Stand to Reason: Culture Wars II

Greg applies some clear thinking to the arguments from both sides of the culture war between the Left and the "Christian Right."

Yesterday I was asked an important question in light of my earlier conversation about the general topic of culture wars. "Culture wars" is a term that's been coined to describe the conflict between the society and Christians, often identified in the press as the "religious right"--that radical element, as the L.A. Times reported on Thursday, that in the minds of many so-called moderate or mainstream Republicans is radicalizing the Republican party.

We talked a little bit about the actual statistics that related to that issue and I'll mention them again today. It is the conflict between this religious right and the rest of society, apparently, for the heart of our culture. Of course, the views of the religious right is that they were here first.

As Christians they reflect the intentions of the Founding Fathers who were also Christians. We have departed from that original intention of founding a Christian nation over the years, and we ought to get back to that because that is our nation's heritage. We were here first.

That's what the Constitution and Declaration of Independence really are principally all about. That was the intention of those coming over here early on and we must get back to the faith of our fathers, as it were. At least that's the extreme expression of the right side of the culture wars.

Of course the left is pronouncing a strong version of separation of church and state, and it says outright that there is an illegitimacy to having religious views and religious people and religious institutions informing public policy. Of course, they point to "separation of church and state" and to the First Amendment. Well, that's kind of in brief a thumbnail sketch of what culture wars are.

There are a number of people who are writing and talking about them. One is Mike Horton who has written a book entitled Culture Wars . He is the President of C.U.R.E. and we've had him on the show quite a number of times.

He's made an important contribution to this discussion. But one question came up yesterday regarding something in his book Culture Wars and the assertion there that if we return to the faith of our founding fathers we're actually returning to the faith of deism and not to Christianity.

The idea is that our Founding Fathers were principally deists. On this particular issue, as far the information I've gotten up to this point from my research at this point, I think this is a serious overstatement.

I mentioned a book yesterday, but I have it in front of me now. It's in my library and I was reading it this morning to brush up on some of the details.

It's a book that, if you're interested in this topic, you need to read. The title is Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of our Founding Fathers and the author is John Eidsmoe. It's published by Baker Book House. What Eidsmoe does is look closely at the faith of the founding fathers.

Now the Founding Fathers, technically, are the fifty-five signers of the Constitution, although it's expanded a little wider to include people like Jefferson, who wasn't technically a signer of the Constitution but was a significant architect in terms of his personal impact, and some others who were close to the circumstances there.

What Eidsmoe does is look closely at the lives of the principle architects and asks what was their religious conviction and what animated them to develop a Constitution.

He notes a number of different things that were part of the significant background of these men. Calvinism is one. Another was Puritanism, which would be a type of Calvinistic expression. Puritans were Calvinistic in theology. They had some other things that went along with it. There was an influence here. Deism, Freemasonry and science were other categories, and the fourth category he looks at is law and government.

Then he looks at the lives of about fifteen of the Founding Fathers and he does an intense biographical analysis using largely first person accounts or primary source documents. In other words, he uses the things these men wrote themselves, to determine what their spiritual conviction was.

He makes this point about deism in America: "The colonists were familiar with deist thinking. But deism never gained a strong foothold in America. The first Great Awakening, the religious revival of the 1740's, was partially responsible for cutting short the spread of deism. In many states at the time of the Constitutional Convention, confessed deists were not allowed to hold public office. Deism was generally held in low esteem as such laws indicate."

Then he gives some information that was compiled by Dr. M.E. Bradford of the University of Dallas, which amounts to a series of biographical sketches of the fifty-five delegates to the Constitutional Convention. In these sketches they determine what was the spiritual or religious denominational conviction of each of these individuals.

Of the 55 men who signed the Constitution, Bradford's list includes 28 Episcopalians, 8 Presbyterians, 7 Congregationalists, 2 Lutherans, 2 Dutch Reformed, 2 Methodists, 2 Roman Catholics and 3 deists. Only 3 deists out of 55. Now this doesn't speak at all to the actual spiritual character of each of these individual men.

We don't know what their hearts' commitment really was to Jesus Christ, but back in those days, you couldn't be a member of a church lightly. You couldn't just show up and go.

You weren't considered a member. Members were people who made an oath or a pledge to uphold the particular doctrines of the church and, of course, more in the shadow of high orthodoxy, those particular doctrines were much more clearly articulated than the generalized statements of faith you see in most churches today.

What I'm saying is, the vast majority of the signers of the Constitution were men that were sworn members of particular denominations, and in virtually every case they were orthodox Christian denominations, with the exception of 3 deists.

