Our Spiritual Heritage

“Be sure to appoint over you the king the Lord your God chooses.  He must be from among your own brothers.  Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite.  The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, ‘You are not to go back that way again.’  He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray.  He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites.  It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees, and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left.  Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.”

-          Deuteronomy 17:15-20

“Be strong and very courageous.  Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.  Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

-          Joshua 1:7-8

“’Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’  Jesus replied ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it:  ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” 

-          Matthew 22:36-40; note also that these two commands are taken from Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

  1. You shall have no other gods before me.
  2. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below…
  3. You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.
  4. Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.  Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.  On it you shall not do any work…
  5. Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.
  6. You shall not murder.
  7. You shall not commit adultery.
  8. You shall not steal.
  9. You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
  10. You shall not covet…anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

-          Exodus 20:2-17 (numbering added)

 “And the Lord told him:  ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.  As they have done from the day I brought them out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.  Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do.’

 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king.  He said,

“This is what the king who will reign over you will do:  He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.  Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots…

 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.  He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.  Your manservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use.  He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.”

 -          I Samuel 8:7-17

“Jesus called them together and said:  ‘You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’”

 -          Mark 10:42-45

  “…where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

 -           2 Corinthians 3:17

“Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

 -          2 Corinthians 9:7

 “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

 -          Galatians 5:1

 “The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.”

 -          Thomas Jefferson

 “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God?”

-           Thomas Jefferson

 “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

 -          John Adams

 “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity.

Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?

And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.  Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

-          George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

 “If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.”

 -          William Penn

 “This will be the best security for maintaining our liberties. A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.”

-          Benjamin Franklin

 “Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.”

 -          Alexis de Tocqueville

Beginning in the earliest parts of the Old Testament, the Bible teaches that the authority of government leaders should be limited, and that government leaders should “not consider themselves better than [their] brothers,” (Deut. 17:18) but instead consider themselves subject to the same laws as all of the rest of the people (specifically, the Law of Moses, which is summarized in the Ten Commandments, or in Jesus’s two greatest commandments.)[1] 

The greatest commandments in the Law can be summarized by saying that we should love God, and love one another as we love ourselves.  Since love is an act of the will (or an act of free moral choice), a strong commitment to individual freedom is implied in saying that love is the highest virtue.  God also specifically said that the Ten Commandments were given in order to preserve the freedoms of everyone who chooses to obey them (see Exodus 20:2 and Deuteronomy 5:6),[2]  So it is clear that from a Biblical point of view, any government or institution (whether religious or secular) should exist to protect the God-given rights and liberties of individuals.

And further exploration of the Bible’s teachings on the proper role of government only reinforces this basic idea.  As explained in more detail in the section of this site on the Role of Government, only one power (the power of the sword, which in a modern context includes military, police,  and judicial powers) is specifically given to secular government in the Bible, and the Biblical ideal is that government should be as limited and local as possible.  And as explained in the First Principles section of this site (and in stark contrast to most political writings, either ancient or modern), a radical commitment to individual freedom is one of the major themes that continues throughout the Bible, from Genesis all the way to Revelation.  Finally, for more on exactly what our God-given rights and liberties are, and how they translate to a modern political context, see the section of this site on “Parallels Between the Declaration of Independence and the Bible.”

The first relatively modern manifestation of this Biblical idea that governments exist to protect the rights of individuals was the Magna Carta (or Great Charter), which was first given by King John of England to “all freemen of our kingdom” in the year 1215 CE, and reissued by each of his successors until it was officially incorporated into the Statute Rolls of England by King Edward I in 1297 CE.  The operative passages of the Magna Carta begin with the words, “Know that we, at the prompting of God and for the health of our soul and the souls of our ancestors and successors, for the glory of the Holy Church and the improvement of our realm, freely and out of our good will have given and granted to the archbishops, bishops, abbots, priors, earls, barons, and all of our realm these liberties written below to hold in our realm of England in perpetuity.”

The Magna Carta was a charter granted by the kings of England (and therefore, as such, it was theoretically revocable and did not directly acknowledge that our liberties are God-given.)  However, it was still a very important step away from despotic rule and toward the Biblical ideas that governments exist to protect the rights of individuals, and that just societies are ruled by codes of laws that are equally applicable to all, rather than being ruled by the whims of one particular man or set of men.  The American Revolution (and later the American Constitution) consciously drew on the Magna Carta in both of these areas.

Among the specific rights enumerated in the Magna Carta are that “…(1)…the English Church is to be free and to have all its rights fully and its liberties entirely..” and that “…(29). .. No freeman is to be taken or imprisoned or [deprived] of his…free tenement or of his liberties or free customs, or outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined…save by lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.  To no one will we sell or deny or delay right or justice.”    

The Renaissance and Reformation also had powerful impacts on both America’s political heritage and our spiritual heritage.   The Reformation’s tradition of religious and political dissent, which had such powerful impacts on America’s political history, began with the publication of Martin Luther’s famous Ninety-five Theses (which originally demanded a debate with, and reform within, the Roman Catholic church) in 1517.  The rapid spread of the Protestant religion thereafter led to the publication and wide distribution of several new translations of the Bible into the common languages of that time, including Martin Luther’s Bible in German (New Testament published in 1522, Old Testament published in 1534), and both the Geneva Bible (1560) and the King James Version of the Bible (1611) in English.  

Prior to the Reformation, the only “modern” translations of the Bible[3] available in western Europe were in Latin, and were published by the Roman Catholic church.  This meant that in rural areas (which comprised most of society at that time), the Roman Catholic priest was often the only person capable of reading the scriptures, and the church’s teaching was primarily passed on orally. 

In contrast to Roman Catholic teaching (which relied on the traditions and authority of a highly centralized church as the primary source of truth), the Protestants taught that private judgment (by which they meant each individual’s conscience, informed by careful study of the Bible and rigorous self-examination) was the primary source of truth.  More specifically, the Protestants believed in the “priesthood of all believers” (from I Peter 2:9 ‘But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.)  This meant that each individual believer was capable of being a “priest” (an intermediary between man and God) either to other believers or to non-believers, and that no centralized, hierarchical system of intermediaries between man and God (as in the Roman Catholic church) was needed.  Another expression of these basic Protestant beliefs in private judgment and the “priesthood of all believers” was Martin Luther’s famous principle of sola scriptura, (“by scripture alone,”) by which he meant that the Bible, rather than the hierarchy or traditions of the church, is the supreme authority in matters of Christian doctrine and practice.

These foundational doctrines of Protestantism (in combination with the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenburg in 1440) ensured wide distribution of the Bible in contemporary languages as the Reformation itself began to spread.  In several countries (notably Germany and Scotland) the spread of the Protestant religion also spurred efforts improve public education, since according to Protestant doctrine every believer should be able to read and understand the Bible for themselves.  The Puritans in New England (whose theology was predominantly Calvinist[4]) were to show this same zeal for education, for the same reasons.

Another important contribution of Protestantism to America’s political and spiritual heritage was the development of the Presbyterian system of church government.  The term presbyter literally means “elder,” which in turn meant that each Presbyterian congregation was governed by a council of ministers and elders elected by (or at least approved by) the congregation.  The elders of each local church would then elect or appoint representatives from among their own number to higher councils of the church as needed.  Thus, under the Presbyterian system of church government (which became especially prevalent in Geneva and Scotland), the hierarchy of the church was governed from the bottom up, rather than from the top down.  At least to me, governance from the bottom up seems more consistent with Jesus’s instructions in Mark 10:42-45 (and several similar passages in the other Gospels):  “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them.  Not so with you.  Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”   

These early examples of self-governance within the church provided some of the inspiration for the later development of systems of self-governance within many denominations of the church in America, especially the Congregational churches in New England (in which each local congregation was its own authority, without reference to any denominational hierarchy), and the Anglican church in Virginia and other southern states (each parish of which was usually governed by a locally selected vestry.)  

Another important doctrine of the Reformation, which exercised a restraining, sobering, and cautionary influence on the development of America’s institutions of self-governance, was the doctrine of original sin.[5]  In the view of the Reformers, the Roman Catholic church during the Renaissance era had become much too accommodating to the Renaissance’s essentially pagan and humanistic view of human nature (i.e., that man can perfect himself through his own efforts), and this accommodation with an aggressively secular popular culture was at the root of the many vices that flourished within the church at that time.[6] 

The Protestant Reformers re-asserted St. Augustine’s doctrine (i.e., an earlier Roman Catholic doctrine) of original sin, which held (in very brief summary) that Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden caused man’s unregenerate (or “pre-Christian”) nature to become so deeply self-centered that man is incapable of doing anything good, without the intervention of God’s grace or mercy (i.e., God’s unmerited favor.)  In other words, Adam’s fall represented a fundamental change in human nature, from a state of only knowing good before the fall, to a state of knowing both good and evil after the fall (and therefore, in a practical sense, being only capable of doing evil, since every human action undertaken independently of God would be flawed and imperfect.)  And according to the Reformers, human nature could only be restored to the state which God intended (in which we are once again capable of doing both good and evil) if we undergo a personal conversion experience, in which we acknowledge our personal need for God’s mercy, and invite His presence back into our lives as both Savior and Lord.[7] 

The doctrine of original sin ultimately helped ensure that America’s political institutions would develop in ways that took into account the Reformers’ view that human nature is deeply flawed.  Because they believed the concept that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (even though that exact quotation dates from a later time), America’s Founding Fathers built our governing institutions on the fundamental principle of accountability to the American people, and also included checks and balances within the system so that no one part of our system of government would become powerful enough to disregard or ignore the other parts of the system.

As a result of the Reformation, the principles of self-governance began to spread from the Protestant church into civil society.   In the earlier stages of the Reformation, there were essentially two models for applying the ideals of the Reformation to secular politics.  In Geneva and Scotland, the Presbyterian church briefly became both popular enough and powerful enough that the Bible was, de facto, considered the supreme authority for the governance of both the church and the state.  This produced a system of government that simultaneously had both democratic and theocratic tendencies, since (for a period of time) the relatively democratic governance of the churches enabled them to represent public opinion more thoroughly and accurately than the institutions of secular governance did, and the church had considerable political power as a result.   Over time, however, as differing interpretations of scripture divided various Protestant sects, the secular governments of necessity evolved in a more pluralistic direction, and the church’s direct influence in secular political matters was lessened.

From the beginning of the Reformation, the religious and political situation in England was very different than that in either Scotland or Geneva, and this had very important implications for the development of America’s religious and political institutions.  King Henry VIII’s separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic church (which was finalized in 1534) produced a Church of England which was neither fully Catholic nor fully Protestant, and thus faced dissent from all sides.[8]  In an attempt to avoid[9] the religious and political conflicts[10] that swept across much of the rest of Europe in the wake of the Reformation, England’s monarchs sought a middle path in religious affairs. 

