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  • Morning Bell: Faith in America

    “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time,” Thomas Jefferson once wrote. “The hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.” Among the American Founders, there was a profound sense that faith and freedom were deeply intertwined.

    Nowadays, we are often told that religion is divisive and ought to kept away from politics for the sake of liberty. Religion somehow is opposed to liberty, and so liberty requires a diminution of religion in the public square.

    The view long consistent with our historical practice, though, is that of America’s Founders, who advanced religious liberty so as to strengthen religious faith and its influence on American self-government. All had a natural right to worship God as they chose, according to the dictates of their consciences. At the same time, the Founders upheld religion and morality–to paraphrase Washington’s Farewell Address–as indispensable supports of good habits, the firmest props of the duties of citizens, and the great pillars of human happiness.

    Religious liberty neither settles nor dismisses the claims of reason and revelation to teach the most important things for human beings to know. But it does create a practical solution–after thousands of years of failed attempts–at the level of politics and political morality. It established a form of government that is sanctioned by human nature and open to moral reasoning, the legitimacy of which does not depend on the truth of any particular religious denomination.

    This solution is possible because the American Founders recognized general moral precepts that are understandable by human reason and no less agreeable to faith in the form of a general revelation of creation. This morality common to both natural reason and divine revelation, usually termed natural law, is the philosophical ground of the American Founding.

    We can see this agreement of reason and revelation in the Declaration of Independence. The liberties recognized in it are deduced from a higher law to which all human laws are answerable and by which they are limited. This higher law can be understood by man’s practical reason–the truths of the Declaration are held to be “self-evident”–but also by the revealed word of God. There are four references to God in the document: to “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God”; to all men being “created equal” and “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights”; to “the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions”; and to “the protection of divine Providence.” The first term suggests a deity that is knowable by human reason, but the others–God as creator, as judge, and as providence–are more biblical, and add (and were assuredly intended to add) a theological context to the document.

    From the perspective of religious faith, the basic principles of the Founding, at the level of political principles, were understood to be in essential agreement with the core precepts of the Bible. That this is the case can be seen throughout the many church sermons published from the founding era.  While we have never been and should not try to become a nation defined by a particular or official religious denomination, we must never forget that, as the Supreme Court said in 1952 (and reiterated in 1963, and again in 1984), “We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.”

    The health and strength of liberty depend on the principles, standards, and morals shared by nearly all religions.  What the “separation of church and state” does is liberate America’s religions–in respect to their moral forms and teachings–to exercise unprecedented influence over private and public opinion by shaping citizens’ mores, cultivating their virtues, and in general, providing a pure and independent source of moral reasoning and authority. This is what Alexis de Tocqueville meant when he observed that even though religion “never mixes directly in the government of society,” it nevertheless determines the “habits of the heart” and is “the first of their political institutions.”

    As we gather with our families to celebrate Christmas and Hanukkah, let us remember that our greatest blessing as Americans is the freedom to pursue our eternal duties to God and of religion to pursue freely its divine mission among men on earth.

    As George Washington wrote to the Hebrew Congregation at Newport in 1790, so all of us at The Heritage Foundation proclaim to our friends and fellow citizens: “May the father of all mercies scatter light, and not darkness, upon our paths, and make us all in our several vocations useful here, and in His own due time and way everlastingly happy.”

    Matthew Spalding, Ph.D., is Vice President of American Studies and Director, B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics

    Quick Hits:

    Posted in First Principles [slideshow_deploy]

    39 Responses to Morning Bell: Faith in America

    1. Doug Whaley says:

      Religious faith is an individual thing. As the country leans further toward socialism peoples religious faith will decrease as it has in the European countries. Their faith is transferred to the government because they become more dependent on the government. This is exactly what democrats want and have been striving for. This is their power source.

      I have no faith in this country surviving as a representative government. The tipping point has been reached and the politicians no longer see political office as a service to their country but only to themselves. The democrats are willing to bankrupt the country to stay in power and too many republicans are will to go along with it in the hopes of staying in office. A prime example of this is the recent fight over extending the payroll tax reduction which funds social security. Unless I am missing something this tax is the only tax that funds social security which will be going broke in a few years and is running a deficit now. Yet both parties are willing to hasten it's demise for political expediency. Why in the world would I have any faith in this country's survival with the low life politicians running it now on both sides of the aisle?

      • toledofan says:

        I think you've hit the nail on the head and it's obvious that we've lost our way, but, I still think there is time to turn the ship. As the 2012 elections get close, I think that there is enough angst to put the boot to a lot of the incumbents, including Obama. It's taken along time to get to where we are today and it's going to take some time to get back to right of center. The upcoming election will be one of the most important in the past 50 years, so,everybodies just got to do their part.

