We face an organized, well funded and pervasive effort to separate God from government. The separation of Church and State is a baseline tenet of our Constitution. However, an objective student of American history knows the intent of the Bill of Rights was not to sever God from American life, but to proscribe a state sponsored church as was the case in England at the time of the Constitution. This unhappy marriage leads to censorship, persecution and prejudice, if not violence. Many came to the Americas to seek the freedom to worship as they pleased.
Constitutional separation of Church and State notwithstanding, it was implicit in the worldview of the founding fathers and authors of the Constitution that faith and human consciences formed in moral principles were inherent to the functioning of a democracy. Whether Deist like Thomas Jefferson or committed traditional Christian like John Adams, all agreed that a healthy and vibrant republic would persist provided the citizenry who governed (and their representatives) were educated on the issues and shared unyielding common moral values fostering honesty, hard work, keeping promises and active, informed participation in self rule.
Only a population which agrees on universal virtues, embraces necessary self sacrifice and eschews unbridled self-interest is worthy and able to govern itself over time. Absent these virtues, as de Tocqueville aptly observed, democracy risks collapsing into anarchy, tyranny or some uncontrolled variation of mob rule (e.g. The French Revolution or the carnage of the 1918 Russian White and Red Armies). The essential soundness of mind, spirit and faith of the American people enabled and ennobled the great American experiment.
To attempt to disconnect our discourse in the public square from faith is dangerous in the short term, and fatal in the long term. Amusing atheism full of the glib, caustic wit of ‘plausible liars’ is well entrenched in academia and popular media. This deluge has “educated” our young people for two or more generations. Vigilance, discernment and knowledge are central to our cultural survival. As the old sergeant on “Hill Street Blues” used to say, “Be careful out there!”
A muddle of “I’m OK, You’re OK – every stray opinion is of equal value” lives out there in books, movies, TV, magazines and the internet. Fertile ground is created for the kind of confusion that prevails in clever wordplay on the topic. In other quarters religion has been downgraded to feel good soporifics. Little wonder why the young are uncertain and adopt what is easy – doing nothing. Why commit to or be challenged by or form their consciences on cotton candy: sweet, pretty and utterly devoid of substance?
Our culture seems to have fallen into a disturbing contradiction: we love things, and use people. In that darkness, we will benefit by perceiving the light of the Ten Commandments not as strictures or fun spoilers or prissy; they are guidelines to growing in virtue. As woeful as we can be at living virtuous lives, we incrementally progress in this lifelong pursuit only through relationships – with God and with each other. In the process of grinding and polishing our way to virtue through relationships, we make it possible to live together with mutual support in a political structure called democracy. Virtue gives our lives worth and the structure to embrace freedom. Without virtue, democracy seeks order in dangerous places and will be lost in one tyranny or another.