Wednesday, January 16, 2008

U.S. Not a "Christian Republic"

Richard Reeb:

Thanks for forwarding that item on this question. I agree with its sentiments, and liked its common sense approach. I certainly agree that our country has departed from our founding principles. I do not agree, however, that the foundation of our regime is "The Gospel of Jesus Christ." I believe that our founding principles are rooted in and directly derived from the natural law, not the Gospel as such except indirectly. This distinction is important because the natural law foundation allows non-Christians to be citizens of the Republic and to hold elective or appointed offices in good conscience. Ours is not a sectarian regime. The Constitution establishes no religious test either for office or for citizenship. Our regime was not founded to be a new Christendom. It forbids the establishment of religion while protecting its free exercise.

This does not mean that our Founders intended to found a secular regime, as that term is understood today. They did not mean to kick God out of the public square. They believed that self-government in the political sense is dependent on government of himself by each citizen. And they believed that individual self-government requires virtue and morality in each citizen, both of which are impossible for most humans without religion. The regime they intended was not hostile to religion, but dependent upon it if it were to long endure. Also, the Founders believed that for the most part there is no contradiction between Christianity and the natural law with respect to morality.

Did you know that the Declaration of Independence explicitly recognizes God in four places, and in four roles?

1. God as Law-Giver: "The laws of nature and nature's God" justify this act of separation (i.e. revolution) and distinguish it from mere rebellion.

2. God as Creator: "All men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights...." (God created us and made us naturally equal [only] in that respect.)

3. God as Supreme Judge: "Appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions...." (You can judge the rectitude of our action because the facts of our situation and the principles of natural law are accessible to reason. But only God can know our real intentions, so judge them and us--as indeed He will.)

4. God as Providence: "[F]or the support of this declaration, with firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honour." (You can also believe that our intentions are right and honorable because we stake all on this endeavor, even our sacred honor. You should support us because our just cause will be vindicated by Divine Providence, which governs all and protects men of good will.)

The theology of the Declaration is a natural theology grounded in both the laws of nature and the laws of nature's God. [The latter "laws" could be a reference to Revelation and the laws knowable only by Faith ( e.g., in "The Gospel of Jesus Christ"). But I doubt it. More probably it is a reference to the fact that the natural law is not morally obligatory if not rooted in Divine command (which is law to his creatures), or in what St. Thomas [Aquinas] called "the eternal law."] I believe that the Declaration's principles and argument refute the claims of the Secularists who would kick God out of our politics, laws, and customs. Nor do they support the claims of those Christians who proclaim that our regime is founded on the Gospel or its Christian principles. Compatibility is one thing; identity is another.

Our regime does not recognize a triune God whose essence is love. Our regime is ordered to freedom and justice, not to the advent of the Kingdom of God. Nor does our regime command either love of God or love of neighbor as does the Gospel. Finally, Christ founded a Church, not a polity. Salvation is to be found only in Christ and through Christ. It is not to be found in politics, or through politics, or through the founding or reconstitution of the political and social order. That belief is idolatry.

(I realize that the author of the item you sent did not preach that idolatry , and was not endorsing those Christians who have reduced Christianity to "The Social Gospel.")

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