Don't Hide God in a Closet:
Religious Secularism and Public Acknowledgment of God
in the 21st Century
Asking the Christian alone to give way and redefine his or her own views to fit the sensibilities of others: That's the definition of the religious secularist viewpoint of the so-called "separation of church and state". Explanation of this statement constitutes the discussion that follows.
Standing Up to Religious Secularism:
300 Years of Jonathan Edwards
The year 2003 marks three hundred years of Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)--three hundred years since that great theologian/philosopher was born in 1703.
Though a lot has been written about him since then, not a lot of it is accurate. (For one thing, it is rarely mentioned that he preached in a low, even voice, and he was an extremely logical, well-educated intellectual who had a hearty interest in scientific observation. His rationale for becoming a minister, rather than a scientist, can be found in his words stating that knowledge of God is the greatest science (scientia meaning "knowledge"): "There are no things so worthy to be known as these things [pertaining to knowledge of God]. They are as much above those things which are treated of in other sciences, as heaven is above the earth.")
Though Edwards' role in the "restoration of Christianity" movement called the Great Awakening is often emphasized (and rightly so), less seldom explained is the reason why Edwards and his fellow Great Awakeners felt that Christianity needed restoration in the first place: At that time, Christianity was endangered by what was (and still is) another religious viewpoint: the rival religion of secularism (called "natural religion" in the eighteenth century--or rather, naturalism--making a "god" out of the material universe ("Nature"). This worship of the material universe (matter itself) and abstract Reason was a religion that managed to get itself labeled as the "Enlightenment"--the beginning of what we now call "secularism", "secular humanism", or sometimes, "atheism" or "nontheistic beliefs" Today, this same viewpoint has claimed exclusive use of the word "science". That is unfortunate, because scientific knowledge gained its start from Christianity. (One Christian interested in science was Jonathan Edwards.)
(To see how today's secularism vs. Christianity is really an enhanced repeat of the eighteenth century's true enlightenment vs. false Enlightenment) debate, see: Jesus Is the Light of the World.)
The Sciences: Built on a Christian Foundation
Waves of the so-called philosophical "Enlightenment" (which was really the religion of naturalism/secularism)--struck North America at successive and slightly overlapping time periods during the eighteenth century. These intellectual waves were elaborations of groundwork laid by English Christian scientist-philosophers such as Robert Boyle (1627-1691) and Isaac Newton (1642-1737). Contrary to popular myth, many seventeenth-century Christians, including "Puritans", were learned, intelligent, and broad-minded. They elevated scientific investigation as a discipline for comprehending God's physical creation and as an instrument for promoting public education, agriculture, and medical advances.
Robert Boyle, together with famed architect Sir Christopher Wren, founded the Royal Society of London in 1662 to counteract the pantheism of the radicals and the materialism of English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), the deist (religious secularist) author of Leviathan (1651) (a book about a State where the sovereign's will to power rules and the selfish citizenry live in a state of war). Many of the English political radicals, in addition to being social "Levelers" (an early form of socialism), were pantheists: they believed in a mystical divinity of Nature, not a personal God. To them, God was a cosmic force inherent in all things. The pantheistic worldview blends with naturalism and materialism, the worship of the matter in Nature itself and the temporal things of this world, on down the scale to atheism. These religious worldviews can be generally described as "nontheistic beliefs" or religious secularism.
In counterpoise to the radical worldview was the Christian-oriented worldview of Boyle and Newton. Their methodology comported with the objective search for truth that Christianity initiated.
Boyle advocated the scientific (empirical) method of forming and testing hypotheses in order to discover natural laws and utilize them for mankind's improvement.
Newtonian principles were: (1) the laws of the universe were rational and ordered; (2) those laws were established by God; and (3) man could deduce physical laws through educated, rational observation.
Support for this viewpoint is found in the Bible, by the way:
(1) The laws of the universe are rational and ordered, and (2) those laws were established by God:
"The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." (Romans 1:18-20).
"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. [...] The law of the LORD is perfect, [...] The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy [....] (Psalm 19:1-4, 7).
"[...] all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:16-17).
(3) Man can deduce physical laws through educated, rational observation:
[...] being understood from what has been made [...] (Romans 1:20).
"He [Jesus] replied, 'When evening comes, you say, "It will be fair weather, for the sky is red," and in the morning, "Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast." You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.' " (Matthew 16:2-3) (illustrating the process of deducing results from observable data).
Religious Secularism and Evolution
The eighteenth-century secularist view of the world was a broader system of thought than the commonly-stated concept of a mechanical universe initially set in motion by a non-omnipotent "deity" (the so-called "Divine Watchmaker") who thereafter was unable to affect universal mechanics. This definition is overly simplistic. Broadly, secularism was and still is dedicated to naturalism and materialism: an impersonal concept of the "Great Architect of the Universe" that is incompatible with the idea of God being an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Person with thoughts, feelings, and absolute standards. Hence, secularism's antagonism to Christianity.
What is little known is that, in modern and postmodern times, religious secularism has managed to gain the exclusive label of science, under the name and guise of evolution. In fact, the eighteenth-century form of religious secularism theorized that the material world spontaneously self-generated merely by chance. (Edwards phrased their position--in the negative--thus: the materialists held that "the world was from eternity" (i.e., that matter has always existed as opposed to being suddenly created from nothing); that "the form and order of the world [...] result from the mere nature of matter" (that is, matter self-generated, spontaneously, through the assemblage of material building blocks--presumably by chance). These are the basic ideas behind evolution. Both concepts--material self-generation, and long periods of time--were present in the religious worldview of religious secularism.
The scientific method is to test a hypothesis in the laboratory to form a theory, realizing that scientific theories, being subject to change with increases in experimental knowledge, should not be stated dogmatically as irrefutable "facts". Hypotheses should not be based on human "interpretation" or creative imagination such as in constructing artistic drawings of never-seen organisms. True scientists leave their minds open to evidence about the material universe's ordered design and its spiritual Designer. "God is spirit, [...]" (John 4:24).
Secularism Cannot Devise Free and Just Universal Laws
Without Reference to God's Written Law
After King William III and Queen Mary II's Glorious Revolution of 1688, Newton's ordered, balanced view of the universe was translated into the political philosophy of British constitutionalism.
Following the American Revolution, the political philosophy of checks and balances was incorporated into the United States Constitution written in 1787 and debated in 1788.
Just as Newton's scientific observations were merely restatements (discoveries) of God's already-existing natural laws, "Enlightened" political philosophy comported with what Christians already knew about human nature: that due to humanity's fallen state of fallibility and blinded reason, government powers must be checked and balanced against each other to ensure that no one, no one branch of government, usurps the powers of the others and achieves the status of an autocracy.
Though indeed it is true that all human beings, given the freedom to choose, want to choose freedom--historically, only in nations adhering to the Christian worldview have people been given the freedom to choose freedom. Liberty has sprung up in the context of the Anglo-American Christian tradition, whereas in nations which never had, or largely abandoned, their Christian roots (post-Revolutionary France was an example of the latter), the love of liberty has at times been de-emphasized. (For example, the French Revolution whole-heartedly embraced "the goddess of Reason" one day; a short time later, France embraced Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte.)
(For commentary about the French Revolution, see: The Trilateral Center: Benjamin Franklin and the New World Order. For commentary about the Anglo-American Christian tradition, see: Pretexts and Commandments.)
Universal ideas are timeless. Regarding the basic tenet of the religious secularist system--that all knowledge necessary for human life on this planet can be discerned solely through the use of human reason, not aided by God's written input--Edwards' comments are as pertinent now as they were in his own day:
"Were it not for divine revelation, I am persuaded, that there is no one doctrine of that which we call natural religion, which, notwithstanding all philosophy and learning, would not be forever involved in darkness, doubts, endless disputes, and dreadful confusion. Many things, now they are revealed, seem very plain. It is one thing, to see that a truth is exceedingly agreeable to reason, after we have had it explained to us, and have been told the reasons of it; and another, to find it out, and clearly and certainly to explain it, by mere reason. It is one thing to prove a thing after we are shown how; and another, to find it out, and prove it of [by] ourselves."
"If there never had been any revelation, I believe the world would have been full of endless disputes about the very being of a God; whether the world was from eternity or not; and whether the form and order of the world did not result from the mere nature of matter." [I.e., whether the world did not spontaneously self-generate merely by chance.]
"In all countries we are acquainted with, knowledge bears an exact proportion to instruction. Why does the learned and well-educated, reason better than the mere citizen? [*****] If then, reason is found to go hand in hand, and step by step with education; what would be the consequence, if there were no education? There is no fallacy more gross, than to imagine reason, utterly untaught and undisciplined, capable of the same attainments in knowledge, as reason well refined and instructed; or to suppose, that reason can as easily find in itself principles to argue from, as draw the consequences, when once they are found; I mean, especially in respect to objects not perceivable by our senses. In ordinary articles of knowledge, our senses and experience furnish reason with ideas and principles to work on: continual conferences and debates give it exercise in such matters; and that improves its vigor and activity. But, in respect to God, it can have no right idea nor axiom to set out with, till he is pleased to reveal it."
