Your recent column of 9/11/15 (“America has never been a ‘Christian’ nation”) took me by surprise. I had to do a double-take to make sure you really were the author of the piece. I looked carefully for quotation marks thinking you were merely rebutting a preposterous position. To my amazement, these ideas actually reflected (I presume) your personal view. There are so many fundamental errors and misrepresentations in your column it is difficult to know where to begin to sort this all out but I will give it my best shot.
First of all, Mr. Thomas, my incredulity is directly proportionate to the great respect I have held for you. I have always regarded you as a true Conservative gentleman of impeccable Christian credentials. I have never known you to approach any serious subject in a less than thoughtful manner. That is what has made this so bewildering to me. The arguments you made in your column are precisely the type of arguments I have routinely encountered from folks on the Left. I expect to hear shallow arguments from that side. I expect rambling dissertations from the left that mostly ignore or badly distort context. I fully expect mischaracterizations and caricaturing of those with which they disagree. I look for the usual strawman arguments that are just as predictable.
But I could not have predicted this from you Mr. Thomas. Edmund Burke once said “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. What I find most disturbing in recent trends is that we are now at a time actually worse than that described in the quote. Good men (such as yourself) are now consciously choosing to obstruct and ridicule those who are bravely putting everything on the line to halt the march of evil.
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You cite a book by Charles Colson, “Kingdoms in Conflict”. You sum up what evidently to you is the gist of the book, “…these kingdoms are headed in opposite directions toward different destinations.” Though I never read the book, I suspect (having heard Mr. Colson speak on various occasions) that his main point went a little deeper than this. You seem to overlook the key word in this title, conflict. You see, Mr. Thomas, this isn’t merely about the passengers of two trains passing each other in the night; each group certain it is headed for the better place. These are two world views, complete with each’s own set of injunctions and imperatives, as well as superstructure for implementing its vision. And these two are at war with each other.
Having spent a number of years researching and writing my own book about this conflict I am well acquainted with it. It has existed from nearly the opening curtain and the nature of it is such that it is not (nor ever has been) possible for the two to co-exist. If one is true the other must necessarily be false. Thus the struggle has always been to see which will be dominant and this has only ever been accomplished by pushing the other to the far margin or eradicating altogether.
Your attempt to equate the term “Christian nation” with some imaginary pristine period is underwhelming. The very Bible that we “evangelicals” hold as our authority spells out the fallen nature of man and disastrous effect that follows. By definition, it is not possible within a Judeo/Christian worldview for man to ever achieve a pristine state, even briefly. But by no means is this to say the term “Christian nation” is either imaginary or insignificant.
The proper question is not has the ideal ever been upheld but has there been a nation that laid its very foundation squarely on Christian principles? Is there sufficient evidence that the norms, customs, mores, culture, and limits on government that flowed directly from those principles shaped the character of its people in ways that profoundly distinguish it from all other nations and periods of history? Is there evidence this has unleashed a freedom revolution unprecedented in history culminating in an explosion of discovery, innovation, human ingenuity, prosperity, charity, courage and self-sacrifice that has been the exemplar to the world?
Mr. Thomas, I don’ think you would disagree these attributes have described America (at least at times) but you evidently think any Christian influences are negligible with respect to our founding. But are they really? Let’s take a brief look at that Founding Period and the “generic quotations about ‘Divine Providence’”, you quickly dismiss.
There are limited possibilities when pinpointing the influences that guided the Founders: an immersion in the Judeo/Christian worldview, or, Enlightenment Humanism (or perhaps some combination of the two). Bear in mind the defining intent of our Constitution—maximum restraint on the governing coupled with minimum restraint on the governed—is a concept that shows up nowhere in history until the Christian era. Nevertheless, it is often insisted most of the Founders were secularists or Deists thus minimally affected by Christian themes.
Of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, all but one (a Deist) were Christians. 52 were Protestant Christians and 2 Roman Catholic. We get a pretty good flavor for the general attitude when we consider the oath of office necessary to assume office in one of the more liberal states of the period, Vermont, admitted into the Union in 1791: “I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the Universe, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be given by divine inspiration and own and profess the Protestant religion” (M. Stanton Evans, The Theme is Freedom, p. 277).
