God In The Government
Marc Cooper is an Associate Professor of Journalism in the prestigious Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at University of Southern California. He is an award-winning journalist who serves as a contributing editor to Nation magazine and is director of USC
Annenberg Digital News. His expertise includes ethics, Investigative Journalism, and Political Journalism. In a May 4, 2010 article which he contributed to The Los Angeles Times, Cooper stated:
As President Obama considers nominees to replace Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a debate bubbles as to whether religion should play a role in his choice. This is a no-brainer. The religious views of the next justice of the high court must absolutely be a decisive factor. . . . Clearly, the next person to take the bench should be an atheist. While few sitting politicians have the political courage to name a declared nonbeliever, it is something that Thomas Jefferson (and several others among the founders) might well have done. . . . [S]eemingly no politician, from either party, can resist the temptation of ending a speech with the empty phrase “God bless America.” . . . Religion plays far too influential a role in our political and civic life as is. I personally don’t care what sort of superstition makes you sleep better at night, but I think we would all benefit if you left it behind closed doors and kept it as far away as possible from public policy. How about a policy of don’t ask, don’t tell? . . .
We’ve got quite a way to go to get even close to the stark separationism that is constitutionally enshrined but far too often ignored. We’ve recently been humiliated by a spate of local school boards dominated by fundamentalist Christians, undermining the teaching of science and inching us back into the shadows of ignorance.
While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1961 that atheists cannot be denied elected office, there are currently seven states—including Pennsylvania, Texas, and Tennessee—that retain laws keeping infidels out of government. These moldy statutes are, indeed, unconstitutional, and when challenged eventually fail. But “eventually” can be a long time. In the meantime, they are used, as is currently the case with a North Carolina councilman, to force an elected official to spend outsized legal fees defending himself or herself for not believing in God.
When it comes to some Sunday soul-searching introspection, or when faced with a personal crisis that haunts your nightmares, it’s your constitutional right to ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?”
When it comes to deciding who will be the ultimate arbitrators and defenders of the most advanced and enlightened governing document in history, we would all be a lot better off if, instead, we asked ourselves, “What would Jefferson do?”
My response to Professor Cooper (May 7, 2010) included the following:
Is it really the case, as you state in your May 4 LA Times article- “To Replace John Paul Stevens, an Atheist,” that “we would all be a lot better off if . . . we asked ourselves, “What would Jefferson do?” You imply that since Jefferson, in light of his letter to John Adams in 1823, rejected the virgin birth of Christ that he might well have appointed an atheist to the Supreme Court. One of your fellow award winning print journalists, David Aikman, has documented in his 2008 book, The Delusion of Disbelief, though it is the case that Jefferson rejected “core doctrines of Christianity” (144) it is misrepresentation of Jefferson to imply that Jefferson would be sympathetic with your rejection of religion’s value in political an civic life. Jefferson said, “Can the liberties of a nation be though secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?” (www.monticello.org, emp. added) and “no nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be” (qtd. in Aikman 145, emp. added). Jefferson was no atheist or agnostic concerning the existence of God. To even suggest that he would have been sympathetic with an appointment of an atheist on the highest court of the land is absurd in light of the facts which you left out of your article. I am amazed at how individuals such as yourself can hold teaching positions in prestigious institutions of learning and write articles for major publications and yet so obviously misrepresent the facts. The present-day effort in our culture to undermine the crucial influence of the Christian faith in the writing of the Constitution is simply intellectual dishonesty.
Cooper’s response to my brief letter stated, “. . . I couldn’t be less interested in your Christian babble. Talk to God about it. Not me.”
What’s at Stake?
In his book, Why Religion Matters, Huston Smith contrasts the worldview that God is the ultimate reality with the view of secularism that believes there is no reality beyond the universe. He says, “How seriously we should regard the evidence for or against-[either view] . . . depends on how much is at stake. . . . I repeat . . . the stakes are high” (40).
