Disputing Separation Church/State Part 1
John R. Houk
© March 18, 2014
On May 13 I posted some thoughts entitled “The Commonality between Leftist Paradigms & Scientific Theories”. The thoughts were inspired by one of those misguided people that sincerely believe the U.S. Constitution separates Church and State to the extent that not only is the State prohibited to interfere in religion (religion = Christianity in 1780s), but also that We the People (i.e. the voters) are prohibited from both injecting Christian morality into a limited government AND that government is prohibited from allowing any public institution, policy or building supported by taxpayer money to be used for religious purposes.
At the end of my thoughts I posted an edited version of the comments giving it the title “Comment to: Returning to a Christian Moral Stand will Perpetuate the USA”. The (unedited version) comment was posted on my NeoConservative Christian Right (NCCR) blog. The commenter attributed to himself an obvious pseudonym – dougindeap.
So this is what I am going to do. I am going to make the effort to refute dougindeap’s assertions a bit at a time. This undoubtedly will result in several parts to come close to refuting dougindeap.
The first paragraph has many of those assertions which are skewed by half-truths and downright inaccuracies.
“Separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of our Constitution, much like the principles of separation of powers and checks and balances.”
This above assertion is absolutely FALSE. Separation of powers as well as government Branch checks and balances are specifically enumerated in the Constitution. There is ABSOLUTELY no enumeration of the so-called separation of Church-State in the Constitution EXCEPT the enumeration that Congress can make NO law to establish a State religion (meaning Christian Church in the 1780s) and prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. (Bold emphasis mine)
For simple understanding’s sake let me rehash what is often referred to as the Establishment Clause. Congress specifically, cannot enact legislation that makes a Christian Church a tax supported State institution. The separation is specifically one-way! Congress is to stay out of the religion-church business. There is no specified prohibition for Christian Churches to be a moral influence on government. In fact the Constitution’s Preamble should be used as a guiding principle in constitutional interpretation (Hello SCOTUS):
We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America. (Bold emphasis mine)
Here is a definition of the meaning of the thought “general welfare” from The Free Dictionary:
The concern of the government for the health, peace, morality, and safety of its citizens.
Providing for the welfare of the general public is a basic goal of government. The preamble to the U.S. Constitution cites promotion of the general welfare as a primary reason for the creation of the Constitution. Promotion of the general welfare is also a stated purpose in state constitutions and statutes. The concept has sparked controversy only as a result of its inclusion in the body of the U.S. Constitution. (Bold emphasis mine)
The Free Dictionary listing for “general welfare” goes from the broad meaning found in the Preamble to a specific context carried on from Article 1 Section 8. The essay’s context from Article one is the dispute about States’ Rights versus the power of the Federal government pertaining to taxation. That is beyond the scope of what we are looking at here, but it is interesting to note that The Free Dictionary cites a SCOTUS decision tipping the scale to the Federal government 150 years after the Constitution was enacted. In the matter of taxing and spending the SCOTUS chose the Hamilton argument over the Madison argument meaning the Federal government won. It is my opinion that an interpretation of the Constitution that took a 150 years to find solidification is something that needs a bit more stare decisis to make the Hamilton argument such as the Federal government trumping State’ Rights to be cast in stone.
THUS the Original Intent of the Founding Fathers understanding of the general welfare included morality. Since the Founding Fathers’ milieu was the 1760s through and a bit beyond the 1790s their concept of morality was not based on a Secular Humanism devoid of God and God the Creator’s morality established in the Bible.
This is where Left Wingers would dispute my assertion that Christian morality was the norm with the popular humanist theology of the Founding Fathers’ day called deism. What Left Wingers fail to include in their arguments screaming that most of the Founding Fathers were deists is that America had one form of deism and Europe (specifically the French of their Revolution) had a deism more akin to Anti-Christian morality.
American deists were Christians in practice but not big believers in Biblical miracles that the science of their day may explain as impossible. I found an article that is actually balanced in its outlook on the faith of the Founding Fathers providing a good explanation of the Founders’ Deism and the absolute Deism that flowed from the French.
… [T]here are those who argue that because our Founding Fathers were devoted Christians who held to an orthodox Christian faith, the state and the church in America are already linked together, and that if America as a nation loses its uniquely Christian flavor, the church will fail in its task as well. They see America as a unique country that holds a special place in God’s plan for reaching the world. Additionally, they argue that we enjoy God’s special protection and blessings because of this Christian founding, blessings which will be lost if Christians lose control of the nation.
