The Founding Document of American Culture

Fiscal conservatives, moderates and libertarians, particularly those supporting Ron Paul for President, are advising Republicans to forget about the social issues in the 2012 election campaigns. The theory is that brining up issues like gay marriage, abortion, or religion will alienate independents, women, moderates etc., resulting in a loss for the Republican candidate and a return to office of Barack Obama. They argue that the only issues in this campaign are economic: jobs, spending, taxes, and the ballooning national debt.

These, of course, are critical and immediate problems that must be dealt with if we are to continue as a free nation. However, they are only symptoms of a greater underlying crisis. Of far more significance than our economic woes is the problem of our decaying culture. The newspapers carry stories daily about mass murders, parents killing their children and children killing their parents, teenage gang wars with innocents being killed in crossfire, domestic violence, robberies, corruption at all levels of government, and government officially sanctioning abortion and sodomy. All these things reflect the decline of the American culture that has transpired over the past half-century.

When we demand our government officials follow the rules of government laid out in our founding documents we are usually thinking of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. These documents provide the basis for our form of government. However, they do not provide a sound source for shaping our culture which is even more important, since government is the outgrowth of a nation’s culture and moral foundation. The founding document on which the American culture was established is overlooked by the mass of the American people and despised by the progressives. It is that document that shaped the moral character of America for 169 years before the Declaration of Independence.

The founding document that provides the foundation for our culture is the Holy Bible. I realize that the mere mentioning of the Bible or Christianity makes many Americans uncomfortable and sometimes angry. That’s okay, the Bible is supposed to do that, because it reminds us of how far short of God’s requirements we fall in our social and moral responsibilities. “for the Word of God is quick and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” . Hebrews 4:12.

America is a Christian nation; its culture was founded on the Judeo-Christian principles found in the King James Version of the Bible. To deny that fact is to deny history. When the first settlers came to America in 1607 they brought with them The Bishop’s Bible first printed in 1568. Both the Pilgrims and the Puritans, as dissenters from the Church of England, preferred the Geneva Bible printed in 1560. Both Bibles were large “pulpit” Bibles, the Geneva Bible being 14 inches thick, too heavy for one man to lift and carry. A copy of these Bibles was usually kept in the Bishop’s or Pastor’s residence for his personal study with a second copy chained to the pulpit in the Church for public use. Readers were routinely available to read the Bible to the illiterate.

In 1611, the King James Version replaced the Bishop’s Bible as the official, authorized version. In 1612, a home sized edition of the King James Bible was published and made available to the public. For the first time in history, it became possible for ordinary citizens to own and study the Bible for themselves. The King James Version soon overtook the Geneva Bible in popularity and the Geneva Bible went out of print in 1644. Throughout the colonial period and early history of the United States the King James Bible was commonly used in Churches and homes everywhere in America. The KJV had no serious competition for the loyalty of American Christians until the progressive era when the English Revised Version began to gain popularity among “modernists” and secular Christians during the 1880s.

The Founder’s generation was intimately familiar with the King James Bible. It enjoyed a status in the American home equal to the telephone and TV today; virtually every home had a “family Bible“. It was used to record marriages, births, deaths and other important events and passed down from generation to generation as a record of the family history. It was used to teach children to read and family members gathered daily for Bible reading. No book in history has ever approached the readership of the King James Bible. It the only book ever to have a billion copies in print. The Bible is also the most hated book in history. There have been periods when its mere possession was punishable by torture and death.

The Framers were well versed in Bible principles and were influenced by those principles when they wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Two principles they especially took to heart were the “liberty of conscience” and the “providence of God” over the affairs of nations. Benjamin Franklin addressed the Philadelphia Convention with these words: “The longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—That God governs the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can arise without His aid?” George Washington commented concerning the Convention, “The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel who lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations.”

The Constitution does not mention God or religion because it is a governing document and religion is not the business of government. However, the First Amendment guarantees absolute freedom in all matters of religion: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”  These two clauses guarantee absolute religious liberty to all Americans. It forbids the federal government from prescribing any particular religion or sect on the American People. It also reaffirms our right to worship God in any way we choose, and to speak or write freely in expressing our faith to others. As Thomas Jefferson said, “…religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God…”

The religious liberty guaranteed by the First Amendment was more or less honored until 1962. Three ruling by the Supreme Court in 1962 and 1963 made it unlawful to pray or read the Bible in public schools. These and subsequent rulings by the courts added to the doctrine of political correctness resulted in changing the religious liberty enjoyed by our forefathers into religious tolerance only. Today we are not allowed to affirm our faith publicly, especially in a public setting or event. We are told that religious matters should be restricted to church or other religious functions. A Christianity that is confined within the walls of a church building or other special religious event is not the Christianity of the Bible and is of little value in reinforcing the moral foundation of our culture.

George Washington warned us in his farewell address to the nation in 1796, “…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.” The words of Thomas Jefferson regarding the institution of slavery in 1785 is applicable today as we consider how far we have strayed from our culture’s founding document: “Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever…; The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a context…”

The New Testament makes it clear that for individuals, our works will be judged at the “Day of Judgment”. However, the Old Testament makes in equally clear that nations are judged in the here and now when they ignore the natural laws established by our Creator and His revealed will. Those who argue that we ignore the so-called “social issues” and focus only on matters of money are ignoring history and the God of history, inviting His judgment. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  Heb. 10:31

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3 responses to “The Founding Document of American Culture

  1. I agree. Whether someone is a Christian is not the issue. However, our nation was formed with Christian beliefs in mind…

    The social issues are important. One reason I’m not entirely smitten with Ron Paul is he is very liberal regarding drugs. I’m not into drugs but don’t believe we should be tolerant of the drug lifestyle. This one social issue and others are important to me. The money issues are the symptom…the social issues are the actual problem.

  2. Josh Hanson

    As a Christian and as a supporter of Ron Paul, I agree with you that social issues are important for a nation. Where I disagree is that I believe that nations are judged by the actions of their people, but governments and nations are not the same thing. A government that forbids immoral behavior is not making the people moral; it is merely threatening violence against anyone who does not act according to Christian moral law. Christians like Ron Paul and I believe that it is the job of families, friends, and churches to reform the morality of a nation. The job of a government is merely to protect individuals against violations of their rights. Since you quoted Thomas Jefferson, allow me to do the same:

    “The error seems not sufficiently eradicated, that the operations of the mind, as well as the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws. But our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. If it be said, his testimony in a court of justice cannot be relied on, reject it then, and be the stigma on him. Constraint may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man. It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them.”

    • Josh, I do not substantially disagree with your comments. However, my essay concerns our culture and only tangentially the federal government. The quote you give from Jefferson’s “Notes on the State of Virginia” written and revised between 1781 and 1785 speaks to “natural rights” not “natural laws”. Specifically Jefferson advocates the natural right of “liberty of conscience” which of course I agree with. Matters of sex, marriage and birth, however are subject to natural law as well. He also postulates that the “legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.”

      One of the purposes of government as expressed in the Preamble to the Constitution is to “insure domestic tranquility”. Laws relating only to moral issues are not within the authority of the federal government. They are however, within the authority of states and communities. Communities and states have the natural right to decide for themselves the types of immoral behavior by its members that are “injurious” to the tranquility and welfare of their community and restrict or prohibit them.