Theism had a critical influence on America’s development of law, government, and culture. America’s beginnings, under the King George III’s heavy hand of tyranny, gave birth to patriots who worked hard, sacrificed much, and held liberty dear. They valued a form of government that fit with this mindset. This form of government and culture was, as John Adams said, “made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”
Why a moral and religious people? Why not just moral? Many atheists also claim to be moral. Many even uphold much of what the Founding Fathers upheld. Why add “religious” to the requirement? A vital part of the answer to this question lies in a four page document – arguably the most important document in American History – the Constitution.
The Constitution refers to “unalienable rights” – rights that people possess that other people cannot take away. This creates a huge problem for the atheist. Who gave these rights? If people can’t take them away, then certainly people couldn’t have given them. If people are the most highly evolved being, then there’s no one with the authority to give them! Thus, there is no framework for “unalienable rights” in the eyes of an atheist.
Therein lies the greatest threat to American freedom today. Rights are seen as privileges, no longer unalienable, and no longer free. Without a Higher Being to give them, rights are corrupted by power.
The entire form of government that the Founders dreamed of for their fledgling nation was built upon a Higher Being – God. Without God, there are no rights for government to protect, so government has to create them. If government creates the rights, then government gets to decide what those rights are. And if government gets to decide what those rights are, then government has overreached and overgrown, spilling into a region that is not its own.
America has let government grow into a gruesome, hidden, and subtle monster; and made government her god.
Legislation will never fix the terrible problem that our nation faces today. The ideals that our forefathers held were not based on Christianity per se. But they were definitely inseparable from the idea of a Higher Being—an idea that is scoffed at today. So, no, legislation will not fix America. Electing a certain candidate will not fix America. Protesting, lobbying, and voting will not fix America. It is a much more serious matter—of the hearts and minds of the people.
The prophetic words of George Washington’s farewell address eerily trickle down the stream of time and reveal the shortcomings of a nation that no longer holds the values Washington and his contemporaries held so dear. A nation that valued limited government now sports a government so big it can’t even fund itself. A nation that was founded on unalienable rights now pacifies its citizens with privileges. And a nation that was truly “One Nation Under God” now simply stamps the virtually meaningless words on its coinage.
America is ripe for revival or judgment. Which will it be?
I first wrote this short essay as a sophomore in my undergraduate degree, in 2014. Since then, I have revised and edited it, and recently posted it on my blog.