Some might suggest the exception of 2 Roman Catholics, although I don't necessarily. All the rest were Protestants and many from a reformed or Calvinistic tradition. This seems to fly in the face of the assertion that the faith of the Founding Fathers was principally deistic.

Now, there might be some other information that I don't have access to, but it seems to me to be an overstatement to say they were all deists.

Now one needs to take counsel about what we should make of such statistics and what ramification that has for us today, but it is still significant. In fact, with regard to one of the most well-known deists, that being Benjamin Franklin, I have a rather striking statement that he made at the Constitutional Convention itself.

(By the way, one of the reasons I like this book is because of the copious reference to primary source documents. And especially the fairly detailed biographical sketches of the principle movers there at the Constitutional Convention.)

Franklin's deism was much more pronounced early on in his life and, even though he was raised as a Calvinist, he was a deist as a young adult, but that seems to have softened considerably as he got older.

In fact, he made a significant pronouncement four or five weeks into the Constitutional Convention that really changed the nature of everything as he called for prayer to support the Constitutional Convention. The Convention actually convened May 14, 1787.

They had a rough go of it for nearly five weeks. Finally, after getting virtually nothing done in five weeks, Benjamin Franklin stood to his feet in the convention hall and delivered an encouragement.

Now this encouragement is recorded by James Madison in his collection of notes and debates from the Federal Convention of 1787. He records Franklin having said this, which is well known and was the turning point of the convention. Madison says, "The small progress we have made after four or five weeks was melancholy proof of the imperfection of the human understanding.

Rather than mere human understanding the delegates needed something more, in Franklin's words 'the father of lights to illuminate our understandings.'" And then he went on to remind them, and I'm summarizing here, that they fell back on God's help during the revolution. How much more ought they do this now.

And I quote now from this piece: "And have we forgotten that powerful Friend? Or do we imagine that 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."

Those, the words of Ben Franklin, five weeks into the Convention on the floor of the Convention. This is what turned the tide because right after that daily prayers were offered in the convention by Philadelphia clergymen.

Now I'm not suggesting he was a Christian. I don't think he was. But the point that I'm making here is that this is a very, very powerful commitment of the Convention to the God of the Scriptures. This from the lips of one of the three of fifty-five that had deistic convictions.

The point I'm making is, even in the deists you have here a deism that is much different than the deism, the extreme rationalistic deism, that we often hear of where God has wound up the universe and just let it tick away on its own.

That rationalism is revelation to them, that all religions ultimately lead to God and that there are no miracles. There's no intervention by God. There's no answered prayer. That kind of thing. Here we have a deism, if in fact that's what we do have here in Ben Franklin, that is much more akin to orthodox Christianity.

Now it seems, by the way, that the Founders, even if they were devout Christians, did not desire a thorough-going Christian nation. How do I know that? Because they built into the First Amendment a non-establishment clause in which it was very clear that there was meant to be a healthy religious pluralism from the perspective of the states.

Now, one again needs to decide what are we to make of this? There is a summary here of those fifteen main delegates, and of those delegates whose biographies are sketched out in this book, based on the information from their own writings and their own discourses, Eidsmoe would consider eight strongly Christian; those being George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Charles Pickney, John Witherspoon, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry and Roger Sherman.

Three more were probably Christian: Governor Morris, John Adams, and James Madison. And there were two that were probably not Christian: Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. So it does seem to be that the faith of our fathers was more decidedly orthodox Protestant Christian and not deistic. This, once again, from the book Christianity and the Constitution .

However, I think more needs to be said about this particular issue, and I think as I mentioned before there is a lack of clarity on both sides of this issue, those that argue against a Christian nation concept and those who are for it. I think the lack of clarity is first of all in regards to definitions.

It's not entirely clear what people mean when they say that this was a Christian nation because the word Christian can mean a couple of different things. I think there's a lack of clarity on the facts themselves, claiming that the Founding Fathers were all deists seems to me to go very far beyond the facts as they are presented from the writings of those people themselves.

I think there is a lack of clarity on the significance of this information. I've given you what I think is an idea of what the facts are, and I think that the facts are that we have a very strong orthodox Protestant Christian commitment by most of those who were considered Founding Fathers. But what's the significance of that? In other words, these people held to Christian doctrines themselves, essential Christian doctrines.

Were they Christians in fact? Only God knows that. But it seems that many were actually "born again", in our terminology. But what if all of the Founders were devout Calvinists? What if all desired a thorough-going Christian nation? What then? Well, it doesn't follow from that we have a civic responsibility to continue in that vein. And this is a lot of what culture wars is all about.

