about “Church and State” anyway?
How could this happen? That is the question that many people are asking in the aftermath of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling declaring the Pledge of Allegiance unconstitutional because it contains the phrase "under God." This is beginning to be another unifying, defining moment in our country. The outcry has been loud and clear, from President Bush, to the halls of Congress and to the classic "common man and woman" across this land.
This ruling flies in the face of our national heritage. We have over 200 years' history of acknowledging God as the giver of this land and the One to whom we owe our allegiance. To say that acknowledging God is setting up a religion in this land is, as the President said, "ridiculous." The man most often quoted as the author of the phrase "separation of church and state," Thomas Jefferson, said in 1781, " God who gave us life, gave us liberty, and can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever." (1) Clearly, Jefferson never envisioned or intended that all references to God would be expunged from our nation and culture.
The first president of our country demonstrated his faith in God on numerous occasions. He understood that God, by His gracious will, had allowed this new nation to be established as the greatest citadel of religious freedom in the world. In his Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789, George Washington said, "It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favors." (2) President Washington was not calling the country to adopt a particular religion, but rather to acknowledge that there is a Supreme Being who is sovereign over His creation. God grants common grace to nations, and His benefits are immense to our nation.
John Adams, the second president of the United States, said in a letter in 1776, "Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand." (3) Here, the understanding is that liberty comes from principles and truths that are above natural man.
It is apparent that those founding fathers of our republic understood the importance of including God in our national framework. The Bible says, "Righteousness exalts a nation . . ." (Proverbs 14:34) - this righteousness only comes from acknowledging the Source of righteousness and life - God.
The belief in God and acknowledgment of that belief in public and civic proclamations is a very important part of our history and continues to be so today. The ruling that would eliminate "under God" from our Pledge of Allegiance is extremely disappointing at a time when our nation is fighting a war on terrorism. America, like never before, needs to call upon God for protection and guidance through these perilous days.
One positive effect of this decision is that many people who have remained silent as our freedoms have been eroding are speaking up in shock and outrage. As Christians and citizens we must let our concerns be heard.
Senior Policy Analyst for
Cultural & Worldview Studies
Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 18, 1781
"God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever."
from "Query XVIII" of his "Notes on the State of Virginia", 1781. (From "America's God and Country, Encyclopedia of Quotations" By William J. Federer; FAME Publishing, Inc.; USA; 1996).
Proclamation, October 3, 1789
3. Letter to Zabdiel Adams, June 21, 1776
The Nation's history is replete with examples of acknowledgment of religious belief in the public sector. Our religious heritage is manifested in many ways that openly reflect government sponsorship and yet do not create an "establishment" problem. The employment of congressional Chaplains to offer daily prayers in the Congress is a practice that has spanned two centuries. The government has recognized as national holidays days with undeniable religious significance, such as Christmas and Thanksgiving. "In God we trust" is statutorily prescribed as our national motto to be inscribed on our currency. The language "one nation under God" is included as part of the Pledge of Allegiance to the American flag. Congress has directed the President to proclaim a National Day of Prayer each year. It is the current practice in every federal court to open proceedings with an announcement that concludes, "God save the United States and this Honorable court." A portrayal of the Ten Commandments decorates the courtroom of the United States Supreme Court, directly above the bench where the Honorable Justices are seated. As Justice Douglas observed, it is only through this accommodation that government can "follow the best of our traditions" and "respect the religious nature of our people." Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 314 (1952).
In 1892, the Supreme Court stated that "this is a religious nation." Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, 143 U.S. 457, 470 (1892). The Court has discussed the historical role of religion in our society and concluded that "[t]here is an unbroken history of official acknowledgment by all three branches of government of the role of religion in American life from at least 1789." Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668, 674 (1984). In Abington v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 212 (1963), the Court recognized that "religion has been closely identified with our history and government." Such recognition is nowhere more affirmatively expressed than in Zorach where the Court stated that "[w]e are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being." 343 U.S. at 313. Nevertheless, this country has witnessed a long struggle over governmental acknowledgments of the religious identity of the people of the United States.