The issue of God and government implies how high the stakes are in the ongoing battle between Christianity and secularism. The issue, as such implications are correctly inferred, also brings to the forefront the consequences of this battle for the future of America and the future of every nation (cf. Prov. 14:34). Mark Levin, a former top adviser and administrator to several members of President Ronald Reagan’s cabinet, argues that Natural Law (by which he means the Law of God the Creator) was that “which the Founding Fathers adopted as the principle around which civilized American society would be organized” (25). Could there be a greater philosophical difference concerning God and government than that evidenced in the words of Levin in his book, Liberty and Tyranny, and those of President Barak Obama from his book, The Audacity of Hope? Observe this in the following:
Reason cannot, by itself, explain why there is reason. Science cannot, by itself, explain why there is science. . . . Reason and science can explain the existence of matter, but they cannot explain why there is matter. . . . Science is a critical aspect of human existence, but it cannot address the spiritual nature of man. . . . Reason itself informs man of its own limitations and, in doing so, directs him to the discovery of a force greater than himself—a supernatural force responsible for the origins of not only human existence but all existence, and which itself has always existed and will always exist. For most, the supernatural reveals itself in the Creator-God. Man seeks guidance through faith and prayer. . . . The Founders were enlightened men, but not men purely of the Age of Enlightenment. They . . . excelled at reason and subscribed to science but worshipped neither. (Levin 24-25, emp. added)
It’s not just absolute power that the Founders sought to prevent. Implicit in [the Constitution’s] structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or “ism,” any tyrannical consistency that might lock future generations into a single, unalterable course. . . . The Founders may have trusted in God, but true to the Enlightenment spirit, they also trusted in the minds and senses that God had given them. (Obama 93, emp. added).
God-The Source of Liberty
Rather than the U. S. Constitution proposing government that implicitly rejects absolute truth that locks “future generations into a single unalterable course” it really implies the opposite. Implicit in the idea of liberty or freedom is an immutable Source (i.e. origination) of all liberty
(freedom) individually, nationally, and globally. That immutable Source of freedom is God. God, by the very nature of liberty or freedom, is essential to civil government.
Freedom is “the capacity to choose evil or good . . . rational choice in accordance with moral law” (Tennant 131). Since it is the case that good or evil cannot have objective reality without God, and it further is the case that objective moral law cannot exist without God, then freedom, as a rational concept, is dependent on the very existence of God. Levin argues that it was not the view of the Founders that objective moral law could have reality without God. He correctly says, “This position would . . . lead man to arbitrarily create his own morality and rights. . . . [R]ight and wrong, just and unjust, good and bad, would be relative concepts susceptible to circumstantial applications” (26).
Paul wrote, “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God” (Rom. 13:1). Authority in the preceding verse is exousia which means “power of choice, liberty of actions” (Moulton and
Milligan 225). The word exousia is used in John 19:10-11 and is translated authority (ESV) or power (NKJV). Jesus said, “You would have no authority . . . unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11). All rights, freedom, or power to act comes from God.
There is a great inconsistency in the philosophy of secularism or materialism which, while claiming that humans are wholly determined by matter, also pleads for reasonableness, freedom of thought, and academic freedom—“at least when they are not in control of a country” (Bales 69). However, if everything is nothing more than matter in motion operating according to chance and natural selection, how could there be real freedom? If humans are “machines created by our genes” and the “predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness” (Dawkins 2), then how can one meaningfully speak of becoming independent of his selfish genes? Bales, in Atheism’s Faith and Fruits (1951), has an excellent discussion on the consequences of the philosophy of materialism, secularism, or atheism as such relates to human freedom (cf. 126-33).
Michael Novak, who served as Ambassador of the U. S. Delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva, has observed:
The notion that the foundation of our rights lies in God’s work has been officially deployed in many congressional and presidential decrees and proclamations, which recommend religious observances such as fasting, prayers, thanksgiving and imploring pardon for the nation’s sins. . . . [H]uman rights are guaranteed by the sovereignty of God, with the result that any abuse of them will have to be answered for before God in Judgment (as Madison had pointed out). . . . [Note] Abraham Lincoln’s beautiful Decree of August 12, 1861, which also followed upon a resolution of both Houses of Congress:
Recognizing that “it is fit and becoming in all people, at all times, to acknowledge and revere the Supreme Government of God,” Lincoln proclaimed a National Fast Day to ask God’s favor. If all this was not an establishment of religion in 1861, why does doing far less barely a century and a half later constitute at attempt to establish a religion? (1, 3, 6)
God-The Survival of Liberty
Not only is the proposition—God is in government—implied in the origination of the concept of freedom, but the very survival (i.e. continuation) of liberty (freedom) individually, nationally, and globally is dependent on God in government. “. . .[F]aith is not a threat to civil society but rather vital to its survival” (Levin 34). Former Time magazine correspondent David Aikman wrote, “Atheism, when adopted wholesale by any government or society, has very profound and . . . disturbing consequences for political liberty. Every single one of the Founding Fathers understood this . . .” (136).
