Losing the Republic

Americans celebrate their independence today in a very different society from the one born in 1776. The beliefs the Founders held most dear, and upon which they built a uniquely free society, are largely alien -- even objectionable -- in today's America. I am not referring to the changes brought about by President Obama, but to a deeper change that preceded Obama and which fueled his ascendancy.   

The principles of freedom upon which America was built -- such as the ideas that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights -- arose from religious beliefs held firmly by the Founders. Even the less religious Founders accepted the truth of those beliefs. But in recent decades, America has replaced its history with a narrative that resembles the French Revolution more than our own. We have reimagined ourselves as a secular nation based on secular principles. While many Americans believe secularization increases our freedom, it in fact reduces our freedom and will eventually destroy it. The Founders tried to tell us, but we refuse to listen: Secularism and freedom are incompatible.

The Essential Equality of All People. One of the pillars of American freedom is the belief that all people are created equal. By this, the Founders did not mean to imply that all people share equal intelligence, productivity, social status, or physical gifts. Rather, the Founders believed all people are "equal" in the sense that all are created personally and individually by God, in His image. This gives people of all different talents and shortcomings inherent dignity that cannot rightfully be diminished by others, even by government. The Founders learned this idea from its original and only source: the book of Genesis.      

A Nation of Laws. Because the Founders believed all people are equal in the eyes of God, they formed a nation not of kings or tyrants, but of laws. All citizens -- from the weakest to the most powerful -- would be subject to the same public rules. The Founders envisioned a citizenry living in submission to laws enforced equally, leaving people free essentially to govern themselves without micro-management by overbearing government. But the Founders knew the law could not create a moral burden to obey it. The moral burden to obey the law, even when no one is watching, arises only from the biblical belief in a holy God who knows people individually, watches them, and prizes personal and civil obedience. Apart from belief in this God, a self-governing society is unworkable. A nation of laws will crumble when a significant number of citizens -- especially those in power -- no longer feels morally bound to submit to those laws. 

Limited Government. America is one of the few countries where government authority was initially limited to a short list of powers. The Founders separated even those few powers into different branches, creating a system of checks and balances. But this idea arose from the Founders' shared beliefs in two biblical truths: that God, not government, is the highest authority in the life of the citizen, and that man is a fallen race. The Founders knew that concentrated power is dangerous in the hands of fallen people. Their belief in the biblical teaching of original sin compelled them to carefully apportion and limit government power. Apart from the biblical doctrine of the Fall, one would struggle to justify such an inefficient structure of government.   

Unalienable Rights. The Founders believed that limits on government power were essential to protect individual rights they considered "unalienable." In other words, the Founders believed that certain rights should be out of government's reach because they originate from a higher authority. These rights could not be overruled by government unless the individual forfeited them by breaking the law. But how could rights truly be "unalienable"? Only if they are bestowed on all people by the Creator, apart from any act of government. 

By listing some of those God-given rights -- among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- the Founders not only recognized the permanence of those rights, but also declared them to be knowable. In other words, the Founders accepted God's definitions of those rights. When they recognized the citizen's unalienable to right to life, the Founders were accepting God's definition of life. Likewise, the unalienable right to liberty was a right to liberty as God defines liberty; and to happiness as God defines happiness. Nearly all of the Founders believed that God had spoken clearly on these matters, leaving government in the role of protector­ -- not definer -- of that which God had declared.

Fewer and fewer Americans believe that their unalienable rights have anything to do with God or the Bible. But if those rights do not come from the Creator, as the Bible teaches, then they are not unalienable, and there is no moral basis upon which to forbid government from changing them. 

Rejecting Our Own Foundations. Today, many Americans recoil at the thought of mixing biblical beliefs and public policy. Biblical beliefs are viewed more as a hindrance to freedom than a source of it. Imagining that there are other bases for a free society, we strive to disassociate ourselves from the very beliefs the Founders deemed essential. We have deemed those beliefs too Western, too limiting, too oppressive, too discriminatory, too imperialistic, too white, and too Christian. To even mention these truths is to be accused of advocating theocracy, a charge which the Founders would find ironic.

Americans still speak of equality, a nation of laws, and unalienable rights, but today these are hollow words unmoored in anything permanent. The idea of equality withers when torn from the biblical truth that all people are made in the image of God. Self-government fails apart from belief in a God who prizes civil obedience. If original sin is treated as myth, then the separation of powers is merely an inconvenience, and limitations on government power seem quaint. If the God who issued our unalienable rights is uninvited from the public square, then no one's rights are truly unalienable. 

The new secular vocabulary of America does not include the words needed to define true freedom. And because we can't define it, we don't always know when we are giving it away. 

So when you read of courts that banish biblical truth from their chambers; judges who claim the power to redefine personhood and marriage; politicians who seek to redistribute private wealth by passing voluminous laws they have not read, which channel vast sums of private money through government agencies and escrow funds; elected servants regaling their own virtue and demonizing the private sector which funds their pensions; and a president who apologizes for America's past, who is unable to name our gravest enemy, and who hesitates to stand publicly with our allies in the fight against tyranny and barbarism, you are witnessing the results of a once-great Republic that has lost its belief in itself.

As Benjamin Franklin left Independence Hall at the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he was asked, "Well, doctor, what have we got -- a Republic or a Monarchy?" Franklin replied, "A Republic, if you can keep it." He knew it would be difficult to sustain a government founded on weighty theological beliefs. But he could not have imagined the fervor with which America would one day turn against its own foundations. 