      • jim says:

        social security tax is small portion of payroll tax. any tax cut is good as far as i am concerned. less government =country's survival, so vote for Ron Paul next year!

      • Rick Steeno says:

        I understand your frustration Doug, but we have seen worse and been through worse. As long as there are true Americans like you able to recognize the problems we face, there will be hope that you, me and others can solve them.
        Hang in there…..)))))

    2. Jules says:

      Religion is the codification of natural laws which have been perverted through the centuries to give a certain belief that they are more favored by the God of us all than another.
      Natural law is "self-evident". Easy to follow. Needs no instruction book, nor lessons, to be a practitioner. Pay attention to what is harmful to others and it'll be "self-evident" what is the natural law. "Do unto to others as you would have them do unto you". That pretty much sums it all up. It can apply to all peoples of all faiths everywhere. Simple. Like the truths in the Declaration of Independence, it is simple and to the point.

    3. Paul G. Littlefield says:

      Thankyou for this affirmation of the faith in God which guided our Founding Fathers and sustains patriots today. It was very refreshing to read these encouraging words of Dr. Spalding.

      In these dark times it is often tempting to abandon our religious and spiritual grounding and join the flow of outrageous anti-God sentiments that surround us like the waves of a tsunami. But just when we think that we are alone in our faith, we are reminded that, just as in the times of the Hebrew Kingdoms of the Old Testament, there is a remnant of believers who have not bowed the knee to the modern equivalence of the idolatry of Baal worship. At Christmas we are reminded of Emanuel, meaning "God (is) with us" still.

    4. bigjet says:

      Ditto on Dougs whaley's comment.

      Sad:( but true.

      The Prince of Darkness has an every increasing hold on the lost until the last battle is fought, but cheer is in the hearts of HIS people who know the truth of Gods word and they know the outcome of that battle which was won on Calvery and evil will be defeated once and for all.

    5. FlaJim says:

      The conclusions drawn here clearly illustrate that America, as founded, cannot survive without a strong Christian moral basis. Our Constitution, one of the shortest in the world, presupposed that. In fact, a number of the Founders, including Franklin, Adams, Madison, and Jefferson, said so. Several even went so far as to say that without that morality, the nation could not survive.

      In contrast, the constitution of the EU consists of 1,700 articles because the secular humanists who authored the monstrosity presuppose nothing and simply mandate behavior and standards.

      This brings up another point in our welcoming moslems into our country whose heritage and system of beliefs is completely inimical to ours. How are we to trust people who adhere to a 'religion' that teaches that cheating, stealing, lying, and 'honor killing' are perfectly acceptable as long as it furthers their cause? Given that, they can't swear allegiance to the Constitution, be sworn into office, or trusted in any capacity.

    6. Gordon Oosterhouse says:

      It surely is a centuries old blessing for everyone that the Virgin Mary wasn't a "Pro-Choice" person and in spite of her young age did not head for the nearest government family planning office run by Acorn! Instead she accepted the shelter of a small space out in the barn with the animals.

    7. Wayne Grievo says:

      We have no other reasonable guide other than religious morality and the Constitution. The gift of freedom comes from God. The gift that insures that freedom is our Constitution, There could never be a free nation without Gods Will.

    8. bentonmarder says:

      onvention was asked what the Convention had created. "A republic—if you can keep it." Even so with our other institutions—religion, education, culture, ethics and morals. We have demonstrated that we cannot keep them—even if we wanted. In a very real sense, our country has become insane. 'Whom Jove would destroy, he first makes mad.' Either we 'sane up' PDQ, or we do not.

    9. John says:

      Americans have Faith and Hope. Both Faith and Hope are deeply rooted in the Conservative politicians we've had, greatly respected, and easily recall as exemplary in our Congress and White House. Those people will re-emerge in the near future, as the Earth shakes with enormous reminders of how quickly we can lose the entire Nation and its history. Remember, 11-6-12 is still ahead of us. Neither God nor the American people are likely to let us down after all this insanity.

    10. Dr.Refet Ramiz says:

      Dear Matthew Spalding, Ph.D.,
      I read your article "Faith in America". When you take a look at to the past, nearly the 12.000 years period, you can see that each of the subjects of the religion/belief, politics, liberty, power, nobilty, faith, loyalty, etc. are a part of a system. The corelations between them, also their so called "evaluations" are pulled at each ends by different people for different purposes. As you stated partly some of these subjects are forced to be formed different shapes and sizes. Of course if you are experienced enough, it is more easy to understand their reasons. Also it is necessary to think each of these part of a System, separetly and together. I noted some your good or correct comments about America or about some other regions. But to be able to realise "the conditional-life" for the people under the effects of all matters in a system, it is necessary to understand the System first very well. I worked about these subjects before, theoritically and practically, and putforwarded an Ideology named as "Countries Union". (part 1 of 2)

    11. J E Houser says:

      The most employed and least understood word in the English language is "solipsism."