"What instance can be mentioned, from any history, of any one nation under the sun, that emerged from atheism or idolatry, into the knowledge or adoration of the One True God, without the assistance of revelation? [*****] What the light of nature and reason could do to investigate the knowledge of God, is best seen by what they have already done. We cannot argue more convincingly on any foundation, than that of known and incontestable facts."
(For Jonathan Edwards' full comments, see: Jonathan Edwards' Great Awakening View of Religious Secularism, as Contrasted with Christianity.)
Upon religious secularism was based the idea that "Enlightened" mankind can discern universal principles by himself without the revealed guidance or input from his Creator written down in the Scriptures. This fails to take into account the fact that fallible man's thirst for power eventually leads to tyranny unless kept in check by adherence to God's transcendent set of values. Those values are expressed in the Ten Commandments.
Law whose ultimate authority originates from man alone is considered by secularists and atheists to be the basis for a system of universal legal principles that "Enlightened" mankind discerns on his own. That's why secularists and atheists are separationists: they want to separate law from God's absolute standards. They also want to separate law from any history revealing that the United States constitutional system of government was based on God being the ultimate source for individual rights. For rights to be unalienable--they can't be alienated or taken away from the individual--they must originate, and derive their authority, from a Source higher than a State comprised of mere men. Wherever the State defines and "gives" rights, it can also redefine those rights or take them away. And the end result would be, Jonathan Edwards said, that humanity would be left without a conscience:
"Every man would plead for the lawfulness of this or that practice, just as suited his fancy, and agreed with his interest and appetites; and there would be room for a great deal of uncertainty and difference of opinion among those that were most speculative and impartial. There would be uncertainty, in a multitude of instances, what was just, and what unjust. It would be very uncertain how far self-interest should govern men, and how far love to our neighbor; how far revenge would be right, and whether or not a man might hate his neighbor, and for what causes: what degree of passion and ambition was justifiable and laudable; what sensual enjoyments were lawful, and what not: how far we ought to honor, respect, and submit to our parents, and other superiors: how far it would be lawful to dissemble and deceive. It seems to me, there would be infinite confusion in these things; and that there would hardly be any such thing as conscience in the world."
To destroy conscience in the name of "freedom of conscience" is contradictory and self-defeating for all mankind.
The True Meaning of the Rule of Law
There is a mistaken idea floating around that defines the rule of law as being solely and ultimately the rule of men--without men being subject to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe. Government officials' role, in contrast, is to make decisions that comport with, or do not contradict, God's principles as expressed in His commandments, His absolute standard.
(See the discourse by Jonathan Edwards' friend and supporter, William Cooper, The Honors of Christ Demanded of the Magistrate (1740)).
This principle applies whether the ruler is an executive such as a governor, a legislator, or a judge--and regardless of whether he or she is appointed or elected.
The mistaken idea of religious secularism is contradictory to the definition of rule of law expressed by United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall in the case (Marbury v. Madison (1803)) in which the U.S. Supreme Court declared its authority to interpret the United States Constitution in the first place: the rule of law is "a government of laws and not of men". (See: Standing Up to Autocracy.)
Alexander Hamilton, in The Federalist No. 78 (June 14, 1788), appeared to make a distinction between the rule of law, using the term "JUDGMENT" and the rule of men, using the term "WILL" ("The courts must declare the sense of the law; and if they should be disposed to exercise WILL instead of JUDGMENT, the consequence would equally be the substitution of their pleasure to that of the legislative body.").
During the debates in 1788 over the ratification of the United States Constitution, one of the concerns of a writer using the pseudonym "Brutus" (New York Judge Robert Yates) was that an independent United States Supreme Court would be beyond the control "both of the people and the legislature" (the U.S. Congress), and that any errors this judiciary committed could not be "corrected by any power above them". The "real effect" of the U.S. Constitution on the people's opinions, according to "Brutus" No. 11 (January 31, 1788), would be brought to pass through U.S. Supreme Court judicial decisions. "Brutus" was concerned that the Constitutional provision for removing judges didn't include among the reasons for removal, judicial decisions that went beyond the control of the legislature and the people--in other words, judicial tyranny.
In a prescient foreshadowing of judicial activism, "Brutus" predicted that the U.S. Supreme Court would not only put into effect its expressly-given powers, but, when Constitutional authority for a ruling was vague or lacking, the Court would "supply" what was lacking "by their own decisions". A classic description of judicial activism: making new law from the bench.
"Brutus" perceptively explained that the United States Supreme Court would be the ultimate interpreter of the United States Constitution, and as such, its power would trump the power of the state courts and state legislatures, as well as the power of the United States Congress, through the exercise of judicial review. (This has come to pass, in the 21st century judicial system.) Furthermore, "Brutus" said (disapprovingly), that U.S. Supreme Court interpretations of the Constitution would not be limited to the written words of the Constitution, but also would define its spirit--in other words, judicial decisions would create what judicial activists now call a "living Constitution". (This also has come to pass.)
(Note that "Brutus" was writing before the addition of the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution in 1791. Indeed, "Brutus" was one of those labeled, probably inaccurately, "Anti-Federalists" (they contended that they were really arguing for the true concept of federalism, and thus were the true Federalists). It was the clamor of the so-called "Anti-Federalists" for a Bill of Rights to limit the federal government's power that led to the addition of the Bill of Rights--the First Amendment religion clauses included--to the U.S. Constitution in the first place.)
Supreme Court decisions defining the spirit of the Constitution, "Brutus" noted, would in effect create positive law having the same force as statutes enacted by the legislature. Therefore, Supreme Court opinions, regardless of what they said, would "have the force of law", because the Constitution didn't provide any mechanism to "correct their errors" or "control their adjudications". There could be no appeal from their decisions. Even the U.S. Congress couldn't control the Supreme Court because the latter had the power of judicial review, of declaring Congressional acts unconstitutional. This, "Brutus" considered to be a defect in the Constitution that would work in a gradual, "silent and imperceptible manner", building precedent upon precedent. "Brutus" granted that the Constitution was phrased in general terms, and its wording left room for implied Constitutional powers; hence, the Constitution would be interpreted by its spirit, as well as by its written words. All this would work together to encourage the Supreme Court to gain ever-increasing power. Expanded judicial power would "enable" the judges to shape the government into whatever "shape" they wanted it to have, according to "Brutus" No. 11.
"Brutus" No. 12 (February 7 and 14, 1788) made the startling assertion that the enlargement of the federal judicial power would ultimately "destroy" the "authority" of both the legislature and the judiciary. The Supreme Court's interpretation of the Constitution would set the "principles" which the legislature (Congress) would follow, and in that manner, said "Brutus", the Court would control the legislature with regard to the meaning and interpretation of the Constitution. (See also "Brutus" No. 15.) Instead of the legislature checking the Court, the Court would be "beyond all bounds", since the U. S. Constitution is the "supreme law", according to "Brutus". Thus, U.S. Supreme Court decisions would form the "rule" which the U.S. Congress would follow in making laws. It was Brutus's guess that the "principles" which the Supreme Court would decide to follow, would likely be "very liberal", since liberal (activist) principles would enlarge its judicial power the most. Specifically, the Court would interpret the Constitution according to the "spirit", not just the "letter" of its written words.
"Brutus" No. 15 (March 20, 1788) marveled at the U.S. Supreme Court's "immense powers": in no other government had there existed such a powerful court with so few checks upon it, "Brutus" said.
The term "Brutus" used for Supreme Court interpretations of the spirit of the Constitution was "equitable construction" of the Constitution. Thus, the Supreme Court would exercise its power of judicial review through declarations of equity, or (by Sir William Blackstone and Hugo Grotius' definitions of equity quoted in "Brutus" No. 11) the correction of a legislatively-enacted law's deficiencies. Here the definition of "law" became important: a law generally meant a statute enacted by a legislature, but in the case of the U.S. Supreme Court, their interpretations of the U.S. Constitution would operate as a system of equity--principles of justice existing alongside legislatively-enacted statutes. In the case of the U.S. Supreme Court, however, equity would trump statutes. "Court-made" law would trump Congress-made law. This, "Brutus" thought, would be highly dangerous in a republic existing upon the consent of the governed.
Theoretically, under the United States Constitutional republican system of government, judges are not supposed to "make" law, but to discern and apply already-existing law made by the legislature. "Brutus" seemed to think, however, that power would become so irresistible to the federal judiciary that eventually it would give in to the temptation to make law. Today this is known as judicial activism.