They were powerfully aided in that quest by the publication of Richard Hooker’s[11] Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity beginning in 1594.  In this work, Hooker sought to provide a philosophical basis for finding a principled via media or “middle way,” in both religious and secular affairs.    In contrast to the strictest of the Reformers, who argued that the law governing man’s relationships with God and one another was found only in the Bible (a very literal application of the sola scriptura principle), Hooker argued that the laws governing these relationships came from several different sources:  partly from the Bible, but also from at least two other sources, the Law Rational and the Law Positive.  By the Law Rational (also sometimes called the Law of Reason), Hooker meant any truth (including scientific, ethical, and philosophical truths) that is accessible to our natural reason.  In Hooker’s view, the Law Rational predated the revelations contained in the Bible, but pointed (among other things) to the existence of God.[12]   By the Law Positive, Hooker meant the laws enforced by civil society, which necessarily vary to some extent based on each society’s historical experience. 

Hooker  (in common with many other Christian authors throughout the whole history of the church), also took the view that the Law Rational alone was not enough to restrain man’s depravity, and that one of the major purposes of civil government (or the Law Positive) is to restrain man’s depravity.  Or as he himself put it, “to take away mutual grievances, injuries, and wrongs, there was no way but only by growing unto composition and agreement amongst themselves by ordaining some kind of government public and by yielding themselves subject thereunto.”

Although some governments have originated in force, in Hooker’s view the ideal civil order is based on willing cooperation, in which it is agreed that no laws are valid unless the whole people assent to them.  Hooker also believed that continuity and historical precedent are very important factors in maintaining the kind of civil order that will inspire willing cooperation from the vast majority of its citizens.  This view of the law, in which the Bible (although eternal, unchanging, and inerrant), is only one of several sources of truth contributing to the civil law, implies that the most successful civil societies will be based on drawing the best principles from each of these sources of truth, and therefore also implies a large degree of tolerance for differing views.  In other words, the freedoms of speech and of conscience are essential parts of a successful civil order, because they are essential to the reasoned discussion on which a successful civil order should be based.  Much of the rest of this website, although not based explicitly on Hooker’s principles, is written in a similar spirit.[13]

As these examples show, the governments of the American colonies (and eventually the government of the United States) drew considerably on both the spiritual and the political histories of Europe in general (and England in particular) for several centuries before the founding of the first American colonies.

However, when faced with the practical problem of establishing the first colonies (or in other words, establishing a civil order that was strong enough to conquer a wilderness, in a place where there was as yet no civilization of any kind, much less an established canon of civil law), the first colonists realized that the deciding factor would be the strength of their personal commitments to love God and love one another.  The word they used to express this commitment was covenant,  which my modern dictionary defines as “1. a binding agreement: contract or 2. God’s promises to man, as recorded in the Old and New Testaments[14]”   Although “a binding contract” is one possible definition of the word covenant, the Biblical examples[15], with which both the Pilgrims who settled at Plymouth and the Puritans settled at Massachusetts Bay  would have been very familiar, suggest a deeper meaning.  In Biblical terms, a covenant is a solemn oath, somewhat similar in spiritual importance to a marriage vow.

The covenant which the Pilgrims made between themselves when they first landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts in November 1620 has become famous in American history as the Mayflower Compact, and it deserves to be quoted in its entirety:

In the name of God, amen.  We whose names are under-written, the loyal subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord King James by the Grace of God of Great Britain, France, Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, etc.

Having undertaken, for the glory of God and advancement of the Christian Faith and honor of our King and country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia, do by these presents solemnly and mutually in the presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid, and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute, and frame such just and equal laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the colony.  Unto which we promise all due submission and obedience. 

In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the 11th of November, in the year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, 1620.”

The signers of the Mayflower Compact covenanted themselves together equally, without distinction of rank or class, and without any special qualifications for voting (the clearly implied principle being:  one man, one vote. [16])  Before beginning the voyage to America, the Pilgrims had been careful to select for the voyage those within their community those whom they thought (after much prayer and discussion) would best be able to live together in a strong Christian community, under the conditions of great adversity that the voyage itself, followed by the hard physical work of clearing land, planting crops, and building dwellings in a new land, would necessarily impose.  Most of those who made the voyage had to sell all of their possessions in order to raise the necessary funds for supplies and the chartering of the Mayflower.

Ten years later, while en route to Massachusetts on board the Arbella in 1630, the Puritan leader John Winthrop[17] described his colonists’ covenant with God and one another this way, in a famous sermon entitled “A Model of Christian Charity”[18]:

 “…This love among Christians is a real thing, not imaginary.  This love is as absolutely necessary to the being of the body of Christ, as the sinews and other ligaments of a natural body are to the being of that body…We are a company, professing ourselves fellow members of Christ…we ought to account ourselves knit together by this bond of love…”

“…For the work we have in hand:  It is by a mutual consent, through a special overvaluing providence and a more than ordinary approbation of the Churches of Christ, to seek out a place of cohabitation and Consortship under a due form of government both civil and ecclesiastical…”

“…Thus stands the cause between God and us.  We are entered into a Covenant with Him for this work.  We have taken out a commission.  The Lord has given us leave to draw our own articles…Now if the Lord shall please to hear us, and bring us in peace to the place we desire, then He has ratified this covenant and sealed our Commission, and will expect a strict performance of the articles contained in it; but if we shall neglect the observation of these articles…the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us…”

“…Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck, and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God.[19]   For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man…We must uphold a familiar commerce together in all meekness, gentleness, patience, and liberality.  We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body.  So shall we keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.[20]

“The Lord will be our God, and delight to dwell among us, as his own people, and will command a blessing on us in all our ways.  So that we shall see much more of his wisdom, power, goodness, and truth, than formerly we have been acquainted with.  We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when he shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, ‘the Lord make it like that of New England.’  For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.[21]  The eyes of all people are upon us.”

“So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword throughout the world….”

“…I shall shut up this discourse with that exhortation of Moses, the faithful servant of the Lord, in his last farewell to Israel, Deut. 30.  [Beloved there is] now set before us life and good, death and evil, in that we are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, [and to love one another], to walk in his ways and to keep his Commandments and Ordinances and his laws [and the articles of our Covenant with him], that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it.  But if our hearts shall turn away, so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced, and will worship and serve other gods [our pleasure and profits]…[it is propounded to us this day], we shall surely perish out of the good land wither we [pass over this vast sea to] possess it.

“Therefore let us choose life that we, and our seed may live, by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and prosperity.”[22] 

When it came time to develop bylaws for the governance of the churches, and a constitution for the secular government of the Massachusetts Bay colony[23], Winthrop and the other leaders of the Massachusetts Bay colony accepted the principle of “one man, one vote” for the government of the churches (in which every member of the church was allowed to vote – this is the origin of the famous New England “town meetings”), but insisted that voting rights in the secular government also be limited to those who were members of the churches.[24]

Differing opinions regarding how the secular government should be structured was one of the major issues that caused Thomas Hooker (a prominent Puritan minister) to lead a group of colonists out from Massachusetts Bay to found the new colony of Connecticut in 1636.  The Connecticut constitution[25] differed from the charter of Massachusetts Bay in several ways that brought it closer to our modern principles of government.  There was no religious qualification for voting in the elections for the secular government.  The powers of the magistrates and the governor were significantly more limited in the Connecticut constitution than in the charter for Massachusetts Bay.  And although only “freemen” (landholders) could vote in the elections for governor and some other offices, all “inhabitants,” (including servants, etc.) could vote in the elections for deputies to the court.

The Virginia Company’s colony at Jamestown (founded in 1607), included a much wider assortment of people, who emigrated to America with a much wider assortment of motives.  There were a large number of “gentlemen,” who were primarily interested in striking it rich through prospecting for gold and growing tobacco (a cash crop), but whose code of conduct forbade them from doing any manual labor themselves (and who died in even larger numbers than the other colonists as a result.)  The labor force was supposed to be provided by a diverse group of commoners, many of whom became indentured servants[26] in order to pay for their passage to America.   These included some who were down on their luck economically, and unable to find sufficient employment in England, as well as others who were minor criminals and had accepted “the King’s pardon” in exchange for agreeing to emigrate to America. 

Captain John Smith (who led the Jamestown colony from September 1608 to August 1609), had to impose martial law, based on the Biblical principle that he who will not work shall not eat,[27]  in order to prevent the Jamestown colony from starving to death.  (Martial law was necessary in order to force the colonists to devote enough time to growing the supplies of corn that were necessary to survive, rather than growing tobacco,[28] prospecting for gold, or spending time in various other frivolous pursuits.) 

The survival of the Jamestown colony was also powerfully aided by the efforts of the Reverend Robert Hunt, Jamestown’s first Anglican minister.  In addition to his spiritual labors, Hunt strove to set the right personal example by doing much manual labor himself, including the construction of Jamestown’s first gristmill for the grinding of corn.  Thus, despite having come to America for very different purposes, both the colonists in New England and the colonists at Jamestown found themselves dependent on Biblical principles, and on God himself[29], for their survival.

The development of America’s political institutions was also powerfully aided by a long period of “salutary neglect,” which began in the early colonial period and extended until the beginning of the French and Indian Wars in 1754.[30]  During this nearly 150-year period (1607-1753), England was largely preoccupied with various European concerns (including the English Civil War.)  In their early years, England’s North American colonies were also widely regarded as economically insignificant.  This left American political institutions free to develop on the English model, but without much interference from the mother country.  This also ensured that the American colonists grew accustomed to enjoying many of the legal rights of English citizens, but also to deciding many matters of practical local governance (including taxation, the election of colonial assemblies[31], and the administration of local courts and churches) for themselves.

Europe’s religious wars also had an important effect on the development of the American traditions of religious toleration, and the right to the free exercise of religion for all religious sects.  As America became a destination for increasingly diverse groups of religious dissidents seeking freedom to worship as they saw fit[32], as well as more and more immigrants coming with non-religious (and primarily economic) motives, America moved increasingly toward toleration of different religious sects. 

In practice and through long experience, early America in effect (though not consciously or explicitly) adopted an outlook on the demarcation between church and state that was somewhat similar to the Presbyterian doctrine of the Two  Kingdoms. [33]   The doctrine of the Two Kingdoms distinguished between the temporal (earthly or secular) kingdom, in which kings and magistrates hold the power of the sword, and the Kingdom of God, in which there is no head but Christ himself.  Under this doctrine, the church’s ministers are considered subject to the secular jurisdiction of the magistrates, but the magistrates are considered subject to the spiritual discipline of the church in matters of conscience and religion.   Thus, in effect, the church functioned as a “separate but higher” authority in early American political affairs. 

