license. When one believes that No One is watching temptation “trump” moralistic statements. So the observers speculate that if the principles of religion and faith evaporate, so will Liberty. The huge American Christian majority has granted in fact more freedom, of every sort, than anywhere else in the world. Non-Christian cultures generally cannot bring such freedom. Remember the Soviet Journal? Saudi Arabia? Iran? Afghanistan?
This paper holds with these observers and David Limbaugh that preserving our freedom would be incredibly more difficult should the culture and the Government (especially the Courts) limit, in any substantial way, the expression of religious principles. So many of our fellow citizens believe that for this country to remain free, we must re-dedicate ourselves to the basic principles of our history. Certainly, this means the Judeo-Christian belief. On our sacred honor, let us clarify the facts and do whatever we can to bring this about.