Sunday, August 09, 2009

Of Government and Men: The Role of God in the Public Square.

"Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

-John Adams


Religion and Politics combine to form the largest taboo one should avoid discussing in polite company. These words of wisdom probably stem from how passionate individuals get whenever discussing these issues. Are there any two subjects that have a greater impact on your life than your religious beliefs and the political system you live in?


In our society today, we have taken 16 words from the U.S. Constitution and used them to censor, and in some cases punish, those who openly express a faith. The Constitution states in Amendment I, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,". In today's society, we have taken this to mean that there can be virtually no mention of God in the public square. However, this isn't the way it always was, and it isn't the way the Founders of our government intended it to be. We, as a nation, are worse for this public ban on God.


Newt Gingrich, has said that to study the history of the United States is to, "…encounter God again, and again." As an amateur historian I can fully agree with Mr. Gingrich. The more I read of our nation's founding and the men and women who created it, the more I come across their belief in God. I am amazed how frequently I encounter religious references in the founding of our nation. Perhaps the most important man in our founding, George Washington, left many, many references to God in his writings and public statements. In his first inaugural address, Washington stated, "…it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe,…No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States…". In Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation, he called on Americans to set aside a day to thank God for the many blessings He had provided for them.


Washington was not alone in his belief in a Divine Being. I encourage everyone to take time to look into the beliefs of John Adams, James Madison, or Abraham Lincoln. Many of Lincolns writings and speech's contained very beautiful references to God. Many of us have read the Gettysburg Address and Lincoln's reference to the United States as a "…nation, under God…", but have you ever read his second inaugural address delivered in March of 1865, shortly before his death? Lincoln says:


"Yet, if God wills that [the Civil War] continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether."


Lincoln was saying that if God demanded the United States pay for the blood of slaves with blood, then that is how it would be. I would not suggest that each of these men I have quoted here, or the other founders of this nation, were all Christian faithful. Lincoln struggled with his faith all of his life, and it's very doubtful that he held to the tenets of any particular sect of Christianity. His faith was probably unique to Lincoln. However, I doubt any of our founders would support the almost total ban of religion in government.


The First Amendment was intended to keep the government from establishing a national American Church. It was not intended to keep high school students from discussing religion in club activities, or to prohibit the teaching of morals in school. Thomas Jefferson called for a teaching of moral values in schools in Virginia.

It is very difficult to study the founding of our nation and not come across the work of Alexis de Tocqueville. He was a French historian and political writer. His best known work was Democracy in America. In it, de Tocqueville states:


"I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion – for who can search the human heart? – but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to 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 nation and to every rank of society." Alexis de Tocqueville felt the nations belief in God was key to our Democracy.


I would not support a government that mandated the tenets of any particular faith. I believe individuals should more or less be allowed to worship as they please. However, I think the constant lawsuits about our Pledge of Allegiance, public displays of the Ten Commandments, and school prayer are all misplaced. I believe a healthy respect for God, and an acknowledgment of the blessings He has given our nation are important. Our nations motto is "In God We Trust". Hiding this, and whitewashing our founders faith and their beliefs harms our students and hides from them the nature of the founding of this great nation. Should we have a government established religion? No. Should prayer groups and religious services be allowed on public property? Sure, as long as all faiths are allowed access to the facilities if they wish it.


This is the third post in the "Of Government and Men" series. The introduction and first installment are available in previous issues, or in the list on the sidebar. What are your thoughts on the role of religion in our government? Have we forgotten our heritage? Are there too many lawsuits today challenging our freedom of religion? Or, have we not gone far enough in isolating politics and government from faith?


14 comments:

BunGirl said...

I couldn't agree with you more Andy.

Let's also not forget the Declaration of Independence -- the document our founding fathers wrote for the purpose of announcing our new nation. The one we mark every year on the Fourth of July. After a short introduction (in which God is mentioned) it begins:

"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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness." (emphasis added)

Those who claim repeatedly that we are not a Christian nation are correct. We are not a nation founded on any one set of beliefs or any specific religion. But we are certainly a nation founded upon the belief that God is the source of our rights and freedoms.

In that context, looking at the text so often use to curtail the rights of those who choose faith above humanism, one can't help but see that we have perverted its meaning and used it to do the very thing it was written to guard against. Shame on judges who use this text to silence prayer in schools. Shame on those who try to use it to keep God out of our great nation. Shame on those who take a standard written to preserve a crucial freedom and turn it on itself in an attempt to shackle religion and remove it from the public forum altogether.

It's time our great nation got back to its roots. It's time we realize that the more we've tried to remove God from our country, the more problems we've created for ourselves.

Andy D said...

Thank you for the comment. You bring up some very great points. Your last three paragraphs are really good. It's hard to argue that our founders didn't have a very strong belief in God when we read their letters and documents and simply pay attention to what they say.

Patrick said...