ACLJ SECURES VICTORY AS FEDERAL COURT DISMISSES "IN GOD WE TRUST" SUIT IN KANSAS
(Topeka, KS) – The American Center for Law and Justice, an international public interest law firm, announced today that a federal court in Topeka, Kansas has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Treasurer of Shawnee County, Kansas who was sued for displaying a sign in county offices that bears the nation’s motto “In God We Trust.”
“We are gratified that the court found this lawsuit had no merit and acted properly to dismiss the suit,” said Frank Manion, Senior Regional Counsel of the ACLJ who is representing the County Treasurer. “It was very clear from the beginning that the use of the motto ‘In God We Trust’ is not only permissible, but constitutional as well. The ACLU clearly attempted to use the legal system in this case to remove a legitimate and legal vestige of religious expression from the marketplace – in this case banning the motto of the United States of America. The court’s clear and decisive rejection of the ACLU claims is not only a victory for our client, but for the First Amendment as well.”
U.S. District Court Judge Sam A. Crow granted an ACLJ motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In an opinion filed with the court on December 7th and released to the ACLJ today, Judge Crow called the ACLU claim that the posting of “In God We Trust” violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment “patently frivolous without any basis in law.” In the opinion, Judge Crow said the ACLU’s free speech claim “is meritless, i.e., groundless and without factual or legal foundation.” At the same time, the Court said, “the factual and legal inadequacies of the complaint and brief filed by the plaintiffs could support the conclusion that this case was brought in subjective bad faith.”
The ACLJ entered the case in September 2000 – at the request of the Shawnee County Board of County Commissioners – to defend the County Treasurer in the lawsuit. Like it does with all of its clients, the ACLJ is providing its legal services to Shawnee County free of charge.
“The court clarified what is the proper understanding of the Establishment Clause,” said Manion. “This decision sends a strong message that the ACLU cannot censor government bodies like Shawnee County which only seek to display our nation’s motto that has been at the heart of our national heritage for decades.”
“In God We Trust” appears on U.S. currency and has been the official U.S. motto since 1956
”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
Note the exact English used and the context of the entire amendment. There is no language anywhere in the constitution about “separation of Church and state” That is a fabrication of much later courts and religion haters of late. The only such language anywhere is a terse line buried in a private correspondence by Jefferson.
The whole and part of this amendment is to prohibit government from interfering with either individual’s rights or the rights of organized establishments. This amendment can only mean that Congress is to neither interfere with an existing religious establishment nor can it legislate to create a specific religious establishment. Nowhere does it prohibit any branch of government from generally supporting or acknowledgment of Deity. 200 years of experience has amply demonstrated that that general acknowledgment has in no way created a single solitary religious establishment, let alone the oppressive religious state they where attempting to preclude.
Quite the contrary, those few phrases prohibit congress (and by extension other governmental bodies) from doing ANYTHING that would interfere or abridge speech or religious practice. The emphasis is on more religious tolerance NOT a hostile avoidance in all-public settings.
Nevertheless, the persecution of religious practice is now rampant. Students across the nation are now prohibited from offering voluntary prayers at commencement and football games. Some students even had their valedictory speeches edited to remove any religious references by the public school thought police. While Gay-Lesbian promoting groups were using public school facilities to promote their licentious agenda, Bible clubs had to fight the Nero’s of public facilities in running court battles (most of which favor the Bible clubs).
While the promoters of Atheism and the non-constitutional total “Separation of Church and State,” are busy trying to oust the 10 commandments from the public square, the Supreme Court daily convenes in its shadow – prominently displayed behind their benches.
Basically we do not have an amendment that states we have freedom from religious influence – only freedom to participate unrestrained in religious activities and that must include in the public setting.
Observe how many references to God as fundamental to defining our rights and securing our prosperity.
The Declaration of
Independence of the Thirteen Colonies
In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, …We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
One Nation Under God by America's Christian Heritage
Benjamin Franklin was one of America's most influential and famous founding fathers. He was also a scientist, and author and a printer. He founded the University of Pennsylvania, signed the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States, and was Governor of the state of Pennsylvania.
