Dear Friends in Christ,
In every election cycle there are certain words, phrases and supposed quotations that become the vernacular (See??) of the popular narrative (Again!). One that I heard quite often over the past two years is a reference to “the experiment that is America.” I confess that I never fully understood what that meant until recently.
Most often the experiment that is referenced is that of self-government. At the time of our nation’s founding ‘rule of the people at the consent of those who are ruled’ was a brand new, never-before-tried concept. Before America the great nations of the world had been ruled by kings of one sort or another. Some kings were tyrannical and some were benevolent but it was top-down rule where the monarch decreed and the people, who had no say in the matter, obeyed. There were the ancient examples of Greek democracy but these were found in small, city-states and none of them lasted for very long.
Our American experiment was founded upon the notion that those who were being governed would consent to being governed by those whom they chose to govern them. Even today, after 240 years the idea is enough to make one’s head explode!
What our founders understood then and what most Americans do not understand today is that the American experiment in self-government was/is dependent upon individual Americans being able and willing to govern themselves. Many of us have had at least one school teacher in our lives who gave us instructions, challenges and cautions and then followed them up with imperative “Govern yourselves accordingly.”
That’s what the success of American self-government is dependent upon; we the people must be willing and able to practice personal self-government. When an individual is unwilling or unable to govern himself he needs greater restraints put upon him to prevent violence from being done to others – greater law(s) is required (A preschool teacher knows this every bit as much as a political science professor!). The greater the top-down control (via law) of poor personal behavior that is required the lesser will be the personal freedom one may enjoy.
Of course, the Founders understood this perfectly because they had a realistic view of human nature that, for some, was founded upon the biblical understanding of original sin. Some law is required and government is required to restrain/punish poor personal self-government and to promote corporate self-government safety and defense.
But the whole thing balances upon one vital point – that men and women will know how to and be willing to live good lives, what the Founders referred to as lives of virtue. Self-government for the masses depends upon self-government of the individual which depends upon individuals living virtuous lives. And what inspires and enables such lives of virtue? Religion.
Ben Franklin, no card-carrying churchgoer he, said Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. John Adams, a regular churchgoer said The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue. And in the Federalist Papers we hear James Madison say Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities (that accord with virtue) in a higher degree than any other form.
One of the passages, oft-quoted in the presidential election and erroneously attributed to Alexis de Toqueville in his Democracy in America makes the same point elegantly, if not apocryphally: Not until I went into the churches of American and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.
While out on the stump our presidential candidates thundered on about American greatness being based upon America’s goodness but they failed to connect the “goodness” of America with the lack of goodness of Americans. When 80 shootings and 8 deaths occur in one holiday weekend in one of America’s greatest cities, when civil protest so quickly morphs into looting, firebombing and rioting, when fistfights break out over saving $.79 on a Black Friday sale bath towel and a young mother cannot jog the streets outside her home without being kidnapped, tortured and left for dead America is not good and America is not great and more and more law from the top down will come upon us and we will have lost that much more freedom.
Liberal political leadership that panders to secular cultural elitism takes great delight and evangelical fervor in its efforts to keep religion out of every sphere of life – the schools, the community, the workplace and our political life. Well, how’s that working for us? Less and less influence of religion in American life has led to less and less personal self-government which has led to more and more crime requiring more and more governmental power and law which has made us less free.
On Thanksgiving morning I attended a Thanksgiving Day worship service at an E.P.C. church in Lynchburg, VA during which we sang a Prayer for the Nation, God of Our Fathers Whose Almighty Hand. I was struck by and thankful for the opportunity to pray in song Thy true religion in our hearts increase, Thy bounteous goodness nourish us in peace. How can we know, again, the peace that comes from being free that is dependent upon personal virtue which, alone, enables our “experiment in self-government which is America” to continue unabated for another 240 years? Sometimes I think it cannot continue for another decade!
Our only hope as a nation is found in the righteousness of God increasing in our hearts. Lord, may it be so and let it begin with the household of God!
Faithfully in Him,
Posted on Wed, November 30, 2016
by Administrator filed under