Both Patrick Henry’s famous “give me liberty or give me death” speech (given to the Second Virginia Convention[34] in 1775) and the Declaration of Independence itself (1776) clearly show how strongly America’s Christian heritage influenced the political debates at the time of the American Revolution.  Patrick Henry’s speech (which is reproduced below in its entirety), contains several explicit allusions to the Bible (bolded below), and resoundingly affirms that a strong commitment to individual freedom is a key part of the Judeo-Christian worldview:[35]

“No man thinks more highly than I do of the patriotism, as well as abilities, of the very worthy gentlemen who have just addressed the House. But different men often see the same subject in different lights; and, therefore, I hope it will not be thought disrespectful to those gentlemen if, entertaining as I do, opinions of a character very opposite to theirs, I shall speak forth my sentiments freely, and without reserve. This is no time for ceremony. The question before the House is one of awful moment to this country. For my own part, I consider it as nothing less than a question of freedom or slavery; and in proportion to the magnitude of the subject ought to be the freedom of the debate. It is only in this way that we can hope to arrive at truth, and fulfil the great responsibility which we hold to God and our country. Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offence, I should consider myself as guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.

Mr. President, it is natural to man to indulge in the illusions of hope. We are apt to shut our eyes against a painful truth, and listen to the song of that siren till she transforms us into beasts. Is this the part of wise men, engaged in a great and arduous struggle for liberty? Are we disposed to be of the number of those who, having eyes, see not, and, having ears, hear not[36], the things which so nearly concern their temporal salvation? For my part, whatever anguish of spirit it may cost, I am willing to know the whole truth; to know the worst, and to provide for it.

I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided; and that is the lamp of experience. I know of no way of judging of the future but by the past. And judging by the past, I wish to know what there has been in the conduct of the British ministry for the last ten years, to justify those hopes with which gentlemen have been pleased to solace themselves, and the House? Is it that insidious smile with which our petition has been lately received? Trust it not, sir; it will prove a snare to your feet. Suffer not yourselves to be betrayed with a kiss.[37]  Ask yourselves how this gracious reception of our petition comports with these war-like preparations which cover our waters and darken our land. Are fleets and armies necessary to a work of love and reconciliation? Have we shown ourselves so unwilling to be reconciled, that force must be called in to win back our love? Let us not deceive ourselves, sir. These are the implements of war and subjugation; the last arguments to which kings resort. I ask, gentlemen, sir, what means this martial array, if its purpose be not to force us to submission? Can gentlemen assign any other possible motive for it? Has Great Britain any enemy, in this quarter of the world, to call for all this accumulation of navies and armies? No, sir, she has none. They are meant for us; they can be meant for no other. They are sent over to bind and rivet upon us those chains which the British ministry have been so long forging. And what have we to oppose to them? Shall we try argument? Sir, we have been trying that for the last ten years.

Have we anything new to offer upon the subject? Nothing. We have held the subject up in every light of which it is capable; but it has been all in vain. Shall we resort to entreaty and humble supplication? What terms shall we find which have not been already exhausted? Let us not, I beseech you, sir, deceive ourselves. Sir, we have done everything that could be done, to avert the storm which is now coming on. We have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated; we have prostrated ourselves before the throne, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament. Our petitions have been slighted; our remonstrances have produced additional violence and insult; our supplications have been disregarded; and we have been spurned, with contempt, from the foot of the throne. In vain, after these things, may we indulge the fond hope of peace and reconciliation. There is no longer any room for hope. If we wish to be free, if we mean to preserve inviolate those inestimable privileges for which we have been so long contending, if we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us!

They tell us, sir, that we are weak; unable to cope with so formidable an adversary. But when shall we be stronger? Will it be the next week, or the next year? Will it be when we are totally disarmed, and when a British guard shall be stationed in every house? Shall we gather strength by irresolution and inaction? Shall we acquire the means of effectual resistance, by lying supinely on our backs, and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until our enemies shall have bound us hand and foot? Sir, we are not weak if we make a proper use of those means which the God of nature hath placed in our power. Three millions of people, armed in the holy cause of liberty, and in such a country as that which we possess, are invincible by any force which our enemy can send against us. Besides, sir, we shall not fight our battles alone. There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations;[38] and who will raise up friends to fight our battles for us. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave. Besides, sir, we have no election. If we were base enough to desire it, it is now too late to retire from the contest. There is no retreat but in submission and slavery! Our chains are forged! Their clanking may be heard on the plains of Boston! The war is inevitable, and let it come! I repeat it, sir, let it come.

It is in vain, sir, to extenuate the matter. Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace, but there is no peace.[39] The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Patrick Henry’s speech is an important part of the context for the Declaration of Independence.  The Declaration itself clearly shows that:  (1) by 1776, the Biblical idea that governments exist to protect the rights of individuals had become firmly entrenched in American political culture, and (2) the Founding Fathers clearly thought of God as the ultimate source of our rights, and the the ultimate guarantor of our liberties.[40]  To quote from the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident:  that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 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…

…and for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

More specifically, America’s Founding Fathers knew that our survival as a free society depended primarily on the willingness of each one of America’s citizens to govern and discipline themselves from within (so that the government would not have to do it by external coercion.)  They understood this to mean not only that our laws must reflect our common morality, but that our survival as a free society depended on a vigorous and vital (and genuinely free) exercise[41] of religion throughout society in our public life.  The most famous statement from the Founding Fathers on this subject came from George Washington, in his Farewell Address to the nation in 1796: 

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens.  The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?

And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

John Adams expressed similar ideas this way:  “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”   William Penn put it this way: “If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.”  And Thomas Jefferson, in his Notes on the State of Virginia (published in 1782) said:  “And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?”  And Benjamin Franklin said:  “This will be the best security for maintaining our liberties. A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the religion of ignorance that tyranny begins.”

More recently, many of our political and military leaders of both parties have continued to appeal to our spiritual heritage, both to lead the nation in times of crisis, and to unify the nation in calmer times.  (In reality, these two purposes overlap somewhat.  Although our greatest leaders have often felt compelled to take strong, and sometimes controversial, moral stands in times of crisis, our Judeo-Christian spiritual heritage provides a clear, and still widely shared[42], basis upon which a moral stand can be taken, and public opinion can be rallied and unified.)

The ideals of Christianity were instrumental in ending slavery, both in Great Britain and the United States.  In Great Britain, Member of Parliament William Wilberforce, motivated by his conversion to evangelical Christianity, embarked almost alone in 1787 on what would become a 20-year campaign to abolish the slave trade.  Especially at the outset, many people mocked and ridiculed Wilberforce for even attempting this, because the merchants who had grown wealthy from the slave trade were among the most powerful vested interests in Parliament.  (Wilberforce was finally successful in passing legislation to abolish British participation in the slave trade in 1807, and subsequently set his sights on the complete abolition of slavery within the British Empire, which was achieved just before he died in 1833.)   Researching the lives of the key members of the British Anti-Slavery Society (which was founded in 1823), shows that most of them, whether members of the Church of England, or Methodists, or Quakers, were strongly motivated by religious conviction.[43]

In the United States, religious conviction was a very important factor in eventually unifying the population of the Northern states behind an anti-slavery position.  (Initially, at the beginning of the Civil War, the goal was simply to prevent slavery within the United States from spreading beyond its then-current geographical extent.  Later, as the war progressed, more people came to see the necessity of complete abolition.)  The role of religious conviction in strengthening the anti-slavery cause is perhaps best exemplified in the life of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was the daughter of a prominent minister and wrote the famous anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin as an appeal to the nation’s religious conscience.  As she herself explained her motives, in a letter to a friend in 1853, "I wrote what I did because as a woman, as a mother, I was oppressed and broken-hearted with the sorrows and injustice I saw, because as a Christian I felt the dishonor to Christianity – because as a lover of my country, I trembled at the coming day of wrath."[44]   When President Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe in November 1862, he reportedly said, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war."

Even though President Lincoln was very private about his own religious views, his two most famous speeches solidly reflect a Judeo-Christian worldview.  Lincoln’s most famous speech, the Gettysburg Address (which was given in November 1863, to dedicate a cemetery for the Union soldiers who had fallen in the battle of Gettysburg the previous July), resoundingly affirmed the Biblical ideal of government “of the people, by the people, for the people:”

“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.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.”

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

In addition to the Gettysburg Address, the other speech of President Lincoln’s that is carved into the stone[45] of the Lincoln Memorial is Lincoln’s second inaugural address, which was given in early March 1865, at a time when an eventual Union victory in the Civil War seemed certain, but its timing could not be predicted, and the bloody siege of Richmond and Petersburg had been ongoing for many months, with no definite end in sight.  In this speech, Lincoln called on the nation to persevere in the ideals for which the Civil War had been fought, to accept the casualties and other costs of the war as God’s judgment for our national sin of slavery, and to do these things “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”  And he also made at least three very specific allusions to the Bible (which are bolded below) in support of his points.  So the entire content of this speech would have been incomprehensible if Lincoln had not both:  1) been speaking to a country which was very familiar with, and largely believed in, the Biblical worldview, and 2) been himself willing to (and knowledgeable in how to) use our Biblical heritage to encourage the American people to truly do their best on many issues of substantial public importance.


At this second appearing to take the oath of the Presidential office there is less occasion for an extended address than there was at the first. Then a statement somewhat in detail of a course to be pursued seemed fitting and proper. Now, at the expiration of four years, during which public declarations have been constantly called forth on every point and phase of the great contest which still absorbs the attention and engrosses the energies of the nation, little that is new could be presented. The progress of our arms, upon which all else chiefly depends, is as well known to the public as to myself, and it is, I trust, reasonably satisfactory and encouraging to all. With high hope for the future, no prediction in regard to it is ventured.

On the occasion corresponding to this four years ago all thoughts were anxiously directed to an impending civil war. All dreaded it, all sought to avert it. While the inaugural address was being delivered from this place, devoted altogether to saving the Union without war, insurgent agents were in the city seeking to destroy it without war—seeking to dissolve the Union and divide effects by negotiation. Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came.

One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged.[46]   The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh."[47] If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."[48]

With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

During World War II, both President Franklin D.  Roosevelt[49] and General Eisenhower (who finished the war as Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe), appealed to America’s religious convictions as a source of unity and hope during that very difficult time.  With President Roosevelt’s encouragement and approval, beginning in 1941 pocket Bibles were issued to all American troops serving overseas, including the following letter from the President:

“As Commander-in-Chief, I take pleasure in commending the reading of the Bible to all who serve in the armed forces of the United States. Throughout the centuries men of many faiths and diverse origins have found in the Sacred Book words of wisdom, counsel and inspiration. It is a fountain of strength and now, as always, an aid in attaining the highest aspirations of the human soul.