As Governor, Franklin in 1748 proposed a day of fasting and prayer for Pennsylvania:
It is the duty of mankind on all suitable occasions to acknowledge their dependence on the Divine Being...[that] Almighty God would mercifully interpose and still the rage of war among the nations...[and that] He would take this province under His protection, confound the designs and defeat the attempts of its enemies, and unite our hearts and strengthen our hands in every undertaking that may be for the public good, and for our defense and security in this time of danger.
Here are some noteworthy excerpts from Franklin's Autobiography:
I have been religiously educated as a Presbyterian; and ... I was never without religious principles.
I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world, and governed it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing good to man; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue reward, either here or hereafter.
These I esteemed the essentials of every religion; and, being to be found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all, though with different degrees of respect, as I found them more or less mixed with other articles, which without any tendency to inspire, promote, or confirm morality, served principally to divide us, and made us unfriendly on one another.
This respect of all...induced me to avoid all discourse that might tend to lessen the good opinion another might have of his own religion; and as our province increased in people, and new places of worship were continually wanted, and generally erected by voluntary contribution, my mite for such purpose, whatever might be the sect, was never refused.
Though I seldom attended any public worship, I had still an opinion of its propriety, and of its utility when rightly conducted, and I regularly paid my annual subscription for the support of the only Presbyterian minister or meeting we had in Philadelphia. He used to visit me sometimes as a friend, and admonish me to attend his administration.
In July of 1776, the Congress appointed Franklin to a committee charted to develop a seal for the new United States of America -- a seal that would capture the spirit and character of the new nation. This is what Franklin proposed:
Moses lifting up his wand, and dividing the Red Sea, and Pharaoh in his chariot overwhelmed with the waters. This motto: 'Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.'
Here's what Franklin wrote in a letter dated March 1778 to the Ministry of France:
Whoever shall introduce into public affairs the principals of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.
In addition, Franklin wrote:
A Bible and a newspaper in every house, a good school in every district -- all studied and appreciated as they merit -- are the principal support of virtue, morality, and civil liberty.
In a pamphlet titled Information to Those Who Would Remove to America, written for Europeans who were considering coming to America, Franklin made these observations:
Hence bad examples to youth are more rare in America, which must be a comfortable consideration to parents. To this may be truly added, that serious religion, under its various denominations, is not only tolerated, but respected and practiced.
Atheism is unknown there; infidelity rare and secret; so that persons may live to a great age in that country without having their piety shocked by meeting with either an Atheist or an Infidel.
And the Divine Being seems to have manifested his approbation of the mutual forbearance and kindness with which the different sects treat each other; by the remarkable prosperity with which he has been pleased to favor the whole country.
On June 28, 1787, the Constitutional Convention was deadlocked and embroiled in bitter controversy. Benjamin Franklin rose and made the following plea to the delegates:
In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor.
To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance?
I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth -- that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid?
We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that 'except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages ...
I therefore beg leave to move -- that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessing on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.
President George Washington, September 17th, 1796 "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible"
His Prayer At Valley Forge "Almighty and eternal Lord God, the great Creator of heaven and earth, and the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; look down from heaven in pity and compassion upon me Thy servant, who humbly prostrates myself before Thee."
The draft of the circular letter is in the hand of a secretary, although the signature is Washington's. Some have called this concluding paragraph "Washington's Prayer." In it, he asked God to: "dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that Charity, humility and pacific temper of mind, which were the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our blessed Religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy Nation."
George Washington as he resigned his commission as general of the Continental Army on December 23, 1783. "I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God and those who have the superintendence of them into His holy keeping."
Who is Nature's God? By David J. Voelker
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
In the "Declaration of Independence," the founding document of what would become the United States, Thomas Jefferson mentions "nature's God." Unfortunately, this phrase is unclear. The religious beliefs of Jefferson were much debated in his time and still are over two centuries later. Through the letters and other writings of Jefferson, it is possible to construct an outline of his beliefs. Although he supported the moral teachings of Jesus, Jefferson believed in a creator similar to the God of deism. In the tradition of deism, Jefferson based his God on reason and rejected revealed religion.
