That’s true – the economic decline of the USA is rooted in our spiritual decline. And our spiritual decline is evident from the facts described in my paper “How One Must Understand the Separation of the Church from the State – both According to the U.S. Constitution and According to the Torah” at http://intellectualjudaismjewishidentityincontemporaryjudeochristian.world/2013/01/02/how-one-must-understand-the-separation-of-the-church-from-the-state-both-according-to-the-u-s-constitution-and-according-to-the-torah/
The paper describes how the separation should be understood and how this question is deliberately twisted by political and religious leaders. The follow-up discussion of the paper clearly showed an undeniable connection between the distorted understanding of the separation issue with the spiritual decline and a strong bond between the spiritual and economic deterioration.
Here are most interesting parts of the follow-up discussion. The thoughts of my opponents who, in my opinion, defended the twisted interpretation of the constitutional state-church separation are labeled by ‘X’ and presented in italics; my thoughts in defense of the correct, again in my opinion, constitutional state-church separation are labeled by ‘VM’.
Separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of our Constitution much like the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances. In the Constitution, the founders did not simply say in so many words that there should be separation of powers and checks and balances; rather, they actually separated the powers of government among three branches and established checks and balances. Similarly, they did not merely say there should be separation of church and state; rather, they actually separated them by (1) establishing a secular government on the power of “We the people” (not a deity), (2) saying nothing to connect that government to god(s) or religion, (3) saying nothing to give that government power over matters of god(s) or religion, and (4), indeed, saying nothing substantive about god(s) or religion at all except in a provision precluding any religious test for public office. Given the norms of the day, the founders’ avoidance of any expression in the Constitution suggesting that the government is somehow based on any religious belief was quite a remarkable and plainly intentional choice. They later buttressed this separation of government and religion with the First Amendment, which constrains the government from undertaking to establish religion or prohibit individuals from freely exercising their religions. The basic principle, thus, rests on much more than just the First Amendment.
To the extent that some would like confirmation–in those very words–of the founders’ intent to separate government and religion, Madison and Jefferson supplied it. Madison, who had a central role in drafting the Constitution and the First Amendment, confirmed that he understood them to “[s]trongly guard . . . the separation between Religion and Government.” Madison, Detached Memoranda (~1820). He made plain, too, that they guarded against more than just laws creating state sponsored churches or imposing a state religion. Mindful that even as new principles are proclaimed, old habits die hard and citizens and politicians could tend to entangle government and religion (e.g., “the appointment of chaplains to the two houses of Congress” and “for the army and navy” and “[r]eligious proclamations by the Executive recommending thanksgivings and fasts”), he considered the question whether these actions were “consistent with the Constitution, and with the pure principle of religious freedom” and responded: “In strictness the answer on both points must be in the negative. The Constitution of the United States forbids everything like an establishment of a national religion.”
While some also draw meaning from the references to “Nature’s God” and “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence (references that could mean any number of things, some at odds with the Christian idea of God) and try to connect that meaning to the Constitution, the effort is largely baseless. Important as the Declaration is in our history, it did not operate to bring about independence (that required winning a war), nor did it found a government, nor did it even create any law, and it certainly did not say or do anything that somehow dictated the meaning of a Constitution adopted twelve years later. The colonists issued the Declaration not to do any of that, but rather to politically explain and justify the move to independence that was already well underway. Nothing in the Constitution depends on anything said in the Declaration. Nor does anything said in the Declaration purport to limit or define the government later formed by the free people of the former colonies. Nor could it even if it purported to do so. Once independent, the people of the former colonies were free to choose whether to form a collective government at all and, if so, whatever form of government they deemed appropriate. They were not somehow limited by anything said in the Declaration. Sure, they could take its words as inspiration and guidance if, and to the extent, they chose–or they could not. They could have formed a theocracy if they wished–or, as they ultimately chose, a government founded on the power of the people (not a deity) and separated from religion.
You are expressing the point of view of a powerful minority in this country which is trying to dethrone the Judeo-Christian, Bible-based morality of both the Founding Fathers and the majority of this country in order to free up the spiritual realm for introducing (or imposing on the population) non-Bible-based, non-Judeo-Christian morality. In other words, you are unintentionally making much easier for devilish moralities of hitlers, stalins, maos, ahmadengins, etc. to enslave us.
Have you read the phrase on our coins “In God me trust”?
Have you heard a few days ago all our newly elected members of Congress saying “So help me God”?
It looks like, at the core of your misunderstanding of the relationship between the government and the church is misunderstanding of the concept of God.
In the concept of God the morality is the most important. Not a sort of abstract artificial morality but a unique morality of a people with this morality without which this people cannot survive. For the great majority of people in the USA such morality is the Judeo-Christian, Bible-based one. By destroying this morality you are paving the way for destroying the entire society.
