03/19/2010 (9:04 am)
I was on Amazon.com this morning examining a book written in 1864 that recounts the Christian underpinnings of the American constitutional system, entitled The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States, by Benjamin Morris. My routine, when I’m interested in a book, is to read through the customer reviews. I deliberately seek out both positive and negative reviews, with particular attention to those who have given the book fewer than 5 stars but more than 1. In my experience, most of the 1-star and 5-star reviewers are ideologues who think that the rating of the book is not so much about the quality of the book as it is about how much or how little they agree with its premise. However, I do read some 1-star and 5-star reviews to see what the ideologues are complaining or crowing about.
One of the 1-star reviews asked an uncharacteristically relevant question, and in the 16 comments that followed this review, I only heard the faintest echo of a correct answer to his question. Here’s the question:
So what if some of the Founders were Christian? So what if so-called ‘Christian principles’ were incorporated in the founding documents? …Is the goal to make Christianity the official religion? I suppose some insecure Christians might gain some comfort from the reinforcement of their belief, but the premise was never really in doubt. It might be useful as a collection of historical trivia, but any deeper significance is unclear to me…
That’s the gist of it. Here’s my answer:
The reason it matters that the founders were Christian in their thinking is that ideas have practical consequences. The liberty and prosperity that we enjoy here in America is the consequence of a system that was based on Christian concepts. If we develop laws and practices based on different concepts arising from a different system of belief or thought, we will obtain different results.
This is why examining the history of the 20th century is so important. The 20th century gave us several, clear instances of attempts to build nations on thinking that deliberately and systematically excluded God, allegedly building instead a technocratic state on scientific principles. What became clear in the 20th century is that attempts to build states without God result in states unrestrained by morality. This is the source of the flood of state-sponsored murders: 70 million murdered by the Soviets, 60 million by the Chinese communists, 20 million by the Nazis, 3 million by the Khmer Rouge, 1.5 million by the Vietnamese, Lord knows how many by the Romanians, Albanians, Bulgarians, Hungarians, Cubans, etc. The routine incompetence and corruption of technocrats is the source of the abject poverty experienced by the citizens of these states in every case. These are the consequence of technocratic statism, attempts at Utopia from thought systems divorced from religion.
Meanwhile, the system built on Christian principles, during the 20th century, produced prosperity and activism sufficient to lift billions of the poor of the world out of their poverty, and liberate millions from tyranny and murder. Quite the contrast, eh?
The key concept seems to be the one that recognizes the innate sinfulness of man. Statist systems presuppose the good will and expertise of the State, the Party, or the Collective. The American constitutional system presupposes the good will of nobody, and asserts that the rights of man are inviolable by the state because they come from God. This is a distinctly Christian (and Jewish) notion; if we as a nation dismiss Christianity, we’ll find that the notion of inherent rights that supersede the power of the state will be dismissed soon thereafter.
Actually, let me put that in the past tense. We as a nation generally have dismissed Christianity; and that is why we as a nation are seeing a rise in the power of the state to coerce individuals to live according to some expert-recommended standard. We are fools; having seen the disaster of the technocratic state played out over the 20th century, we are repeating its excesses as though we were somehow immune from them. We’re not immune, and the American version of the holocaust, if it comes about, will be just as bad as all the others. If we do obtain different results, it will have been because we remembered the principles on which the nation was founded — distinctly Christian principles — and applied them to limit the power of government.
That is why it matters that the founders were Christian. It matters because it tells us where we need to look for ideas that produce humane and acceptable results. It matters because if we understand that the benefits of the 20th century were produced by a system based on Christian thinking, and that the horrors of the 20th century were produced by systems that explicitly abandoned Christian thinking, then we know that we need to think like Christians, too.
4 Comments »
Comment by jweaks
Comment by suek
Well stated. There is a discussion over at First Things about the exceptionality of humans – whether such a thing exists or not. It is engendered by the idea of animal activists that humans have no right to take an animal’s life – that we are simply different animals. Of course, they don’t address the fact that removing the exceptionality of human beings doesn’t change the fact that we do literally live in a dog eat dog world.
What they also do not address is the fact that if you remove the exceptionality of humans – conveyed only by the concept of being created in the likeness of God – more often than not, it results less in the likelihood that humans will raise animals up to a level equal to humans as it will result in humans lowering humans to no more than animals to be killed at will.
Comment by Phil
This is exactly right:
it results less in the likelihood that humans will raise animals up to a level equal to humans as it will result in humans lowering humans to no more than animals to be killed at will.
It is the effort to rise above the status and conduct of mere animals that constitutes what we mean by “civilization.” Remove the uniqueness of humankind, and what results is simply and completely the abandonment of civilization.
First Things’ site eats my computer. Whenever I open one of their blogs, my cpu jumps to 100% utilization. I do not know why, but it’s ruined my periodic forays into two of my favorite blogs, “The Anchoress” and “Gateway Pundit.”
Comment by suek
I wish I were a real computer geek so I could help. I’m not. I don’t have a problem with First Things, but I use Firefox as my browser. I’ve been told that not using IE reduces problems. I don’t know if that’s relevant. Other than that, I use Spybot, Search and Destroy (free download from http://www.majorgeeks.com/ – and DON’T down load the registry cleaner that advertises on their site!), and then Spyblaster after you have all the cookies off from all the various sites. I know there are others, but those are free and have worked for me. I also use Avast anti-virus. It’s the free home version of AVG – which we use at work, and I _don’t_ recommend. Too involved.
You might have a script problem also – have you tried clicking on the “stop loading” (red X on my Firefox) when it does that? If there’s a script running, that sometimes works. WolfHowling’s blog seems to have that sometimes, and so did Gates of Vienna when it belonged to Pajamas Media. When they “unjoined”, the script was no longer a problem.