Jefferson's parents reared him in the Episcopal Church. Although there is no known record of him being baptized, it is almost certain that an Anglican clergyman baptized him. Records show that both Thomas Jefferson and his father Peter were elected vestrymen. These positions, however, merely reflected the Jeffersons' social status; they were both land-owning and educated men. The positions were given "with small regard to their personal convictions or even their way of life."
That Jefferson participated in the administration of the parish does not reflect his specific beliefs. Despite his social and familial ties to the Episcopal Church, Jefferson came to disbelieve its creeds and rejected most Christian doctrine. In his book The Religion of Thomas Jefferson, Henry Foote says that Jefferson did not believe in the divinity of Jesus but he viewed him as a "human teacher." He believed only what his reason allowed: "His knowledge of science led him to reject all miracles, including the virgin birth and the bodily resurrection of Jesus." By the time he was a young adult, Jefferson had developed his own religious views outside the framework of any sect.
Jefferson believed that the various sects of Christianity had corrupted the original message of Jesus: "They [the teachings of Jesus] have been still more disfigured by the corruptions of schismatizing followers, who have found an interest in sophisticating and perverting the simple doctrines he taught." However, Jefferson did believe that the teachings of Jesus had some merit.
Jefferson felt that religion was a deeply private matter. People did not need to proclaim their beliefs: "I never told my own religion nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert, nor wish to change another's creed." Jefferson saw religion as private and therefore found priests unnecessary. He wrote in the same letter "I have ever thought religion a concern purely between our God and our consciences for which we were accountable to him, and not to the priests." He only spoke about his own religious beliefs when he was asked to, and only in his private letters did he speak clearly of his beliefs.
Without supporting revealed religion, Jefferson subscribed to the moral teachings of Jesus. He stated this belief explicitly in a letter to John Adams in which he wrote that the moral code of Jesus was "the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man." Jefferson even made a collection of Jesus' moral teachings from the Bible which seemed to be in their original simplicity. He used this collection as an ethical guide to his own life.
Jefferson's God was the source of moral values. In a letter to his nephew Peter Carr, he wrote that "He who made us would have been a pitiful bungler, if He had made the rules of our moral conduct a matter of science." Rather, God made man "with a sense of right and wrong." People were responsible for their actions on earth and would be rewarded or punished in some kind of afterlife.
More important than beliefs to Jefferson was the way people lived their lives. "I have ever judged the religion of others by their lives . . . for it is in our lives and not from our words, that our religion must be read." In a letter to Adams, Jefferson concluded about religion: "the result of your 50 or 60 years of religious reading, in four words 'be just and good' is that in which all our inquiries must end." This emphasis on behavior over belief was at the core of Jefferson's creed, although he did think that morality was connected to belief in God.
Jefferson based his belief in God on reason. In a letter to John Adams, Jefferson wrote that he believed in God because of the argument from design:
I hold (without appeal to revelation) that when we take a view of the Universe, in it's [sic] parts general or particular, it is impossible for the human mind not to perceive and feel a conviction of design, consummate skill, and indefinite power in every atom of it's [sic] composition. . . it is impossible, I say, for the human mind not to believe that there is . . . a fabricator of all things.
After applying his faculty of reason, in which he placed much faith, Jefferson found that he had to believe in a creator.
Jefferson believed most aspects of the creator could not be known. He rejected revealed religion because revealed religion suggests a violation of the laws of nature. For revelation or any miracle to occur, the laws of nature would necessarily be broken. Jefferson did not accept this violation of natural laws. He attributed to God only such qualities as reason suggested. "He described God as perfect and good, but otherwise did not attempt an analysis of the nature of God." Also in a letter to Adams, Jefferson said, "Of the nature of this being [God] we know nothing."
Although Jefferson never gave a label to his set of beliefs, they are consistent with the ideas of deism, a general religious orientation developed during the Enlightenment. Jefferson, being a non-sectarian, did not subordinate his beliefs to any label. He once said, "I never submitted the whole system of my opinions to the creed of any party of men whatever, in religion...or in anything else."
