Foundations of Greatness

“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

Often attributed to Winston Churchill, this timeless saying emphasizes that, though times change, and though human actions and desires may change in deed, humanity will never change in nature. If we are to understand the fundamental beliefs, assumptions, and problems of humanity today, we must examine those of the humanity that has gone before. In my last post I mentioned an objective moral standard that makes America great; in this, I’d like to consider just what that moral standard is.

Consider the following statements and what time and place in history they describe:

  • People, especially educated ones, have rejected traditional religion.
  • Astrology is practiced.
  • Patriotism has declined.
  • The upper class is consumed with pleasure.
  • Education stresses knowledge more than character and produces masses of half-educated people.
  • Public athletic games have turned into professional contests.
  • Homosexuality is popular.
  • The dramas of the day are full of seduction and adultery.
  • A women’s liberation movement has brought women into active roles in a previously male-oriented culture.
  • Motherhood is devalued, and the bearing of children is viewed as an inconvenience.
  • Abortion is commonly practiced.
  • There is fighting and unrest within the nation between people of different faiths and ethnic groups.
  • Willingness to join the military is decreasing.
  • The government is called upon to provide for the everyday needs of citizens.

I took this list from the first chapter of Assumptions that Affect our Lives by Christian Overman. These statements are intended to describe Ancient Greece on the verge of decline but apply sadly and surprisingly to modern America. For example, today’s society assumes that if a boy brings a deadly weapon to school, mass murder will result. Fifty years ago, children in junior high brought guns to school for show-and-tell. They were cool—and for hunting rabbits. How times have changed. 4,000 unborn children die every day in America, something that would have been unthinkable a hundred years ago. America is on a steep decline, in many of the same ways as Ancient Greece right before its fall.

A set of Biblical assumptions addresses every sphere of life: education, church, government, and parenting. These may clash with mainstream thought and culture, but a significant number of God’s people are holding fast to the truth. In Ancient Greece, children were handed over to the state at an early age to be trained up in the service of the nation. Biblically, however, education is not the responsibility of the state or the government, but of parents and grandparents who will bring up their children in the way they should go. The church is not a mere building, nor is it restrained to a particular location; it is the body of Christ’s believers in fellowship wherever they are. The government is from God and subject to Him, for the purpose of protecting the people’s physical well-being; it has no control over their hearts, minds, and religious beliefs. The importance of marriage and parenting is closely tied to education, for every aspect of both education and parenting is essential to a child’s mental and spiritual well-being.

Unfortunately, many Americans no longer hold to the Christian faith, and so no longer maintain a worldview that treasures life, values marriage, or understands the significance of inter-generational communities. Americans no longer see churches and families as essential to the formation of young people’s character; we have abandoned our civic duties and ceded individual liberty to the power of the state. Look again at the list above. Need I say more?

There must be a way to return America to its moral foundation—some individuals in government are even now attempting to do so by legislating some sort of positive moral conduct. However, all legislation must have the consent of the governed, or it is both unconstitutional and imprudent. Our founders recognized that government tends toward tyranny, so they granted as little power to the federal government as possible. Patrick Henry acknowledged that,

“the Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government, lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”

The law can never create morality; indeed, the law increases sin (Romans 5:20). Where, then, can we find hope? Look to the fundamental assumptions that shape your worldview.

  • Righteousness comes only through faith (Romans 3:21-24; Philippians 3:9).
  • Jesus is the only mediator between God and man (2 Timothy 2:5).

When government attempts to regulate and mandate issues of personal morality, it usurps Christ’s throne, and beyond that, it makes Christianity legalistic instead of winning hearts and minds with the grace of the Gospel.

The government of England had control of the Church and tried to legislate morality. The Puritans fled. Indeed, our founders knew that “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.”  We see this sentiment echoed in our own Constitution: the First Amendment forbids the Congress from imposing any religion on the people or limiting freedom of religion—not mere freedom of private worship. The Ninth Amendment recognizes that not all rights and liberties are listed in the Constitution: when in doubt, keep the government out. And in the Tenth Amendment, all powers not explicitly granted to the Federal Government are reserved to the states and to the people.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that,

“the legitimate powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions.”

Upon close examination of the Constitution, one will notice that nowhere is the government granted the power to dictate morality or personal belief. Indeed, instances of legitimate government influence over the actions of individuals are few and far between: only where necessary to guard against rape, murder, and theft. In issues of religious opinion, and the liberty to act, speak, bake, arrange flowers, etc. in a manner consistent with that opinion, the government stays out.

To build a moral society, we have to start with changed hearts and minds because of the Gospel, and then implement in our personal lives the objective moral law that the Creator has written on our hearts. If you were to build a house, you would first lay the foundation, not start with the roof. Likewise, we cannot create a moral nation starting with the government and working our way down with legislation. The Scriptures laid the foundation; we only have to build upon it. Upon those assumptions, individuals must construct their worldview.

Then, it is upon the individual—upon the worldviews of a community of individuals—that government is formed. As Christian citizens, it is our right and our duty to build upon that foundation through evangelization and education, because it is only by winning hearts and minds that we can inflict real change—not by a socially-acceptable virtue cram-down, no matter whose virtues are being crammed. America is a great nation, but every other great nation throughout history has come to an end through moral decay, corruption, and tyranny. Let us learn from history, so that America does not meet the same fate.

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