Role of Religion to Proclaim Creator
Gallup poll: 77% believe “religion is losing its influence on American life”.PRINCETON, N.J., May 29 (UPI)
A very subtle and very dangerous thing is happening in our country in the name of “constitutional rights.” It is the argument that people are beginning to equate “freedom of religion” with “freedom of conscience” to the degree that it could eliminate all influence of religion in public life, thereby assuring that no person should necessarily be touched in any way in public by any religious influence or tradition. It is, supposedly, one’s constitutional right not to be bothered by religious culture, whether it be by anyone’s speech in the workplace, on signs along the roadway, in references during public meetings, in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, religious signs on church buildings, or even by religious references in public school textbooks, etc.
Religious leader Dallin H. Oakes, a former law professor at the University of Chicago Law School, and former Utah State Supreme Court Justice, in recently accepting the Canterbury Medal from the Archbishop of Chicago in recognition of his defense of religious freedom, said this:
“We already see the tendency to describe religious freedom as “freedom of conscience” whatever its source. That definition can deny the protection of the free exercise guarantee to churches and the organizations through which believers exercise their faith. In addition, if we expand the definition of religion to systems of belief not based on a Divine Being, we incur the risk I once described as a judge in a lecture at DePaul University:
‘The problem with a definition of religion that includes almost everything is that the practical effect of inclusion comes to mean almost nothing. Free exercise protections become diluted as their scope becomes more diffuse. When religion has no more right to free exercise than irreligion or any other secular philosophy, the whole newly expanded category of ‘religion’ is likely to diminish in significance.’”
Abraham Lincoln’s whole life’s effort was
to prevent this from happening in his day
In April of this year, an attendee at a Making of America seminar in Georgia by the name of Henry (Hank) Sullivan handed me a copy of his book entitled In a Larger Sense (Xlibris Corporation, 2003). In it, Mr. Sullivan makes the point that Abraham Lincoln’s biggest worry was that Americans had become so caught up in so-called “constitutional rights and freedoms” as evidenced by growing licentiousness, mob rule in some parts, the Dred Scott decision, and the concept of popular sovereignty, that they had forgotten more basic principles the Constitution was designed to protect—the principles in the Declaration of Independence. I am indebted to Mr. Sullivan for reminding us of President Lincoln’s efforts to revitalize the principles of the Declaration of Independence as the only cure to save America in the nineteenth century. It is the same sorely needed cure today.
The Apple of Gold and the Picture of Silver
In January, 1861, President-Elect Abraham Lincoln wrote a short essay entitled “Fragment on the Constitution and Union.” In it he spoke of the founding of America. He explained that there was something behind the greatness of the Constitution. He said:
“All this is not the result of accident. It has a philosophical cause. Without the Constitution and the Union, we could not have attained the result; but even these, are not the primary cause of our great prosperity. There is something back of these, entwining itself more closely about the human heart. That something, is the principle of “Liberty to all”–the principle that clears the path for all–gives hope to all–and, by consequence, enterprize, and industry to all.”
Lincoln went on to say that the nation could have been formed without the principles of the Declaration but that we would only be trading one master for another master.
“The expression of that principle, in our Declaration of Independence, was most happy, and fortunate. Without this, as well as with it, we could have declared our independence of Great Britain; but without it, we could not, I think, have secured our free government, and consequent prosperity. No oppressed, people will fight, and endure, as our fathers did, without the promise of something better, than a mere change of masters.”
Then Lincoln went on to show the most precious rights of man, or the apple of gold, are religious principles contained in the Declaration of Independence (existence of a Creator, equality of mankind, unalienable rights, etc.) and that they are protected and beautified by the structure of government in the Constitution. Said he:
“The assertion of that principle, at that time, was the word, “fitly spoken” which has proved an “apple of gold” to us. The Union, and the Constitution, are the picture of silver, subsequently framed around it. The picture was made, not to conceal, or destroy the apple; but to adorn, and preserve it. The picture was made for the apple–not the apple for the picture.”
Lincoln was using the words of a scripture in Proverbs 25:11 “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver.” Then he concluded with this warning:
“So let us act, that neither picture, or apple shall ever be blurred, or bruised or broken. That we may so act, we must study, and understand the points of danger.”
“…the sentiments embodied in the
Declaration of Independence”
The deep sentiments which Abraham Lincoln had for the principles of the Declaration are evident in nearly every speech he ever gave. It seems that he instinctively knew that the cure for the nation’s ills were a return to those sacred, religious principles, regardless of what people were saying about constitutional rights. If the people’s rights were not founded in the Declaration of Independence, then their so-called rights were illusionary and such claims would lead to bondage.