Deism was not actually a formal religion, but rather was a label used loosely to describe certain religious views. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word deist was used negatively during Jefferson's lifetime. The label was often applied to freethinkers like Jefferson as a slander rather than as a precise description. Thus the deist label is not highly specific. Deists were characterized by a belief in God as a creator and "believed only those Christian doctrines that could meet the test of reason." Deists did not believe in miracles, revealed religion, the authority of the clergy, or the divinity of Jesus. Like Jefferson they "regarded ethics, not faith, as the essence of religion."
"Nature's God" was clearly the God of deism in all important ways. That Jefferson included God in the "Declaration of Independence" is very significant because it helped lay the foundation for a civil religion in America. Paul Johnson addressed the civil religion begun by the founders in his article, "The Almost-Chosen People," saying that the United States was unique because all religious beliefs were respected. People were more concerned with "moral conduct rather than dogma." So Jefferson helped create a society in which different religions could coexist peacefully because of the emphasis on morality over specific belief.
1. Thomas Jefferson, The Complete Jefferson, ed. Saul K. Padover (New York: Duell, Sloan & Pearce, 1943), 28.
2. Henry Wilder Foote, The Religion of Thomas Jefferson (Boston: Beacon, 1947), 6.
3. Ibid., 57.
5. Ibid., 55.
6. Jefferson, 955.
8. Ibid., 951.
9. Arnold A. Wettstein, "Religionless Religion in the Letters and Papers from Monticello," Religion in Life, 46 (Summer: 1977): 158.
10. Ibid., 154.
11. Jefferson, 955.
12. William B. Huntley, "Jefferson's Public and Private Religion," South Atlantaic Quarterly, 79 (Summer 1980): 288.
13. Lester J. Clapton, ed., The Adams-Jefferson Letters (New York: Van Rees, 1959), 592.
14. Huntley, 79: 288.
15. The Adams-Jefferson Letters, 592.
16. Wettstein, 152.
17. J.A. Simpson and E.S. C. Weiner, eds., Oxford English Dictionary (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1989), s.v. deism.
18. Marvin Perry, Western Civilization (Houghton Mifflin: Boston, 1990), 280.
19. Ibid., 280.
20. Paul Johnson, "The Almost-Chosen People," American History, R.J. Maddox, ed., vol.I, 10th ed. (Guilford, Conn: Dushkin Publishing Group, 1989): 34-37.
Seattle PI 10/22/2000
Political Science Professor
Chi-Doai, Li is a Seattle attorney.
e-mail address: CDL@elmlaw.com
Long after Dan Quayle was criticized and ridiculed for lamenting the decline of the American family, highly respected voices in academia and elsewhere quietly proclaimed that he was right.
Now, another vice presidential candidate has stirred up a storm of criticism for saying recently, in essence, that we cannot be good without God. We ought to learn from experience not to dismiss Joe Lieberman summarily. He might also be right.
Consider, for starters these horrifying news items from the past year:
Oct. 7, l999 in Kenton Ohio, a 15-year-old boy shoots his father and Stepmother in the head with a .22-caliber rifle and wraps both bodies in a tarp. He sits at a computer a few feet away surfing the internet and chatting with friends online. The next day he rides his fathers motorcycle to school.
July 25, 2000: Two teenage girls in Los Angeles talk their way into the home of a 72-year-old woman. After friendly conversation, the 15 year old turns to her friend and asks, “What do you think, should I shoot this lady?” She beats the woman to death using tools found in the house.
Aug. 9, 2001: In Seattle, an 18-ye old kills a homeless man for the thrill of it, stabbing him 18 times. Afterwards, he proclaims to a friend, “one less bum on the face of the earth.”
Aug 19,2000: Eight teenagers and pre-teens in Tacoma, the youngest 11 and 12, beat a man to death. They had gathered that night to hang out. Then decided to attack someone for fun.
Sept. 1,2000: In Queens, four boys and a girl, ages 14 to 17, bludgeon a Chinese restaurant owner to death to avoid paying the $60 meal they had ordered. Then they sit down to eat the food he delivered to them. They did not steal the $600 in cash the victim had on him.