Why was the founding emphasis on restraining government (reflected in the Constitution’s numerous negative features obstructing the consolidation of power)? Because the Founders took a suspicious view of human motives, strongly influenced by the Calvinist doctrine of human depravity. Yes if anchored to a high standard, human beings were capable of extraordinary and inspiring achievements. If unfettered, of some of the most horrendous evil, sometimes out of seemingly noble motives (this would be most evident during the French Revolution).
To describe even the most openly hostile to the Bible as Deists is misleading. For instance, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin used personal pronouns to describe God and believed in Divine Providence. Jefferson spoke of God as “superintending” while Franklin acknowledged that “God governs in the affairs of men” and quoted scripture to this effect. Franklin also interrupted the Constitutional Convention to exhort the assembly to prayerfully seek God’s direct intervention. Deism of course confines God’s role exclusively to the act of creation. From this point on God is indifferent and unconnected to unfolding events.
The Constitution is often hailed for its ingenious fleshing out of the theory of social contract. Social contract is of course believed by secularists to be one of the great achievements of Enlightenment thought. John Locke is usually thought to be the primary influence on the Founders in this regard. While it is true they had great respect for Locke where he defended social contract they thoroughly repudiated his endorsement of unchecked supremacy in a single legislative body. The Constitution had to be beyond the power of legislative bodies to tamper with or it was worthless. This desire by the Founders to establish something resistant to the normal scheming designs of those imbued with power would lead to the over-arching theme of “fixity”; a clear parallel to God’s fixed moral law.
Contrary to secular revisionism, social contract was not in the least an Enlightenment innovation. To the extreme embarrassment of secularists, the concept was introduced, by of all people, unashamedly Christian congregations heading to the New World to establish “a shining city on a hill”. In 1620, the 41 male passengers aboard the Mayflower signed the Mayflower Compact—a document rooted in Christian covenant that fully embodied governance by social contract.
If we are willing to peek outside the box it is undeniable the forms of governance the Founders adopted closely mirror the forms put in place by deeply and unapologetically religious Christians of the early 1600s. M. Stanton Evans comments in his book The Theme is Freedom (page 201) “…in an amazingly brief interval, the founders of New England had created most of the features of representative, balanced government: a theory of constitutionalism, power wielded by consent, annual elections with an expansive franchise, a bicameral legislature, local autonomies, and a Bill of Rights…[all] in the span of a single decade”. This all took place before Locke was born.
No doubt some of the Founders were influenced by various strains of Enlightenment thought. By and large, however, they were men who consciously opposed such thinking, recognizing it as the antithesis of personal freedom. Their use of terms like “the laws of nature” or “nature’s God” were intrinsically tied into the Christian belief in a Divine Creator. The framers were highly influenced by Edmund Burke’s views on constitutionalism and it was he, whose carefully restrained and qualified description of these terms, would most eloquently express the idea shortly after the Constitution’s ratification. Because human beings were the subject of divine purpose, then centuries of experience and diligent observation could be expected to reveal the nature of the common bond that joined them in that purpose. It was from this examination of the nature of the compact by which all men are bound that First Principles and then just laws could be extracted. This was a far cry from Jean-Jacques Rousseau and others “state of nature” that reduced men to mere animals led by the lowest impulses.
The French Revolution was unarguably an Enlightenment innovation. Contrast this bloodbath (of which Rousseau was a chief architect) and repudiation of the rule of law with that which preceded it in America. The American Revolution was fought, after all other options had been exhausted, to conserve the rule of law.
The Founders could use the terms “nature’s God” and “natural law” interchangeably and axiomatically because they were immersed in the intuition, prescription, and convention animated by centuries of moral examination of the human condition. Rousseau and his fellow illuminati had nothing but contempt for convention or any so-called “accumulated wisdom.” With nothing to anchor to but appetite, their demand for universal “natural rights” was really nothing more than a demand for the unfettered satiation of natural wants. Where they enthusiastically professed a belief in the perfectibility of man, the Founders were almost unanimous in recognizing the sinful nature of man—desperate for the morals and civilizing influence of Christianity.
Mr. Thomas, do you suppose it is a coincidence the Declaration of Independence both opens and closes with a reference to the Creator. It isn’t merely that the majority of the Declaration’s signers were serious students of Christian doctrine but 29 of the 56 held the equivalent of Bible seminary degrees. This document leaves no doubt as to where the Founders believed “rights” were derived, why they were inviolable, and why they were “self-evident” even through the course of nature. These men understood that if rights did not directly descend from God and His immutable moral law, then rights could only be granted by those governing. If the latter then those holding the reins of power could, with full moral authority, rescind rights at any time. Personal freedom, as the effect of just laws, could never flourish in such a regime; indeed, would be stillborn. While it’s true the Declaration is not the charter upon which we are governed, it is the undeniable justification and cornerstone for that new system of government.
