by Del Tackett
This headline was prominently displayed on Yahoo.com, Sunday, June 28, 2015. It is an excerpt from Steven K. Green’s “Inventing a Christian America: The Myth of the Religious Founding”. Green is a law professor and Director of the Center for Religion, Law, and Democracy at Willamette University.
Reading the headline, one would think that the article would expose “the big lie”. Written by a law professor, one would further expect a litany of evidence to make his case. However, there is nothing here. The majority of the article bemoans that Christians and conservatives appeal to the religious founding of America and that our laws were morally based upon biblical principles, pointing out numerous (obviously upsetting) quotes by the “religious right”. However, the article offers absolutely no evidence to the contrary.
This is actually quite interesting, because it rests on a presumed ‘a priori’ basis that America is a purely secular nation built upon secular principles for secular purposes. This is the standard mantra of academia and has been for years. When one believes this, then one can write articles or books that express astonished bewilderments like: “Can you believe those Christian idiots?” “Look at what they are saying!” and never have a sense that one should present any proof to the contrary.
Well, so that I am not accused of the same thing, let me offer three out of a plethora of evidence:
The first comes from what Washington believed was going to be his final address to his beloved country. When a founder makes his Farewell speech, he speaks of foundational principles. And Washington did not disappoint. Here is an excerpt that is hard to get around if you want to hold the position that he thought this nation was resting upon secular foundations:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports...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 second is from a U.S. Supreme Court justice, James Wilson, who happened to also sign the U.S. Constitution. This is an excerpt from his “Of the General Principles of Law and Obligation”, which should clue you in that it is about principles:
“Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is Divine…Far from being rivals or enemies, religion and law are twin sisters, friends, and mutual assistants.”
The third actually comes from a Frenchman, Alexis De Tocqueville, who visited and travelled extensively around America in the early 1800’s, and then wrote two volumes (“Democracy in America”) of what is considered to be the classic picture of early American life. Based upon his extensive observations and interviews, this is how he summarized what he saw;
“The religious atmosphere of the country was the first thing that struck me upon my arrival in the U.S. In France, I had seen the spirits of religion and freedom almost always marching in opposite directions, in America, I found them intimately linked together and joined and reigned over the same land...”
“The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to make them conceive one without the other.”
I have done extensive reading of the founding generation and it is breath taking how anyone can come to any conclusion other than that they were resting their hopes for liberty and freedom and the success of the Constitution upon the foundations of religion and morality. It seems that virtually every founder expressed it. How anyone could pursue even the faintest of research into the founding era and come away with some sort of secular basis is hard to imagine…unless there happened to be some agenda that would blind you to the truth and dedicate you to another proposition. I think that is exactly what is in operation here. We don’t want God and we don’t want His transcendent truth. We want to be able to do what we want to do without guilt or condemnation or restraint. Hence, the desperate need to erase Him from every picture, including any notion that the nation originally began with an acknowledgement of God’s presence and His principles and that the nation was resting upon the foundation of a people who had a faith in God and walked morally in accordance with that faith.
Since it is hard for me to stop once I get started on this, I will offer one more, because it is a warning from the founders as to what would happen if we ever left those foundations of religion and morality.
This comes from John Adams:
“We have no government armed in power capable in contending in human passions unbridled by morality and religion…Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Okay, one more, from Daniel Webster:
“To preserve the government we must also preserve morals. Morality rests on religion; if you destroy the foundation, the superstructure must fall. When the public mind becomes vitiated and corrupt, laws are a nullity and constitutions are waste paper.”
But academia in America today is on a mission to strike any notions like this from the mind of its students. And after years of this teaching, we have articles and books by authors who are incredulous that anyone would think that there was something religious about our founding. This headline would make you believe that the Christian who believes this stuff is either horribly duped or just a big fat liar. It is a classic example of how headlines are used as a “truth claim” to persuade a “sound-bite culture” of things that are just not true.
Don’t be persuaded by “sound-bite” headlines.
HOWEVER…if the article were to have honestly pursued the issue of whether or not we could presume that “God was on our side”, it would have been a worthy discussion and one that we need to engage. I am of the opinion that the fact that we have such a large remnant of evangelical Christians in this country, after having shaken our fist in His face for over a hundred years, is of worthy note, and one that makes me think that He has not yet abandoned us.
For how long, however, is another question.