There was a necessity for equity in the early British legal system: British common law was unjust and rigid in some instances, and deciding a case according to fairness, if the common law was unreasonable, mitigated the common law's injustice in certain cases. However, not all cases were appropriate for the exercise of equity jurisdiction.
In Colonial America, under Britain's unwritten constitutional system of government, royal governors were empowered to establish courts of chancery (equity)--in which cases were tried by a judge instead of a jury and decided according to accepted notions of justice rather than the common law--but a governor's right to do so was often challenged by assemblymen (members of the lower house of the colonial legislature) and sometimes by councilors (members of the upper house of the colonial legislature) and judges. These officers preferred that cases be tried in front of a jury of the parties' peers, instead of according to the ad hoc decisions of one chancery judge--especially since in some royal colonies, that judge was the governor.
The people felt that the governor's dual role concentrated too much power within his hands and permitted arbitrary decisions in equity cases. This was one of the concerns that led to the "separation of powers" issue in debates over the framing and ratification of the United States Constitution: Powers were theoretically separated in the United States Constitution into three branches of government--executive, legislative, and judicial--to prevent too much concentration of power in the hands of any one branch of government.
Fairness and justice are the bases of equity. Unfortunately, if a society ever establishes religious secularism as its cultural "standard" instead of the Ten Commandments, then accepted notions of justice may be redefined to mean something altogether different than what Americans have been used to during the course of their history. That's the danger inherent in following a "living Constitution" standard for deciding what the rule of law is in a country where religious secularism is established: It risks turning the rule of law into the ultimate will of certain men, which is the "will to power". In past history, "will to power" has been defined as tyranny.
Only if Christian principles are followed one hundred percent can the concept of equity ever "work" to be fair and just. Of course, this has never been done in history, and never will be done until Jesus Christ returns.
So, in a way, the U.S. Supreme Court acts like it's in equity session when it engages in judicial activism to add on to the so-called "living Constitution", rather than sticking to the Constitution's written words. (Perhaps one can say this is an exercise of WILL rather than an exercise of JUDGMENT.)
True Equity Is God's Justice
When too much power becomes concentrated in the same hands, judicial activism to promote personal agendas actually runs counter to the concept of equity, or fairness and justice.
To be an equity court, a court must exercise true equity--that is, the standards of fairness and justice delineated in the Anglo-American Judeo-Christian tradition. (Many times, the American patriots likened the new American Republic to the ancient nation of Israel; see, for instance, Ezra Stiles, The United States Elevated to Glory and Honor (1783), a famous discourse in its time.)
Equity only "works" when the equity court acknowledges God's higher authority and applies His principles.
American founding patriot Ezra Stiles (1727-1795), lawyer and President of Yale College (incidentally, Jonathan Edwards' alma mater), said in 1783, before the U.S. Constitution was written:
"Besides a happy policy as to civil government, it is necessary to institute a system of law and jurisprudence founded in justice, equity, and public right. The American codes of law, and the lex non scripta, the senatus consulta, and the common law, are already advanced to great perfection--far less complicated and perplexed than the jural systems of Europe, where reigns a mixture of Roman, Gothic, Teutonic, Salic, Saxon, Norman, and other local or municipal law, controlled or innovated and confused by subsequent royal edicts and imperial constitutions, superinducing the same mutation as did the imperatorial decrees of the Caesars upon the ancient jus civile, or Roman law."
"But the best laws will be of no validity unless the tribunals be filled with judges of independent sentiment, vast law knowledge, and of an integrity beyond the possibility of corruption. Even a [Sir Francis] Bacon should fall from his highest honors the moment he tastes the forbidden fruit. [***] The legislatures have the institution and revocation of law; and the judges in their decisions are to be sacredly governed by the laws of the land. Most of the states have judged it necessary, in order to keep the supreme law courts uninfluenced and uncorrupted tribunals, that the judges be honorably supported, and be fixed in office quamdiu se bene gesserint."
Judges were given "good behavior" tenures because at that time, the independence of the judiciary was thought to insure judicial impartiality.
"[...] and the judges in their decisions are to be sacredly governed by the laws of the land." That is the true definition of the rule of law.
Ezra Stiles (a friend of Benjamin Franklin) advocated the American way as the universal way:
"Great and extensive will be the happy effects of this warfare [the American Revolution], in which we have been called in Providence to fight out not the liberties of America only, but the liberties of the world itself. The spirited and successful stand which we have made against tyranny will prove the salvation of England and Ireland, and, by teaching all sovereigns the danger of initiating and trifling with the affections and loyalty of their subjects, introduce clemency, moderation, and justice into public government at large through Europe."
According to John Wingate Thornton (writing in 1860), one Stiles biographer noted that Stiles thought the state should acknowledge God:
" 'In a "Conspectus of a Perfect Polity" the author [Ezra Stiles] has given the outlines of the constitution of a commonwealth, agreeing, in its great principles, with those of the constitution of the United States and of the individual states. But he maintained that a Christian state ought expressly to acknowledge and embosom in its civil constitution the public avowal of the "being of a God," and "the avowal of Christianity" ' -- Kingsley's Life of Stiles."
Stiles most certainly was not a religious secularist, for he spoke strongly against it.
In fact, Stiles called taking God out of the public square a Machiavellian policy (Machiavelli being another early proponent of "will to power" in the form of the ruthless autocrat, The Prince).
Stiles clearly stated (with emphasis added):
"Having shown wherein consists the prosperity of a state, and what reason we have to anticipate the glory of the American empire, I proceed to show,
II. That her system of dominion must receive its finishing from religion; or that from the diffusion of virtue among the people of any community would arise their greatest secular happiness; all which will terminate in this conclusion: that holiness ought to be the end of all civil government--'that thou mayest be an holy people unto the Lord thy God.'"
"It is readily granted that a state may be very prosperous and flourishing without Christianity--witness the Egyptian, Assyrian, Roman, and Chinese empires. But if there be a true religion, one would think that it might be at least some additional glory. We must become a holy people in reality, in order to exhibit the [American] experiment, never yet fully made in this unhallowed part of the universe, whether such a people would be the happiest on earth. It would greatly conduce to this if Moses and Aaron, if the magistracy and priesthood, should cooperate and walk together in union and harmony. The political effort of the present day, through most of the United States, is to disunite, divide and separate them, through fear lest the United States, like the five viceroyships of New Spain, should be entangled and oppressed with the spiritual domination of European and Asiatic hierarchies. [*****] A general spirit reigns against the most liberal and generous establishments in religion; against the civil magistrates encouraging or having anything more to do about religion than to keep the civil peace among contending sects: as if this was all that is to be done for religion by the friends of Jesus. And hence, in designating to the magistracy and offices of government, it begins to be a growing idea that it is mighty indifferent, forsooth, not only whether a man be of this or the other religious sect, but whether he be of any religion at all; and that truly deists, and men of indifferentism to all religion, are the most suitable persons for civil office, and most proper to hold the reins of government; and that, to prevent partiality in governors, and emulation among the sects, it is wise to consign government over into the hands of those who, Gallio-like, have no religion at all. This is Machiavellian wisdom and policy; and hence examples are frequently adduced of men distinguished truly for deism, perhaps libidinous morals, and every vice, yet of great abilities, it is said--great civilians, lawyers, physicians, warriors, governors, patriots, politicians--while as great or greater and more numerous characters, in the same departments--a Thuanus, a [Hugo] Grotius, a Paul of Venice, a Sir Henry Wotton, a Sir Peter King, a Selden, a Newton, a Boyle, those miracles of wisdom and friends to religion and virtue--are passed by with transient coolness and neglect. I wish we had not to fear that a neglect of religion was coming to be the road to preferment. It was not so here in our father's days."
Like his acquaintance, President Aaron Burr of Princeton College (a son-in-law of Jonathan Edwards and a close friend of Governor Jonathan Belcher), Ezra Stiles praised Daniel, who stood up to autocratic Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar:
"Shall the Most High send down truth into this world from the world of light and truth, and shall the rulers of this world be afraid of it? Shall there be no intrepid Daniels--great in magistracy, great in religion? How great was that holy man, that learned and pious civilian, when he shone in the supreme triumvirate at the head of an [Babylonian] empire of one hundred and twenty provinces--venerable for political wisdom, venerable for religion!"
(See: Standing Up to Autocracy for President Aaron Burr's thoughts about Daniel.)
"...nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself
above them all." (Daniel 11:37)
The Biblical prophet Daniel (who stood up to Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar) said the above regarding a future autocratic ruler. It is the ultimate definition of autocracy that applies to all nations.
"Brutus" (Robert Yates), in "Brutus" No. 15, repeatedly emphasized that the U.S. Constitution made the U.S. Supreme Court so "independent" that it was "independent of the people, of the legislature, and of every power under heaven". "Brutus" went on to say: Given human nature, this made for a situation where the Court would someday consider itself "independent of heaven itself"--beyond acknowledging the ultimate authority of God.