It is true the words “God” and “divine providence” show up nowhere in the Constitution. It is equally true the phrase “separation of church and state” is nowhere present. Mr. Thomas your second paragraph was once true. America was once a nation in which Christians—and every other religious and nonreligious person—had the right to practice their beliefs in private and public free of government intrusion. Today, disregarding the 1st Amendment, prohibitive fines can be imposed on small businesses, not for refusing to serve same-sex couples, but merely for refusing to participate in the radical redefining of what hitherto was universally recognized as a heterosexual contract. But that the sort of freedom above ever existed anywhere in history is remarkable and completely unprecedented. Yet this points to the greatest contribution of the American experiment—the elevation of human dignity.
But why did this tolerance for all views exist? Was this merely the product of a religious neutral environment bequeathed by the Enlightenment? To assume this is to fail to understand it is not ever possible to achieve a religious neutral environment. The question will always be which set of religious assumptions will inform the culture, ethics, and define the role of government. It is also to fail to understand how thoroughly religious the Enlightenment was, especially in its fully developed form at the time of the founding. Yes to be sure, some strains paid lip service to accommodating Christian precepts but in its core, just as with the Renaissance that preceded it, was a deeply held belief that Judeo/Christian religion was a severe obstacle to mankind fulfilling its glorious destiny. Most themes it embraced mirrored pagan ideas that preceded the Christian era. Albeit the Enlightenment dressed these up in far more sophisticated trappings but in their essence there was no significant difference. Abundant evidence of this is presented in my book.
In that “other kingdom” you speak of (which I refer to as Pagan Empire) freedom is at odds with the progressive plans of a ruling class; thus the expedient for constantly redefining “freedom”, whittling it down until it is meaningless. The shift from God’s Kingdom to Pagan Empire is evident in the simultaneous transition from rule by law to rule by men. This is also accompanied by a change from “sanctity of life” to “quality of life”. With the former, all life is precious and worth preserving even at the cost of great personal sacrifice. Under the latter, life has no intrinsic value. Each life is indexed to a formula that calculates the relative worth to the state. Moreover, Supreme Judges who recognize no higher authority and no higher ethic than serving the state decide who lives and who dies.
Yes, Mr. Thomas, there are indeed plenty of shameful episodes in the unfolding of this nation. Yet here again we see something profound that is distinct to this nation’s Christian heritage—a national conscience that will not permit the offense to continue. Those powerless classes who are the victims of injustice are unshackled by the empowered class. Rather than, as has always been the case historically, some oppressed minority having to overthrow the ruling majority by violent upheaval, the injustice is debated and resolved internally, sometimes at great cost to the empowered. Try to imagine the brutal suppression machinery of any government in history from that “other kingdom” allowing the freedom of conscience that has been the hallmark of this nation. Try to imagine the accommodation of views that would consciously, deliberately, and continuously undermine the foundation of that government.
If we were to take a poll right now that revealed an overwhelming majority professed Christianity it would scarcely matter. It is not possible to conclude from all available evidence that we are any longer a Christian nation. While a residue of Christian influence may remain it is clear the ethics, culture, and guiding principles of America are now informed by Pagan Empire. It is precisely the intolerance for any competing religious assumptions that is currently driving the state to vigorously and zealously guard its own pagan presuppositions. Unlike the Christian era that preceded it, it cannot compete with its counterpart in an honest open forum where dissenting voices are allowed to expose the weaknesses and deceitfulness of its lofty promises. It can only thrive to the extent its competition is silenced.
You seem to have the situation topsy-turvy Mr. Thomas. It is not Kingdom of God but Pagan Empire that is deliberately imposing itself on its chief existential threat. There have been some misguided Christian movements to be sure. Yet the Moral Majority and Christian Coalition you cite coalesced out of an effort to preserve the religious liberties guaranteed in the Constitution and in response to assaults from the Religious Left on the foundations of freedom.