Very sincerely yours,

Franklin D. Roosevelt.”[50]

On the day of the D-Day invasion in Normandy (June 6, 1944), President Roosevelt asked the nation to join him in prayer for our troops, in the following public broadcast:

“My fellow Americans: Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.

And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.

They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.

They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest-until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violences of war.

For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and good will among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.

Some will never return. Embrace these, Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom.

And for us at home - fathers, mothers, children, wives, sisters, and brothers of brave men overseas - whose thoughts and prayers are ever with them - help us, Almighty God, to rededicate ourselves in renewed faith in Thee in this hour of great sacrifice.

Many people have urged that I call the Nation into a single day of special prayer. But because the road is long and the desire is great, I ask that our people devote themselves in a continuance of prayer. As we rise to each new day, and again when each day is spent, let words of prayer be on our lips, invoking Thy help to our efforts.

Give us strength, too - strength in our daily tasks, to redouble the contributions we make in the physical and the material support of our armed forces.

And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons wheresoever they may be.

And, O Lord, give us Faith. Give us Faith in Thee; Faith in our sons; Faith in each other; Faith in our united crusade. Let not the keenness of our spirit ever be dulled. Let not the impacts of temporary events, of temporal matters of but fleeting moment let not these deter us in our unconquerable purpose.

With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy. Help us to conquer the apostles of greed and racial arrogancies. Lead us to the saving of our country, and with our sister Nations into a world unity that will spell a sure peace a peace invulnerable to the schemings of unworthy men. And a peace that will let all of men live in freedom, reaping the just rewards of their honest toil.

Thy will be done, Almighty God.


As part of the preparations for D-Day, General Eisenhower issued the following Order of the Day, which for many veterans of D-Day became one of their most prized possessions and momentos of the war:[52]

“Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Forces:

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.

But this is the year 1944. Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned. The free men of the world are marching together to victory.

I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory.

Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”

As President, on June 14, 1954 (Flag Day), Eisenhower signed into law a bill adding the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, telling the nation on that occasion:[53]

“From this day forward, the millions of our school children will daily proclaim in every city and town, every village and rural school house, the dedication of our nation and our people to the Almighty. To anyone who truly loves America, nothing could be more inspiring than to contemplate this rededication of our youth, on each school morning, to our country's true meaning. . . . In this way we are reaffirming the transcendence of religious faith in America's heritage and future; in this way we shall constantly strengthen those spiritual weapons which forever will be our country's most powerful resource, in peace or in war.”

Thus, in its current form, the Pledge of Allegiance reads as follows:

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, under God, with liberty and justice for all.”

I think that is a very good summary of what America’s spiritual heritage is supposed to mean, in practical terms, for every American.  And to me, it is incomprehensible how we as a nation can either hope to persevere in those ideals for the future, or understand how we have become the nation we are today, if we do not acknowledge (and teach future generations) the role that our spiritual heritage in general, and the Judeo-Christian worldview specifically, has played in our nation’s development.

I think President Kennedy’s inaugural address (on January 20, 1961) also deserves to be quoted at length here, because even though it dealt with different specific issues than America had faced earlier in its history (the nuclear arms race, and the beginning of what would later become the War on Poverty), it was built around the same basic ideas that have been discussed throughout this site, namely that “the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe–the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God” and that “we dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution.”

President Kennedy’s inaugural address also made two specific references to the Bible (which are bolded below.)  The full text of the address follows:

1] Vice President Johnson, Mr. Speaker, Mr. Chief Justice, President Eisenhower, Vice President Nixon, President Truman, Reverend Clergy, fellow citizens:

[2] We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom–symbolizing an end as well as a beginning–signifying renewal as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forbears prescribed nearly a century and three-quarters ago.

[3] The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe–the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.

[4] We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans–born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage–and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

[5] Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

[6] This much we pledge–and more.

[7] To those old allies whose cultural and spiritual origins we share, we pledge the loyalty of faithful friends. United there is little we cannot do in a host of cooperative ventures. Divided there is little we can do–for we dare not meet a powerful challenge at odds and split asunder.

[8] To those new states whom we welcome to the ranks of the free, we pledge our word that one form of colonial control shall not have passed away merely to be replaced by a far more iron tyranny. We shall not always expect to find them supporting our view. But we shall always hope to find them strongly supporting their own freedom–and to remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.

[9] To those people in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery, we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required–not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right. If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich.

[10] To our sister republics south of our border, we offer a special pledge–to convert our good words into good deeds–in a new alliance for progress–to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty. But this peaceful revolution of hope cannot become the prey of hostile powers. Let all our neighbors know that we shall join with them to oppose aggression or subversion anywhere in the Americas. And let every other power know that this Hemisphere intends to remain the master of its own house.

[11] To that world assembly of sovereign states, the United Nations, our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace, we renew our pledge of support–to prevent it from becoming merely a forum for invective–to strengthen its shield of the new and the weak–and to enlarge the area in which its writ may run.

[12] Finally, to those nations who would make themselves our adversary, we offer not a pledge but a request: that both sides begin anew the quest for peace, before the dark powers of destruction unleashed by science engulf all humanity in planned or accidental self-destruction.

[13] We dare not tempt them with weakness. For only when our arms are sufficient beyond doubt can we be certain beyond doubt that they will never be employed.

[14] But neither can two great and powerful groups of nations take comfort from our present course–both sides overburdened by the cost of modern weapons, both rightly alarmed by the steady spread of the deadly atom, yet both racing to alter that uncertain balance of terror that stays the hand of mankind’s final war.

[15] So let us begin anew–remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

[16] Let both sides explore what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.

[17] Let both sides, for the first time, formulate serious and precise proposals for the inspection and control of arms–and bring the absolute power to destroy other nations under the absolute control of all nations.

[18] Let both sides seek to invoke the wonders of science instead of its terrors. Together let us explore the stars, conquer the deserts, eradicate disease, tap the ocean depths and encourage the arts and commerce.

[19] Let both sides unite to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah–to “undo the heavy burdens . . . (and) let the oppressed go free.”[54]

[20] And if a beachhead of cooperation may push back the jungle of suspicion, let both sides join in creating a new endeavor, not a new balance of power, but a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.

[21] All this will not be finished in the first one hundred days. Nor will it be finished in the first one thousand days, nor in the life of this Administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.

[22] In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course. Since this country was founded, each generation of Americans has been summoned to give testimony to its national loyalty. The graves of young Americans who answered the call to service surround the globe.

[23] Now the trumpet summons us again–not as a call to bear arms, though arms we need–not as a call to battle, though embattled we are–but a call to bear the burden of a long twilight struggle, year in and year out, rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation”[55]–a struggle against the common enemies of man: tyranny, poverty, disease and war itself.

[24] Can we forge against these enemies a grand and global alliance, North and South, East and West, that can assure a more fruitful life for all mankind? Will you join in that historic effort?

[25] In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility–I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it–and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

[26] And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you–ask what you can do for your country.

[27] My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

[28] Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

More than sixty years later, there are only a few points in this address with which I would disagree even partially.  The most important of these is the final clause:  “but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”  This unfortunate concluding phrase seems to me to imply that somehow we can complete God’s work independently of a relationship with God himself.  And it seems to me that this is not only an illogical statement but a dangerously prideful one.  And we all should know that pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”[56]

Our national experiences in war after this speech was given (from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan) also should have taught us that we can no longer afford to literally “bear any burden” in defense of freedom (although, as explained in more detail in the Defense and Foreign Policy section of this site, we can and should help our allies and friends who have a genuine interest in defending their own freedom.)   And in light of events over the past 60 years, I think many readers of this site are also likely to share my skepticism about unconditional support for either government-to-government foreign aid or the United Nations.  However, with all of those things said, the basic ideals of Kennedy’s speech (which are solidly rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition) are still intact, and continue to inspire us to this day.

President Reagan’s two most famous speeches (the “Evil Empire” speech given to the National Association of Evangelicals on March 8, 1983, and the “Tear Down This Wall” speech given in Berlin, on June 12, 1987), also made very explicit connections between our spiritual heritage and our freedom, and between freedom and prosperity, not only for America, but for the rest of the world as well.

I believe that any objective account of either American or world history during the 1980’s and 1990’s would have to acknowledge that these two speeches, and the American policies they advocated, were among the key events that helped America win the Cold War, and gave approximately 400 million people in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe another chance at freedom.  And this was accomplished not by merely asserting America’s power, but by acknowledging that the Cold War conflict was first and foremost a spiritual battle, and encouraging America (and her allies) to remain true to their spiritual heritage.

To quote from President Reagan’s address to the National Association of Evangelicals on March 8, 1983 (which has become popularly known as the “Evil Empire” speech):[57]

…I tell you that there are a great many God-fearing, dedicated, noble men and women in public life, present company included.  And yes, we need your help to keep us ever-mindful of the ideals and the principles that brought us into the public arena in the first place.  The basis of those ideals and principles is a commitment to freedom and personal liberty that itself is grounded in the much deeper realization that freedom prospers only where the blessings of God are avidly sought and humbly accepted.

The American experiment in democracy rests on this insight.  Its discovery was the great triumph of our Founding Fathers, voiced by William Penn when he said:  ‘If we will not be governed by God, we must be governed by tyrants.’  Explaining the inalienable rights of man, Jefferson said, ‘The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time.’  And it was George Washington who said that “of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

And finally, that shrewdest of all observers of American democracy, Alexis de Tocqueville, put it eloquently after he had gone on a search for the secret of America's greatness and genius—and he said: ‘Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the greatness and the genius of America. . . . America is good. And if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.’[58]

Well, I'm pleased to be here today with you who are keeping America great by keeping her good. Only through your work and prayers and those of millions of others can we hope to survive this perilous century and keep alive this experiment in liberty, this last, best hope of man.

I want you to know that this administration is motivated by a political philosophy that sees the greatness of America in you, her people, and in your families, churches, neighborhoods, communities—the institutions that foster and nourish values like concern for others and respect for the rule of law under God.

Now, I don't have to tell you that this puts us in opposition to, or at least out of step with, a prevailing attitude of many who have turned to a modern-day secularism, discarding the tried and time-tested values upon which our very civilization is based. No matter how well intentioned, their value system is radically different from that of most Americans. And while they proclaim that they're freeing us from superstitions of the past, they've taken upon themselves the job of superintending us by government rule and regulation. Sometimes their voices are louder than ours, but they are not yet a majority….

