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Saturday, March 22, 2008

The American Experiment

What follows below are my notes from a recent Truth Project seminar on “The American Experiment: Stepping Stones.”

I had intended to transcribe these notes electronically as I do most of the time with Truth Project lessons, but since I knew the Easter BATS was coming up, I decided to wait and publish these notes at that time. After all, this lesson addresses well the Christian roots of America, and how our laws and government have been founded on a Christian worldview and Christian principles…without implementing a theocracy.

The writings and statements of the Founders leaves no doubt to the mind willing to entertain truth that almost all were Christians, and virtually every one had a Christian worldview, regardless of how public they were in their expressions of faith.

They realized that the welfare of a civilization depends on morality, and that this new nation they had set up, based on freedom, was suitable and maintainable only by a virtuous people.

They believed that the state had to be accountable to a higher law, the “Natural Law” or the “Law of Nature’s God.” Only this could prevent the state from becoming all-powerful, accountable only to itself, and ending in the same kind of oppression from which the Founders had recently freed themselves.

The New England Primer was the second best selling book in the American colonies (the Bible was number one). It was first published around 1690. There were only four million people in America in 1776, yet 5 million copies had been sold at that time. This is the book used to teach children of that age to read and write.

The Primer used language and concepts that was not only familiar to the people of that time, but served the dual purpose of reinforcing the Christian values that parents were trying to inculcate upon their children:

A – In ADAM'S Fall We sinned all.
B - Heaven to find; The Bible Mind
C - Christ crucify'd For sinners dy'd.
D - The Deluge drown'd The Earth around. (yes, they were creationists, too)

It asked questions such as, Who was the first man, expecting the answer from the Bible: "Adam." And “Who was the oldest man,” expecting the answer from the Bible: "Methuselah." And “Who was the strongest man,” expecting “Sampson.”

It also asked more difficult questions like "Which is the Fourth commandment?" and an exposition in "What is required in the fourth commandment?"

It contains the Lord's Prayer, the Apostles Creed, and other theological items. In fact, the whole primer is pretty much 100% Christian theology.

I encourage you to read the entire text of the 1777 edition here. You can also find some images of the 1843 edition here (no significant changes).

As surprising as it may seem, knowing how anti-Christian the official positions of the National Education Association (NEA) are today, as recently as 1892 the NEA recognized the need for moral instruction in school, and the superior ability of Christianity to provide that instruction.

“…if the study of the Bible is to be excluded from all state schools, if the inculcation of the principles of Christianity is to have no place in the daily program; if the worship of God is to form no part of the general exercises of these public elementary schools; then the good of the state would be better served by restoring all schools to church control.” – Kansas State Historical Society, Columbian History of Education in Kansas (Topeka: Hamilton Printing Company, 1893), 82

It was mainly when John Dewey and his humanist philosophy took control of the education system that the worldview of our academic system began to change.
“…faith in the prayer-hearing God is an unproved and outmoded faith. There is no God and there is no soul. Hence, there are no needs for the props of traditional religion. With dogma and creed excluded, then immutable truth is also dead and buried. There is no room for fixed, natural law or moral absolutes.” – John Dewey (Rondald Nash, The Closing of the American Heart: What’s Really Wrong with America’s Schools, United States: Probe Books, 1990, 91)

What an incredible change!

Did you know that even the universities known as “Ivy League” today were founded as seminaries and Bible colleges?

Harvard’s Rules and Precepts from 1636 said
“Let every student be plainly instructed and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is, to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore lay Christ at the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning.” – Josiah Quincy, LL, D., History of Harvard University (Boston: Crosby, Nichols, Lee, & Co., 1860), 515

Harvard’s original motto was “Veritas Christo et Ecclesiae” or “Truth for Christ and the Church.” (Samuel Eliot Morison, “Harvard Seals and Arms,” The Harvard Graduats’ Magazine, September 1933, 8)

In the 1746 founding statement of Princeton, it says, “Cursed is all learning that is contrary to the Cross of Christ.” (Mark A. Beliles & Stephen K. McDowell, America’s Providential History, Charlottesville: Providence Foundation, 1989,111)

In the Columbia University Seal can be found “Yahweh” at the top, written in Hebrew, Psalm 36:9 in Latin (“In thy light we see light”), on the ribbon it says “Psalm 27:1” (“God is my light”) in Hebrew, and on the lower part of the seal is “1 Peter 2:1-2” which admonishes us to desire the pure milk of God’s word.” (David C. Humphrey, From King’s College to Columbia, 1746-1800, New York: Columbia University Press,1976, 107)

When we look at the writings and sentiments of the Founders, we see the same Christian worldview carrying over from Colonial times to the birth of the country.