    12. Lloyd Scallan says:

      I feel the author is mixing two distinct subjects. The first is belief in God, or a supreme being. That is a faith that something is more powerful than man and his made up laws. The second is religion. A person can have a profound faith in God without professing any organized religion. But to the point. Many in Washington, both Dems and Repbs, big government is now both their God and religion. In their view everything flows from government. The result is that they must destroy our faith in a higher power before they can take this nation in the direction of a European socialist society.

    13. Frank says:

      One of the best articles by Heritage all year long & with which I can unreservedly concur.
      God bless Heritage & America.

    14. 2DOkie says:

      If one can find any consolation in our present fix it only comes from your faith. In this case, I have confidence in the simple observation "Whatsoever a man soweth, so shall he also reap" This is a natural law as well as a basic christian teaching. The regressives may fantasize that they can avoid the very social snares and phony crises they try to foist off on the rest of us. As the wise Solomon observed " In vain is the net spread in the sight of every bird. But they lie in wait for their own blood. They lurk secretly for their own lives. So are the ways of everyone who is greedy of gain; It takes away the life of its owners".Prov.1:17-19The regressives will not achieve their intended goals, but will reap the hatred and discontent they have sown.

    15. Charles Stinson says:

      We are fortunate that our founding fathers were intelligent and had some common sense. Our present politicians are so self centered, they are willing to leave their children and grandchildren with a huge debt to inherit that will take years to pay off and leave them with a much lower quality of life. Apparently they feel it is going to get them re-elected. They may find their senseless decisions will backfire on them. It boggles the mind to think our elected officials would put this country in such a irresponsible position. Being beholden to a country like China was not too smart, because we are not responsible enough to control our wasteful spending. We are heading down a very dangerous one way street. The American people better wake up to our Presidents smooth talk that has got us into this mess along with the Senates approval, which I do not understand their thinking. Charles Stinson

    16. Paul Anderson says:

      I am disappointed to see Matt Spalding use the “separation of church and state” argument in the above article; thus perpetuating the false implication of it's validity.

    17. Ron W. Smith says:

      Nice piece, Matt Spalding. Religion is important to a lot of people, and rightfully so, for few have the ability to tough it out in an uncaring universe and, fewer still, the deep background in History of Religions and Comparative Mythology to understand the lineage of their own beliefs and motives. The separation of church and state is important, as a result, to protect us all from one another. At the drop of a hat, some are willing to impose their religious views on others, thinking them "true" and, therefore, superior, when in actuality, they "know" nothing. We are all gropers in the dark after that elusive light, and in America, we are both protected and encouraged in the pursuit,a wonderful heritage from the country's founders.

    18. During the development of the human race there have been specific times, places and people who have made enormous contributions that helped advance the human species to what it is today. Some have been major "positive" contributions but others have directed us down paths that have been detrimental and at times have threatened our very existence. One of those times occurred four to six thousands years BC. During those several thousand years the ancient sages of China developed philosophies and writings that gave the basic rules for future generations to follow. They were based on God's laws, the laws of Nature and the laws developed by ancient civilizations before their time. They gave many warnings of what future generations would become if they didn't follow the basic laws that had developed over those thousands of years.

    19. This is to add my earlier comments about the ancient sages of China. There have been very few attempts to develop a form of governing that would follow the philosophies developed some four to six thousand years ago. One of those attempts was the development of the Constitution of the United States of America by our founding fathers in 1776. We are now seeing our wonderful form of governing being scuttled for a human form of government that has failed every time it has been tried over the last several thousands of years. The "WAY" is the answer and the word of God is the foundation. If we follow man's laws the beneficiary is always the "law maker". If we follow God's laws the beneficiary will always be the "law abider".

    20. BeckNCall says:

      John Adams Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

    21. PADDY O says:

      As Winston Churchill said; Never give up, Never give up, never never never give up.
      We better get our act together because they are trying to split the anti Obama vote. All those "young people " in Iowa who are for Ron Paul are probably really for Obama but since there is no Democrat primary and they can cross over to vote in the Republican Primary they are pulling one of the oldest tricks in the politicians play book; get the weakest candidate nominated to run against Obama!