….But the fight against parental notification is really only one example of many attempts to water down traditional values and even abrogate the original terms of American democracy. Freedom prospers when religion is vibrant and the rule of law under God is acknowledged. When our Founding Fathers passed the first amendment, they sought to protect churches from government interference. They never intended to construct a wall of hostility between government and the concept of religious belief itself.

The evidence of this permeates our history and our government. The Declaration of Independence mentions the Supreme Being no less than four times. "In God We Trust" is engraved on our coinage. The Supreme Court opens its proceedings with a religious invocation. And the members of Congress open their sessions with a prayer. I just happen to believe the schoolchildren of the United States are entitled to the same privileges as Supreme Court Justices and Congressmen…

….I know that you've been horrified, as have I, by the resurgence of some hate groups preaching bigotry and prejudice. Use the mighty voice of your pulpits and the powerful standing of your churches to denounce and isolate these hate groups in our midst. The commandment given us is clear and simple: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."

But whatever sad episodes exist in our past, any objective observer must hold a positive view of American history, a history that has been the story of hopes fulfilled and dreams made into reality. Especially in this century, America has kept alight the torch of freedom, but not just for ourselves but for millions of others around the world.

And this brings me to my final point today. During my first press conference as President, in answer to a direct question, I pointed out that, as good Marxist-Leninists, the Soviet leaders have openly and publicly declared that the only morality they recognize is that which will further their cause, which is world revolution. I think I should point out I was only quoting Lenin, their guiding spirit, who said in 1920 that they repudiate all morality that proceeds from supernatural ideas—that's their name for religion—or ideas that are outside class conceptions. Morality is entirely subordinate to the interests of class war. And everything is moral that is necessary for the annihilation of the old, exploiting social order and for uniting the proletariat.

Well, I think the refusal of many influential people to accept this elementary fact of Soviet doctrine illustrates an historical reluctance to see totalitarian powers for what they are. We saw this phenomenon in the 1930s. We see it too often today.

This doesn't mean we should isolate ourselves and refuse to seek an understanding with them. I intend to do everything I can to persuade them of our peaceful intent, to remind them that it was the West that refused to use its nuclear monopoly in the forties and fifties for territorial gain and which now proposes 50-percent cut in strategic ballistic missiles and the elimination of an entire class of land-based, intermediate-range nuclear missiles.

At the same time, however, they must be made to understand we will never compromise our principles and standards. We will never give away our freedom. We will never abandon our belief in God. And we will never stop searching for a genuine peace. But we can assure none of these things America stands for through the so-called nuclear freeze solutions proposed by some.

The truth is that a freeze now would be a very dangerous fraud, for that is merely the illusion of peace. The reality is that we must find peace through strength.

I would agree to a freeze if only we could freeze the Soviets' global desires. A freeze at current levels of weapons would remove any incentive for the Soviets to negotiate seriously in Geneva and virtually end our chances to achieve the major arms reductions which we have proposed. Instead, they would achieve their objectives through the freeze.

A freeze would reward the Soviet Union for its enormous and unparalleled military buildup. It would prevent the essential and long overdue modernization of United States and allied defenses and would leave our aging forces increasingly vulnerable. And an honest freeze would require extensive prior negotiations on the systems and numbers to be limited and on the measures to ensure effective verification and compliance. And the kind of a freeze that has been suggested would be virtually impossible to verify. Such a major effort would divert us completely from our current negotiations on achieving substantial reductions.

A number of years ago, I heard a young father, a very prominent young man in the entertainment world, addressing a tremendous gathering in California. It was during the time of the cold war, and communism and our own way of life were very much on people's minds. And he was speaking to that subject. And suddenly, though, I heard him saying, "I love my little girls more than anything——" And I said to myself, "Oh, no, don't. You can't—don't say that." But I had underestimated him. He went on: "I would rather see my little girls die now, still believing in God, than have them grow up under communism and one day die no longer believing in God."

There were thousands of young people in that audience. They came to their feet with shouts of joy. They had instantly recognized the profound truth in what he had said, with regard to the physical and the soul and what was truly important.

Yes, let us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness—pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world.

It was C.S. Lewis who, in his unforgettable "Screwtape Letters," wrote: "The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid 'dens of crime' that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice."

Well, because these "quiet men" do not "raise their voices," because they sometimes speak in soothing tones of brotherhood and peace, because, like other dictators before them, they're always making "their final territorial demand,"[59] some would have us accept them at their word and accommodate ourselves to their aggressive impulses. But if history teaches anything, it teaches that simple-minded appeasement or wishful thinking about our adversaries is folly. It means the betrayal of our past, the squandering of our freedom.

So, I urge you to speak out against those who would place the United States in a position of military and moral inferiority. You know, I've always believed that old Screwtape reserved his best efforts for those of you in the church. So, in your discussions of the nuclear freeze proposals, I urge you to beware the temptation of pride—the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.

I ask you to resist the attempts of those who would have you withhold your support for our efforts, this administration's efforts, to keep America strong and free, while we negotiate real and verifiable reductions in the world's nuclear arsenals and one day, with God's help, their total elimination.

While America's military strength is important, let me add here that I've always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith…

…I believe we shall rise to the challenge. I believe that communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written. I believe this because the source of our strength in the quest for human freedom is not material, but spiritual. And because it knows no limitation, it must terrify and ultimately triumph over those who would enslave their fellow man. For in the words of Isaiah: "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increased strength. . . . But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary. . . ."[60]

Yes, change your world. One of our Founding Fathers, Thomas Paine, said, "We have it within our power to begin the world over again." We can do it, doing together what no one church could do by itself.

God bless you, and thank you very much.”

To quote from President Reagan’s “Tear Down This Wall” speech (given in front of the Berlin Wall, at the Brandenburg Gate, on June 12, 1987):

“…Twenty-four years ago, President John F. Kennedy visited Berlin, speaking to the people of this city and the world at the City Hall. Well, since then two other presidents have come, each in his turn, to Berlin. And today I, myself, make my second visit to your city.

We come to Berlin, we American presidents, because it's our duty to speak, in this place, of freedom….

“…Our gathering today is being broadcast throughout Western Europe and North America. I understand that it is being seen and heard as well in the East. To those listening throughout Eastern Europe, a special word: Although I cannot be with you, I address my remarks to you just as surely as to those standing here before me. For I join you, as I join your fellow countrymen in the West, in this firm, this unalterable belief: Es gibt nur ein Berlin. [There is only one Berlin.]

Behind me stands a wall that encircles the free sectors of this city, part of a vast system of barriers that divides the entire continent of Europe. From the Baltic, south, those barriers cut across Germany in a gash of barbed wire, concrete, dog runs, and guard towers. Farther south, there may be no visible, no obvious wall. But there remain armed guards and checkpoints all the same--still a restriction on the right to travel, still an instrument to impose upon ordinary men and women the will of a totalitarian state. Yet it is here in Berlin where the wall emerges most clearly; here, cutting across your city, where the news photo and the television screen have imprinted this brutal division of a continent upon the mind of the world. Standing before the Brandenburg Gate, every man is a German, separated from his fellow men. Every man is a Berliner, forced to look upon a scar.

President von Weizsacker has said, "The German question is open as long as the Brandenburg Gate is closed." Today I say: As long as the gate is closed, as long as this scar of a wall is permitted to stand, it is not the German question alone that remains open, but the question of freedom for all mankind. Yet I do not come here to lament. For I find in Berlin a message of hope, even in the shadow of this wall, a message of triumph.

In this season of spring in 1945, the people of Berlin emerged from their air-raid shelters to find devastation. Thousands of miles away, the people of the United States reached out to help. And in 1947 Secretary of State--as you've been told--George Marshall announced the creation of what would become known as the Marshall Plan. Speaking precisely 40 years ago this month, he said: "Our policy is directed not against any country or doctrine, but against hunger, poverty, desperation, and chaos."

In the Reichstag a few moments ago, I saw a display commemorating this 40th anniversary of the Marshall Plan. I was struck by the sign on a burnt-out, gutted structure that was being rebuilt. I understand that Berliners of my own generation can remember seeing signs like it dotted throughout the western sectors of the city. The sign read simply: "The Marshall Plan is helping here to strengthen the free world." A strong, free world in the West, that dream became real. Japan rose from ruin to become an economic giant. Italy, France, Belgium--virtually every nation in Western Europe saw political and economic rebirth; the European Community was founded.

In West Germany and here in Berlin, there took place an economic miracle, the Wirtschaftswunder. Adenauer, Erhard, Reuter, and other leaders understood the practical importance of liberty--that just as truth can flourish only when the journalist is given freedom of speech, so prosperity can come about only when the farmer and businessman enjoy economic freedom. The German leaders reduced tariffs, expanded free trade, lowered taxes. From 1950 to 1960 alone, the standard of living in West Germany and Berlin doubled.

Where four decades ago there was rubble, today in West Berlin there is the greatest industrial output of any city in Germany--busy office blocks, fine homes and apartments, proud avenues, and the spreading lawns of parkland. Where a city's culture seemed to have been destroyed, today there are two great universities, orchestras and an opera, countless theaters, and museums. Where there was want, today there's abundance--food, clothing, automobiles--the wonderful goods of the Ku'damm.[61] From devastation, from utter ruin, you Berliners have, in freedom, rebuilt a city that once again ranks as one of the greatest on earth. The Soviets may have had other plans. But my friends, there were a few things the Soviets didn't count on--Berliner Herz, Berliner Humor, ja, und Berliner Schnauze. [Berliner heart, Berliner humor, yes, and a Berliner Schnauze.]

In the 1950s, Khrushchev predicted: "We will bury you." But in the West today, we see a free world that has achieved a level of prosperity and well-being unprecedented in all human history. In the Communist world, we see failure, technological backwardness, declining standards of health, even want of the most basic kind--too little food. Even today, the Soviet Union still cannot feed itself. After these four decades, then, there stands before the entire world one great and inescapable conclusion: Freedom leads to prosperity. Freedom replaces the ancient hatreds among the nations with comity and peace. Freedom is the victor.

And now the Soviets themselves may, in a limited way, be coming to understand the importance of freedom. We hear much from Moscow about a new policy of reform and openness. Some political prisoners have been released. Certain foreign news broadcasts are no longer being jammed. Some economic enterprises have been permitted to operate with greater freedom from state control.

Are these the beginnings of profound changes in the Soviet state? Or are they token gestures, intended to raise false hopes in the West, or to strengthen the Soviet system without changing it? We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace. There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!...