Gouverneur Morris said, “Religion is the only solid basis of good morals; therefore education should teach the precepts of religion, and the duties of man towards God.”

Samuel Adams said, “Let divines and philosophers, statesmen and patriots, united their endeavours to renovate the age, by impressing the minds of men with the importance of educating their little boys and girls, of inculcating in the minds of youth the fear and love of the Deity…in short of leading them in the study and practice of the exalted virtues of the Christian system.”

Benjamin Rush said, “In contemplating the political institutions of the United States, I lament that we waste so much time and money in punishing crimes, and take so little pains to prevent them. We profess to be republicans and yet we neglect the only means of establishing and perpetuating our republican forms of government. That is, the universal education of our youth in the principles of Christianity by the means of the Bible.”

Noah Webster said, “In my view, the Christian Religion is the most import and and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government, ought to be instructed…no truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian Religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.”

Even the Northwest Ordinance, one of the nation’s first important statutes, says in Article III: “Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” – July 13, 1787.

The instructor of the Truth Project, Dr. Del Tackett, says that he first began to see through the popular lie that America had been founded a secular country when he was called to a meeting with the president.

While in Washington, D.C. he saw some of the art in the rotunda of the Capitol Building. There was the “Landing of Columbus” which illustrated Christopher Columbus (“Christopher” meaning “One who bears Christ”) landing in the New World, a place he set out for to advance the glory of God.

Tackett also saw “The Baptism of Pocahontas” in the Capitol, along with “The Embarkation of the Pilgrims” which showed the Pilgrims on the deck of the Speedwell holding a religious service. Tackett realized that all these events in America’s history were “profoundly Christian.”

The “transitional moment” for Tackett in his realization and acceptance that America had been founded a Christian nation came when he went to a reenactment of George Washington’s Farewell Address, given by the first president at the end of his tenure as president.

In the address, Tackett heard the words of George Washington saying, “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.”

But Washington was not alone in these sentiments. In a letter to Zabdiel Adams, John Adams, our second president, said, “Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.”

Adams also said, "[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with 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."

Also, Benjamin Rush, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, said "...the only foundation for...a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments." Benjamin Rush also started the first anti-slavery organization in the country; aren't we glad he wasn't afraid to let his religious beliefs inform his public policy positions?

Rush also said, "Christianity is the only true and perfect religion; and that in proportion as mankind adopt its principles and obey its precepts they will be wise and happy."

Charles Carroll, another signer of the Declaration of Independence, said, "Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure (and) which insures to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments."

Patrick Henry, the first governor of Virginia and one of the most ardent advocates of independence, said, "The great pillars of all government and of social life [are] virtue, morality, and religion. This is the armor, my friend, and this alone that renders us invincible."

Even Benjamin Franklin, one of the least religious of the founders, said, "Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters."

Another of the Founders, Noah Webster, a lawyer and Yale graduate who is famous for his dictionary, said, "The moral principles and precepts contained in the Scriptures ought to form the basis of all of our civil constitutions and laws.… All the miseries and evils which men suffer from vice, crime, ambition, injustice, oppression, slavery and war, proceed from their despising or neglecting the precepts contained in the Bible."

A few short decades after the founding of the United States, Alexis de Tocqueville, a French historian, traveled across America to find out what was so amazing about this dynamic new country. What did he find that made America such a great nation? The breadth and depth of the nation's Christian faith.
Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there the more did I perceive the great political consequences resulting from this state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other; but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country.

de Toqueville also points out that it was the Christian worldview which which drove the notions of liberty that gave birth to the United States:
The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other.

Was this incredible Christian influence that de Toqueville saw in America established by way of a theocracy? Not at all! It was in the character of the citizens, which make up the "we the people" that forms our government:
In the United States religion exercises but little influence upon the laws and upon the details of public opinion, but it directs the manners of the community, and by regulating domestic life it regulates the State.

He also said, "Religion should therefore be considered as the first of their political institutions. From the start, politics and religion have agreed and have not since ceased to do so.”

Another of the early statesmen, Daniel Webster, who served in the U.S. House and Senate and as Secretary of State, said, “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.”

This Truth Project lesson also revisits a concept examined in a previous lesson: that according to Romans 13, the purpose of the civil magistrate is to (1) punish evil and (2) condone good. In order to do this, the civil authority must be able to recognize both good and evil. In order to recognize it, the authority must know the basis for calling something good or evil.

