Monday, November 17, 2008

Non-Denominational Theocracy

In a previous post I rebutted the claim that America has A Secular Constitution.

I recently found a statement which buttresses this rebuttal. It comes from Charles B. Galloway's book Christianity and the American Commonwealth (1898). He says:

To the study of this subject I have been impelled by the evident tendency of some modern historians to minify, if not almost entirely eliminate, religion from the formative forces of our American institutions. Books on the making of our nation have been written, and are the texts in our colleges, in which the Christian religion, as a social and civil factor, has only scant or apologetic mention. This is either a fatal oversight or a deliberate purpose, and both alike are to be deplored and condemned. A nation ashamed of its ancestry will be despised by its posterity. Whatever use or misuse we may make of our inheritance, it is well to be reminded from whence it came. We ought to know the genesis of our institutions, though we may have to lament their exodus. With the growth of a subtle materialistic spirit which invades every department of life, however sacred and secret, we are threatened with an undervaluing or ignoring of the great moral and spiritual forces that constructed the massive framework of this mighty nation. Climatic, economic, racial, and purely political forces are analyzed and properly classified; but the religious factor, which more than either or all of them determined the character of our civilization and the form of our government, has received very indifferent, if not malevolent, consideration. All of which confirms the judgment of a distinguished writer who has recently observed that “the place of religion in human history is too often the subject merely of ecclesiastical or antiecclesiastical declamation, or else, through fear of giving offense, it is left severely alone.”

History books 150 years ago were often written by those trained by and loyal to ecclesiastical institutions. Their histories might have Presbyterian slant, or a Catholic slant, or an anti-Catholic slant. Anyone writing from a non-denominational perspective could expect negative reviews from the various denominations, who felt that their denomination's contributions had been slighted, or the dangerous errors of the opposing denomination ignored. Galloway is saying that as secularism was rising, generically Christian studies were vanishing. Nobody wanted to upset the ecclesiastical powers.

This is why there was no explicitly Christian preamble or other wording in the federal Constitution (unlike several state constitutions). Any proposal by a Presbyterian for such Christian language in the Constitution would have been opposed by the Baptists, who suspected some kind of state establishment of Presbyterianism would have resulted.

It was ecclesiastically-connected delegates -- Christians -- who opposed Christian language in the Constitution. There is not a shred of evidence that they wanted a "Godless constitution" and a "secular" (atheistic) government. They just didn't want to disrupt the consensus by offending ecclesiastical parties and officials.

Now, with the hope of contributing somewhat to the arrest of that tendency, and of aiding the students of this honored institution to a broader study of the earlier history of this American commonwealth, I have timidly ventured upon the theme of these lectures. My purpose shall be, if possible, to demonstrate that Protestant Christianity has been the dominant influence in our nation’s construction and continuation. For I hesitate not to affirm that the temple at Jerusalem was built by a no more sacred patriotism or under the benedictions of a no more favoring Providence than were the colonial governments of this New World.

Christian teachings were the seed-thoughts of our political constitutions, and Christian evangelism was the inspiration of American colonization. If we eliminate from our national history the direct and all-powerful influence of the Christian religion, we have nothing left but a set of disjointed facts without significance, dry and dreary annals without parentage or posterity. But, on the other hand, a right apprehension of all the formative forces in our national life will vindicate the matured judgment of Emerson, that “our whole history appears like a last effort of Divine Providence in behalf of the human race.”

After surveying the various charters of government, federal and state, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1892 -- motivated by the same anti-secular concerns of Galloway -- declared that America is a Christian nation:

There is no dissonance in these declarations. There is a universal language pervading them all, having one meaning. They affirm and reaffirm that this is a religious nation. These are not individual sayings, declarations of private persons. They are organic utterances. They speak the voice of the entire people. While because of a general recognition of this truth the question has seldom been presented to the courts, yet we find that in Updegraph v. Comm., 11 Serg. & R. 394, 400, it was decided that, "Christianity, general Christianity, is, and always has been, a part of the common law of Pennsylvania; * * * not Christianity with an established church and tithes and spiritual courts, but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men."

Nobody ever thought about challenging the idea that America was a Christian nation, which is why there were few court precedents to be cited in the 1892 decision. But according to the U.S. Supreme Court, America was officially and legally -- "organically" -- a Christian nation.

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