… Perhaps this gets to the root of the matter, to the most fundamental distinction of all between East and West. The totalitarian world produces backwardness because it does such violence to the spirit, thwarting the human impulse to create, to enjoy, to worship. The totalitarian world finds even symbols of love and of worship an affront. Years ago, before the East Germans began rebuilding their churches, they erected a secular structure: the television tower at Alexander Platz. Virtually ever since, the authorities have been working to correct what they view as the tower's one major flaw, treating the glass sphere at the top with paints and chemicals of every kind. Yet even today when the sun strikes that sphere--that sphere that towers over all Berlin--the light makes the sign of the cross. There in Berlin, like the city itself, symbols of love, symbols of worship, cannot be suppressed.

As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner: "This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality." Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom.

And I would like, before I close, to say one word. I have read, and I have been questioned since I've been here about certain demonstrations against my coming. And I would like to say just one thing, and to those who demonstrate so. I wonder if they have ever asked themselves that if they should have the kind of government they apparently seek, no one would ever be able to do what they're doing again.

Thank you and God bless you all.”

President Reagan was able to mobilize America’s resources (and to a lesser extent, also the resources of our allies) to win the Cold War because he understood that, while factors such as military strength and readiness were very important, at a more fundamental level the battle between freedom and tyranny is a spiritual battle, and that to win it, all we had to do was to keep believing in the importance of our spiritual heritage and the values that proceed from it. 

More specifically, we needed to understand that the freedoms we cherish and enjoy are God-given and are best protected by what President Reagan summarized as “the rule of law under God”  (in which freedom of worship and all of the other rights of conscience are carefully preserved, and laws are made primarily by and for the people, working through their elected state and Congressional legislatures, rather than by and for Big Government.)   In other words, President Reagan believed that, in order to win the Cold War, all we needed to do was to keep believing in traditional American ideals (both personally and in America’s public life), rather than losing faith.  And history has vindicated President Reagan’s beliefs.

Conversely, if our common moral principles and our spiritual heritage are excluded from the public square, then our leaders can only rely on their personal charisma to lead us during times of crisis (which is a very poor substitute, regardless of which party and which leader we are talking about.) 

Furthermore, evidence from both within and outside the United States shows that when religion is excluded from the public square, severe consequences often result.  The most striking example of this is the contrast between the American and the French revolutions, which occurred at approximately the same time in history, but were based on very different philosophical premises, and had very different outcomes.  The American Revolution was, in essence, a conservative revolution, which sought to preserve an existing social order, and the existing rights and freedoms of America’s citizens (prominently including freedom of worship), against new and unwanted levels of British interference.  Religion played a prominent role in defining (and limiting) the objectives of the American Revolution, and also played an important (if less direct) role in how the conflict was conducted.  Both sides in the American Revolution understood that the battle was being fought in the court of public opinion as well as on the battlefield itself, and therefore that atrocities would ill serve their cause.  And given the prominent role of religion in both the American and British societies at the time of the American Revolution, some degree of gentlemanly conduct was widely expected, and generally adhered to.  In this context, the relatively few and small-scale atrocities that did occur (such as those committed by the British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton in the Carolinas)[62] were widely regarded as shocking. 

By contrast, the French Revolution (following the principles of the more extreme French philosophes such as Voltaire, who ridiculed religion and sought to exclude it from public life, and in that sense were the forerunners of modern secular humanism), sought to overthrow every aspect of the old European social order, including the aristocracy, the church, and even the old calendar.  In the course of this process of casting off all of the old moral and political restraints, terror came to be regarded by the leaders of the French Revolution as a necessary, acceptable, and even noble weapon of revolution.

Although relatively few people were killed during the early parts of the French Revolution that were internal to France (estimates range from about 140,000 to 600,000 killed within France between 1789-1794),[63]  the apparent randomness of the Terror, and the degree of anarchy prevailing in Revolutionary France, horrified the rest of Europe.  Thus, the rest of Europe vigorously fought Revolutionary France in an attempt to restore the old order in France, or at least prevent the chaos of the French Revolution from spreading to their own countries.  This resulted in a total of approximately another 700,000 to 2,000,000 deaths throughout Europe during the French Revolutionary Wars (1792-1802.)  Finally, when a “man on horseback” (Napoleon Bonaparte) inevitably became necessary to restore order within France (in the absence of any unifying principle other than a resort to force), and that “man on horseback” attempted to conquer the rest of Europe, the resulting Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815)  caused another 3,000,000 to 6,000,000 deaths throughout Europe.  Thus, in total, the upheavals related to the French Revolution caused approximately 3,800,000 to 8,600,000 deaths throughout Europe.  By comparison, the total number of deaths on both sides attributable to the American Revolution was no more than 100,000 (and possibly significantly less.)  And these primarily consisted of soldiers who died either in battle or from disease while on campaign (in stark contrast to the large number of civilian casualties associated with the French Revolution.)

The French Revolution was also one of the inspirations for the use of terror during the Communist revolutions that began in Russia in 1917 and later spread to China and other places.  The Communist revolutions, which were based on an explicitly atheistic system of thought and threw many believers of all religions (including Christians, Jews, and Muslims) into concentration camps just because they were believers, with the avowed goal of eradicating religious belief, were responsible for over 90 million deaths worldwide during the 20th century.[64]   The utter lack of moral restraint shown by the Soviet Communist leaders caused the citizens of the Soviet Union (in its closing days, when the fear of the gulag had receded), to openly refer to their political leaders as the “mafiya,” and to state that one of the most degrading features of Soviet life was the inability of ordinary citizens to escape the corrupting influence of the Soviet government.[65] 

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, who collected the testimony of hundreds of eyewitnesses to the crimes of the Soviet regime in his classic work The Gulag Archipelago, stated that the defining principle of either Leninist or Stalinist terror was its randomness and lawlessness  (i.e., it literally did not matter to the Soviet government whether you were really guilty of anything or not), and that partly for this reason, the consensus opinion of all the people he met who had experienced both the Nazi and Soviet regimes was that Hitler was a mere amateur by comparison with Stalin.  And the title Solzhenitsyn chose for his work (Gulag = the Soviet system of concentration camps, and Archipelago = a group of islands), clearly communicates his view that the gulag was the real essence of the Soviet regime, and every other branch of the Soviet government was mere window dressing for the gulag and various other (and related) criminal enterprises.[66]

The Nazi regime (which was responsible for about 40 million deaths worldwide[67] during the twelve years and four months of its existence) provides another example of how low a society can sink when religion is systematically excluded from the public square.  Although there is some disagreement among scholars as to whether the Nazi regime can better be described as atheistic or pagan, the end result was the same.  The Nazi regime persecuted the Jews within Germany almost from the day Hitler became the German Chancellor (January 30th, 1933), and also consciously rejected the Christian parts of Germany’s heritage in favor of the extreme German nationalism, authoritarianism, anti-religious rantings, and belief in social Darwinism (“survival of the fittest” among the human race) expressed by philosophers such as Fichte, Hegel, Treitschke, and Nietzsche.[68]  Hitler himself was also a great admirer of Richard Wagner’s operas, which glorify and celebrate violent pagan Norse mythology. 

Early in the reign of the Nazi regime, on May 10th, 1933, more than 20,000 “un-German” books were burned in a state ceremony in central Berlin that officially inaugurated an era of strict censorship.  And while presiding over this ceremony, the Nazi Propaganda Minister, Joseph Goebbels, exulted that “the soul of the German people [by which of course he meant the violent pagan part of the German soul] can again express itself.  These flames not only illuminate the final end of an old era; they also light up the new.”[69]

Under the Nazi regime, Germany’s churches were expected to conform to the Nazi ideology, and anyone who publicly protested this (including the Catholic Archbishop of Munster, Count Clemens August von Galen, Protestant leaders such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemoeller, and hundreds of other pastors and priests) was at least arrested, and in many cases murdered.  Conformance with the Nazi ideology meant, at a minimum, acquiescence in all the actions of the Nazi Party, but was actually intended by the Nazi regime to eventually mean the explicit worship of the Nazi state, as the following excerpts from Nazi Party’s 30-point official program for the “National Reich Church” make clear:

“18.  The National Church will clear away from its altars all crucifixes, Bibles, and pictures of saints.

19. On the altars there must be nothing but Mein Kampf  (to the German nation and therefore to God the most sacred book)[70], and to the left of the altar a sword.

30.  On the day of its [the National Church’s] foundation, the Christian Cross must be removed from all churches, cathedrals, and chapels…and it must be superseded by the only unconquerable symbol, the swastika.”[71]

These examples of moral decline in atheistic or pagan societies far exceed the toll of life taken by the occasional excesses of Christianity (which in any case occurred before the ratification of the U.S. Constitution.)   Frequently, when looking for reasons to discredit Christianity, skeptics point to the Crusades.  And admittedly, the Crusades were very costly in human lives (with estimates of the total casualties ranging from about 1,000,000 to 9,000,000.)[72]  But, as the table below shows, even if one accepts the highest estimate of the casualties related to the Crusades, and assigns the responsibility for all of these deaths solely to the Christian countries (which is obviously a very simplistic and very unfair way to look at a complex conflict that extended over several centuries and included Muslim invasions of Christian territory, as well as the reverse), the Crusades would barely crack the top 20 worst examples of “man’s inhumanity to man.”



And there is only one other item on this list (the Thirty Years War) that is even partially attributable to religious conflict either within, or instigated by, the Christian church.

So on balance, the Judeo-Christian moral and spiritual traditions in general (and especially the American expressions of them, over the entire 400-year history of America’s existence) has done far more good than harm in terms of preserving the freedom, human dignity, and spiritual and material prosperity that God intended for all of humanity to have.  In the 20th century alone, America not only provided the Free World’s margin of victory in three global conflicts (World War I, World War II, and the Cold War), but also substantially helped Germany, Japan, and Italy to reconstitute themselves as peaceful and prosperous societies after World War II, and provided much additional humanitarian aid around the world.  And all of this could not have been done for “reasons of state” alone.  America’s ideals (which are deeply rooted in the Judeo-Christian moral and spiritual traditions) were the real key to victory. 

America truly is an exceptional country, not for any chauvinistic reasons (and certainly not for any racist reasons, since we are one of the most ethnically diverse societies in the world), but because American society was established, and largely continues to function today, on Judeo-Christian moral principles.  Throughout all of America’s history so far, many of the leaders of our society, and many more of our ordinary citizens, have made a sincere effort to honor our spiritual heritage, and to live according to it, understanding  that it is the spiritual part of our heritage that truly makes America exceptional.  And, as explained in detail earlier in this section, America’s Founding Fathers understood this very well. 