At the other end of the religious and political spectrum is the group who portray America and its founding as a thoroughly secular project. They argue that by the time the Revolution had occurred in the colonies, Enlightenment rationalism had won the day in the minds and hearts of the young nation’s leaders. They often add that the drive towards religious tolerance was the result of a decline in belief in God and an attempt to remove religious influence from America’s future.
For all those involved in this debate, the specific beliefs of our Founders are very important. Those who argue that America was founded by godless men who established a godless Constitution are, for the most part, wrong. Belief in God was practically universal among our Founding Founders. On the other hand, those who argue that our Founders were mostly devoted Christians who sought to establish a Christian nation devoted to the gospel of Jesus Christ are not giving us the full picture either. Because both sides in this debate tend to define America by the religious faith of our Founders, both sides tend to over-simplify the religious beliefs of those early patriots.
It’s important, therefore, to consider the specific beliefs of some of our Founding Fathers so that we might get a clearer picture of religion in that era and avoid either of the two extremes usually presented. As we look into the actions and words of specific Revolutionary era leaders we will find that their beliefs represent a mixture of … READ THE REST (Deism and America’s Founders; By Don Closson; Probe Ministries; © 2008)
Then there is a French deism which is Anti-Christian in its tenants and leans toward atheism. Most of the articles I read seem to credit Voltaire bringing a form of English Deism to France.
Deism entered France, but only its materialistic and revolutionary phases were seized upon, to the exclusion of religious values which had never been lost in England or America. French Deism stood outside of theology and laid the groundwork for atheism, secular humanism, and cultural relativism. American Deists were mainly influenced by English Deism and perhaps French Deist Jean-Jacques Rousseau.
Michel de Montaigne is the father of moral and cultural relativism. It argues (falsely in my opinion) that all cultures be it cannibals in mud huts or Paris are equal because they rest on cultural habit rather than absolute truth. Who are Europeans to insist that Brazilian cannibals who merely consume dead human flesh instead of wasting it are morally inferior to Europeans who persecute and oppress those of whom they disapprove? This would also apply to morals as well: If we cannot be certain that our values are God-given, then we have no right to impose them by force on others. Thus homosexually, abortion, sex with animals, sex with children, etc. are a private matter that society has no right to regulate or interfere with.
French Deism was anti-Catholic and anti-religious in general, shading into skepticism, atheism, and materialism. When people speak of Deism today they often think of French Deism, which has little in common with English/American Deism which was known often as Unitarianism. While Deism began in England and influenced Voltaire, he would strip away all of the religious aspects. (Voltaire’s Deism; From Sullivan-county.com; Web site Copyright Lewis Loflin, All rights reserved.)
French Deist Rousseau in contrast to Voltaire was not quite anti-religion; however Rousseau thought society exists best with a State religion that is not Christian but adheres to what he felt was a natural morality inherent in humankind. Hello State control of people and an absence of personal Liberty.
J. J. Rousseau (1712 – 1778) gave quite a different tendency to Deism. Accepting in the main the sensualism of Locke and the metaphysics of Clarke and Newton, he maintains after the manner of Shaftesbury and Diderot a belief in inborn moral instincts which he distinguishes as “sentiments” from mere acquired ideas; he is true to the position of Deism in connecting this moral “sentiment” with a belief in God, and he protests against the separation between the two which the skepticism of Diderot had brought about. He was influenced by Richardson, as well as by Locke.
“Sentiment” becomes the basis of a metaphysical system built up out of the data of experience under the influence of the Deistic philosophy, but redeemed from formalism by constant reference to sentimentality and emotion as the principal sources of religion. The nature of religion is not dogmatic but moralistic, practical, and emotional. Rousseau, therefore, finds the essence of religion, not (like Voltaire) in the cultivated intellect, but in the naive and disinterested understanding of the uncultured. Conscious, rational progress in civilization, no less than supernaturalism in Church and State, is an outcome of the fall, when the will chose intellectual progress in preference to simple felicity.
With Rousseau natural religion takes on a new meaning; “nature” is no longer universality or rationality in the cosmic order, in contrast to special supernatural and positive phenomena, but primitive simplicity and sincerity, in contrast to artificiality and studied reflection.
In his scheme of the rise of religions he gets out from the common standpoint of the discrepancies and contradictions prevailing among historic creeds. Yet positive religion to him is not so much the product of ignorance and fear as the corruption of the original instinct through the selfishness of man, who has erected rigid creeds that he might arrogate to himself unwarranted privilege or escape the obligations of natural morality.
