Friday, October 29, 2010

Christianity and the Constitution

There are five great religions Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, and Islam. Buddhism doesn’t believe in God, Hinduism believes in many gods, and the remaining three believe in one God and share some common beliefs. Of course Judaism and Islam are dedicated to the “law” primarily on diet and circumcision but they diverge sharply on doctrine, ritual, and even on the law. Christians share many of the ethical principles of Judaism and Islam but are very divergent on doctrine and ritual as well as the law. Christians do not ritually circumcise, do not follow the dietary laws, and they practice baptism. While it is politically correct to lump these religions together, Islam stands alone. It is intolerant, its ethical principles are oriented to Muslims , while the Koran is filled with exhortations to violence against infidels and reduces women to little more than chattel. Therefore, any moral or ethical influence on the founding of America is from Christianity or to be precise Judeo-Christian principles and not Islam.

Is America a country founded on Christian Principles? What is it that sets the United States apart from other countries? It is argued that the founding fathers were not Christians but Humanists and Deists and therefore the country was founded on Humanists ideals and not Christian Principles. Of course this argument rests on the assumption that those principles differ from each other, but I don’t think so. In fact I argue they are the same at the philosophical level because Humanism is rooted in Greek and Roman philosophy as well as literature and that literature was written by men who were influenced by Christianity. Therefore, to argue that the founding fathers were humanists doesn’t remove the Christian influence on them and their thinking, but what is “Humanism”?

There are many definitions of Humanism but of these the two that seem apropos are “Christian Humanism” and “Modern Humanism.” Modern Humanism rejects all supernaturalism and relies primarily on science, democracy, and human compassion. Modern Humanism is both secular and religious in origin. Christian Humanism is a philosophy advocating self-fulfillment within the framework of Christian principles, but devoid of the supernatural elements found in Christian doctrine. Therefore, Humanism and Christian principles are intertwined and to reject one in favor of the other is not possible since they are two sides of the same coin.

Christian Principles
Separating Christian Principles from Christian Doctrine is very difficult, especially in terms of governance, but these appear to apply.

1. Political leaders should make peace and justice a top priority but recognize that force may be necessary as a last resort – “blessed are the peacemakers”.
2. All are equal under the law – “love thy neighbor as thy self”.
3. Freedom of Speech – “the truth shall make you free”
4 Freedom of Religion –“… that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone…”
5. Political leaders should come from the people – “But select capable men from all the people …”
6. Separation of powers – “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure”

Many Christians argue that the very foundation of America is based on Christianity and therefore America is a “Christian Nation” while the secularists argue that America is based on Humanist principles and there is no evidence of any religious influence in the Constitution. The Humanists base their argument on the lack of any direct reference to the Bible, the Ten Commandments, or any religious reference. Those who believe the Constitution reflects Christian Theology cite the reference to a “Creator” exception for Sunday and the overall tenor of the document and background of the framers. Thus the conflict is born. From the decades following the signing of the Constitution we find this conflict unresolved and unresolvable because no one knows what drove the framers to write what they did or what they believed. The mountain of documents following the framing is irrelevant because they are after the fact. Being a “Deist” does not mean the person is an atheist and the failure to include specific Christian references in the Constitution does not mean they were not a driving force or that they were not incorporated indirectly.

Christian Principles and the Constitution

If there is any core principle that influenced the founding fathers it is the people in power are the servants of all. Governments from the time of tribal leaders to the time of Kings rested on power and the exercise of that power by individuals. Power once given or seized elevated those in power over those whom they governed and thus you had the divine right of kings – even in those Christian Countries called Christendom– but it was the founding fathers of America who realized the flaw in vesting individuals with power over others. It was the founding fathers who realized that vesting power in fallible human beings was something that had to be done but had to be controlled.

These were people who believers or not were very familiar with the Bible and in Mark 10:43 they found Christ saying “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant -- for even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve”. This idea that the powerful are servants was further elaborated in Luke 22:27 “Who is greater, the one at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table ? But I am among you as one who serves”. On this basis – a Christian Principle – those in whom power is vested are servants to those who gave them power and to insure the leaders served the people the founding fathers incorporated into the Constitution the separation of powers and the system of checks and balances. This was to ensure those in power remained as servants to the people and did not oppress those who put them into power.

But perhaps the first example of the Christian influence on the founding fathers is in the opening of the Declaration of Independence which declares that “We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal …” But when Jefferson wrote these words equality was not self evident at all and in fact the exact opposite was true. Inequality was all about but Jefferson was declaring that all people are “moral” equals and that one life and one person is no greater or less than that of any other. This principle is stated in Matthew 19:19 where we find “love thy neighbor as thy self” or in Galatians 3:28 where we find “There is neither Jew nor Greek , there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”. Jefferson was acknowledging that his life had no greater value than that of a laborer in the streets. Because all men are equal in the eyes of God, then no man has the right to rule over another without his consent. Among the rights was the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and that to secure these rights Governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed.

While it may be true that the founding fathers were more deists and humanists than Christian they were nevertheless familiar with the Bible and with Judeo- Christian teachings and believed that legitimacy is derived from God and not from man. Thus our rights became “unalienable” because they come from God (the Creator) and not from the people who govern.

