Tuesday, December 28, 2010
Freedom, Democracy, Secularism and Christianity
One skeptic wrote, “The only responsible way to make law is to ignore religion, because it would be impossible to please everyone.”
Well, it is impossible to “please everyone,” no matter what law we pass. However, our laws and values cannot be religion-free; they cannot be based on scientifically proven facts. This notion is entirely mistaken. Science can only tell us what is, not what should be! Therefore, our laws can never be free from our values/religious beliefs.
Here is another equally erroneous assumption – that the First Amendment to our Constitution, church/state separation, prohibits public religious reasoning or expression. A mere look at the Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776; beginning of the second paragraph) should dispel this notion:
• “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.”
Our Founding Fathers recognized that our “unalienable Rights” did not originate from the passing fads and whims of governments, which could easily take back the “rights” they had granted, but upon our unchanging and merciful God who created us in His image. He therefore retains a loving interest in our welfare, punishing anyone who violates it.
Not surprisingly, these same sentiments are reflected in the speeches and writings of our Founding Fathers. For most of them, Christianity wasn’t an optional appendage. It had to be part of the solid foundation of the new republic. In “God of Liberty,” historian Thomas S. Kidd writes:
• “Whether evangelical or rationalist, most Patriots assumed that Christianity would, in some sense, be the cornerstone for the preservation of the new American Republic.” (112)
In his 1796 Farewell Address, the beloved George Washington reiterated these broadly accepted sentiments:
• “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensible supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars…The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them…reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” (112)
These sentiments were broadly held. Kidd writes,
• “Through the era of the Civil War most Americans would continue to believe that the Christian religion should assist government in lifting people’s moral dispositions, so that they might contribute positively to the freedom of the Republic. Even the skeptical Thomas Jefferson believed that Christianity, in it original purity, ‘is a religion of all others most friendly to liberty.’” (114)
What a contrast to the assertions of the New Atheists that Christianity destroys everything it touches! Our second president, John Adams, who became a Unitarian, expressed a similar sentiment in a letter to his cousin Samuel: “All projects of government, founded in the supposition or expectation of extraordinary degrees of virtue [apart from Christianity], are evidently chimerical.”
These weren’t just the sentiments of American patriots. The Frenchman, deist and lapsed Catholic, Alexis de Tocqueville, extensively traveled the States, starting in 1831, endeavoring to investigate the stability and monumental success of this new republic. In Democracy in America, he wrote, “The religious atmosphere was the first thing that struck me on arrival in the United States.” While the French Revolution had taken out its vengeance on the clergy, killing more than a hundred priests, the American Revolution embraced the Christian faith. According to Kidd, Tocqueville observed,
• “The partnership of religion and liberty lay at the heart of America’s political success. To Tocqueville, the American’s Christian ethos kept democracy’s worst features in check…Freedom by itself would inexorably degenerate into rabid selfishness, but religion nurtured the purposefulness of freedom. In the American model, according to Tocqueville, ‘freedom sees religion as the companion of its struggles and triumphs, the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its rights.’” (246)
This position is diametrically opposed to today’s secularists who want to silence and marginalize religious expressions and symbols and to reserve the public sphere for their stealth religion of secularism – moral relativism, multiculturalism, and religious pluralism. In contrast to this,
• “Tocqueville asserted that more than any other political systems, egalitarian democracies needed the ballast of religion. Equality of condition and opportunity, which was more evident in America than anywhere else in the world tended ‘to isolate men from each other so that each thinks only of himself.’ People in an egalitarian democracy naturally become consumed with selfish lusts and desires, exhibiting a greater willingness to harm those who stood in the way of their advancement. Religion, teaching the obligation of love toward God and man, created motivations essential to healthy democracy.” (247)
Why is religion viewed oppositely today? Perhaps, as Tocqueville had suggested, we have become so “consumed with selfish lusts and desires” that the teachings of the Bible are now viewed with contempt and as an impediment to our immediate self-satisfaction? Although among the Founding Fathers, there were many who were either rationalists or deists, they were positively disposed to the Christian faith:
• “Tocqueville manifested a view of religion not unlike that of several prominent founding fathers, including Jefferson…maintaining that it was essential for the masses to keep believing in Christianity—or at least in good and evil—and in the eternal rewards in the afterlife.”
It would be wrong to assume that the separation of church and state reflected any disdain towards religion. Instead, it had been advanced by the majority of evangelicals who had been marginalized and even imprisoned by a state-supported religion. They wanted, above all else, the freedom to practice their religion without any interference from the state. Disestablishment of religion from the state would ensure this:
• “Disestablishment hardly reflected government hostility to religion, however. Under the canopy of disestablishment and religious freedom, the churches in America flourished in astounding ways. Whatever Jefferson meant by his ‘wall of separation,’ hardly anyone across the religious spectrum in America believed that separation should entail government antagonism toward religion or the elimination of religious rhetoric or symbols from the political sphere. Whatever their personal convictions about religion, Patriots typically believed that virtue sustained a republic and that religion was the most common resource that trained people in virtue.” (249)
While the secularism of yesterday endeavored to ensure the vitality of religion and its continual impact upon the public domain, the “secularism” of today is the very opposite. It robustly exercises religious viewpoint discrimination in favor of protecting its own politically correct orthodoxy.
This is a secularism that seems to want to protect our “selfish lusts and desires,” at the expense of religious freedom. Tocqueville and the Founding Fathers saw in Christianity the necessary counter-balance to this self-centered freedom. We will see how it all plays out.