Adam G. Mersereau is the author of Uncivil Society: Government's War Against God and the Plight of the Christian Citizen, published in May by Bridge-Logos Publishers. A former Marine officer, Mr. Mersereau now practices law in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
Americans celebrate their independence today in a very different society from the one born in 1776. The beliefs the Founders held most dear, and upon which they built a uniquely free society, are largely alien -- even objectionable -- in today's America. I am not referring to the changes brought about by President Obama, but to a deeper change that preceded Obama and which fueled his ascendancy.   

The principles of freedom upon which America was built -- such as the ideas that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights -- arose from religious beliefs held firmly by the Founders. Even the less religious Founders accepted the truth of those beliefs. But in recent decades, America has replaced its history with a narrative that resembles the French Revolution more than our own. We have reimagined ourselves as a secular nation based on secular principles. While many Americans believe secularization increases our freedom, it in fact reduces our freedom and will eventually destroy it. The Founders tried to tell us, but we refuse to listen: Secularism and freedom are incompatible.

The Essential Equality of All People. One of the pillars of American freedom is the belief that all people are created equal. By this, the Founders did not mean to imply that all people share equal intelligence, productivity, social status, or physical gifts. Rather, the Founders believed all people are "equal" in the sense that all are created personally and individually by God, in His image. This gives people of all different talents and shortcomings inherent dignity that cannot rightfully be diminished by others, even by government. The Founders learned this idea from its original and only source: the book of Genesis.      

A Nation of Laws. Because the Founders believed all people are equal in the eyes of God, they formed a nation not of kings or tyrants, but of laws. All citizens -- from the weakest to the most powerful -- would be subject to the same public rules. The Founders envisioned a citizenry living in submission to laws enforced equally, leaving people free essentially to govern themselves without micro-management by overbearing government. But the Founders knew the law could not create a moral burden to obey it. The moral burden to obey the law, even when no one is watching, arises only from the biblical belief in a holy God who knows people individually, watches them, and prizes personal and civil obedience. Apart from belief in this God, a self-governing society is unworkable. A nation of laws will crumble when a significant number of citizens -- especially those in power -- no longer feels morally bound to submit to those laws. 

Limited Government. America is one of the few countries where government authority was initially limited to a short list of powers. The Founders separated even those few powers into different branches, creating a system of checks and balances. But this idea arose from the Founders' shared beliefs in two biblical truths: that God, not government, is the highest authority in the life of the citizen, and that man is a fallen race. The Founders knew that concentrated power is dangerous in the hands of fallen people. Their belief in the biblical teaching of original sin compelled them to carefully apportion and limit government power. Apart from the biblical doctrine of the Fall, one would struggle to justify such an inefficient structure of government.   

Unalienable Rights. The Founders believed that limits on government power were essential to protect individual rights they considered "unalienable." In other words, the Founders believed that certain rights should be out of government's reach because they originate from a higher authority. These rights could not be overruled by government unless the individual forfeited them by breaking the law. But how could rights truly be "unalienable"? Only if they are bestowed on all people by the Creator, apart from any act of government. 

By listing some of those God-given rights -- among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -- the Founders not only recognized the permanence of those rights, but also declared them to be knowable. In other words, the Founders accepted God's definitions of those rights. When they recognized the citizen's unalienable to right to life, the Founders were accepting God's definition of life. Likewise, the unalienable right to liberty was a right to liberty as God defines liberty; and to happiness as God defines happiness. Nearly all of the Founders believed that God had spoken clearly on these matters, leaving government in the role of protector­ -- not definer -- of that which God had declared.

Fewer and fewer Americans believe that their unalienable rights have anything to do with God or the Bible. But if those rights do not come from the Creator, as the Bible teaches, then they are not unalienable, and there is no moral basis upon which to forbid government from changing them. 

Rejecting Our Own Foundations. Today, many Americans recoil at the thought of mixing biblical beliefs and public policy. Biblical beliefs are viewed more as a hindrance to freedom than a source of it. Imagining that there are other bases for a free society, we strive to disassociate ourselves from the very beliefs the Founders deemed essential. We have deemed those beliefs too Western, too limiting, too oppressive, too discriminatory, too imperialistic, too white, and too Christian. To even mention these truths is to be accused of advocating theocracy, a charge which the Founders would find ironic.

Americans still speak of equality, a nation of laws, and unalienable rights, but today these are hollow words unmoored in anything permanent. The idea of equality withers when torn from the biblical truth that all people are made in the image of God. Self-government fails apart from belief in a God who prizes civil obedience. If original sin is treated as myth, then the separation of powers is merely an inconvenience, and limitations on government power seem quaint. If the God who issued our unalienable rights is uninvited from the public square, then no one's rights are truly unalienable. 

The new secular vocabulary of America does not include the words needed to define true freedom. And because we can't define it, we don't always know when we are giving it away. 

So when you read of courts that banish biblical truth from their chambers; judges who claim the power to redefine personhood and marriage; politicians who seek to redistribute private wealth by passing voluminous laws they have not read, which channel vast sums of private money through government agencies and escrow funds; elected servants regaling their own virtue and demonizing the private sector which funds their pensions; and a president who apologizes for America's past, who is unable to name our gravest enemy, and who hesitates to stand publicly with our allies in the fight against tyranny and barbarism, you are witnessing the results of a once-great Republic that has lost its belief in itself.

As Benjamin Franklin left Independence Hall at the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, he was asked, "Well, doctor, what have we got -- a Republic or a Monarchy?" Franklin replied, "A Republic, if you can keep it." He knew it would be difficult to sustain a government founded on weighty theological beliefs. But he could not have imagined the fervor with which America would one day turn against its own foundations. 

Adam G. Mersereau is the author of Uncivil Society: Government's War Against God and the Plight of the Christian Citizen, published in May by Bridge-Logos Publishers. A former Marine officer, Mr. Mersereau now practices law in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

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