By way of contrast, there are at least three major (and inter-related) reasons why the free exercise of religion is fundamentally intolerable to authoritarian regimes: 

-          All true religions[73] advocate voluntary self-restraint (and voluntary submission to the God-given moral order.)  The more that genuine spiritual community influences both the private and public lives of a nation’s citizens, the less need there is for coercive measures by the government.   Encouraging voluntary self-restraint both a) removes an important part of the theoretical justification for authoritarian regimes (i.e., that “only a strong central authority is able to maintain order,” and b) actually maintains order better than any government (either democratic or authoritarian) is able do it.

-          At least in the case of the Jewish and Christian traditions, religions insist that freedom is a fundamental and God-given (or as the Declaration of Independence puts it, “inalienable,”) human right (which governments exist to protect), and also that every human life is valuable, and every human being deserves to be treated with dignity, respect, fairness, and compassion because they are created in the image of God.

-          Authoritarian regimes (of whatever ideology) consider any moral challenge to their authority (and especially the type of organized and substantive challenge to secular authority which the church represents), to be intolerable because it exposes the hollowness of the regime’s claim to absolute authority.  As President Lincoln once put it, “no man is good enough to govern another man without the other’s consent.”

For all of these reasons, it is vital to the preservation of America’s freedom that the American government should take great care to preserve our Constitutionally guaranteed right to the free exercise of religion, which includes not only the right to freedom of religious expression, but also the right for all believers to live according to their faith, to advocate for their beliefs in the public square, and to decide questions of morality for themselves, either through referendums or through the votes of their state legislatures, according to the established political procedures within each state. 

In addition to the two First Amendment protections (the general right to freedom of speech, and a separate, specifically enumerated right to the free exercise of religion), the right of the states and the people to decide matters of morality and conscience for themselves (rather than having the Supreme Court or any other branch of the federal government do it for them by edict) is also protected in the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution, which says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”  In other words, unless a particular power is specifically given to the federal government, or specifically prohibited to the state governments, by the Constitution, that power is reserved for the states and the people.  And therefore, since the Constitution does not say a word about abortion, or the definition of marriage, or most of the other so-called “social issues” (which are also issues that touch on freedom of religion, or more generally freedom of conscience), it is the Constitutional right of the states and the people (and not the Supreme Court or any other branch of the federal government) to decide the law on these issues.   

Today the Nazi regime is a distant memory, and the worst excesses of the various Communist regimes are also rapidly fading from public consciousness (so much so that some commentators on the political left are instantly resentful whenever either is brought up nowadays, as though it were somehow a crime to try to learn from the worst mistakes of fairly recent history.)    But if we are willing to study the lessons of history, then we should see that (despite the world’s near-term economic difficulties), we are actually living in a very hopeful time.  The worship of the State (in either its Nazi or its Communist variants) has now been conclusively proven to be bankrupt in every sense of that word (morally, spiritually, intellectually, and economically.)   And therefore the world’s remaining Communist regimes can only cling to one principle to justify their continued existence:  the classic Maoist dictum that “power comes from the barrel of a gun” (or in other words, that might makes right, without regard for any moral considerations.) 

At this point, it is also very much worth recalling what George Washington said about the unrestrained power of government:   “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

So in conclusion, when considering the modern state of society, and how we go forward from here, we really only have two choices of governing philosophy.  We must choose either the philosophy summarized in the Declaration of Independence (and implemented in the U.S. Constitution):

“We hold these truths to be self-evident:  that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable 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…

…and for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

Or the authoritarian philosophy:

“power comes from the barrel of a gun”

And when the facts are stated this clearly, it is “self-evident” what our choice should be.

Some commentators on the political left have proposed the European system of democratic socialism as a “third way,” which avoids what are (falsely) presumed to be the morally equivalent extremes of the American free enterprise system on one side, and authoritarian socialism on the other.  But (for the reasons explained in detail in the section of this site on the Role of Government), I believe that the European system is, in reality, not a “third way,” but an uneasy compromise between the first two.  And therefore, both America and the world will be much better off if America continues on the “exceptional” path marked out by our Founding Fathers.


[73] Jihadism, which advocates killing everyone who disagrees with the Jihadists’ interpretation of the Quran, is clearly a false religion despite its claim to be Islamic.  The first line of the first chapter in the Quran (which is also a line included in every Muslim’s daily prayers) describes Allah as “the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy.” (or in an alternative translation, as “the Compassionate, the Merciful.”)  And it makes no more sense for a Muslim to say “I’m going to kill you in the name of Allah, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy” than it would for a Christian to say “I’m going to kill you in the name of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace.”  So the Jihadists stand convicted of heresy, both by their own scriptures and by their own oral tradition.

[1] Jesus’s first commandment, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” summarizes the first four of the Ten Commandments (which deal with our relationship with God.)  Jesus’s second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” summarizes the last six of the Ten Commandments (which deal with our relationships with one another.)

[2] Note that order (which in a just and free society means moral order, enforced by a system of laws that apply equally and fairly to all) is an indispensible part and precondition of true freedom.  In other words, anarchy is not true freedom, and none of us have a right to exercise our liberties in ways that hurt others.  For more on this point, see the section of this site on the Rule of Law.   

[3] The original languages in which the Bible was written were ancient Hebrew for the Old Testament, and the koine or “common” version of ancient Greek (which was one of the most common trade languages throughout the Roman Empire at the time of Christ) for the New Testament, as well as Aramaic (another common language in Palestine at the time of Christ) for some parts of the New Testament.

[4] John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion (first published in 1536) was one of the earliest and best systematizations of Protestant theology.

[5] “Sin” has become a four-letter word in modern American culture, but actually all it means is “to miss the mark,” or in other words that every human being is morally imperfect, and that imperfection is a fundamental part of human nature.  This is something that we should all be ready to acknowledge.  (Anyone who seriously thinks they are perfect is at the least very arrogant, and arguably insane.)  While the doctrine that all humans are sinners is a very important part of Christianity, because it makes clear that we must all be saved by God’s grace or mercy (i.e., by God’s unmerited favor) rather than by our own efforts, we do not need to fear the fact that all humans are sinners, because God’s mercy is readily available to all who ask for it.  See (for example) Psalm 103, Isaiah 1:18-20,   Isaiah 55:6-13, Isaiah 61:1-3, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Luke 4:14-28,  John 1:1-14, Romans 1:16-17, Romans 3:9-26, James 1:5, and I John 4:7-19.  For more on what I think it means to be a Christian, see the final section of this site, on “Evidence for the Authority of the Bible.”

[6] In fairness to both the ancient and modern Roman Catholic church, it should also be noted here that, during the entire 10-11 centuries between the fall of ancient Rome in 410 CE and the beginning of the Renaissance (popularly known as the “Dark Ages”), the Roman Catholic church (including both the clergy, and many monastic communities) played a very important role in preserving all forms of culture and learning, and also exercised some degree of moderating political influence on the absolute power of various feudal warlords.

[7] The name “Jesus” in Greek (or “Yeshua” in Hebrew) means “the Lord saves.”  The name “Christ” in Greek (or “Messiah” in Hebrew) means the Lord’s Anointed One, who will ultimately restore and rule His kingdom (see Daniel 9:25.)  For more of the Bible’s teaching on the nature of sin, see the portion of the First Principles section of this site on “An Acknowledgment of Man’s Great (and Permanent) Moral Imperfection.”  For more information on what I think a Christian “conversion experience” means, see the final section of this site, on “Evidence for the Authority of the Bible.”

[8] To cite a few obvious examples:  The Church of England retained a hierarchy of bishops, and developed a centrally prescribed Book of Common Prayer (which were characteristics similar to the Roman Catholic church), but after 1534 was under the nominal authority of the English Crown rather than being subject to the Pope’s authority.

[9] In the event, an English Civil War could not be completely avoided, but open conflict was deferred for more than a century, until 1642.

[10] The best brief summary of Europe’s religious wars that I have read so far is this one, from chapter VII of Russell Kirk’s The Roots of American Order:  “What commenced as a debate about theological questions and church discipline soon made an open breach in Christendom; and there followed a century and a half of devastation, the Wars of Religion, Catholic against Protestant and one Protestant sect against another.  In the name of the Son of Man, the Redeemer, zealots took the sword against other Christians, illustrating practically the Christian dogma that all men are sinners.  Yet out of that long agony of religious fanaticism (mingled with national political rivalries, class warfare, and ruthless private ambitions) emerged the religious pluralism and toleration of the United States.” 

To this I would add that I personally believe that European dynastic politics, as well as the pecuniary and political motives of the established church hierarchy, were much more significant causes of these conflicts than religious fanaticism per se.  In this connection, it should be remembered that the hierarchy of the medieval church (bishops, archbishops, and cardinals), were often, and truthfully, called “princes of the church,” because in many cases they had considerable estates, and therefore considerable political influence alongside the secular nobility.   Thus, religious differences often helped to justify or rationalize wars that were really fought predominantly for baser causes (or at least from very mixed motives.)

[11] Hooker was an English priest, who became an influential theologian thanks to the philosophical depth and power of his writings.

[12] This is also the view taken by the authors of the Bible.  See (for example) Romans 1:20:  “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature---have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”  For more on the rational evidence for the existence of God, see the final section of this site, on “Evidence for the Authority of the Bible.”

[13] As a practical matter, in a free society there will always be some tension between maintaining the necessary minimum of public order, while also allowing the fullest possible expression of, and advocacy of, differing views.  The question of how order and tolerance can best be balanced in a free society is discussed in more detail in the sections of this site on “Our Spiritual Heritage,”  “The Role of Government,” and “Rights of Conscience.”

[14] The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, paperback edition, Dell Publishing, 1979.

[15] See (for example) God’s covenant with Noah in Genesis 9:1-17; God’s two covenants with Abram in Genesis chapters 12-13 and chapter 15; and the “new covenant” described in Jeremiah 31:31-34, which the New Testament says is for all Christian believers (see Hebrews 8:6-13).  God’s covenant with Moses (the Law of Moses, which is described in detail in the first five books of the Old Testament, and summarized in the Ten Commandments), is another important (although longer and more complex) example.

[16] Although the Pilgrims and the Puritans did not enfranchise women, neither did any other society at that time.  However, the scriptural command in Ephesians 5:25 that says “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” pointed to the eventual way forward on this issue.  This passage of scripture stood in stark contrast to secular law at the same time in history.  Under Roman law, which applied to most of the western world at the time of Christ, women generally could not own property or testify in court, and husbands could divorce their wives at any time and for any reason, without much legal consequence.  Thus, ancient Roman law favored men so strongly that, in a legal sense, wives were to a large extent the property of their husbands.  But God takes a very different view of this whole matter.  In addition to the scriptural teachings on marriage, there are references throughout the New Testament to churches meeting in the houses of women, and to women being leaders in the church.   See (for example) Romans 16:3-4, Romans 16:12-15, I Corinthians 16:19, Philippians 4:2-3, Colossians 4:15.

