Those who would argue that the U.S. government is designed to be utterly secular in nature like to point to Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 wherein he described a “wall of separation between church and state.” The Supreme Court subsequently embraced this language, of course, after the protections of the First Amendment were made applicable to the states by the Fourteen Amendment. I would suggest that Jefferson’s objective wasn’t to enable a wholly secular government, but rather to instill a radical religious freedom devoid of government interference. But times have changed, Constitutional law has changed, and the country’s make-up has changed. What’s interesting to me, however (and highly ironic), is that secularists looking to invoke Jefferson emphasize his letter to the Danbury Baptists but often ignore the founding document of the republic, also penned by Jefferson. Indeed, some even wish to claim that the Declaration is irrelevant, with no legal standing whatsoever. However, it’s centrality is obvious. Abraham Lincoln gave evidence to this centrality in his 1863 Gettysburg Address, which cites the Declaration:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
We are, of course, created equal because we “are endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
I’m no theonomist. I don’t believe in or want a “Christian nation.” But to ignore the religious roots and heritage of this republic and to seek to remove every vestige of the sacred from public discourse is both ignorant of history and simply wrong. As Toqueville (among others) has well noted, we are indeed a religious people, even if less so than we used to be. To seek to deny that is to deny our very essence.
“When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident:
“That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.”
Alan Pavlik has an excellent piece on agnosticism on his blog, Just Above Sunset, here. Enjoy.
Note the following insight from David Runciman’s review of Hitchens’ Hitch-22 in the London Review of Books.
Peter and Christopher were brought together on a platform in 2008 to debate the latter’s book against God (God Is Not Great), and discovered that neither of them had the stomach for the vituperation and mutual hostility their audience had been anticipating. A few days earlier, Christopher had cooked Peter supper in Washington, ‘a domesticated action so unexpected that I still haven’t got over it … If he is going to take up roasting legs of lamb at this stage of his life, then what else might be possible?’ Christopher, it seems, no longer makes Peter angry. He just makes him a little sad. What he is sad about is Christopher’s inability to see that his militant atheism is just an extension of his earlier Trotskyism. Christopher, Peter thinks, is still hankering for a world in which evil is vanquished and all the mistakes of the past can be eradicated. What he can’t see is that this wishful thinking is precisely the kind of self-delusion that he takes to be characteristic of religion. That’s because it is a kind of religion. In his yearning for certainty, Christopher is merely replicating the intolerance and taste for indoctrination that he professes to despise among the priesthood.
Thanks to 3 Quarks Daily for pointing me to it.