      When a sewer line breaks in the basement the thing to do is stop the flow, clean up the crap and THEN decide how to fix the problem! We need to stay together to nominate the strongest candidate, get him or her elected and replace the sewer line that is ruining our " Devided House "

    22. Eileen says:

      Four references to God in the Declaration w/ three having a biblical context points to Christianity as the theological doctrine that sheds light on the documents meaning and must exist or occur in our environment to achieve effective interrelated conditions between the Declaration and society. Christianity does not impose anything on anyone else but enhances the freedom we all yearn for set forth in the Declaration. Love this article and love heritage!

    23. Ann says:

      I agree with Paul Anderson. Why does Heritage refer to "separation of church and state?" It does not occur in any of the founding documents. Thomas Jefferson used the term in a letter to a friend, and now all those opposed to religion make massive use of it. America was not to have a national religion as in England, etc. THAT was the only reference made in the Constitution.

    24. and2therepublic says:

      "If men through fear, fraud or mistake, should in terms renounce and give up any essential natural right, the eternal law of reason and the great end of society, would absolutely vacate such renunciation; the right to freedom being the gift of God Almighty, it is not in the power of Man to alienate this gift, and voluntarily become a slave."

      John Adams – Rights of Colonists – 1772.

    25. bargal says:

      I am firmly behind all that believe in the Holy Spikrit and Gods only son Jesus Christ. We will overcome this tragedy of justice and the Devil will be driven out of this government along along with all that chose to do his bidding. 2012 will be the year that Jesus will return to earth in each and every one of us that believe in the Higher power and the Constitution of the United States of America. We will not give in but will prevail over evil

    26. DAVID RUDDELL says:


    27. Don39 says:

      Faith in a nation is foolhardy and faith in the people of America who have fostered the fiasco we have today iseven more so. How can we have faith in a people that slept while there Constitutional Republic was stolen by a cabal of Sociocommunist and socialist RINOs to the point of installing a fraud , a total fraud and an illegal in the Office of President ? No I do not think we can have faith in America until we win back the Constitutional Republic. The nation I fought for no longer exist. It got lost and sold out. Without revolution it will never exist again , not it5 or anything like it. We are headed for certain disaster when the recent past happened and continues to happen. We lost faith in ourselves long before we lost the nation. I do not think there is enough Cymbalta or any other drug, unless it is truth serum, to return this nation to hope and sanity. Then I fear it will require more than the ballot box with its pitiful alternatives. It may require revolution. It surly will require sober minds facing hard truths!

    28. Don39 says:

      If I can not say what I think to be the truth here, send back my years of support and kiss my behind. The truth hurts! This is the last place I expected to be censured!

    29. Don39 says:

      That does it for me!

    30. Greg Vincent says:

      Well said. Sadly, not well understood by most, to our peril.

    31. Juan Martinez says:

      People can be just fine without religion. There are so many religions out there, all of them claiming to be the correct word of god, and so forth. Most of them believe completely wacky things that have no basis in reason, just some person's interpretation of "faith". I think it's mean spirited, and wrong, to claim that moral guidance can come only from religion.

      Furthermore, the Constitution is a secular document, and creates a secular nation. Claims to the contrary lack evidence.

    32. Oscar Manful says:

      I guess you you can call me a Jeffersonian Republican then. I absolutely love his views of religion. He links it to liberty….an undying solution to antisemitism


    33. Amelia Egerer says:

      I like this article. There is another Christmas Day letter that you might find worth your time to read from The American Thinker. It's reminscent of Abraham Lincoln's work.

    34. Larry Craig says:

      I think this article misses something important. Prior to 1965, our country's immigration was essentially limited to Europeans. Our country has always believed in freedom of religion, but it was clearly understood from the beginning that they were talking about Christianity and all its various denominations. When you bring people from all different religious worldviews together, then you end up pushing them all out of the public square so as not to promote one over another. So you end up with secular society.

      Read David Barton's Original Intent. They didn't put Christianity into the Constitution, frankly because it was just assumed. They never would have imagined or allowed this mess we have today.

    35. Blair Franconia, NH says:

      There are those who forget one thing: We have FREEDOM OF RELIGION in this country, NOT FREEDOM FROM RELIGION!

    36. Hans Maier says:

      As demonstrated by Matt Spalding's article and the comments thereon, the Christian religion was and continues to be the rock-solid foundation for the USA's politics, and that is a very good thing. Christianity also thrives in many other parts of the world, but so do other religions like Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confusianism, etc. that also guide their followers' choices, and every one of them is held superior to others by those followers. This is not conducive to a state of healthy decision-making in this crowded world of seven billion human beings, who have to face huge common problems in their common habitat, planet Earth. It would therefore be sensible if Christianity and the other religions were to distinguish between the worshiping part and the part that is concerned with guiding people's choices (decisions). This latter part could then be developed in a collective effort, to arrive at universal guidelines for all citizens of planet Earth. An attempt towards this aim is made with http://www.humanduties.com.

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