Hide the God Side?
[from Human Events, Nov. 13, 2007]
The anti-religious elites' attempts to drive God out of America's public square are serious and ongoing.
For example: One of the places we visit in Rediscovering God in America is the Washington Monument.
The monument's capstone is one of Washington's most profound acknowledgements of the centrality of God and faith to our nation. Etched in aluminum, the East side of the capstone reads "Laus Deo," Latin for "Praise be to God."
But recently, visitors to the Washington Monument noticed that a display plaque describing the capstone was changed to omit the words "Laus Deo" and any reference to God.
What's more, a replica of the capstone had been positioned so visitors could not see the side reading "Laus Deo."
Thanks to an e-mail campaign by outraged Americans, the references to God on the displays have now been restored. But the incident serves as a reminder of the near-constant threat of anti-religious bigotry in America.
Of course, when it comes to official anti-religious bigotry, not all religions are equal.
Did you know that, while religious images are under assault across the nation, in nine Western states the courts have ruled it constitutional for public schools to require a three-week course on the Islamic faith -- a course in which all junior-high students are mandated to pretend they are Muslims and offer prayers to Allah?
This is the same court, mind you, that infamously ruled (in the case brought by atheist activist Michael Newdow) that it is unconstitutional for students to mention "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The question of the place of "religion" in U.S. public life is a challenging one. I can't begin to solve it here, of course, but in these times when the word "God" is only whispered in back rooms, it is probably time to take God out of the closet. (Somehow, that seems like something I shouldn't say. But on we go.)
Even the most cursory reading of the history of our nation's founding reveals that the Founders simply assumed that some "version" of Christianity - perhaps even a deistic version that included only the so-called moral teaching of the faith - was a necessary prerequisite of good government, and even a civil society.
The Washington Monument controversy, mentioned above, illustrates how a man like Washington viewed the importance of faith in God. Washington was a good Anglican/Episcopalian all his life. But like a lot of his upper-crust contemporaries, his Christianity had a bit of a deistic tint to it.
But as historian Paul Johnson has pointed out (see A History of Christianity, pp. 421-436) the emphasis in this view of religion tended to come down on the moralistic side. In other words, what many of the Founders (though there were notable exceptions) tended to see as "religion" was the moral teaching of the Bible. It was this they thought necessary for good government. That explains why a full-fledged deist like Jefferson could find some common ground with more orthodox Christians in the American enterprise. Still, these people realized that, in order to have the moral order they required, acceptance of the fact of God's existence was necessary.
So even with these qualifications, it is very difficult to see how we can successfully rip God out of the life of a nation that began with the premise that we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.
These United States have been places where religious toleration has developed - sometimes at different paces in different locations - throughout our history. And yet, when moderns use the word "toleration" it is often invested with a meaning very different from what it once had.
We were once a people who based our political and social structure on that Christian-tinged-with-deism religious starting point. Toleration began as the view that people should be allowed to practice whatever form of Christianity they wished. It eventually became the view that people should be allowed to practice whatever religion they wished.
But there have always been some limits to this. Religions that involved human sacrifices have never been tolerated. Religions that practice human slavery would not now be tolerated. And for a long time Americans by-in-large realized that it was the Creator who guaranteed the moral order they knew was necessary for our republic.
Somehow, in recent times we have moved from a religiously-based political social system that does not, out of principle, persecute religious dissenters, to the view that religion has no connection to public institutions and that religions cannot be right or wrong in any sense. Former President Eisenhower is famous for his 1954 pronouncement that "Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply-felt faith - and I don't care what it is." While he reflects recent views on this matter, it is a position that will not withstand even the slightest scrutiny.
The Founders - even the most deistic of them - shared the profound insight that society cannot be built on just any view of God, or no view of God at all. There is no ultimate reason to think that all should share equality before the law unless we are created beings and, by necessary implication, there is a Creator. This Creator needs to be a personal God capable of intentions for His creatures if our whole political system is to make any sense. We must have some knowledge of these intentions if our system is to be based upon them.
These and other considerations rule out some religious views as the basis for our system of political philosophy. Some of the views ruled out would be no God, no knowledge of God, and impersonal "god" and perhaps others. But the point is, not all religious views carry the required equipment to be compatible with our social\political underpinnings.
Those underpinnings require human rights that transcend political systems. Those underpinnings also recognize that such transcendence requires a personal Creator - not just an unnamed great spirit, not just 'the force," and not many other views of "god.". There is a long story that can be told about this, but the short version is this: without a personal Creator, human might will make "right." This has become very clear from the French Revolution through modern experiments in Communism.
In the current world context, it is also more than a little interesting to notice that so far, no truly liberal society (in the classical sense) has emerged from Islam. The provisions of Islam that require "pagans" to be eliminated and Christians and Jews to be given some version of second class citizenship seems to make Islam incompatible with a classically liberal society.
This is no argument against the classical view of tolerance. That is, we should still welcome, and in no way persecute, those who do not acknowledge God, or hold views of God incompatible with our social/political system. But none of this implies that we should be silly enough to try to pretend that the genius of our political system can be supported by just any religious views.
Trying to do so would be even more stupid than trying to hide the fact that the Latin phrase for "Praise Be to God" is inscribed on the Washington monument!