The role of any government is to preserve, defend and strengthen the historically established morality in the society. Since our historically established morality is the Judeo-Christian, Bible-based one, in the legislative work our government has to preserve, to defend and to strengthen this morality. That’s why the separation between the government and the church has not to be considered as the separation between the government and God as the morality code.
There’s another realm in the concept of God and that’s religions and religious institutions created by humans themselves to interpret, to understand the morality in the concept of God. And with this realm the Founding Fathers were trying to deal separating the government from the church. Why? It’s simple – through religions human gods are trying to substitute the “God’s morality” by their human morality. That’s what was going on in Europe in 18-th century and that’s was what the Founding Fathers were trying to prevent in the new country.
While the religious views of various founders are subjects of some uncertainty and controversy, it is safe to say that many founders were Christian of one sort or another and held views such as you note regarding religion. In assessing the nature of our government, though, care should be taken to distinguish between society and government and not to make too much of various founders’ individual religious beliefs. Their individual beliefs, while informative, are largely beside the point. Whatever their religions, they drafted a Constitution that establishes a secular government and separates it from religion as noted earlier. This is entirely consistent with the fact that some founders professed their religiosity and even their desire that Christianity remain the dominant religious influence in American society. Why? Because religious people who would like to see their religion flourish in society may well believe that separating religion and government will serve that end and, thus, in founding a government they may well intend to keep it separate from religion. It is entirely possible for thoroughly religious folk to found a secular government and keep it separate from religion. That, indeed, is just what the founders did. Lest there be any doubt on this score, note that shortly after the founding, President John Adams (a founder) signed, with the unanimous consent of the Senate (comprised in large measure of founders), the Treaty of Tripoli declaring, in pertinent part, “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.”
It is instructive to recall that the Constitution’s separation of church and state reflected, at the federal level, a “disestablishment” political movement then sweeping the country. That political movement succeeded in disestablishing all state religions by the 1830s. (Side note: A political reaction to that movement gave us the term “antidisestablishmentarianism,” which amused some of us as kids.) It is worth noting, as well, that this disestablishment movement was linked to another movement, the Great Awakening. The people of the time saw separation of church and state as a boon, not a burden, to religion.
This sentiment was recorded by a famous observer of the American experiment: “On my arrival in the United States the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention. . . . I questioned the members of all the different sects. . . . I found that they differed upon matters of detail alone, and that they all attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country mainly to the separation of church and state. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America, I did not meet a single individual, of the clergy or the laity, who was not of the same opinion on this point.” Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (1835).
I agree with your overarching thesis that the founders would not establish a government that is inherently at odds with their religious convictions, which were largely Christian in nature. Moreover, given the republican nature of our government, I think it is only natural and expected that the laws enacted by our government–in both the founders’ time and today–largely reflect Christianity’s dominant influence in our society.
That said, there is no reason to suppose that Christianity or theism is an inherent aspect of our constitutional government. Indeed, any such claim is antithetical to the constitutional principle against government establishment of religion. (Efforts to maintain the separation of church and state do not serve to “dethrone” any religion for the simple reason that the founders took pains to assure that no religion is enthroned (i.e., established) by the government in the first place.) By founding a secular government and assuring it would remain separate, in some measure at least, from religion, the founders basically established government neutrality in matters of religion, allowing individuals to freely choose and exercise their religions and thus allowing Christianity (and other religions) to flourish or founder as they will. As noted above, it is to be expected that the values and views of the people, shaped in part by their religions, will be reflected in the laws adopted by their government. There is nothing in the Constitution that requires or calls for this; it is simply a natural outgrowth of the people’s expression of political will in a republican government. To the extent that the people’s values and views change over time, it is to be expected that those changes will come to be reflected in the laws adopted by their government. There is nothing in the Constitution to prevent this; indeed, just the opposite–the Constitution establishes a government designed to be responsive to the political will of the people. It is conceivable, therefore, that if Christianity’s influence in our society wanes relative to other influences, that may lead to changes in our laws. Nothing in the Constitution would prevent that–and moreover the establishment clause would preclude Christians from using the government to somehow “lock in” (aka establish) Christianity in an effort to stave off such an eventuality.
If we are looking for the truth, we have to agree on mutually agreeable discussion basics – otherwise we are doomed to endlessly reiterating our own thoughts with no intellectual advances. I may suggest the following for the basics.
Historically created people’s morality (tradition, ethics, morals, culture …) – be it created by God, by Nature, by Evolution, by Cosmic Powers … – is a primary force in shaping social and political institutions, among them a people’s government. There’re many different peoples in our world, and therefore there’re many different moralities.
A “Founding Fathers” of any people – be it a tsar, a king, a president, a leader … – is creating a “Founding Document” – be it a government basics, a declaration of independence, a constitution … – which has to be in harmony with people’s morality (with people’s expectations). Thus the people’s morality is the crucial certainty – the people’s “Founding Document” is a codification of the people’s morality. Let me illustrate it with the examples of three countries – Russia, Israel and the USA.