Today this “other kingdom” has directed its assault at the very heart of the most sacred of all Christian precepts—freedom of conscience. Moreover, true to form, it is not imposing its religious imperatives through recourse to any lawful, legislative process. It is not implementing a “new morality” through achieving consensus by persuasion. It is stamping out resistance by supreme decree and intimidation; serving notice by the long reach of a jealous state that it will admit no other God.
I am struggling to figure out exactly what you believe Kim Davis is guilty of. Is it that she broke the law? In fact at the time Miss Davis was put in jail she was upholding the law by refusing to place her name on marriage licenses. There was no legislative body that had given legal standing to same-sex marriage in Kentucky. Yes the Supreme Court did issue a ruling but should that simply be the end of the matter regardless of any other considerations?
There are three equal branches of government. The Court is merely one of the three; it is not the Supreme Authority of the land, free to function as an oligarchy. It has no authority to make law thus it merely handed down a decree that, using the most tortured logic informed by its own religious agenda, by-passed the Constitution. The decree was itself a naked act of lawlessness and showed blatant contempt for the rule of law. This should have been enough for any fair-minded person, including non-Christian, to see this for what is was—an exercise in tyranny, and to refuse to recognize its legitimacy.
Yet even if this had been done lawfully, there is the matter of conscience and taking a stand for a higher law. There are sometimes unjust laws that would compel citizens to violate their most deeply held convictions. Your disdain for Miss Davis’ refusal to violate either Constitutional Law or God’s Law is very clear though why you disapprove is puzzling. Are you displeased with her because she did not resign? Yet to do so would have validated the state’s position that its edicts are more authoritative than God’s. This would mean contrary to our own Declaration, rights are not derived from God but government.
From the standpoint of law, morality, or responsibility, why should Miss Davis have abdicated her office to protest an act of lawlessness? Though her actions were courageous you conclude that in comparison to Rosa Parks, Miss Davis comes off as a religious fanatic. Really Mr. Thomas? Most societies in history have recognized the marriage institution of one man/one woman as the cornerstone of civilization. Do you truly believe that for one to choose jail over sanctioning the eradication of not only God’s but civilization’s most fundamental institution is religious fanaticism?
Sadly Mr. Thomas, the progression of your arguments finds you descending toward a conclusion that abandons any pretense of a thoughtful case. “If Davis wants to be consistent she would refuse a marriage license for anyone who has sinned…” This is a breathtaking trivialization of an issue that is so far-reaching in its scope and on so many levels. We can’t even calculate the negative effects this will have if permitted to stand. We already know that, based on the “reasoning” of the Court, there are no obvious categories of marriage arrangements (from person/potted plant to adult/child to numerous partners) that can be ruled out of bounds on any rational grounds.
Mr. Thomas, I am certain you are capable of making a distinction between the sins we all routinely commit every day out of impatience, frustration, selfishness, or thoughtlessness, and a cause that demands nothing less than sacrificing the time-tested institution of marriage on the neopagan altar of Political Correctness so its particular sin may be elevated to a sacrament. Why then imply Miss Davis is simply on some personal witch-hunt? You say “Kim Davis chose the wrong issue…” Perhaps you would care to tell us, what is the right issue?
You do offer a solution to the silly quibbling: Christians should not entangle themselves in preserving the order and freedom God gave the world in the American experience. They should embrace their proper role of reaching out to people of that other kingdom with God’s salvation message. I can certainly agree with doing everything possible to fulfill the latter part but is there some particular reason to believe the two are mutually exclusive? Should this have been the response of patriotic American families when faced with tyranny from king and Parliament? Should they have refrained from rising up against oppression for fear of imposing their religious views on the mother country?
Contrary to the impression so many “Conservative” commentators give, this is not some grand game where bonus points are awarded to those who display the most finely tuned rhetorical skills or most eloquently observe the Marquis of Queensberry Rules. The stakes are enormous. Everything America has represented as a beacon of hope to the world is being flushed down the toilet. The end result will be no less brutal for atheist than Christian.
Instead of lecturing the pathetic rubes out here in fly-over land on intolerance, imposing religious views, failure to maintain proper political decorum, and not choosing the proper political candidates, why not take a novel approach. Perhaps Conservative pundits might consider stepping out of the Washington glare so they might actually see what the ordinary folks out here see. Obviously the view is profoundly different. Maybe then, Mr. Thomas, you and your colleagues might appreciate we have had our fill of, as C. S. Lewis put it, “men without chests”.
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