What these incidents have in common is cold-blooded and calculated killing by teenagers, and some pie-teens, for completely whimsical reasons. In each case, there is a singular lack of conscience, a total failure to grasp the enormity of the wrong committed or the tragic consequence that would follow.
The Queens killing is particularly chilling. Although they lived in a tough neighborhood, none of the young people were gang members or known troublemakers. They came from homes with caring adults who actively guarded against the risks facing their children. The young woman who ordered the meal on her own cell phone was preparing to go to college. The mother of one teen had cooked a full meal for her husband and son before she left on a church bus trip to Canada that evening. For days after the killing, the teens went to school, hung out with friends at a nearby mall and rode bikes in their neighborhood.
It brings home to parents everywhere the nightmarish thought that these could be their children. It reminds us all that this could happen to anyone, anywhere.
And it compels us to ask how we could ever have come down this road so far.
Politicians in search of someone to blame have focused on the sickening violence in movies, video games and music lyrics marketed to the young.
That is rather simplistic thinking.
Any thoughtful consideration must start with the premise that our post-modern culture has lost its moral consensus. Age-old concepts of right and wrong are distained as artificial constructs of the past. For this we have many to thank including Karl Marx, who regarded morals as phantoms formed in the human brain; Friedrich Nietzsche who looked on morality as harmful to the human spirit; and the Derrida/Foucault school of philosophers. So influential in academia for nearly two generation, these philosophers take joy in de-constructing anything and everything, past and present.
As a society we are infatuated with moral ambiguity. It permeates our culture high and low and reigns as orthodoxy in our educational system from grade school to universities.
Young people today grow up in an age when the predominant popular cultural voices in music, film and literature teach them that religion and morality are the province of narrow-minded bigots, and right and wrong is something only you can decide for yourself.
No wonder then that Lieberman opened Pandora’s box by asserting that God is basis for any true morality, and that as a people we need to “reaffirm our faith and renew the dedication of our nation and ourselves to God and God’s purpose.” Commentators and editorial writers around the country have accused him of self-righteous moralizing and recklessly battering down the wall of separation between church and state.
Like the lovely Pandora of mythology, Lieberman tried to put the lid back on the box. He was no more successful than she was, and the demons of controversy unleashed will continue to confront us for some time to come.
In fact, Lieberman’s Detroit speech may be the most important statement he has made or will make in this campaign - more important by far than any commentary on Social Security, prescription drugs, tax cuts or foreign policy.
Those other issues all have solutions of one kind of another, which is what makes for political campaigns when the candidates offer alternative answers.
The most vexing problem facing our nation, however, an issue that cannot be labeled as Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, is the dissipation of the moral consensus that binds us as a people. That the fabric of our society is no longer held together by a common morality is not just a battle cry of the religious right, but also the reasoned concern of many preeminent thinkers of our time such as James Q. Wilson and Francis Fukuyama.
What is the basis of morality?
Economists argue that moral rules are the result of rational individuals bargaining among themselves to develop collective norms that allow and enhance human productivity. The predominant view among natural and social scientists is that morals are derived from evolution and natural selection, enabling humans to ensure individual and communal survival.
Somehow, these lead to less than satisfactory answers to explain the wars and genocides of the 20th century, or the teenage killings of recent years.
Nietzsche, with considerable intellectual integrity and against the prevailing spirit of optimism in his day, declared that with the death of God, a common basis for morality was no longer possible. Thus he predicted catastrophic wars for the 20th century and his vision for the 21st century was even more devastating, as he foresaw that humans, without God dictating their rules of conduct, would revert to tribal instincts for self-preservation.
We cannot afford to dismiss Liebermans’s views in a knee-jerk fashion. We pride ourselves as a nation for maintaining an open marketplace of ideas. Reasoned discussion of whether morality is possible without God ought to take place in that marketplace of ideas, including public political discourse.
I do not need to be reminded that we are electing a president, not a pope.