Note that freedom as Rousseau defines it has nothing to do with individual liberty. Rousseau’s views on society are very influential on the political left/liberalism since the 1960s. To quote another source:
Man is by nature good; society is the cause of corruption and vice.
In a state of nature, the individual is characterized by healthy self-love; self-love is accompanied by a natural compassion.
In society, natural self-love becomes corrupted into a venal pride, which seeks only the good opinion of others and, in so doing, causes the individual to lose touch with his or her true nature; the loss of one’s true nature ends in a loss of freedom.
While society corrupts human nature, it also represents the possibility of its perfection in morality.
Human interaction requires the transformation of natural freedom into moral freedom; this transformation is based on reason and provides the foundation for a theory of political right.
A just society replaces the individual’s natural freedom of will with the general will; such a society is based on a social contract by which each individual alienates all of his or her natural rights to create a new corporate person, the sovereign, the repository of the general will.
The culmination of the radicalism of French Deism is in Robespierre.
The Cult of the Supreme Being (French: Culte de l’Être suprême) was a form of deism established in France by Maximilien Robespierre during the French Revolution. It was intended to become the state religion of the new French.a
The French Revolution had given birth to (sic) many radical changes in France. One of the most fundamental for the hitherto Roman Catholic nation was the official rejection of religion. The first major organized school of thought emerged under the umbrella name of the Cult of Reason. Advocated by extreme radicals like Jacques Hébert and Antoine, the Cult of Reason distilled a mixture of largely atheistic views into a humanocentric philosophy. No gods at all were worshipped in the Cult – the guiding principle was devotion to the abstract conception of Reason. This bold rejection of all divinity appalled the rectitudinous Robespierre. Its offense was compounded by the “scandalous scenes” and “wild masquerades” attributed to its practice. In late 1793, Robespierre delivered a fiery denunciation of the Cult and its proponents  and proceeded to give his own vision of proper Revolutionary religion. Devised almost entirely by his own hand, Le culte de l’Être suprême was formally announced before the French National Convention on 7 May 1794.
Robespierre believed that reason is only a means to an end, and the singular end is Virtue. He sought to move beyond simple deism (often described as Voltairean by its adherents) to a new and, in his view, more rational devotion to the godhead. The primary principles of the Cult of the Supreme Being were a belief in the existence of a god and the immortality of the human soul. Though not inconsistent with Christian doctrine, these beliefs were put to the service of Robespierre’s fuller meaning, which was of a type of civic-minded, public virtue he attributed to the Greeks and Romans: this type of Virtue could only be attained through active fidelity to liberty and democracy.Belief in a living god and a higher moral code, he said, were “constant reminders of justice” and thus essential to a republican society.
Robespierre used the religious issue to publicly denounce the motives of many radicals not in his camp, and it led, directly or indirectly, to the executions of Revolutionary de-Christianizers like Hébert, Momoro, and Anacharsis Cloots. The establishment of the Cult of the Supreme Being represented the beginning of the reversal of the wholesale de-Christianization process that had been looked upon previously with official favor. Simultaneously it … READ ENTIRETY (Cult of the Supreme Being; By Jeff Franklin; CultBusters Galactica Origin Page [Yeah I know crazy looking website, but the article is good writing])
I am driving home the point there was a difference between American deism and the atheistic naturalism of French deism is this: A huge majority of Founding Father deists considered themselves Christians. So even though these Christian Deists in varying degrees were not agreeable to the Word of God demonstrating the power of God, the Founding Fathers believed that Christian Morality must be the foundation for what can be good in the rule of law. Check out the Signers Page of the U.S. Constitution:
Done in convention by the unanimous consent of the states present the seventeenth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty seven and of the independence of the United States of America the twelfth.
In witness whereof We have hereunto subscribed our Names,
… (Followed by the signatures of the representative of the thirteen original states formally loosely aligned under the Articles of Confederation – Bold emphasis mine)
Does anyone wonder why the Founding Fathers use the words “year of our Lord” if they intended Christianity to have no effect in the rule of law as administered by the three Branches of the U.S. government? It doesn’t sound like an ambitious plan to separate Christianity from influencing the Federal government, right?
END OF PART ONE
Posted on March 18, 2014, in Christian Politics, Conservative, Constitution and tagged Christianity, Church/State, Constitution, Constitution's Preamble, Deism, Dougindeap, First Amendment, Founding Fathers, General Welfare, Original Intent, Religious Freedom. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.