[17] John Winthrop was a well-to-do lawyer and a member of the English gentry, whose spiritual leadership was also so prized by the group of Puritans with whom he voyaged to Massachusetts Bay that they refused to leave England without him.  He later served as governor of the Massachusetts Bay colony for many years.

[18] This sermon is popularly known as the “City Upon A Hill” sermon, in reference to one of its closing lines.  For the sake of brevity and readability, only excerpts are shown here, with spellings modernized.  The complete text is at http://history.hanover.edu/texts/winthmod.html

[19] This reference is to Micah 6:8.

[20] This reference is to Ephesians 4:3.

[21] Underlining added.

[22] Bracketing added.  These two paragraphs are a very nearly exact quotation of Deuteronomy 30:15-20.  The bolded material is scripture, and only the bracketed material has been added or paraphrased by Winthrop.  Winthrop only made one significant alteration to the content of this scripture, substituting his own colonists’ passage over the sea for the ancient Israelites’ passage over the desert and the Jordan River.

[23] The full text of the 1629 Charter of Massachusetts Bay is at http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/documents/1600-1650/charter-of-massachusetts-bay-1629.php

[24] The qualifications for membership in these early New England churches were, essentially, that one must have completed any term of indentured servitude (a common means of paying for the passage to America, which was devoid of the racial stigma that later attached to slavery in America), be willing to submit to the authority of the elected leaders of the church in spiritual matters, and agree to follow the church’s doctrinal statement.  Last but not least, each prospective member of the church also had to convince the elders of the church that they had undergone a “personal conversion experience,” or essentially (to use more modern terminology), that they had accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and Lord.    John Winthrop and the other early leaders of the Massachusetts Bay colony were far from alone in their reservations about “pure democracy.”  At the time the U.S. Constitution was adopted, many of the state constitutions still included qualifications for voting that related to church membership or property ownership, or both.   Article Six of the U.S. Constitution says that no religious test shall be required to hold any federal government office, but the determination of the appropriate qualifications for voting was originally left entirely in the hands of the states.

[25] The full text of the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639) is at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fundamental_Orders_of_Connecticut

[26] Indentured servants agreed to labor for a contracted period of time (usually five to seven years) in order to repay the costs of their passage to America.

[27] 2 Thessalonians 3:10.  This has traditionally been interpreted to include an exception for the disabled.  John Smith’s exact words on the subject were:  “he that will not work shall not eat (except by sickness he be disabled).”

[28] Beginning with the founding of the American colonies, tobacco gradually became a valuable cash crop, and some of the early colonists viewed the growing of tobacco as a “get rich quick” scheme.

[29] Other examples of divine intervention in the survival of the Jamestown colony include the fact that the colonists landed in the territory of a Native American chief (Powhatan) who resolved to get along with the colonists, the arrival of three supply ships and a new governor (Lord De La Warr) in the summer of 1610 just as the starving survivors of the colony’s initial trials were about to pull up stakes and head back to England, and the marriage of John Rolfe to Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas in 1614.  Although some modern observers might be tempted to regard all of these events as mere “coincidences,” contemporary accounts credit the intervention of Divine Providence for at least the last two of these events.

[30] The French and Indian War was the American theater of a worldwide conflict known as the Seven Years War (1756-1763.)

[31] Typically only the governors of each colony were royally appointed, and as a practical matter the governors found themselves largely dependent on the elected colonial assemblies for the funding needed to administer the colonial governments.

[32] Examples include Protestant French Huguenots, Catholics (who in the early days settled primarily in Maryland), and the Quakers, for whom Pennsylvania was specifically intended to provide a refuge.

[33] This doctrine was first published in the Scottish Presbyterian Church’s Second Book of Discipline in 1578.

[34] The Second Virginia Convention was an assembly of delegates from throughout Virginia, convened for the purpose of deciding Virginia’s future relations with Great Britain.  Patrick Henry’s speech was given to a meeting of the Second Virginia Convention at St. John’s Church in Richmond, VA, on March 23, 1775.

[35] For more on this subject, see the portion of the First Principles section of this site on “A Commitment to Individual Freedom,” and also the section on “Parallels Between the Declaration of Independence and the Bible.”

[36] This is a reference to Jeremiah 5:18-25.

[37] This is a reference to Judas’s betrayal of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  See Matthew 26:47-56, and similar passages in the other Gospels.

[38] See (for example) Genesis 18:17-19, Leviticus 19:2, Deuteronomy 32:3-4, Psalm 73, Matthew 5:48, Galatians 6:7, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-7, and 2 Peter 3:1-9.

[39] This is a reference to Jeremiah 6:14 and 1 Thessalonians 5:3.

[40] As will be discussed in more detail in the section of this site on Rights of Conscience, the Supreme Court endorsed this traditional understanding of the roots of America’s liberties as recently as 1952, acknowledging that “we are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being.” (Zorach v. Clausen)

[41] Note that the “free exercise” of religion, which is the religious right that the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees to all Americans, is different from, and a stronger protection of religious faith than, mere “freedom of religious expression.”  The “free exercise” of religion guarantees all Americans the right to live according to their faith, and to advocate their religious views in the public square, as long as such actions do not conflict with the government’s basic purpose of maintaining public order.  And since the entire “free exercise” clause is additional to the basic guarantee of freedom of speech in the same Amendment, from a Constitutional point of view freedom religious expression and advocacy should either be regulated less than other forms of free speech, or at the very least, by the same (generally very lenient) standards that other types of speech are regulated.  In other words, all forms of speech (religious or not) should be regulated only to the minimum extent needed to preserve public order. The advocacy of religiously motivated terrorism (or the advocacy of any other form of violence, regardless of the religious or ideological motive) should be objectionable, but every other form of expression and advocacy (religious or not) should be freely allowed. 

[42] As I hope to show throughout this site, even though there are fewer overtly religious people in the United States today than there were two or three generations ago, many of the unstated assumptions behind the American worldview (the things we do, in fact, “presuppose,”) still reflect our Judeo-Christian spiritual heritage.  And that is much to our benefit!  The Bible says that God will “[show] love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments”  (Exodus 20:5, Deuteronomy 5:6), and I believe we are still living under that blessing today, despite the fervent efforts of the secularists to deny it. 

[43] For quick background on William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery in Great Britain, see the following  Wikipedia entries:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Wilberforce https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slave_Trade_Act_1807  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavery_Abolition_Act_1833

For a fuller account of William Wilberforce’s life, see the book Amazing Grace:  William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery.

[44] Interestingly, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s words here very nearly echo those of Thomas Jefferson.  In 1782, in section 18 of his Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson wrote on the subject of slavery, “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just…”  

[45] I have often thought that it is a good thing that Lincoln’s second inaugural address is carved into the stone of the Lincoln Memorial.  If it were not carved into the stone, then I think the ACLU (or other similar groups) probably would have found a way to sue for its removal, and I would not want to bet against the current Supreme Court’s acquiescence in that.  But all of us (regardless of our personal religious beliefs) are obviously better off leaving this carving precisely where it is.

[46] This is a reference to Matthew 7:1-5.  As the context of both Lincoln’s speech, and this passage in the Gospel of Matthew prove, this passage does not call upon us to abandon discernment (or right judgment.)  Jesus is simply exhorting us not to be hypocritical in our judgments.

[47] This is a reference to Matthew 18:7.  A similar passage occurs in Luke 17:1.

[48] This is a reference to Psalm 19:9 in the King James Version of the Bible.

[49] On a more personal note, it also seems relevant to add here that President Roosevelt was an active member of his local church (St. James Episcopal in Hyde Park, NY), throughout his life, including service as Senior Warden.  General Eisenhower was the son of Mennonite parents, and although he rarely referred to his faith in public, it was a foundational part of his outlook and character.  (In 1948, Eisenhower described himself as “one of the most deeply religious people I know” although not attached to “any sect or organization.”)

[53] The full story of how the addition of the words “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance came about is told at: http://www.wallbuilders.com/libissuesarticles.asp?id=105586

[54] This is a reference to Isaiah 58:6 (New King James Version.)

[55] This is a reference to Romans 12:12 (New King James Version.)

[56] Proverbs 16:18.

[57] The texts of Reagan’s speeches are quoted from Tear Down This Wall:  The Reagan Revolution.  Compiled by the editors of National Review, 2004.

[58] Although Reagan’s quotations from America’s Founding Fathers are authentic, the quotation attributed to de Tocqueville in this particular paragraph is actually a mis-attribution.  The best brief explanation I have found regarding the true sources of this mis-attributed quotation is here: 


But I thought this paragraph of Reagan’s speech should still be reproduced here because it shows what many prominent American politicians, of both parties, think we should believe about the value of our spiritual heritage.  (President Clinton, as well as various Republican Presidents from Eisenhower through Reagan, used the mis-attributed de Tocqueville quotation in their speeches.)

[59] This is a reference to Hitler’s seizure of a portion of what was then Czechoslovakia in the fall of 1938.

[60] This is a reference to Isaiah 40:29-31.

[61] This refers to one of the main shopping streets in downtown Berlin, the Kurfurstendamm.

[63] The casualty estimates in this paragraph and the next few paragraphs come from http://necrometrics.com/pre1700a.htm and various other links subordinate to that main page.  A wide variety of scholarly sources are compiled and summarized there.

[64] See the introduction to The Black Book of Communism, Courtois et al., Harvard University Press, 1999 for a tabulation that specifically includes more than 94 million deaths, and which the authors characterize as “approach[ing] 100 million people killed.”

[65] See Lenin’s Tomb, by David Remnick, Random House, 1993, which is by far the best book I have read on the fall of the Soviet Union.

[66] By Solzhenitsyn’s numbering, The Gulag Archipelago consists of seven volumes.  In my English-language edition, Solzhenitsyn’s seven volumes have been consolidated into three larger volumes totaling about 1,800 pages.  However it is reckoned, Solzhenitsyn’s book provides ample evidence to support his views.

[67] See a detailed list in Appendix Two of Hitler and Stalin:  Parallel Lives, by Alan Bullock, First Vintage Books, 1993.  Bullock had retired from Oxford at the time this book was published.

[68] The best explanation of the philosophical origins of Nazi Germany I have found is in chapter 4 of William Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (Simon and Schuster, 1959.)

[69] Quoted from Shirer, ibid., chapter 8.

[70] Mein Kampf (literally translated, My Struggle) was Hitler’s political testament.

[71] Quoted from Shirer, ibid., chapter 8.

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