Rights that are given and defined solely by the power of the State--which declares them to be "the law"--are basically enforced through the "will to power" instead of the "will of the people". "Will to power", incidentally, was the political philosophy of National Socialism and communism. To adopt their view of the law is to adopt their philosophy of totalitarian government. This can happen even in a democracy--if the will of the people, expressed through their elected representatives, is thwarted through a breakdown in the Constitutional concepts of separation of powers and checks and balances--that is, if one of the three branches of government becomes so powerful and unchecked that it redefines or eliminates transcendent (God-given, unalienable) rights. A secularist, separationist government theoretically could abolish fundamental human rights, and the oppressed would be legally precluded, under the State's definition of law, from asserting that since human rights were given by God, the State could not deny those rights. After all, if the State doesn't acknowledge God as the Source of natural rights, why should any right be considered self-evident unless the State says it is? At least that's the end result that "separation of church and state" reasoning can theoretically produce.
Positive law (State-promulgated, including legislatively-enacted law) exists on the basis of human authority. When that law affects natural human rights without reference to whether the law is right or wrong by God's written standards, then it exists solely on the basis of human authority as the ultimate authority. The legal theory that the State defines what the law is without submission to God or morality as the Higher Source of authority, is legal positivism.
Though legal positivism developed from the utilitarian philosophy of an Englishman, Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), the legal philosophy is a modern restatement of Thomas Hobbes' idea of a Leviathan society controlled by a powerful ruler: Whoever or whatever is the legal sovereign is considered to be like a "god"--above the law. This is a a notion opposite to "a government of laws and not of men" in which even the State is accountable to the Higher natural Law. In essence, legal positivism turns the rule of law statement on its head and converts the rule of law into the rule of men (which can include a social group): the State defines what the law is, and coercively orders that law to be obeyed, or society as a whole is educated to follow the law as it is defined to be. It doesn't matter whether the law is moral or immoral, in the positivist system, for the law is what it is defined to be, not what it should be according to Higher Principles. There is a wall of separation between the law and morality. And also, the law includes whatever judges' decisions (partially based on sociology) make the law to be. Obviously, this is in direct conflict with Sir William Blackstone's statement (which was a statement of natural law principles) that human laws are not valid if they go against the Law of God.
Are we seeing a transition from natural law principles to legal positivism in the United States?
Jonathan Edwards, however, faulted the legal positivist notion even before it had a name, and in the process he revealed its ancient pagan origins in the philosophy of Socrates and Archelaus. Edwards said (with emphasis added):
"He [Socrates] taught his disciples to worship the gods, and to ground the distinction between right and wrong on the laws of their country; in the latter of which he followed the saying of his master, Archelaus, who taught, that what is just or dishonest, is defined by law, not by nature."
In contradiction to Bentham's utilitarian philosophy of "the greatest good for the greatest number"--which translates to shifting social definitions--Edwards stated:
"It will be further useful to observe, that the thoughts of men, with regard to any internal law, will be always mainly influenced by their sentiments concerning the Chief Good. Whatsoever power or force may do in respect to the outward actions of a man, nothing can oblige him to think or act, as often as he is at liberty, against what he takes to be his chief good or interest. No law, no system of laws, can possibly answer the end and purpose of a law, till the grand question, what is the chief happiness and end of man, be determined, and so cleared up, that every man may be fully satisfied about it. Before our Savior's time, the world was infinitely divided on this important head. The philosophers were miserably bewildered in all their researches after the chief good. Each sect, each subdivision of a sect, had a chief good of its own, and rejected all the rest. They advanced, as Varro tells us, no fewer than 288 opinions in relation to this matter; which shows, by a strong experiment, that the light of nature was altogether unable to settle the difficulty."
Legal positivism and its progeny, if taken to the obvious conclusion, could be used to justify autocratic or totalitarian regimes. Thus, legal "positivism" is really negativism. It is in contrast to the Anglo-American jurisprudential tradition of unalienable natural rights--which are based on a Higher Authority than the will of men alone. The two philosophical positions are opposing. Thus, those who advocate blind adherence to a superior order, irregardless of whether the order is moral or amoral--a defense asserted (unsuccessfully) by National Socialists at the Nuremberg Trials--are, perhaps unknowingly, adopting a form of the philosophy of legal positivism.
The issue of Higher Law, incidentally, was discussed during the prelude to the American Revolution by liberal patriot preacher Jonathan Mayhew (1720-1766) in his famous sermon, Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers (1750), preached during the reign of Hobbesian (one could even say Machiavellian) Governor Shirley. (John Adams described him well.) Mayhew believed that proper submission to the higher government powers--in his instance, the British government system--was limited by Higher Law principles--especially issues involving the suppression of religious freedom.
In contrast to legal positivism was the view of the American founding generation. The following are some quotes by key American founders and statesmen, as well as Sir William Blackstone, the jurist from whom the American founders learned their law and who was cited by "Brutus":
"The laws of nature are the laws of God, whose authority can be superseded by no power on earth" -- George Mason [Taken from arguments submitted by George Mason in Robin v. Hardaway, 2 Va. Reports (Jeff.) 109, 114 (Va. 1772)]"
Glassroth v. Moore, 229 F.Supp.2d 1290, 1320 (M.D. Ala. 2002) (APPENDIX B Quotations inscribed on the [Ten Commandments] monument's four sides [the monument installed by Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore]).
Note this line: "whose authority can be superseded by no power on earth" (emphasis added). That's saying that the State and its agents cannot usurp the supreme (transcendent) authority of the laws of God. It was this basis which gave the American Revolutionaries the legitimacy to claim that the King of England was a tyrant because he was infringing upon people's natural, God-given rights. This viewpoint was the main basis for the American Revolution!
"The transcendent law of nature and of nature's God, which declares that the safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim, and to which all such institutions must be sacrificed" --- James Madison [Taken from The Federalist No. 43, at 295]"
229 F.Supp.2d at 1320.
James Madison--known as the "Father of the United States Constitution" primarily for his defense of the Constitution in The Federalist Papers which encouraged the Constitution's ratification by the states--was the primary architect of the First Amendment. He graduated from Princeton College, where he studied from the books that had been in Governor Jonathan Belcher's personal library. (Governor Belcher (1682-1757) was a friend of Jonathan Edwards'.) Later Madison appointed Joseph Story (1779-1845) to be an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court; Story also believed in the transcendent authority of God's law. Story wrote an influential commentary on the U. S. Constitution in which he explained his views. (See Story quotes in the Jaffree case.)
Justice Story--as well as Jonathan Edwards--was praised by John Wingate Thornton, writing in 1860 (emphasis has been added):
"The elder [Jonathan] Edwards, the intellectual chief of his age, who 'ranks with the brightest luminaries of the Christian church, not excluding any country or any age since the apostolic,' and 'as much the boast of America as his great countryman, Franklin;' [***] Lyndhurst, twice Lord Chancellor of England, [John] Marshall, Jay, Parsons, [Joseph] Story, and Kent, in jurisprudence; [....] these and many others, have already placed the United States in the front rank in science, letters, and art."
(Justice Joseph Story's first wife, incidentally, was a descendant of Governor Jonathan Belcher's sister.)
Thornton also said in 1860 (emphasis has been added):
"The external separation of church and state, now complete, leaves a nobler vantage-ground to the Christian Teacher in his duty to his country; and as Christian morals and principles are the true foundation of a free Christian commonwealth, how momentous is his responsibility to God and man for fidelity in 'declaring all the counsel of God!' The zeal, firmness, and integrity of the pulpit in 'preaching the gospel,' from the time of [Jonathan] Mayhew to [Ezra] Stiles, was of vital importance to the triumph of our national freedom. But Christianity is perpetual, and for daily use. Most legislation involves or relates to public morals, questions in foro conscientiae, and here Christianity has sovereign jurisdiction, which can be violated only by the sufferance of that teacher who, whether from timidity, weakness, or open treachery, is false to his Master, unworthy of his great commission, and sure of the contempt of men. Mayhew and Stiles are examples, for all time, of Christian manhood in the pulpit. [***]"
Thus in 1860, "separation of church and state" meant Christian freedom and legislation for public morals! "[...] Christian morals and principles are the true foundation of a free Christian commonwealth [...]!"
The quotations on Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore's Ten Commandments monument continues:
"This law of nature, being co-eval with mankind and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity if contrary to this; ... upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these" -- William Blackstone [Taken from Volume 1 of The Commentaries of the Law of England, "Of the Rights of Persons," at 41 (1765)]"
229 F.Supp.2d at 1320-1321 (emphasis added).
Blackstone's commentaries were among the lawbooks the American founders studied. It was largely from him that they learned their law. And his words apply to international law even today: "It [the law of nature [...] [dictated by God himself] is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times [....]".
