Morality & Religion: The Founders’ Perspective

Morality & Religion: The Founders’ Perspective

2019 | Week of July 1 | Radio Transcript #1315

This week we have the incredible privilege of commemorating Independence Day, and it is certainly appropriate that we do so, complete with, as John Adams said in a letter to his wife Abigail, “solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty….[and] solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward forever more.”

Adams went on to say, “You will think me transported with Enthusiasm but I am not. — I am well aware of the Toil and Blood and Treasure, that it will cost Us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. — Yet through all the Gloom I can see the Rays of ravishing Light and Glory. I can see that the End is more than worth all the Means. And that Posterity will tr[i]umph in that Days Transaction, even altho We should rue it, which I trust in God We shall not.”

Adams was both optimistic and realistic, and was, I think, quite typical of our Founders. Some twenty years later, our Independence secured, Adams remarked about the form of government our founders adopted: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  Adams knew morality and religion are inseparably linked and are required for America to flourish or even continue.

Today, our culture largely views morality as a relativistic concept. In Adams’ day words such as law and morality were clearly understood in the same way by the majority of people. Our Founding Fathers weren’t confused about morality. While they assuredly struggled with and debated such items as the form of our government, states’ rights, and the reach of the Constitution, they were clear on the definition of morality and what they wanted to use as a basis for law in this “great American experiment”: Morality would be the basis for the law, and morality took form and substance based on the religion of Christianity and the principles found in the Bible.

Faith in God and acceptance of a set of universally understood moral principles guided the members of the Continental-Confederation Congress. From the very beginning, prayer opened the national congress. Even Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, both known to be two of the more liberal thinkers of this time, embraced a belief in God and the merit of Christian principles. Franklin stated, “Whoever shall introduce into public affairs the principles of primitive Christianity will change the face of the world.”

Judeo-Christian morality was accepted and embraced by government leaders and was made evident when Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams were appointed by Congress to design a seal for the United States. Jefferson first recommended “the Children of Israel in the Wilderness, led by a Cloud by day, and a Pillar of Fire by night….” The three later agreed on Franklin’s idea depicting the biblical story of the parting of the Red Sea. Though neither idea was ultimately accepted, it’s noteworthy that both used biblical imagery.

James Madison, the chief architect of the Constitution, similarly recognized the importance of religious principles to government.  Reflecting on the formation of this new government, he said, “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions…upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”

What would America look like if we as a nation once again honored the “laws of nature and of nature’s God?” Moral laws, based on timeless, unchanging principles, could provide the turnaround and healing America needs. Doing so would certainly end any confusion about the ethics of euthanasia, abortion, genetic engineering, alternative lifestyles, freedom of religion and a host of other issues.

Our America desperately needs moral standards. The best gift we can give our country is to acknowledge our religious heritage and recall a time when moral standards were accepted, rather than ridiculed. We need a generation of citizens who know and honor the truth of our national heritage and will passionately share it with others.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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