The Founding Fathers — from the Declaration of Independence to the Constitution — made clear that they welcomed into the public sphere the broad principles expressed in the Judeo Christian Bible. They affirmed and reaffirmed a societal need to live with the cognizance of a Creator, God. They wrote in the Declaration that our rights derive not from the government or state but from God himself when they announced a political philosophy that “We hold these truths to be self-evident…. that they [men] are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
A walk through the national monuments planted in the soil of our nation’s capital reveals carved inscriptions by presidents proclaiming God and morality as cornerstones for the nation’s survival. Unlike so many other countries, ours is a nation entwined comfortably with the notion of an Almighty as evidenced by the invocation of His guidance and favor repeatedly in orations delivered by our leaders during periods of national peril and moments requiring collective inspiration.
For the past thirty years there has been an unrelenting assault by secularists who wish to expunge America of its historic Judeo-Christian influences, traditions and displays and they have, to a frightening degree, succeeded. To a large degree, they have convinced Americans that the wall of separation of church and state requires a public hostility to religion, that religion is somehow “un-American” and dangerous.
But as letters show, Thomas Jefferson wrote of the societal imperative for religious values and never intended the phrase “wall of separation” to mean antagonism toward religion but wariness of theocracy or a monolithic and imposed national church, one of coercion as was the pattern in other lands at that time. After all, was it not Jefferson who wrote the Declaration’s text which numerous times mentions and solicits God and Creator? Indeed, in his writings and articulations Jefferson speaks not only of God the one-time Creator but more so of Providence, which is an active and participatory God ”in the affairs of men”.
The secularists’ claim that the Founders were not religious men but simply deists speaks volumes of the left’s ignorance of what it means to be a religious person. Many people do not observe the minutiae of religion, do not count rosary beads, do not attend daily services nor partake of the Eucharist or wear a yarmulke yet believe in a personal, caring and wise God and, indeed, believe in the fundamental principles of religion , the Ten Commandments, and look to the Bible for guidance and comfort. But they are certainly religious, not secular and much like the “deist” Founding Fathers. They, like the Founders, do not want a theocracy yet desire “a nation under God.” They see a need to live within moral boundaries and reject moral anarchy and secular relativism.
The “deists” like Benjamin Franklin believed in science and so do all who subscribe to the Judeo-Christian system. Today’s liberalism is an agent of leveling and grouping. It is incapable of making necessary distinctions so it obtusely paints dark brush strokes when it comes to religion and lumps Judeo-Christianism with the anti-science, anti-rational Islamism.
As history shows Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Delano Roosevelt — a liberal icon of a bygone era — naturally and confidently invoked God in their speeches to the nation. Both were quite religious and believed the nation to be a religious one. They saw nation and God as symbiotic. Today, in contrast, George Bush is accused of making policy based on apocalyptic biblical scenarios simply because he asks for God’s guidance.
The case for overtones of religion in public life was made most cogently by none other than Washington and Adams themselves. Aside from imbibing religious convictions, there was the practical reason: the need for a virtuous society. Given that the United States was to be the first real experiment in democracy where men self-governed without outside coercion by kings or an over-reaching state, how could freedom endure without a citizenry accepting voluntary constraints and good societal citizenship? What would and could mandate freely chosen virtue? Both felt it was by living according to the rules of the Good Book. Not its specific rituals or dogmas but its call for morality, justice, devotion, sacrifice, prudence, responsibility and self-accountability — done so out of a belief that God so wanted.
Political philosopher Michael Novak states: “The Founders opted for revolution in the hope of creating a society built upon religious freedom, self-governing individuals with a concomitant morality and virtue, and one not shackled by onerous taxes.” Today’s liberals reject all of these. They call for high taxation, attack religion, scoff at conventional morality and sexual norms, and reject the individual in favor of statist social engineering. Surely, they are least authentic in evaluating the intent and wishes of our Founders.
Michael Novak supplies one caveat. The ability for a society to on the one hand live by broad religious principles yet not fall into theocracy is unique to the Judeo-Christian outlook, a special American understanding of the convergence of the Old and New Testaments. It posits a separation between daily governance and religious rituals. Such is not the case with other religions, especially Islam which, in principle, subsumes government, law, and civic life to the commands of the Koran.
The frenzied push today by liberals to accommodate every out-of-the-ordinary religious demand by Islam — all in the name of civil rights and that pernicious dogma of multiculturalism — is ironic and hypocritical given its hostility to those things Christian. By their actions and assertions, the left would have us believe that our Constitution and Founders had a kinship to Islam and a fear of Christianity. They could not be more wrong.
[Reprinted from Human Events, November 2007]