This is the only rule of law of universal validity.
"Human law must rest its authority ultimately upon the authority of that law which is divine" -- James Wilson [Taken from Volume 1 of The Works of the Honourable James Wilson, at 104-05 (Bird Wilson ed. 1804)]"
229 F.Supp.2d at 1321 (emphasis added).
"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 those liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?" -- Thomas Jefferson [Taken from Notes on the State of Virginia, at 169]"
Our liberties are the gift of God. Take away government acknowledgment of God, and our liberties are not secure. So stated the architect of the so-called "separation of church and state"--none other than Thomas Jefferson himself!
Ezra Stiles said (emphasis added):
"Whenever religion is erected on the ruins of civil government, and when civil government is built on the ruins of religion, both are so far essentially wrong. The church has never been of any political detriment here, for it never has been vested with any civil or secular power in New England, although it is certain that civil dominion was but the second motive, religion the primary one, with our ancestors in coming hither and settling this land. It was not so much their design to establish religion for the benefit of the state, as civil government for the benefit of religion, and as subservient and even necessary towards the peaceable enjoyment and unmolested [free] exercise of religion--of that religion for which they fled to these ends of the earth. An institution is not made for the laws, but the laws for the institution. I am narrating a historical fact, not giving a position or principle which by shrewd politicians may be abused to justify spiritual tyranny, and to support the claims of the pontificate over all the civil states, kingdoms, and empires in Christendom."
(Stiles, as well as Mayhew, was particularly concerned about the possible establishment of an Anglican (Church of England) bishop in American who would then persecute non-Anglican dissenters in the same way the seventeenth-century Puritans had been persecuted in England. Note that Stiles limited his discussion of establishment to "in Christendom": distinctive sects of Christianity--not different varieties of world religions! By "sects" or "denominations", the American Founding Fathers never meant world religions other than Christianity! That's why it's inaccurate to say that something "not inclusive of all religions" is "sectarian" or "denominational"--because those terms only pertain to the different sects/denominations of Christianity.)
Stiles praised the principles of Christianity over all others, with regard to civil government (emphasis added):
"This was the system of theology brought over from the other side of the flood [England] by our pious forefathers, now with God. The more this is realized in a state, the more will its felicity be advanced; for, certainly, the morals of Christianity are excellent. It enjoins obedience to magistracy, justice, harmony, and benevolence among fellow-citizens; and, what is more, it points out immortality to man. Politicians, indeed, usually consider religion only as it may affect and subserve civil purposes, and hence it is mighty indifferent to them what the state of religion be, provided they can ride in the whirlwind and direct the storm. Nothing is more common than to see them in every country making use of sects, for their own ends, whom they in their hearts despise and ridicule with supreme contempt. Not so the Christian patriot, who from his heart wishes the advancement of Christianity much less for the civil good than for the eternal welfare of immortal souls. We err much if we think the only or chief end of civil government is secular happiness. Shall immortals, illuminated by revelation, entertain such an opinion? God forbid! Let us model civil society with the adoption of divine institutions so as shall best subserve the training up and disciplining innumerable millions for the more glorious society of the church of the first born. Animated with the sublime ideas which Christianity infuses into a people, we shall be led to consider the true religion as the highest glory of a civil polity. The Christian institution so excelled in glory, that the Mosaic lost all its glory. So the most perfect secular polity, though very excellent, would lose all its glory when compared with a kingdom wherein dwelleth righteousness, a community wherein the religion of the divine Jesus reigns in vigor and perfection."
Stiles gives a mocking description of religious secularism ("deism" or "natural religion", as it was called in the eighteenth century). The following words of his were written in satire:
"Adjacent to this an empire of the same excellent constitution shall be overspread with deism exclusively. And to give the idea the most candid extent, perhaps beyond the desires of a Tyndal [Matthew Tindal], or even of a [Lord] Shaftesbury--the amiable Confucius of deism--not to mention the smaller and more desultory geniuses of a Hume or a Voltaire--neither of whom had any more taste or judgment in religion or moral reasoning than Cicero in poetry or Cibber for the drama--I say, to give the fairest idea of perfect deism, let the people of this empire be resolved into occasional, but not too frequent, worshipping assemblies, for worshipping the God of nature under the direction of the illuminated brethren, or of some right worshipful brother; and also to thank God for His goodness in this life, and for a certain prospect of a blessed immortality, if there should be any; when, perhaps, some noble minds, spirits of elevated and sublime genius, of bold, refined, and independent sentiment, might descant upon the common principles of social virtue and benevolence. I have certainly done justice to deism, although we hear nothing of pardoning mercy, because truly we need none--such being the excellency and dignity of man, who, as Phocelides says, is the image of God, that he well answers the end of existence, merits reward, and must hereafter be happy under the all-comprehending, the most benevolent administration of the universal Father. How pure and sublime is natural religion!"
(The Lord Shaftesbury he mentions, incidentally, was the patron of political philosopher John Locke.)
Obviously, Stiles was speaking in satire, for he went on to criticize religious secularism and praise Christianity (read his discourse). Early America was NOT largely secular, for Stiles revealed that the religious secularists, even then, claimed to have a lot more in their camp than the numbers really showed:
"But I need pardon that I should institute this comparison in a Christian assembly, and in a country where we seem to be in no danger of idolatry, and where, God be thanked! deists are very thinly sown; although, like another set of men among us of illaudable and invidious description, they magnify themselves into legions."
Stiles praised the principles of Christianity over those of religious secularism--and linked religious secularism to paganism (they are flip sides of the same coin):
"I have supposed all religions equal as to virtue, and that civil virtue is the only end of civil society; but I must resume both these mistakes. Vices and every species of wickedness are found, more or less, to enter into the essence of all religions except that of divine revelation. If Christians are wicked, and even should they surpass the Gentiles in vice, their religion never taught them so. But the very institution of the festivals of the ancient gods and goddesses directly taught the most impure obscenities and libidinous revelings. And this is continued to this day in the East Indies. [****]"
"This, with a survey of the state of man in all ages, may show us that ethnic morals do not merit the high encomiums, the rapturous eulogies, which some have given them. Nor are deistical morals very promising. A world, a universe full of Rochesters and Chesterfields--what would it be?--characters which may blaze their moment in an earthly court, but can never shine in the court above."
Stiles emphasized that religious secularism is not new, but old--and that furthermore, there is a link between religious secularism and pagan Eastern religions: they both believe in the concept of "fate":
"Modern deists--but why do I say modern? For the very fraternity is but of yesterday--the deists have more lately improved and adopted [...] fate into their system, holding it in common with the Bramins of Asia and the Aulic chieftains in Africa."
Furthermore, Stiles emphasized that Christian principles, even in secular matters, were superior to those of religious secularism. (In the process, Stiles showed that the United States was NOT founded on the Koran ("Mohammedan[ism"). Ironically, noted Stiles, the religious secularists of his time promoted every other religion over Christianity. Stiles stated (with emphasis added)"
"Sir William Temple, Sale, and other learned deists, fond of depreciating Christian virtue by comparisons, have extolled and celebrated the Mohammedan, Chinese, and other Oriental morals, as far superior to the Christian. But the learned historiographer, Principal Robertson, asserts, with historic verity, that upon the comparison of Europe, in particular, in its Gentile and Christian ages, her morality will appear to have been greatly improved and meliorated, and that the ethnic morals fell far below the Christian. While we have to confess and lament the vice rampant in Christendom, we have reason to believe that the more Christianity prevails in a country, civil society will be more advanced, ferocious manners will give way to the more mild, liberal, just, and amiable manners of the gospel."
Stiles stated that Christian morality was superior to all others:
"Be it granted that in all countries are to be found men of integrity, honor, benevolence, and excellent morals, even where vice has a prevalent reign to the greatest excesses of a general licentiousness; yet, supposing a community, a kingdom, a world, overspread with such characters, with the finest morals of a Socrates or a Confucius, what would be the moral state of such a country in comparison with one overspread with the reign of the Christian morals?--I mean in perfection."
And here Stiles revealed his reverence not only for Christianity, but also for the principles expressed in the Ten Commandments; at the same time, he refuted the social utilitarianism underlying legal positivism (emphasis has been added):
"How much soever we may admire the morals of Plato or Epictetus, they are not to be compared with those taught by Moses and the divine Jesus. Nor are we to conceive that civil virtue is the only end of civil government. As the end of God's government is His declarative glory in the holiness and happiness of the universe, so all civil government ought to subserve the same end. The most essential interests of rational beings are neglected when their secular welfare only is consulted. If, therefore, we defend and plead for Christianity from its secular and civil utility only, and leave it here, we dishonor religion by robbing it of half, no, its greatest glories. It serves a higher purpose; for, although it subserves the civil welfare infinitely beyond the morals of deism and idolatry, yet it also provides for the interests of eternity, which no other religion does. It opens to us the most grand and sublime discoveries concerning God, reconciliation with Him, and the reunion of this lapsed world with the immense universe. Discoveries momentous and interesting beyond conception!--without which we are left to perfect incertitude, if not totally in the dark, with respect to eternity and its vast concerns."