One of the most influential of George Washington’s writings was his Farewell Address delivered September 19, 1796. The following passage from this speech evidences the way most of the Founders of America thought concerning God and government.
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. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in course of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. (qtd. in Bryan 100-01)
Could there be a correlation between the increasing influence of secularism and skepticism in America and the political, social, economic, and moral woes characterizing American culture? Levin believes there is. He wrote, “[S]ecular impositions . . . are the coercion behind America’s
moral and cultural decline. . . . How can it be said, as it often is, that moral order is second to liberty when one cannot survive without the other? A people cannot remain free and civilized without moral purpose, constraints, and duties” (34).
A thirty-one year old Chinese journalist conducted a two year research project in which he determined to answer why freedom has been so prominent in Western society to the exclusion of non-Western societies. He presented a scholarly paper reporting his findings at the Annual
Meeting of the American Political Science Association in Chicago. In part, he said:
[T]he single most important thing I would like to share with you here is this. The faith in God as the Lord is the beginning of freedom. When I began my project, the main question I asked is how and why freedom both as a value and as an institution figured prominently only in the Western society and even now still largely remains confined to this part of the world. . . . I was very much curious and eager to know the elements that might have led to the institutionalization of liberty in the West with the hope that similar conditions would be established in China and elsewhere in the world. The more I knew about the growth of freedom in the West, the more I was captivated by the role of the faith in God as the Lord in the making of a free and responsible civilization. There may have been various reasons why liberty largely failed in the non-Western world. For me, a major reason for the stillbirth of freedom in the non-Western societies is that the bedrock for the building of liberty was missing in these cultures. That is, the faith in God as the Lord did not become the vital part of the non-Western consciousness. One cannot say that individuals in those parts of the world did not want freedom. Yet in societies like China with which I’m most familiar, freedom could not stand a realistic chance of becoming a positive value or a viable institution in much of their history because the rule by men instead of the rule of law was the constant pattern. For them, law was virtually the will of men in power so that it’s meaningless to call for the rule of law. Without the faith in God as the Lord, freedom with the popular (mis)conception of doing anything one wants could only be perceived by anyone in power as a threat to the established order. However, for societies where the faith in God as the Lord figures prominently, law is independent of the will of humans. It’s the will of God, the Lord. The only truly right thing one can do is to do the divine will. . . .
For me, that freedom could basically survive in the West is not by accident, nor mainly by the Western individuals’ extraordinarily persistent struggle for liberty, but by their prominent obedience to the will of God compared to the rest of the world. And may I put it in another way: a free West is simply a by-product of its continued faith in God as the Lord in spite of the rise and fall of various forms of idolatry. (Xu)
Secularism describes a philosophical approach that has developed ethical, legal, and political theories that do not derive from, or depend upon, a theistic viewpoint or divine revelation. It has “bred a desire to disengage religion [God] from government” (Dufault-Hunter 803). It began in Europe, but it has been picking up incredible steam in America for the last fifty years. Presently, there are more court cases concerning prayer before the American judicial system than at any other time in U. S. History. In a 1984 exchange which he had with liberal TV writer and producer, Norman Lear, the late President Ronald Reagan well summed up what was happening then, and now, concerning the issue of God in the government. He also implies what has been affirmed in this essay—(1) God is essential as the Source of moral and political freedom, and (2) God is essential in government for the Survival of liberty. Reagan wrote:
I do believe the First Amendment is being somewhat distorted or misinterpreted by some who would, by government decree, make freedom of religion into freedom from religion. The First Amendment plainly is to ensure that in this nation there shall be no official state church. The amendment says the government shall not establish religion but it also just as plainly says the government shall not interfere in the practice of religion. . . .
Now, having said this, let me also say that I approve of the references to God in the Declaration of Independence, the inscription “In God We Trust” on our coins and engraved on the wall in the Capitol Building. I believe history shows that every great civilization that has ended up in history’s dustbin did so after forsaking their God or [g]ods. . . . I also believe, however, that the God of Moses and His Son admonished us to go into all the world and spread their word. But those who hear must decide for themselves as to accepting that word.
. . . [L]et me just close by saying that I believe I have a responsibility to speak out for decency and the basic moralities without which there can be no civilization or personal freedom. (Skinner, Anderson, and Anderson 643)
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