The situation is a little murkier when we come to religious freedom. In Ezra 7:24 we find that the government is forbidden to interfere with the worship of God or at least with any organization or group that worships God. But in typical fashion we find further on in Ezra 7:26 that those who do not follow the law of God or the land shall be punished by death, banishment, or prison. While the Bible does offer the Ten Commandments as a basis for conduct and these commandments are honored by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, they also direct that you cannot worship idols, other gods, and that “you shall have no other God before Me” Certainly the founding fathers were familiar with the Bible but they were also familiar with history. The very first settlers in America were Christians escaping persecution from other Christians but once established in the New World they immediately set about setting up their own form of religious persecution. Therefore, I believe that while the guarantee of religious freedom was based on the Bible it also reflected the sad history of religious persecution rooted in the Bible. Thus the founding fathers intended to keep religion out of the government and used the Bible’s demands for worship as the basis for incorporating that restriction. At a stroke the founding fathers eliminated apostasy, heresy, and blasphemy from government involvement, thus allowing atheism, paganism, and all other religions to exist under the Constitution. In this instance I think the Bible and the Ten Commandments was seen as a threat to the future of the Republic because history reflected that government mandated religious practice had a bloody past. Therefore, government and religion were separated even though Christianity was the prevalent religion. This is certainly an example of how the Bible and Judeo-Christian beliefs influenced the framing of the Constitution.

Freedom of speech is fundamental to our freedom because it permits us to speak out against the government as well as any idea, law, group, or person within the confines of libel. In John 8:32 we find “And ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”. Of course truth is one of those terms that can be perceived but if that perception is false or harms the individual that person is protected by libel laws which are addressed in Exodus 2:1-7 where we find commandment nine “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”. But there are other parts of the Constitution that reflect Christian thinking and morality. In Article 1 Section 7 of the Constitution we find the following “If any bill shall not be returned by the President within ten days (Sundays excepted) after it shall have been presented to him…” This clearly reflects a theistic view of the authors. This theistic view has been reflected in various court cases regarding Sunday laws and is another example of religious (Christian) influence on the Constitution.

Christianity and America

While the Constitution clearly reflects the Judeo- Christian ideas and principles which were known by the founding fathers, the American Spirit – that which sets America apart from other nations is also reflected in the Bible. Perhaps the greatest thing that sets America apart is the “melting pot”. Anyone from anywhere can come to America and become an American and be seen by other Americans as being an American – one of us. This concept is rare and is the root of many problems in the world today, but this view of the universality of people is shown in Acts 10:34-35 where we find “At this Peter opened his mouth and said: “For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial, but in every nation the man that fears him and works righteousness is acceptable to him.” This attitude is reflective of the American spirit of equality and is reflected in our foreign policy.

America has fought two world wars and has fought in many foreign lands but has rebuilt these lands. Unlike other major powers like Rome, Egypt, and the European colonial powers America has rebuilt these war torn lands and withdrawn usually leaving the defeated in better condition than they were previously. This attitude and approach is very unique but reflects the Christian teachings of Jesus (Matthew 22:39) where we find the following “…Thou shalt love they neighbor as thy self”. But this idea is also found in Luke 2:27-31 "But, I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on the cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” These ideas and principles form the very foundation of the American Spirit.

Influence of Islam
Because Islam acknowledges the Ten Commandments, Moses, Jesus, and Mary there is a feeling among some that these three religions share morality and ethics and are thus alike. This is totally false relative to Islam. The Koran is filled with hate and exhortations to violence. Even a quick review of the Koran shows that a Muslim cannot continue to call himself Muslim if they tolerate anyone who is not Muslim. In fact they are instructed to kill all infidels. Sura 9:5 says “Fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them, and see them, belittle them and lie and wait for them in every strategy of war”. For the people who resist Islam – meaning all non-Muslims—the Koran instructs Muslims in Sura 5:33 “Their punishment is execution or crucifixion or cutting off of hands and feet from the opposite sides or to be exiled from the land”. This is merely a small sample of the violence that permeates the Koran. This “Holy” text is filled with exhortations to kill all infidels. Based on the Koran itself a person cannot be “moderate” and still be Muslim because anyone who even considers a non-Muslim as a friend or ally is not Muslim but has become heretic and apostate. Therefore, to view Islam as even remotely similar to Judaism or Christianity is to not understand the Koran or the morality of Islam.

Some reject the idea that the Constitution is based on (Judeo) Christian Principles because the founding fathers were Humanists and Deists and well that might be but some were Christian and it seems clear that whether they were actual Christians without doubt they were familiar with Christian Principles, the Bible, and most of all history. What we find is that many concepts found in the Bible have been incorporated into the Constitution. But the founding fathers knowing the abuses and evil that had been practiced in the past in the name of Christ were careful to separate these religious laws and directives from the government of the United States. It is my opinion that the Constitution is based on Christian Principles with some being incorporated while others were deliberately rejected. It also seems clear that from the very outset there was a conflict between those who felt America was a Christian Nation built on the Bible and those who felt America was a Humanist and secular country independent of any religion or religious influence. This battle rages on and will probably never be resolved because it seems to be based entirely on interpretation and opinion. But in the book “God is Not One” we find “The case for Christianity’s preeminence is compelling. The number one best seller is the Bible, is the scripture of American politics, widely quoted in inaugural addresses and on the floor of the House and Senate. And the overwhelming majority of US Citizens call themselves Christians as has every President since Washington”. I conclude and it is my opinion that America is a Christian Nation built on Christian ideals and principles.

Royce Callaway

King James Bible
Mere Christianity – C.S. Lewis
What’s So Great About America – Dinesh D’Souza
What’s So Great About Christianity – Dinesh D’Souza
What is Humanism – Frederick Edwords
God Is Not One – Stephen Prothero
The Holy Koran
Various Internet Queries

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