The Constitution itself allows for change. It allows for a healthy pluralism. That's the point of the First Amendment, ladies and gentlemen. The First Amendment clearly is a non-establishment amendment. At least part of it. In other words, these men did not want their faith, their religion to be established as the official religion of this country and we can't get around that fact.

That's minimally what the First Amendment involves. There's more to this, a whole other side about the belligerence towards Christian religion in the public square nowadays, and that to me is totally unjustified given the historical facts and given the liberties in the Constitution.

Now I want to follow up on this with some other thoughts. I mentioned that even if we agree, and I think there's a lot of evidence to support this as I mentioned, that the Founding Fathers--those who were the signers of the Constitution of the United States and the principal architects (and I make a distinction because Jefferson wasn't a signer but he was an architect so he needs to be included)--I think most of them were orthodox Protestant Christians. The form of government was animated by their Biblical convictions.

It doesn't make them born again just because that was the case, but it seems to be the case that they were animated by those convictions and they were Protestant Christians.

Even so, we still have to ask the question, what is the significance of that today? I think there's been a lack of clarity regarding definitions about what it means to be a Christian--when we say these men were Christian, for one--a lack of clarity regarding the facts of the matter, and also a lack of clarity regarding the significance.

Because even if it were true that all of the Founding Fathers were devout Calvinists and all desired a thorough-going Christian nation, it doesn't follow from that we are somehow civilly obliged to produce that kind of nation now through the force of government. It may be good for us to do that. It may be moral for us to do that.

But are we obliged to do so? That's a separate issue and it certainly doesn't follow from our Christian foundations that we are to continue in that fashion.

Now it seems, by the way, that the Founders, even if they were devout Christians, did not desire a thorough-going Christian nation. How do I know that? Because they built into the First Amendment a non-establishment clause in which it was very clear that there was meant to be a healthy religious pluralism from the perspective of the states.

That's an important qualifier. From this perspective of the state's involvement or encouragement there was to be a healthy pluralism in which the state allowed the development of any religious belief and expression without interference. That's the point of the non-establishment clause.

And this is why I don't think that Christians are within their rights to demand that we return back to the faith of our Fathers; but they are within their rights to petition for such a thing--to seek to persuade people to adopt a certain moral position--and this is one thing I'm concerned about in the rhetoric from the other extreme. Those on the right seem to exhibit a sense of offense.

It's a sense that we've had something stolen from us and we deserve better. You've taken from us what is ours. Our country. The country belongs to Christians. Well, I don't think that's so, ladies and gentlemen.

And all they need to do is to read through the Constitution to know that. It was not meant to be a Christian nation in that regard. We have the freedom as does anyone else to petition the population in general through voting and moral and rational suasion, to adopt certain principals in this republic. But they don't owe that to us even if we were here first.

Now having said that, I want to speak to the other side. The current open hostility to Christianity in relationship to culture, or in relationship to politics, or in relationship to public policy is completely unjustified.

Separation of church and state, as it's being understood now, was simply not intended. We know it wasn't intended because the Founders in the early nation didn't practice what is being practiced now.

Non-establishment was intended and this is why I believe in non-establishment; but I do not believe in separation of church and state if we take by separation that view of hostility of government towards, specifically in this case, Christian religion that is being practiced now. How do I know that separation was not intended?

Because they didn't write separation, they wrote non-establishment. That's what the First Amendment says so there is no illegitimacy here in religious people, or religious institutions, or religious convictions informing public policy.

I hear this all the time. When Roger Mahoney of the Roman Catholic Church makes a pronouncement regarding abortion, or the Catholic church says they won't give communion to politicians who are Catholics who believe in abortion, for example, people squawk about them confusing separation of church and state. Where have they been? Don't they understand what the Constitution says? I wonder if they've even read the First Amendment carefully.

Now what do we have on the left? Well, we have the rhetoric and laws that say we must control what people are thinking about other people, called hate crimes. We have laws that force the expression of personal religious belief into the closet. We have laws that forbid politically incorrect speech. Where is the First Amendment when you need it?

Listen, the First Amendment restricts the government, not the people. Let me say it again. The First Amendment restricts the government, not the people. Any Christian person, any Christian organization, any Christian conviction, or any other religious person, organization or conviction has its place in the public debate. That's what pluralism is.

We all get a vote. We all get to speak our opinion. That's the way it works here. When someone tries to suggest otherwise, I just simply ask them, Are you suggesting that Christian people ought not vote, or ought not express their opinions? Tell me, which one do you have in mind? Because it's either one or the other if you suggest that religious sentiment in any form does not have a place in the public debate.

That is not a violation of the non-establishment clause in the First Amendment. It is a violation of the separation of church and state as is presently being argued.