Andy-

It's a coincidence that when you posted this, I had just looked at my marriage certificate while sending a copy to the insurance company. I live in Cobb, so it reads "in the year of our Lord" when describing the date. Many counties nationwide have gotten rid of that statement. So, in fact, many legal documents do reference God....even right down to that dollar bill that causes us so much frustration right now.

I guess where our society struggles today is how to cope with a nation of many religions and cultures? When Washington, Adams, and Lincoln were President, they lived in a much different U.S. than today. The main religions were Christian. Difference denominations, but mostly Christian.

Perhaps the problem is perspective for us. Forming a nation is a hard enough task and I'm sure the Founding Fathers had much more than I could dream of. Think of it this way:
even though the Founding Fathers had slaves, they still wrote in the Declaration of Independence that ALL MENare created equal. That's a powerful statement from that time period.

The Founding Fathers were very educated men. They were aware of historical movements and religious turmoil. That's makes me wonder if they thought about us here in the future, fighting over whether to include God is our government. Perhaps, they wrote the laws for us to decide. Isn't that the point? We get to decide.

Andy:

Let me pose this question to you. Would you be opposed to having the Quran on the front steps of the courthouse beside the Ten Commandments? Just a thought? I know the arguement would be that this nation was founded on Christian principles, but many religions share those same principles. Though we worship God is different ways, even our Bible says that God has many names.

John Adams said...

Andy, If you have not already, you may want to read Jim DeMint's "Saving Freedom". He shares many of our save views and beliefs in our founding fathers Judeo-Christian values. He also quotes de Tocqueville, and others numerous times. God, in every form, was not only relevant, He was of extreme importance in the lives of our leaders and society in general. We should respect other beliefs and their God of choice. Besides, who are we to judge? Yet we should not let go of the basic Judeo-Christian principles that this country was founded on. They are universal and should be unoffensive to any religious belief promoting human dignity and freedom. Carry the torch brother, carry the torch...

Andy D said...

Patrick,

I have been thinking of how to respond to your comment all day. I could probably write an entire post just responding to this comment. (Maybe I will...) The short version is this...

Our Founders did leave us as a method for changing our Constitution. Unfortunately, we have largely decided to ignore those methods the founders gave us.

To answer your question, I wouldn't have a problem with a display of the Koran next to a display of the ten commandments, or a Torah for that matter. There is a danger in trying to be too inclusive. Where do you draw the line. If you represent the Christian, Muslim, and Jewish faiths, do you represent other faiths? Wiccan? Hindu? How far down the line?

Andy D said...

John,

I actually picked up a copy of DeMint's book. I have been treating myself to some Fiction after reading Atlas Shrugged. I think I am going to read DeMint soon after that.

Many of our Founders thought there was a core set of beliefs that ran through the Judeo-Christian traditions that could be taught in school.

Rebecca said...

I think it's a sad state of our nation when we can't mention religion in the public square without fear of legal consequences. I agree that the 1st amendment has been taken too far, so much that concepts, like intelligent design, can't even be discussed in the classroom.

Andy D said...

I think you are entirely correct. I think it is less the 1st Amendment has been taken to far than people have used the 1st Amendment for things it wasn't intended for.

the anonymous guy said...

Andy, do you know the difference between Deism and Christianity?

Andy D said...

Yes.

Andy D said...

Sorry, couldn't resist that...

Deism is a belief in a divine being. It isn't an organized religion but more of a philosophy. Many deist believe in the "watchmaker" or that a supreme being created the universe and set it in motion but does not take a role in day to day affairs.

Christianity is a belief in God and Jesus Christ from the Bible. there are a number of different sects within Christianity, but there are a few key components that unite them all such as the belief that Jesus was the son of God.

Christina said...

These are all excellent comments & thoughts. There isn't much I could add that hasn't already been covered here! Just my personal experience, that in the reading & studies I've done in early American history, there is no way a person could come away from such reading & NOT be aware of a constant, strong belief in God by our Founders. I think it was much stronger than most Americans realize. The list of all the names for God that Washington used in his speeches & letters is staggering. And they weren't just names like 'Divine Providence' either, he named the name of Jesus.

melissa said...

I have seen the issue of morals in our country brought up a lot lately in the context of discussions about excluding religion from our government, just as it is here in your post.
"The First Amendment..was not intended..to prohibit the teaching of morals in school."
Perhaps not, but it is easy to see why people may be uncomfortable when the idea of morals is so often brought up in discussion/articles arguing why God(religion) should not be excluded from our government.

Who's morals should we be teaching?

Andy D said...

Good comment Melissa, two quick points:

1) If the First Amendment doesn't prohibit it, we shouldn't hide behind it if we don't want to teach moral's in school.

2) There are certain moral's that are pretty universal to our culture. Many of them are contained in the Ten Commandments. We don't have to teach them because they are the Commandments, but we should teach them.