But it is the height of naiveté to believe that the public square and private morality are mutually exclusive spheres. Public policy will inevitably affect, directly or indirectly, our private morality, and private morality (or lack thereof) will always inform our actions in the public square.
Any meaningful discourse on the role of religion in rebuilding our moral consensus requires Hollywood to play a key role. As guilty as Hollywood executives may be as panderers of senseless gratuitous violence the young, they bear even greater culpability for the way in which they have denied or marginalized religious values in our society. Movies produced by the major studios abound with cheap shots at religion, religious people in general, and Christians in particular are routinely portrayed as narrow stupid, judgmental and wholly lacking in compassion. A favored stereotype in current Hollywood films is the sadistic priest who doubles as a predatory pedophile.
Surely there have been throughout history, as will ever be, living examples of stereotypes. At the mention of God and morality in some circles it never fails that someone will conjure up visions of crusades and witch trials.
The last crusade took place more than 700 years ago. And we have gone 370 year without a witch trial in this country. These continue to be held up as straw men of the evils of morality and religion in the public square, and the linchpin of grossly unfair cultural stereotypes.
The Italian writer Umberto Eco has wisely said the power of an ethical system must be judged by the conduct of saints, not fools.
To do otherwise is akin to holding Mozart’s music in contempt because the kid next-door practicing a Mozart piano sonata is tone-deaf and butchers the phrasing. Better to judge Mozart’s music by listening to Vladimir Horowitz or Michiko Uchida.
School shootings. Whimsical murders. What horrific acts shall we see next from our young people?
For the sake of our children and their children, let us give Lieberman’s remarks serious consideration. Perhaps in that discussion we shall find some answers to the very troubling news of our day.
Oft forgotten in the story of Pandora is that along with all the evils she released, one good thing was included - hope. And so, it is said, hope remains humankind’s only comfort in the midst of misfortune.
Perhaps the rash of teenage killings will bring us to the realization that as a people we are coming to our wits’ without God. And perchance therein lies the beginning of our hope and comfort.
A latter Day Saint view on politics in the US
Let me get to the root of what I gather may have been the concern. I didn’t couch the questions in this clarity when I spoke, but one brother inferred them - so lets examine them.
· Can a faithful Latter Day Saint (or Christian) be a member of the Democrat party?
· Can a faithful Latter Day Saint (or Christian) be a leader or elected representative in the Democrat party?
· Can a faithful Latter Day Saint (or Christian) vote for a Democrat.
Before I address these specific questions, let’s gather a little bit of background on the church and politics.
In the churches early days in Kirkland, Missouri, Illinois and Deseret, the saints tended to vote, publicly so, as a block. Among other things, this caused a great deal consternation on the part of the political parties. Switching from one party to another did not alleviate the problems, as neither party trusted the Mormons to be in their pocket. In other words, they were not easily manipulated as they took their major influence from the church hierarchy – not the party bosses. There was much government-sponsored persecution aimed at breaking the church as a theocracy. With Utah becoming a state, the church wanted to avoid the previous criticisms and assured that a 2 party system would succeed, literally designated the left side of a congregation one party and the right side to other party! The 1st senator from the state of Utah, an apostle was refused a seat and sent packing back to Utah – elected or not. The next election, Reed Smoot, son of polygamists came to Washington. With Roosevelt’s help and the famous speech from a fellow Senator (“I would rather sit with a polygamist who wont polyg than with a monogamist that wont manog”) he retains his seat.
From those days and true until the 1950s or so, issues of morality did not play any significant role in state or national politics. Differences were largely confined to fiscal and international policies.
In the 50’s and 60s the Democrat south was largely against civil rights for blacks. The civil rights act of 64-65 was carried by the majority of Republican support.
By the end of the 60s and into the 70s the Democrat party swung radically to embracing social politics of dependency. This scheme begins to build a dedicated voter block amongst any identifiable group. If a group could be identified and justified to be one that Government $ can be funneled, then a circular dependency was exploited.
I bring this “dependency” point up in this context because a key unique LDS doctrine comes into play.