At the core of the Russian morality is a strong belief in an authoritarian leader who will tell the people what to do and will be responsible for everything what happens. The Russian people believe an individual cannot make a right decision – only a powerful entity above them can. They are scared of personal responsibility – they prefer to follow the order like in the military. All Russian governments from the very beginning in the 11-th century have been of such nature – in the tsarist Russia all were slaves of a Tsar, in the communist Soviet Union all were slaves of a communist party leader-dictator, in the contemporary Russia all are slaves of Tsar Putin. And all changing Russian constitutions are unchangeable in one – the people have to obey the government, to be slaves of something.
At the core of the Jewish-Israeli morality is a strong belief in individual Torah-based Jewish spirituality. The Jewish spirituality is rooted in precious individual freedoms the Jews obtained over three millenniums ago after escaping from the ancient-Egypt slavery. The Jews have come to Israel from many countries of the world to preserve and defend individual freedoms in the framework of individually interpreted Torah’s concepts. The Israel Declaration of Independence mentions the “Rock of Israel” as a name for God. A government cannot change a human nature, a human morality – therefore all Israeli governments from the ultra-left to the ultra-right are governing the country with clear understanding that Israelis are individuals, they cannot be treated as a uniformed collective.
At the core of USA morality is a strong belief in individual Bible-based Christian spirituality because the country was established by Bible-believing people who escaped the European countries of Christian-Church dictatorship. The Christians have been coming to British colonies and then to the USA from many European countries to worship God in their individual interpretation of the essence of God, not in the interpretation of European Christian-church dictators. No atheists, Muslims, Buddhists … have come here to establish a non-Judeo-Christian spiritual world. The Founding Fathers created the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution to support and defend the people’s Judeo-Christian, Bible-based morality – not to change it. The Declaration of Independence mentions “Creator” as a name for God. Non-Judeo-Christian immigrants were coming to this country with clear understanding that they have to adjust to the Judeo-Christian morality of the country – to be adjusted politically and socially, not religiously.
These days some people in the USA are trying to change the Judeo-Christian foundation, the Judeo-Christian morality of the country. However, for the sake of our children and grandchildren we have to do everything what is possible and even impossible to preserve our traditional morality because if it dies we will perish as a people.
I am intrigued by the value you place on the historically established morality of a society and your supposition or assertion that it is the primary purpose of a government to preserve that morality. In your earlier comment, for instance, you plainly state: “The role of any government is to preserve, defend and strengthen the historically established morality in the society. Since our historically established morality is the Judeo-Christian, Bible-based one, in the legislative work our government has to preserve, defend and strengthen this morality.”
I can see how some, perhaps from the perspective of sociology, history, philosophy, tradition, or even just nostalgia, might subscribe to such an idea.
I am just a lawyer, though, so I view such matters largely from that standpoint. While, as I said above, I would expect that a government, particularly in a democracy or republic, would enact laws and make decisions that reflect the prevailing views and morality of its citizens, I do not know of any law, constitutional or otherwise, that calls upon, much less requires, the government to preserve the “historically established morality” of the society. (Nor do I see how the law would even go about determining and defining any such morality.) Indeed, if anything, the law (in the form of the First Amendment’s establishment clause) largely precludes implementation of any such idea.
I am not a lawyer – I am a scientist. And I am scared (not intrigued but really scared) of a sort of legislative culture we have developed in our country. This culture is rooted in belief that the human nature, human behavior can be changed (can be modified, can be improved) by creating a sort of modification laws.
Just one example.
All of us want to help those who are incapable helping themselves.
From the very beginning over tree millenniums ago, the Judeo-Christian morality has encouraged people to provide an individual help through acts of charity/mitzvah.
The legislative culture is substituting the Judeo-Christian way of helping people by an invented “social Justice” approach that is extorting money (through taxation) from the people for helping those in need.
You may say it doesn’t matter how we are helping the people in need. However, it matters and matters greatly. The Judeo-Christian individual help is based on the use of your own money and therefore is provided out of your available individual financial resources. The legislative-culture help is based on the use of somebody else money – the availability of the money not of great concern since the politicians can force the future generations to pay for politicians’ “social justice”. You know most of the politicians are doing all that to be reelected and to preserve their personal wellbeing.
$16T and growing “collective people’s debt”! The country is at the economic-survival cliff and nobody is able to find a solution.
That’s a devastating price we are paying for replacing the Judeo-Christian morality by the legislative “social justice” morality!
Human-made religious organizations and rituals have to be separated from the state and its government to preserve independence and equality of all religious denominations.
God-made spirituality/morality of Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments has to remain as the guidance in any legislative work to preserve and strengthen the spiritual health of the society and its material well-being.