But my point simply is, this view of separation is not what the Constitution demands. It is unconstitutional because it limits the people, which the Constitution was not meant to limit in this regard. Only the government was restricted in the area of involvement in religion according to the First Amendment.

What's really curious to me is that we have a radicalizing here in our culture, but the radicalizing is not coming from the right. The loss is not coming from the right, the radicalizing of the culture and the loss of freedom is coming from the left.

Ironically the rhetoric coming from the left says that it is the right that is dangerous, the religious right. I mentioned an article in the L.A. Times on Thursday that talked about the concern that the Republican party moderates or mainliners, as they were called, had about the religious right that was seeking to take over the party and radicalize the party.

What's ironic to me is that in the same edition of the paper they had an L.A. Times poll that gave the relationship and statistics of what white Protestant Fundamentalists believe on these basic moral issues and family values issues, these kinds of things that apparently the right is using to radicalize the Republican Party, and therefore the rest of the country with in some measure. Some have considered the threat as great as the threat of Communism.

But it also gives the listing of how all adults polled feel about these issues. I was stunned when I read the L.A. Times today, they having just printed this poll three days ago. In an editorial by the L.A. Times they repeated the idea that America does not line up with the radical right and is concerned about them; but at the same time, they are concerned about a loss of morality in public life.

Well, their own poll says otherwise. Because in the area of abortion, prayer in school, homosexuality and traditional family values, the majority of Americans agree with the extremist fundamentalists. I mentioned that even 70% of Americans believe that the traditional family structure is always best: 76% favor prayer in public schools; 55% do not favor legalized abortion; 61% think that homosexual relations are always wrong.

These are the views of the radical right, these are the views that the rank and file average American holds statistically and sometimes the statistic is not just 51% to 49%, it's significantly above the median.

So, in fact, the right is mainstream by definition. And if the right is mainstream, then the left must secure their position by passing laws. This is an interesting observation. It is not one that I made. It was one that was made by others before me, but I think they're right. I think the danger in our culture is not from the right because the right holds, by and large, mainstream views, statistically.

I'm talking about the religious right here. By definition the religious right would be considered moderate in that regard. The danger is coming from the left, whose views are not held by the majority, and so they use the implementation of government and laws to force their views on others.

Now, what is the so-called religious right asking? What is it that is so dangerous about the religious right? Well, they ask that we not take the lives of innocent, unborn children, that's one thing. They ask that we don't officially encourage a homosexual lifestyle that many feel is immoral and represents a genuine health threat to the community.

That's another thing they ask for. Third, they ask that we continue to allow, as we have for nearly 200 years, the expression of our dependence upon God in prayer in public venues. And fourth, the other radical thing that the right is asking is that we allow a fair play of ideas on the issue of origins. That is the creation/evolution debate. That's it. Four things. Don't take the lives of unborn children.

Don't encourage a sexual lifestyle that is dangerous to the community and many think is immoral. Allow the acknowledgment of God in schools as we have for 200 years through prayer. Allow a fair play on ideas on the issue of origins. That's the radical element on the right that is so abusive of our fundamental liberties. Of course, I'm being sarcastic here. This is what allegedly threatens our freedom and well-being of America.

Now what do we have on the left? Well, we have the rhetoric and laws that say we must control what people are thinking about other people, called hate crimes. We have laws that force the expression of personal religious belief into the closet. We have laws that forbid politically incorrect speech. Where is the First Amendment when you need it?

We have laws that give special protection to diseases associated with certain sexual behavior that many people consider deviant and immoral. We have laws that forbid certain reading material. It doesn't forbid the sale of it, it forbids the reading of it. Firemen were threatened with not being able to read Playboy anymore in the fire station. Why? Because it may be offensive to some women.

Now, I don't champion the reading of Playboy . That's not the point. The point I'm making is, where is the restriction of freedom coming from? It's not coming from the right who simply wants to make its ideas known and be allowed to play in the public square, in the marketplace of ideas. It's coming from the left who are actually passing laws that directly and forcibly restrict the fundamental freedoms of Americans.

We have laws that mandate that only one point of view on the issue of cosmology can even be mentioned to our school children, and that point of view can't even be critiqued or challenged. We have laws that make it illegal to even pray silently in front of certain public places. Now, I ask you, which side is most threatening to our fundamental freedoms? The right is asking for a hearing. The left is passing laws. You tell me which side is more dangerous.

This is a transcript of a commentary from the radio show "Stand to Reason," with Gregory Koukl. It is made available to you at no charge through the faithful giving of those who support Stand to Reason. Reproduction permitted for non-commercial use only. 1994 Gregory Koukl

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