For several decades now, there has been a civil war between the traditional Christian values of America, and those who want to see any influence of Christianity erased from the public square.
This war had been under way for quite a while before many Christians woke up to it, and many are still asleep.
While I have no doubt that there are those who understand but disregard the true nature of a “Christian America” and the role of faith in the public square, there are other who simply do not comprehend the difference between “theocracy” and the lawful, constitutional and proper role of faith in the public square. Consequently, some innocently oppose what they would otherwise support, if they only understood the difference.
Despite the settling of America for the purpose of advancing the Christian religion, and despite the founding of America on Christian principles, America has never, does not, and likely will never be ruled by a theocracy. I know of no one who is advocating America be run by theocracy.
Many Americans do, however, advocate a return to objective Christian values and Christian principles as the foundation for our laws and government; I count myself among that company.
As I said in a previous post, a theocracy is “government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided.”
Creating laws and government based on Christian principles, as was done during Colonial times, the creation of the United States government, and until recent years, does not constitute theocracy because (a) religious officials are not in charge, and (b) religious writings are not themselves the law.
Historically, America was settled by Christians who had a Christian worldview. That meant they not only held to the Christian religion, but those religious principles so informed their outlook on the world that everything they did was influenced by those Christian values. The Bible makes it clear that God created the entire universe, created what we call science, established human government, has guided human events through history, and that God’s values are to be followed in every area of our lives.
Equally historically, as has been shown in numerous BATS articles this weekend, the Founders believed that Christian principles were of the utmost importance in shaping our societal values and even our laws and government operations. Yet at the same time, this has been accomplished without the establishment of a theocracy. How could this be?
Because ours is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. In other words, our government is made up of private individuals who bring with them to government service their personal values and priorities. The people also vote for their elected representatives and sometimes upon laws themselves, and they make decisions to vote “yes” or “no” based on their religious values. They do so because religious values are relevant not only within the four walls of a church, but in every area of the “real world.”
Any religion that has no bearing on the “real world,” including family, work, law and government, is an emasculated and useless religion. If something is true enough to believe for our eternal destiny, shouldn’t it be reliable enough to tell us how to live in this temporary life on earth?
What some fail to understand–and rabid secularists refuse to acknowledge–is that America’s historic status as a “Christian nation” is not based on any sort of theocracy or law or institute, but on the character of the nation–which is made up of the people.
If someone is truly interested in understanding the difference between theocracy and a society where religious values influence and inform public policy, one of the best sources is the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville.
de Tocqueville was a French historian who traveled America during the 1830s to find out what was behind the “magic” of this dynamic young country that was making such a splash on the world scene.
What he found was quite surprising, especially for someone who came from an old European power which had itself recently experienced a revolution–though a secular revolution.
From de Toqueville’s Democracy in America:
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.
There was no law mandating worship of Christian or any other religion, no “state religion,” and no theocracy. Yet de Toqueville found that Christianity and our government of freedom were “intimately united” and reigned together over the nation.
Was this a union brought about by theocracy or state religion? Not at all.
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.
Notice that he says religion does not directly dictate laws and public opinion, but it is a part of the character of the people who make up the community, and since the people make up the government in America, this is how Christianity helps shape our legal and governmental values.
Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must nevertheless be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country
de Toquevill reiterates that while there is no state religion or theocracy in America, because of the Christian character of the people who make up American government, it may be regarded “as the formost of the political institutions.”
de Toqueville also says
…there is no country in the whole world in which the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and there can be no greater proof of its utility, and of its conformity to human nature, than that its influence is most powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.
In America, de Toqueville found that, probably because religious allegiance was not forced upon the people by law, the Christian religion reigned supreme in its influence over men. In America, faith in God wasn’t just duty, it was real. And because it was real, it influenced every area of their lives–including the civic life of the United States–again, a government of the people, by the people and for the people.
You see, America is historically a Christian nation not because of a theocracy, not because of a state religion, and not because of religious laws enforcing fealty to a religion…but because of the Christian character of the people who make up the United States–which has a government of those people possessed of a Christian character, by that people possessed of a Christian character, and for that people possessed of a Christian character.
This is why, as long as America successfully retains the Christian character of her people, there will never be a theocracy–of any type. And unless the Christians of America acquiesce to the demands of secularists, America will always retain that Christian character.
As de Tocqueville found and as many of the Founders alluded to, America’s great freedom, including the freedom of religion, come from the Christian character of her people. While some over the history of the world have forgotten this, the Christians who settled America realized that true faith in God (and God wants none other than sincere faith) cannot be forced, it cannot be coerced, it cannot be mandated, and it cannot be legislated.
That is why the settlers and founders considered religious freedom so important, because only the free exercise of faith is worth anything to man or God. Some religions like Islam and secularism are willing to settle for silent acquiescence as a sign of devotion, but not true Christianity.
Even the unbeliever is free not to believe, so long as his unbelief doesn’t lead him to subvert the laws or good character of society.
That freedom of belief–or even not to believe–is best guaranteed by the Christian character of America. Rabid secularism demands a suppression of the public expression of religious faith; because of this, it quashes freedom.
In a society protected by the Christian value of freedom of choice, the secularist is free to express his unbelief in public. No one can force him to believe in a deity, and no one can force him to profess belief…but if the majority of society believes in God, he should naturally be prepared for the dissent of others, as is their freedom.
In America, religious values and the reliance upon objective values must inform public policy, or public policy will devolve into “might makes right” and the tyranny of the majority. Religious values help preserve not only the health and good order of our civilization, but freedom itself.
As de Tocqueville says,
Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. Religion is much more necessary in the republic which they set forth in glowing colors than in the monarchy which they attack; and it is more needed in democratic republics than in any others. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie be not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? and what can be done with a people which is its own master, if it be not submissive to the Divinity?
In summary, these religious values historically held in America inform public policy, not through theocracy or a state religion or the imposition of law, but through the character and values of the people who comprise government and who are being governed.