When President-elect Lincoln was traveling to Washington, D. C. to take the oath of office, he stopped in Philadelphia and delivered the following words at Independence Hall. In it he said:
“I am filled with deep emotion at finding myself standing here, in this place, where were collected together the wisdom, the patriotism, the devotion to principle, from which sprang the institutions under which we live.
“You have kindly suggested to me that in my hands is the task of restoring peace to the present distracted condition of the country. I can say in return, Sir, that all the political sentiments I entertain have been drawn, so far as I have been able to draw them, from the sentiments which originated and were given to the world from this hall. I have never had a feeling politically that did not spring from the sentiments embodied in the Declaration of Independence.
“I have often pondered over the dangers which were incurred by the men who assembled here, and framed and adopted that Declaration of Independence. I have pondered over the toils that were endured by the officers and soldiers of the army who achieved that Independence. I have often inquired of myself, what great principle or idea it was that kept this Confederacy so long together.
“It was not the mere matter of the separation of the Colonies from the motherland; but that sentiment in the Declaration of Independence which gave liberty, not alone to the people of this country, but, I hope, to the world, for all future time. It was that which gave promise that in due time the weight would be lifted from the shoulders of all men. This is a sentiment embodied in the Declaration of Independence.
“Now, my friends, can this country be saved upon that basis? If it can, I will consider myself one of the happiest men in the world, if I can help to save it. If it cannot be saved upon that principle, it will be truly awful. But if this country cannot be saved without giving up that principle, I was about to say I would rather be assassinated on this spot than surrender it.” (emphasis added)
It is interesting to note that one of the places Lincoln’s body lay in state four years later on his journey back to Springfield, Illinois was at Independence Hall.
The Great American Experiment
In his book, Mr. Sullivan, a Civil Engineer by profession, uses his scientific background to conclude that:
“As the nation’s charter, the Declaration of Independence documents the premise under which the American nation came into existence--that premise being the assumed existence of a ‘Creator.’ Because this is true, without the active assumption of the existence of God within the confines of the Experimental System Boundary, the American nation cannot exist as the founders defined it. Within the system boundary of the experiment that ‘test tube’ so to speak, the scientific method provides that an assumed premise must be regarded as fact in order to isolate the variables and test the theoretical hypothesis. That assumed fact becomes one of the active ingredients mixed together within the setup of the experiment. Therefore, the basic assumption on which the existence of the American nation is entirely dependent, that assumption having been established by the founders prior to and upon the completion of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, is the practical fact within the Experimental System Boundary of the American Experiment of the existence of a Creator. That assumption is that God exists as ‘self-evident truth.’ The Declaration’s expressions indicate that the existence of God must have been regarded as a practical fact for the founders to have ‘firmly relied’ upon the protection by divine Providence. Because the existence of God was regarded by the founders as a ‘self-evident truth,’ a truth on which the entire American experience is reliant, it follows that all the individual thoughts of the founders; their hypothesis; each of their actions; every American relationship; the union of states as a nation; the American government has designed; the assignment of authoritative purview to that government by the people and authoritative purview retained by the people; all the national institutions in the very fabric of American society; all of it is reliant on the practical fact, for all human purposes, of the existence of God. Without God the American Theory is null; it has no meaning. The American nation as designed by the founders, in the absence of God has no meaning. It is undefined. It is analogous to division by zero. The reality of God as the creator of the universe is the common denominator of all American existence as the founders defined that existence in 1776. The United States of America, as its founders defined it, cannot exist without the practical knowledge, on which every American may ‘firmly rely’ as did the founders, of the existence of God.”
Lincoln’s counsel to Americans in order to avoid disaster
Early in his life, Abraham Lincoln, in 1838, foresees trouble ahead and counsels Americans to read, study, and spread the Constitution:
“The question recurs, ‘how shall we fortify against it [national disaster]?’ The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well-wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor;--let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children's liberty. Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap--let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;--let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.”
Americans must give religion its preferred
status in the family of rights
The freedom of speech and press and assembly would already give people the right to express their religious beliefs, but the inclusion of freedom of religion as a first and separate right assures Americans that religious beliefs and expressions have a preferred status. It is a preferred status in the “picture of silver,” the Constitution, which gives life, meaning, and brilliance to principles contained in the “apple of gold,” the Declaration of Independence. As Dallin H. Oakes said: “Religion must preserve its preferred status in our pluralistic society in order to make its unique contribution—its recognition and commitment to values that transcend the secular world.”
Earl Taylor, Jr.