Doubtless Jonathan Edwards would have agreed with Ezra Stiles on that!
Echoing Edwards, Stiles scoffed at the idea that human reason alone, apart from God's Word--the central doctrine of religious secularism--could rightly reason about anything. Stiles said (quoting from famous English poet Alexander Pope):
"If, instead of reasoning from the works and word of God, and thus ascending upwards into Deity, we
'Take the high priori road,
And reason downward, till we doubt of God' ([Alexander] Pope);--
if, by inductive reasonings from the perfections of God to what can and what cannot be, we should, among other things, boldly conclude a Trinity and the Incarnation of the eternal Word absurd nullities, and yet it should appear in another state that a crucified Jesus sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high--how would these mighty sensible characters, these fine geniuses, these sublime, these foolish reasoners, be disappointed!"
And Stiles knew what he was talking about: he had explored the same question himself, and had ended up choosing Christianity.
In 1754, life looked uncertain and a little dim for wavering young Ezra, for he was vacillating between faith and unbelief. I almost became a deist, was the thought he expressed later; he couldn't bring himself to fully believe in Christianity, and he said he didn't want to fake a belief. So, he decided to go on a "grand tour of American churches" in search of faith. His journey carried him to many churches of many denominations--and to Princeton College's commencement, where he watched the college's president, Aaron Burr, Sr. (son-in-law of Jonathan Edwards) give Great Awakening minister George Whitefield (a friend of Edwards and Governor Belcher) an honorary Master of Arts degree. And Ezra Stiles found himself sitting down in a church pew--beside Governor Jonathan Belcher.
The course of his life was fixed after that. Ezra Stiles decided to become a Christian minister. (He was also a lawyer.)
Ezra alluded to that dark period in his early life, when he continued with his criticism of the religious secularism from whose slavery (Stiles referred to his rescue as "emancipat[ion]") he had been happily delivered as a confused youth:
"May I be forgiven a very earnest solicitude here, having myself passed through the cloudy, darksome valley of skepticism, and stood on the precipice, from whence I was in danger of taking a juvenile leap into the irrecoverable depths of deism; for so rare are the Forbeses and the Jenningses, the instances of emancipated real infidels, that nulla retrorsum (no return from hence) may be inscribed on the temple of deism. Knowing these dangers, I pity from my heart, and almost bleed at every pore, for those who are caught in the vortex, and are captivated with the wily, satirical, delusory, and deficient reasonings of deism. Elevated with the pride of mental enlargement, of a supposed untrammeled understanding, they ascend aloft above the cloud of prejudices into the Pisgah heights, from whence they fancy that they see all religions the same--that is, equally nothing but priestcraft and artificial error; whereupon they compliment themselves as endowed with a superiority of discernment in morals, with high sensibility, sentimental and liberal ideas, and charm themselves with other fine self-applied diction, which in truth only clothes the tedium, the weariness of half-discussed, unfinished inquiries; or perhaps the hope that at worst the want of certain knowledge may pass with God, if there is any, as a sufficient excuse for some of the doubtful levities of life."
"[...] they see all religions the same": That's EXACTLY the doctrine underlying religious secularism today! Thus the assertion that prayers, for instance, must be "non-denominational" or "nonsectarian" really means that no one religion is allowed to be presented as true or exclusive--especially, religious secularism does not allow Christianity to be promoted. But behind the rhetoric of "all religions [being] the same" is the religious secularists' true doctrine: "[...] that is, equally nothing but priestcraft and artificial error, whereupon they [the religious secularists] compliment themselves as endowed with a superiority of discernment in morals, with high sensibility [tolerance], sentimental and liberal ideas, [...]" Thus religious secularists actually promote their own religion in that they consider religious secularism to be superior to all other religions.
Furthermore, this viewpoint spectrum encompasses atheism: "[...] God, if there is any, [...]"
Stiles, like Jonathan Edwards before him, then most emphatically repudiated religious secularism--all those who would not recognize the sovereignty of God ("who 'would not that I [God] should reign over them'"). In the process, he also chastised those people "who consider all religions alike and equally ridiculous" (who consider Christianity to be no better than any other religion). Stiles said (as with the quotation above, emphasis has been added):
"But errors in judgment, it is said, will be of no account with God. In ten thousand matters they may not. We may trifle on many things, but on the things that respect eternity, the things of religion, it is too solemn, too dangerous to trifle. Although most religions are false and ridiculous, there may however be one which we must renounce or trifle with at our peril. For if revelation be true, as most assuredly it is, it is in Jesus only that we have eternal life. Infidels, and those excessively benevolent Christians who consider all religions alike and equally ridiculous, do well in their calmer moments to ponder those words of the eternal Judge: 'Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.' (Matt. 10:33; John 3:36) Where then will a Judas and a Beadle appear? Step forth, thou Herbert, the father of deism! Come hither, you Bolingbrokes, Tindals, Collinses, Humes, Voltaires, with all your shining abilities, and that disappointed group of self-opinionated deniers of the Lord 'that bought them,' with that cloud of deluded followers who 'would not that I should reign over them'--evanish from my presence, with all the light of your boasted wisdom, into the blackness of darkness, forever and ever! On what principles can the despised, the amiable Jesus withhold or recede from so awful a sentence, so tremendous a denunciation?"
Establishment of Religious Secularism:
The Current Consequences for Constitutional Policy
"...he will honor a god of fortresses [forces];
a god unknown to his fathers he will honor ...." (Daniel 11:38)
One could say the above statement is a definition of "will to power". "Will to power" was a concept popularized by nineteenth-century German atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) that formed a major basis for the totalitarian regimes of National Socialism and Communism.
Therefore, if, as Jonathan Edwards said--"no legislator ever founded his scheme of civil government on any supposed religious dictates of nature [i.e., religious secularism], but always on some real or pretended revelation [i.e., a world religion]"--then the establishment of atheism (religious secularism) would indeed be "a god unknown to his fathers". But it would still be a "god".
What some people don't understand is:
There never can be a total absence of a "god". Absence of a "god" in the public square does not equal neutrality, for that very absence is a vacuum filled by worship of the civil State itself. Thus, the State is declared a "god". (A "god" or "idol" is whatever people worship in the sense of honoring the most or devoting their lives to the most.)
Exclusion of the One True God from public places merely establishes the false "god" of religious secularism.
The assertion that there are a set of ideas that all the world's religions have in common is actually a religious idea--and not a true one at that. (See Ezra Stiles' comments quoted above.) While a set of ideas do underlie all pagan-based religions, they are not ideas shared by the Old and New Testaments (the Bible). Thus, permitting acknowledgment of only those ideas that supposedly are behind all religions (except Judeo-Christianity) is not neutrality--it is in fact an establishment of pagan religions in the name of secularism, dressed up in the guise of abstract Reason. (The "goddess of Reason"--adopted by the French Revolutionaries--was a "deity" in Greek/Roman mythology. Statues to this "goddess" are today standing in front of some American courthouses, under the name of the "goddess of Justice".) The guise of religious secularism is perpetuated by the notion that human reason can supposedly discern these common ideas, and their asserted lack of connection to any one religion is declared to be "non-religious" or "secular" and cited as proof of their "neutrality". But in fact, the penumbra of religious secularism surrounds all pagan religions. Perhaps that is why religious secularists don't object to statues in front of or inside courthouses of the Greek/Roman "goddess of Justice" (sometimes specifically identified as such in the courthouse dedication ceremony), yet religious secularists do object to monuments or displays of the Ten Commandments, the Bible, the cross, nativity scenes, and other Christian symbols or figures.
Perhaps that is why, in certain instances, the name of Jesus Christ is not allowed to be mentioned in graduation speeches: even speeches, take note--not just prayers. The speakers are students--not government employees (in other words, not state actors). One such instance involved the following facts:
Because of his sterling grade-point average of 4.24, Plaintiff was one of two co-salutatorians of the Amador Valley High School class of 1999. As a result of his academic standing, he was invited to deliver a speech at the school's graduation ceremony that year. Plaintiff, who is a devout Christian, drafted a speech that quoted extensively from the Bible. In his declaration, Plaintiff explained that he intended for the speech to "express [ ] [his] desire for [his] fellow graduates to develop a personal relationship with God through faith in Christ in order to better their lives."
[The] Principal [...], who maintained control over all aspects of the graduation ceremony, asked Plaintiff to submit a draft of his speech. Plaintiff did so. [The principal] [...] reviewed the draft and, in conjunction with the school district's counsel, determined that allowing a student to deliver overtly proselytizing comments at a public high school's graduation ceremony would violate the Establishment Clauses of both the United States and the California Constitutions. Accordingly, [the principal] [...] and the district's counsel advised Plaintiff that references to God as they related to Plaintiff's own beliefs were permissible, but that proselytizing comments were not.
