The civil rights movement became unmoored from the religious and moral values that drove it to begin with.
The late Claremont Institute scholar, Harry V. Jaffa, opened an essay he wrote called “The American Founding as the Best Regime,” discussing the meaning of the words of the preamble to our Constitution.
Included in those words, laying out the purpose of the Constitution is the phrase, to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
Jaffa says that “No words of the Constitution reveal the intention of the Constitution,” more than these.
“What is a blessing?” asks Jaffa. It is “what is good in the eyes of God,” he answers.
Jaffa then turns to the closing words of the Declaration of Independence, written 13 years before the Constitution, where, before officially declaring the colonies “free and independent states,” the signers appealed “to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions.”
And in closing the Declaration, ushering the United States into existence, the signers wrote, “with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.”
The point is that it is worth recalling, in these times of chaos and cynicism, that America was founded with a sense of vision and mission and meaning. And this meaning was anchored in the religious values that some work so diligently today to purge from our nation’s public life.
As we all know, amidst that lofty vision at the founding was a far less lofty reality. The reality of a nation founded on the idea of human liberty as central to a God-given destiny, where 20 percent of the population consisted of black slaves.
In the midst of the civil war, driven by that ugly reality, Abraham Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address, saying, regarding the warring sides, “Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other.”
Even this horrible struggle occurred with the perspective of the Biblical tradition of the nation in the background.
But today we are in a different place.
Rather than trying to perfect ourselves in the context of our Biblical tradition, the answer many have chosen today is to declare that tradition null and void.
So now today we try to navigate toward a fair, just and prosperous nation with a sense of right or wrong not rooted in tradition, but rather defined by politicians over dinner in fancy restaurants in Washington.
Is it any wonder why we’re where we are today? Why we have candidates running for president that represent nothing positive and have no sense of ideals that are not purely political, and why the votes they will receive will be solely because they are preferred to the other undesirable alternative.
After all, on what is our law based? What is the authority that ultimately defines the rules by which we live?
The American civil rights movement was led by a Christian pastor, who concluded his famous I Have a Dream speech with the words “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at least.” The Bible was his point of reference for justice.
But subsequently, along with the direction of the rest of the country, the civil rights movement became unmoored from the religious and moral values that drove it to begin with. Government became its god and the values of secular humanism, with right and wrong defined by politicians, displaced religion.
While it is true that we cannot impose the religious values in public life that we once had, we also cannot allow the values of secular humanism to be forced on believing, religious Americans.
There is only one answer. Keeping the heavy hand of government as limited as possible in the public square. This will allow, at least, the healthy parts of the country to prosper.