On of the Founding Documents points to the source for understanding the basis for calling something good or evil: the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration begins by pointing to certain foundational truths, and says of them and their source:
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

Notice that these rights do not come from government, but from God. And government has been instituted by God to secure these rights for the governed.

The Declaration also says the people are entitled to these rights and good government by the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God."

To understand what is meant by the "laws of nature," we look to writings of the time. Sir Edward Coke, a jurist of the late 16th and early 17th Centuries whose writings on English law were standard reading for several hundred years, said
The law of nature is that which God at the time of creation of the nature of man infused into his heart, for his preservation and direction, ... the moral law, called also the law of nature.

Sir William Blackstone was another prominent English jurist. His legal works, the Commentaries on the Laws of England written from 1765–1769, were the "gold standard" of jurisprudence in that age. Blackstone said of the law of nature:
...man depends absolutely upon his Maker for everything, it is necessary that he should, in all points, conform to his Maker's will. This will of his Maker is called the law of nature. This law of nature...dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original.

On the basis of all laws, Blackstone said
Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.

This understanding passed on through the American Colonial period and into the life of the American republic.

James Wilson was a signer of the Declaration, a member of the Continental Congress, was greatly involved in the construction of the Constitution, and was one of the original Supreme Court justices appointed by President George Washington.

He said
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. Indeed, these two sciences run into each other.

So if the people and leaders of the United States had such an understanding of the source and nature of law, where did things go so wrong? Where did our nation go adrift and become a people where the popular sentiment is that religion should have no influence on law or government whatsoever?

You may recall that Charles Darwin wrote his "Origin of Species" in 1859, which quickly became embraced by the scientific community as a viable explanation of our origins which "freed" us from the Christian explanations embraced by the Western world for nearly 2,000 years.

This philosophy quickly worked its way not only into the discipline of science but also law. In 1869 Charles Eliot, a believer in Darwin's theory, became president of Harvard University, the nation's premier law school. The next year, he brought Christopher Columbus Langdell, another disciple of Darwin, to head Harvard Law School.

Langell brought an "evolutionary" perspective to law:
Law, considered as a science, consists of certain principles or doctrines...Eachof these doctrines has arrived at its present state by slow degrees; in other words, it is a growth, extending in many cases through centuries. This growth is to be traced in the main through a series of cases...

John Chipman Gray, a law scholar of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, tells us that the "God standard" of law has been abandoned:
“The law is a living thing, with a continuous history, sloughing off the old, taking on the new.”

Herbert Titus said of Landgell in God, man, and law: The Biblical principles
Landgell did not merely introduce a new method of teaching law, he introduced a new faith concerning law. He believed that man, led by the ablest scholars and judges, could discover and determine the laws governing human affairs. Because he believed that man did not need the aid of God and of the Holy Scripture...

This philosophy marks the rise of legal positivism. Legal positivism can be defined as "The claim that the state is the ultimate authority for creating, interpreting and enforcing law. All legal truth is based on the decision of the state."

Titus also provides this insight:
“...Langdell sought to eliminate both from legal education—not by default, but by design. He, along with president Eliot, had embraced the new faith that swept the academic world in the latter 1800’s—that Darwin’s theory of evolution was the key to all of life, including the law.”

Yet the people of America originally considered faith in God very important in public officials.

Article 22 of the original Deleware Constitution says that all officials will make the following declaration:
"I, ___________, do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; And I do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration."

If the people were going to entrust the "power of the sword" to a civil magistrate, they wanted to be sure he was subject to a higher moral authority than himself--to God and His laws.

Despite the assertion by some today that America was founded by secularists on a secular foundation, one of the least religious of the Founders contradicts that lie.

From Benjamin Franklin:
“…how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly appealing to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible to danger, we had daily prayers in this room for Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard and they were graciously answered… And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance?...I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel...We shall be divided by our little partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future agesI therefore beg leave to move—that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business…”

And so it was that one of the least religious of the Founders began the tradition of prayers to open public business, in Congress and many other governmental institutions across the country.

Where could it lead, if our country completely abandons the "God standard" for our government, and for what we require of our laws and leaders? We need only look to the bloody, abysmal history of Russia, especially under Soviet atheism.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn said in his Templeton Address of 1983
More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: ‘Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.’

“Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval...

...But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.’

We can ignore history and the wisdom of the Founders. We can ignore the design for which this nation was intended to operate. We can even ignore God himself.

But if we do so, we would do well to consider Solzhenitsyn's words. For we would do so not only at our own peril, but our own ruination.


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