For example, Plaintiff intended to discuss the general moral decay of American society during the past 30 years and to encourage his fellow students to turn to God and Jesus for strength. The three portions of his speech that the school told him to remove were:
I urge you to seek out the Lord, and let Him guide you. Through His power, you can stand tall in the face of darkness, and survive the trends of "modern society".
As Psalm 146 says, "Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot even save themselves. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them--the Lord, who remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the alien and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked."
... "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Have you accepted the gift, or will you pay the ultimate price?
Although Defendants demanded that Plaintiff excise those portions, they allowed him to retain several personal references to his religion. For example, Plaintiff's speech began with a dedication to the memory of his grandfather, who had planned to attend the graduation but who, just that past week, had gone "home to be with the Lord." Plaintiff's speech closed with the words, "Good Luck and God Bless!"
Before Plaintiff agreed to excise the proselytizing portions of the graduation speech, the parties engaged in discussions to determine what Plaintiff would and would not be allowed to say. Plaintiff's counsel suggested that the school district provide a "disclaimer" that would state that the views of the student speakers did not represent the views of the school district. This suggestion was rejected. The parties eventually reached a compromise. Under protest, Plaintiff agreed that he would deliver his speech without the proselytizing passages and would hand out copies of the full text of his proposed draft speech just outside the site where the graduation ceremony would be held.
On June 18, 1999, Amador Valley High School held its graduation ceremony. The ceremony took place at the Alameda County Fairgrounds, but it was financed and insured entirely by the school district and was conducted entirely under the school's direction. Plaintiff delivered his speech at the ceremony and distributed handouts as agreed. When he reached the portions of the speech that had been excised, he informed his fellow students that portions had been censored. He told the audience that he would distribute copies of the uncensored speech outside the graduation ceremony and that he would give the full speech on Sunday at his church.
Nearly one year later, [***] Plaintiff asserted seven claims against Defendants: violation of Plaintiff's federal constitutional rights to free speech, religious liberty, and equal protection; violation of Plaintiff's state constitutional rights to free speech, religious liberty, and equal protection; and violation of a state education statute. [***]
[***] Relying on this court's decision in Cole v. Oroville Union High School District, 228 F.3d 1092 (9th Cir. 2000), the district court concluded that Defendants' actions were necessary to avoid violating the Establishment Clause. The court rejected Plaintiff's equal protection argument and declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state-law claim.
Lassonde v. Pleasanton Unified School District, No. 01-17226 (9th Cir. February 19, 2003) (GRABER, C.J.) (affirming the district court decision).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which decided Lassonde, had also previously decided the cited case of Cole v. Oroville Union High School District (2000), the facts of which were these (note the use of the term "nondenominational" to really mean "inclusive of all beliefs" and refer to above discussion concerning the true meaning of this word):
Every year, Oroville High School conducts a formal graduation ceremony. The program for the event, as determined by the District, consists of welcoming remarks and the introduction of the District board of trustees and superintendent by the school principal, the singing of the National Anthem and a flag salute, a spiritual invocation delivered by a student chosen by a vote of his or her classmates, vocal selections, graduation speeches by the valedictorian and salutatorian, presentation of the class and diplomas, presentation of the class advisors, one or two farewell speeches and a recessional. Under a District policy instituted sometime around 1985, all student speeches and invocations for graduation are reviewed by the principal, who has the final say regarding their content. Due to increasing concern about the content of graduation speeches, Oroville's principal in recent years has reviewed the content of speeches and invocations to ensure they were not offensive or denominational. Until the class of 1998 graduation, the principal had needed to change the content of speeches only for grammatical errors. Although Oroville's policy does not specifically enumerate what types of content are prohibited, faculty advisors assisting in planning the 1998 graduation repeatedly told [Plaintiffs] Cole and Niemeyer to make their presentations "nondenominational" and inclusive of all beliefs.
Oroville graduation ceremonies are held at a football field owned by the District and are paid for in part with District funds. Oroville plans the graduation program and administers the ceremony. Significantly, the principal has supervisory authority over all aspects of the ceremony. The District requires all students to sign a contract obligating themselves to act and dress in accordance with school directions at the graduation ceremony. A student does not have to attend the ceremony to obtain a diploma.
In the Fall of 1997, Niemeyer was informed that he was co-valedictorian of his class at Oroville. In April 1998, Cole was chosen by a vote of his classmates to offer an invocation at the graduation. Both Cole and Niemeyer were late in submitting early drafts of their graduation presentations for review by Oroville faculty advisors and the principal. Although the graduation ceremony was scheduled for June 5, 1998, Niemeyer did not share his speech with advisors or the principal until May 28, 1998, and Cole did not submit his invocation until June 2. Niemeyer stated he did not submit his speech to his faculty advisors for review of the speech's content "[b]ecause I know they don't hold the same convictions that I do as far as faith."
When Cole and Niemeyer finally submitted their proposed remarks for review by the principal's office, the principal told them to tone down the proselytizing and sectarian religious references. They were each advised to change their presentations to make them nondenominational. Niemeyer submitted a second draft of his speech, which included all of the original proselytizing and religious references to Jesus, and the principal informed him the speech was still unacceptable. The principal notified the District's superintendent and faxed him a copy of Niemeyer's speech. The superintendent consulted with the District's legal counsel, and agreed with the principal's decision to reject Niemeyer's speech because of its religious content. The superintendent and principal also discussed Cole's invocation shortly after Cole submitted it. The superintendent again obtained advice of counsel that Cole's invocation was impermissible sectarian prayer and agreed with the principal's decision to reject Cole's proposed invocation.
The superintendent met with Cole and Niemeyer to try to persuade them to delete the sectarian references from their proposed presentations by making them aware the graduation was a District-sponsored event for which the District was ultimately responsible. Nonetheless, Cole and Niemeyer refused to compromise, and on June 4 they filed suit in district court, under 42 U.S.C. [section] 1983, to obtain a temporary restraining order preventing the school from denying them the opportunity to present their unedited remarks at graduation. The district court denied their motion for lack of time to consider the complex issue.
Cole and Niemeyer attended the June 5 graduation and Niemeyer attempted to deliver his unedited speech, but the principal refused to allow him to do so. Niemeyer's final proposed speech included a statement that he was going to refer to God and Jesus repeatedly, and if anyone was offended, they could leave the graduation. Niemeyer's proposed speech was a religious sermon which advised the audience that "we are all God's children, through Jesus Christ['s] death, when we accept his free love and saving grace in our lives," and requested that the audience accept that "God created us" and that man's plans "will not fully succeed unless we pattern our lives after Jesus' example." Finally, Niemeyer's speech called upon the audience to "accept God's love and grace" and "yield to God our lives." Cole's proposed invocation referred repeatedly to the heavenly father and Father God, and concluded "We ask all these things in the precious holy name of Jesus Christ, Amen."
Cole v. Oroville Union High School District, 228 F.3d 1092, 1096-1097 (9th Cir. 2000) (FISHER, C.J.) (deciding for school district).
"Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens,
and those who lead many to righteousness,
like the stars for ever and ever." (Daniel 12:3)
A graduation speech does not address a deity; rather, the speaker is telling about the events of his life, his philosophy of life, or what he thinks should be the philosophy, aims, or goals of students in general. Graduation speeches may tell about what has worked for that student in the past and offer advice about what will ensure success in future life; many speeches tell students to strive for certain goals, to believe in certain things.
If graduation speakers are allowed to tell students to believe in progress, self-esteem, love, truth, beauty, justice, or whatever, as keys to success in the future, then why can't a student tell other students that the key to life, the key to true success in what really matters (eternal life), is belief in Jesus Christ? After all, in a graduation speech, individual students cover a wide range of topics and frequently philosophize about all kinds of beliefs, values, and viewpoints. Why is it that one can talk about Aristotle, for instance, and say, "His thoughts are great," but one is not allowed to say the same thing about Jesus or even mention His name?
It does look like discrimination--a denial of religious viewpoint expression--under the guise of the Establishment Clause.
At the same time, one can deliver a so-called "nondenominational" speech (the word is not accurate here because "denomination" refers to different denominations or sects of Christianity; it's not a word meant to distinguish between different world religions--say, between Christianity and Hinduism). In the above cases of Lassonde and Cole, "nondenominational" is erroneously defined to mean "inclusive of all religions"--but that is requiring a speaker to redefine his own religious beliefs, which is denial of the free exercise of his religion in contradiction to the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause. "[I]nclusive of all religions" presumably refers to the religious secularist tenet discussed above, that there is a set of ideas common to all religions, which, as was discussed above, really limits the speaker to only those ideas found in pagan religions and is, ironically, an establishment of religion in the name of the Establishment Clause.
