VOL. 15, NO. 4
May 23, 2013
Back to the Basics:
Straightening Up America, IV:
Remembering the Faith of Our Fathers
By Virginia Armstrong, Ph.D., National Chairman
As we celebrate this Memorial Day and those who have fought to protect our country and our Constitution, the enemies of our venerable Judeo-Christian Constitution continue to pommel us with their Reconstructionist/Humanistic attacks. In so doing, they force us to continue asking, “How far can you make a man bend over backwards before he breaks?” This anguished cry was heard in one of the most widely acclaimed musical productions of the Twentieth Century, “Fiddler on the Roof.” And it is the thought with which we have begun our latest Court Watch Briefings. We are asking, “Has America bent over backwards too far in its spiritual, moral, and constitutional life — too far from our Constitution and its Judeo-Christian roots? Are we as a nation in sore need of “a fundamental straightening up process”? Going “back to the basics” gives us the answer.
This question, indeed, must be faced by Western civilization in general, not just the United States. As we discussed in our last “Briefing,” law professor Harold Berman argues that the Western legal tradition, essential to all of Western civilization, was characterized by ten qualities, six of which “have been severely weakened in the latter part of the twentieth century, especially in the United States, threatening to collapse the entire tradition.”
The second of these characteristics, concerning the growth/sources of the “law,” holds that the law of today has its sources in the past. “The past” includes not only what is clearly recognized as the “law,” but also those deeper and broader non-legal realms of thought and life on which “law” is based — legal philosophy, general philosophy, and even religion/theology. “Law” thus has its own history and capacity to grow over a long period of time from roots in the “law” and inseparably law-related arenas.
The American legal tradition sits squarely within the Christian worldview and rests squarely on Christian theology/religious thought. The United States as a nation was rooted in a faith that applied to our Constitution and legal system as well as to issues of theology and personal spirituality. Our Founders saw this faith, the Christian faith, as highly beneficial to civil society, indeed as necessary to our nation’s survival. The nature of this faith and the Founders’ passionate commitment to it are obvious in the following quotes from early American statesmen and one highly-ranked British judicial official, all of whom speak directly to us Americans today.
John Adams: “The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were . . . the general principles of Christianity. . . . Now I will avow that I then believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”
Noah Webster: “The religion which has introduced civil liberty is the religion of Christ and his apostles, which enjoins humility, piety, and benevolence; which acknowledges in every person a brother or a sister, and a citizen with equal rights. This is genuine Christianity, and to this we owe our free constitutions of government.”
James Madison: “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the ability of mankind for self-government; upon the capacity to each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF GOD.”
John Jay: “I . . . recommend a general and public return of praise and thanksgiving to Him from whose goodness these blessings descend. The most effectual means of securing the continuance of our civil and religious liberties is always to remember with reverence and gratitude the source from which they flow.”
Samuel Adams: “A general dissolution of the principles and manners [i.e., moral, decent, respectful conduct] will more surely overthrow the liberties of America than the whole force of the common enemy. While the people are virtuous, they cannot be subdued, but when once they lose their virtue, they will be ready to surrender their liberties to the first external or internal invader.”
Alfred Lord Denning (late Twentieth Century British Jurist): “Some people speak of natural justice as though it was a thing well recognisable [sic] by anyone, whatever his training and upbringing. But the common law of England has been molded for centuries by judges who have been brought up on the Christian faith. The precepts of religion have been their guide in the administration of justice. . . . What does it all come to? Surely this, that if we seek truth and justice, we cannot find it by argument and debate, nor by reading and thinking, but only by the maintenance of true religion and virtue. Religion concerns the spirit in man whereby he is able to recognize what is truth and what is justice; whereas law is only the application, however imperfectly, of truth and justice in our every day affairs. If religion perishes in the land, truth and justice will also. We have already strayed too far from the faith of our fathers. Let us return to it, for it is the only thing that can save us.”
Nothing takes us “back to the basics” more directly than this cameo view of our Founders’ values and principles. If America is to indeed be “straightened up,” we surely must heed Lord Denning’s warning and return to the faith of our fathers. Nothing less than this will reverse our spiritual, moral, and constitutional spiral backwards and return us to the stature of a straight, tall, good, and just people our Constitution and its Founders envisioned and established.