The Democrat party preaches that society should guarantee (control) the outcome of all personal behavior (unless you are in the communal elite). Therefore, any personal failure of an individual becomes an indictment to the process that (by their way of thinking) should have educated, monitored and completely controlled that individual’s behavior. Every one is a victim in need of the party’s protection.
This is, in fact, one of the fundamental differences between what I call the social-crats and the conservatives; individual responsibility, VS the communal control. This expresses itself in a variety of issues from fighting tort reform, attack on the second amendment to our military situations like the Abu Grad prison.
It should not be lost on the student of LDS philosophy, the “Mormon” devil also wanted to guarantee that none would fail. His process would assure to that. Naturally, to accomplish that - all power, authority and glory would be invested in him.
The most important dependency cycle of all is the control the public schools by fighting all forms of competition (vouchers). The Democrats have enjoyed the fruits, across the nations, of the unionization of teachers. They also affect the teaching of major issues via the NEA. Influencing the next generation to be sympathetic to Democratic Party issues is crucial for party survival. But just what are those Democratic Party values that touch on moral issues? I think it would be exceptionally difficult to claim that the Democratic party faithful & platform in any way aligns with church teachings.
At least these questions should be examined carefully for any candidate.
Public Acknowledgement of Deity
10 commandment displays
National Motto – In God we Trust
US supreme Court call to order
Prayer in schools
Football games, Commencement
Prayer in public
Senate - City meetings
Defense of Marriage Amendment
Notification of Parents
Permission of Parents
Medical Disclosure requirements
“Cooling off” requirements
Infanticide (Partial Birth abortion)
Condom distribution in schools
2nd amendment rights (the right that guarantees all the other rights)
Women in combat
Women in the workplace
So – back to the key questions.
· Can a faithful Latter Day Saint (or Christian) be a member of the Democrat party?
Certainly. A classic political scheme is to vote in primaries for the better (or occasionally - deliberately for the worst) of two candidates and then to vote in the final election for a member of the opposite party. Many LDS people feel they can affect some good – especially at the local level by staying involved in both major parties. It is harder to avoid, though, the appearance of association with evil given the current Democrat party platform. This is a tough one of late as the parties have begun to strongly align themselves on moral issues. There has begun to be crossovers/defections in both directions. The ability to appoint goodly judges has been substantially hurt this last few year by one stealth republican defecting to the democrats.
· Can a faithful Latter Day Saint (or Christian) be a leader or elected representative in the Democrat party? In the traditional Democrat south and religious communities like Utah – yes. The support base is so strong that national political $ cannot oust popular officials, but make no mistake that key leadership position and party dollars will not be available to such a rare non-party line Democrat. Looking at the record of various key telling votes, there are precious few such examples.
· Can a faithful Latter Day Saint (or Christian) vote for a Democrat. Certainly, if the alternative was worse or the Democrat in question fit the rare mold outlined above.
As I have tried to point out, times have changed and the parties have taken clear positions on moral issues that LDS people should take special note of. The church recently commissioned a poll of LDS folks to determine our level of involvement in the voting process. It was determined that if we (1) actually voted and (2) voted for a common cause or candidate, our numbers were sufficient to swing elections.
Now I am perfectly aware that there are some Republican scoundrels and some Republican party positions that do not represent the moral positions as squarely as I would like, but this pales with the moral turpitude espoused by the vast majority of Democratic candidates and codified by a party platform that could only be inspired from the depths of hell.
Lastly, there are some fringe candidates who have no chance of getting voted into office that I could cast my vote for, but I have to decide if I want to be able to effect the situation and how best to do that. Perhaps in the South or Utah, there may be some rare shining light in the Democratic sea of darkness worth elevating to office, but in most states and ours, in particular, the moral distinctions are so clear, that to vote for a Democrat for anything higher than dog catcher is to deny ones faith. The Catholic bishops have it dead right when they announced recently that elected officials supporting abortion in their policies should not be granted communion. Multiply that by the dozen or so other moral issues, where the Democrats align with the dark side. So if, you detected an inference to a particular party in my testimony, I can only hope that you were not alone and that God pricks the hearts of all those good men and women who have in times past simply done nothing.