Furthermore, censoring someone's speech for religious viewpoints is not only "chilling" speech by encouraging self-censorship in the future, it creates, in the case of religion, an ironic entanglement of the state with religion, which violates the famous Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) "Establishment Clause test". What's happening is that Christian students are being required to rewrite their own speeches to fit other people's religions. They're not being allowed to present their own religious viewpoint in their own words Apparently, in even tangentially government-related settings, when it comes to "offending" some people who listen to a person talk about his or her own thoughts, it is preferred to offend the Christian who is not allowed to talk about his or her own thoughts. In matters like these, some people's views are chosen over others, and invariably, it is the Christian who is asked to give way and compromise.
Asking the Christian alone to give way and redefine his or her own views to fit the sensibilities of others: That's the definition of the religious secularist viewpoint of the so-called "separation of church and state".
Jaffree v. Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County, Alabama (1983), in deciding in favor of allowing school prayer, raised the issue of whether religious secularism (secular humanism) is trying to become established in the United States:
By and large, [...] the Christian ethic is the predominant ethic in the nation today  unless it has been supplanted by secular humanism. [***] The reason that this can be important to the decision of this Court is that case law deals generally with removing the teachings of the Christian ethic from the scholastic effort but totally ignores the teaching of the secular humanist ethic. It was pointed out in the testimony that the curriculum in the public schools of Mobile County is rife with efforts at teaching or encouraging secular humanism--all without opposition from any other ethic--to such an extent that it becomes a brainwashing effort. If this Court is compelled to purge "God is great, God is good, we thank Him for our daily food" from the classroom, then this Court must also purge from the classroom those things that serve to teach that salvation is through one's self rather than through a deity. Indeed, the Supreme Court in Abington School District v. Schempp, 374 U.S. 203, 225, 83 S.Ct. 1560, 1573, 10 L.Ed.2d 844 (1963) (quoting Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 314, 72 S.Ct. 679, 684, 96 L.Ed. 954 (1952), noted that "the State may not establish a 'religion of secularism' in the sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to a religion, thus preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe."
That secular humanism is a religion within the definition of that term which the "high wall" must exclude is supported by the finding in Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 495 n. 11, 81 S.Ct. 1680, 1684 n. 11, 6 L.Ed.2d 982 (1961), which recognized that secular humanism is a religion in the traditional sense of the word and also in the statement of the 276 intellectuals who advocate the doctrine of secular religion as delineated in the Humanist Manifesto I and II. [***]
Textbooks which were admitted into evidence demonstrated many examples in the way this theory of religion is advanced. The intervenors maintain that their children are being so taught and that this Court must preclude the Mobile County School Board from continuing to advance such a religion or in the alternative to allow instruction in the schools that would give a child an opportunity to compare the ethics of each religion so as to make their own credibility or value choices. To this extent, this Court is impressed that the advocacy of the intervenors on the point of necessity makes them parties plaintiff and to this extent they should be realigned as such inasmuch as both object to the teaching of certain religions.
Jaffree v. Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County, 554 F.Supp. 1104, 1129-1130 n. 41 (S.D. Ala. 1983) (HAND, C.J.).
Jonathan Edwards, in his comments on the Great Awakening View of Religious Secularism (sections republished from Deism Revealed, Second Edition), insightfully pointed out that the enshrinement of man's unaided reason (which was then called natural religion but which today would be religious secularism) is really not new, but old. It is a recycled idea already tried out by the ancient pagan intellectuals, particularly those of Greece and Rome. (Ezra Stiles later said the same.)
Furthermore, one cannot escape the fact that even pagans and religious secularists borrowed from God's revelation, ultimately revealed in Christianity. Edwards said:
"The world has had a great deal of experience of the necessity of a revelation; we may see it in all ages, that have been without a revelation. In what gross darkness and brutal stupidity have such places, in these matters, always been overwhelmed! and how many and how great and foolish mistakes, and what endless uncertainty and differences of opinion have there been among the most learned and philosophical! Yet there never was a real trial how it would be with mankind in this respect, without having any thing from revelation. I believe that most of those parts of natural religion that were held by the Heathens [pagans] before Christ, were owing to tradition from those of their forefathers who had the light of [God's] revelation. And many of those being most evidently agreeable to reason, were more easily upheld and propagated. Many of their wise men who had influence and rule over them, saw their rectitude and agreeableness to reason better than others. Some of them traveled much, and those things which appeared most agreeable to their reason, they transplanted to their own country. Judea was a sort of light among the nations, though they did not know it. The practice and principles of that country kept the neighboring nations in remembrance of traditions, which they had from their forefathers; and so kept them from degenerating so much as otherwise they would have done. In fact, the philosophers had the foundation of most of their truths, from the ancients, or from the Phoenicians, or what they picked up here and there of the relics of revelation."
"If Christianity came too late into the world, what is called natural religion came full as late; and there are no footsteps of natural religion, in any sense of the words, to be found at this day, but where Christianity has been planted. In every place else, religion has no conformity with reason or truth. So far is the light of nature from lending sufficient assistance. It is strange, that the natural light should be so clear, and yet the natural darkness so great, that in all unassisted countries the most monstrous forms of religion, derogatory to God, and prejudicial to man, should be contrived by some, and swallowed by the rest, with a most voracious credulity. I could wish most heartily, that all nations were Christians; yet, since it is otherwise, we derive this advantage from it, that we have a standing and contemporary demonstration of that which nature, left to herself, can do. Had all the world been Christians for some ages past, our present libertines [deists] would insist, that Christianity had done no service to mankind; that nature could have sufficiently directed herself; and that all the stories told, either in sacred or profane [secular] history, of the idolatry and horrible forms of religion in ancient times, were forged by Christian priests, to make the world think revelation necessary, and natural reason incapable of dictating true and right notions of religion. But, as the case stands at present, we have such proofs of the insufficiency of unassisted reason in this behalf, as all the subtilty of libertines is unable to evade."
Jonathan Edwards had this to say about the religious secularist (deist)'s philosophical attempt to devise moral codes, foundations of law, or religious systems without reference to God's written principles:
"Thus, it is plain, whether we consider what the human understanding could do, or what it actually did, that it could not have attained to a sufficient knowledge of God, without revelation; so that the demonstration brought in favor of some religion, ends in a demonstration of the revealed. When we attentively consider the nature of man, we find it necessary he should have some religion. When we consider the nature of God, we must conclude he never would have made a falsehood necessary to the happiness of his rational creatures; and that therefore there must be a true religion. And when we consider, that, by our natural faculties, it is extremely difficult to arrive at a right idea of God, till he reveals it to us; that all the Gentile world has run into the grossest theological errors, and, in consequence of these, into the most enormous customs and crimes; and that no legislator ever founded his scheme of civil government on any supposed religious dictates of nature, but always on some real or pretended revelation: we cannot help ascribing all the true religion in the world to divine instruction; and all the frightful variety of religious errors to human invention; and to that dark and degenerate nature, by the imaginary light of which, Deists suppose the right idea of God may be easily and universally discovered."
Thus, Jonathan Edwards' thoughts have relevance for our day--even to something as seemingly remotely tangential as framing a constitution for the European Union or devising a body of international (universal) law. His thoughts have relevance on whether or not the United States Constitution should be interpreted to comport with a universal body of laws that embodies the laws of other nations.
Compare the basis for the United States Constitution with the basis for laws enacted by other nations. And then remember Jonathan Edwards' reminder: Systems in the past have failed when they totally ignored God's commandments. A body of universal law can be good, fair, just, and free only if it adheres to the thoughts of the only One who has ever been perfectly good, fair, just and free. And such thoughts of His are found in Christianity.
For further reading:
Jesus Is the Light of the World
Jonathan Edwards' View of Religious Secularism
Jonathan Edwards on the Great Awakening View of Enlightenment
Ezra Stiles, The United States Elevated to Glory and Honor (1783) (he discusses deism, a.ka. religious secularism near the end of his discourse.)
William Cooper, The Honors of Christ Demanded of the Magistrate (1740)
Benjamin Colman, Government the Pillar of the Earth (1730)
Samuel Cooke, The True Principles of Civil Government (1770)
Rehnquist's Dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree (1985)
Jaffree v. Board of School Commissioners of Mobile County (1983)
Pretexts and Commandments (a Belcher Foundation Christian Law Library commentary)
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. All rights reserved.
DISCLAIMER: This website is for information purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice. This website cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of the materials herein. For the official version of quoted or reproduced decisions/documents, see the original source.
Home - Policy Analysis - Christian Law Library - Christian History Library
Historical Biographies - Belcher Bulletin - Publications - Belcher History Center
About Governor Jonathan Belcher - About the Belcher Foundation - Copyright/Disclaimer - Site Index