For over 200 years the Thomas Nelson Company has held its goal to “honor God and serve people.” This made the publisher’s actions last week all the more interesting as they bowed to public pressure and pulled conservative author David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies from their publication.
I know people who have followed Barton’s work, but I personally haven’t read any of his books or watched any of his videos. It does appear, however, that the criticism of his factual accuracy is warranted to a degree—many who came out against the book are conservative scholars. I’m not a fan of the world of public pressure/boycott, but I do like the idea that conservatives are trying to pursue truth rather than simply promoting of an ideological viewpoint.
Over the years Barton has painted an ultra-conservative picture of our founding fathers—a perspective that may lack merit. We know for certain that several framers of our nation, Jefferson included, were either Deists or had modified Deist leanings. Although they professed a general belief in God, they didn’t necessarily see Him as being active in the affairs of men. The majority, however, did profess a strong belief in the Bible and the Christian faith (as acknowledged by a fairly recent Library of Congress exhibition).
The controversy over Barton’s book encouraged me to consider the differences between the mindset of our founding fathers and that of those in positions of influence today. What I see are definitive trends that apply to their general, collective sentiments, but not necessarily to every individual involved.
Our early leaders felt strongly that, as a nation, we were dependent upon God’s providence, provision, or whatever you want to call it. The idea of the separation of church and state was that government should not establish, enforce or restrict any particular religious beliefs regarding the general populace—not that government should be free from all traces of faith.
How do we know this? An honest look at history is all we need. Many came to our nation in pursuit of religious freedom. They had tired of the European patterns of kings and queens ruling the church and/or religious leaders ruling the government. True faith in God should be free to flourish in an environment free from government restriction or oppression.
The very First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution establishes this freedom by proclaiming “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It should therefore come as no surprise that the U.S. Capitol building is engraved with Scripture, that it played host to Sunday church services for many years and that national days of prayer were commonly proclaimed by the President and Congress during times of national need. Such acknowledgement of our dependence on God is the foundation of our nation’s greatness.
How does all of this differ from today’s political and cultural landscapes? We are moving toward secularization and away from any sense of dependence upon God. My last post highlighting the recent mission to Mars points toward a much larger cultural movement. Such a direction is of course necessary for the goals of humanism to flourish. Humanism demands that the intent of the U.S. Constitution be rewritten. Freedom can no longer mean freedom from tyranny and oppression, but rather the freedom to do whatever those with greater influence desire. For all of this to work, by necessity, the barriers of religious belief must be removed. And one by one they are falling; a crèche removed from a local town square, a religious group barred from campus representation, a fast food company (owned by conservative Christians) threatened by the mayor of a prominent city.
What we see unfolding before our very eyes is but the tip of the spear of a humanistic philosophy born in the Garden of Eden. Eating the fruit of the forbidden tree did not produce the desired outcome. Distancing an entire nation from Divine grace will end no better. The separation of church and state (as previously defined) is necessary; the separation of humanity from God disastrous. Eroding our First Amendment rights of religious freedom will mean only a return to tyranny and oppression in a nation that once stood as a shining example of greatness to the world around us.