Thoughts on the American Citizen’s Attitude toward the Founding Documents
America’s second president, John Adams, famously wrote in a 1798 letter to the Massachusetts Militia, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” Why do you suppose that might be?
First, the Constitution was made for a moral people. The reason for this is plain enough. America’s founding documents guaranteed men the right to Freedom. The Declaration of Independence promised men not only life, but also liberty. And not only liberty, but also the pursuit of happiness, which President Adams rightly perceived would be the lure of destruction for an immoral people. With freedom guaranteed, and the right to pursue happiness allowed, only a populace with a well-developed sense of ethics and morality could long endure the tyranny of rampant hedonism.
Second, the Constitution was made for a religious people. The reason for this is also clear enough for someone who has thought about the subject with any more than the slightest effort. Mere morality is liable to change. What was fashionably intolerable a generation ago becomes the cause célèbre for that generation’s children, and the cultural norm for their grandchildren. To buttress morality against the beating waves of popular sentiment, it must be grounded in religion. I am thinking specifically of the Christian religion, but all the religions which are believed to come by revelation from God are adequate to root morality in the ground of stronger stuff. To be plain, only the religions which have a Book that they believe God gave them are adequate to sustain morality of a type to stand against the weariness of time.
Adams not only insisted that morality and religion were necessary to proper governance by the U. S. Constitution, he said that any other people seeking to live under such a document would be utterly disappointed in their efforts. Yet we find ourselves sometimes surprised when the 21st-century American populace is entirely ambivalent—even flippantly indifferent—about whether any of the things our current crop of Washington politicians do are even legal, at least regarding their Constitutionality.
My sense is that the problem here is not a problem of politics; it a problem of faith. If the average voting-age citizen in “woke” America is not a person of faith—not even specifically the Christian faith—he is going to have trouble believing that there is anything remotely trustworthy in a document that was written by a bunch of old white men two and a half centuries ago. What relevance could such a document possibly have to this advanced generation, which carries the accumulated knowledge of history around in its back pocket? I mean, they rode horses for their transport and owned slaves, for God’s sake—how could a crop of benighted oafs have anything worthwhile to speak to glorious, urbane, and fully awokened Us?
The current generation that is quickly assuming the reins of authority in our world has no regard for the wisdom of their elders. The whole concept of wisdom is eschewed; knowledge is the currency of this generation. Wisdom is something that Grandpa might have, and it is vaguely concerned with how to be good and pleasant, somehow. But Grandpa is a virtual idiot when it comes to new technology and equipment. Why would we ever ask him about anything current or relevant?
But this is precisely what this generation needs, and what it lacks: Wisdom. It does indeed have something to do with being good, and that was the point President Adams was trying to make. Unless a people had a clear yardstick with which to measure what is good, they were doomed to follow hard after what was only desirable, popular, convenient, or pragmatic. And they would find ways to abuse the Constitution for their own ends.
Unless a person believes in the power of God to deliver an authoritative document from heaven that bears His divine imprimatur, how can one attribute any authority to any document from antiquity? No, the document must bear the weight of the holy about it to be received as an immutable law.
In the case of the U. S. Constitution, one must first believe in the Book that God delivered to man, knowing it to be pure and wise and good, before one can ascribe similar characteristics to a document created by men. But once it is granted that God can speak to His creatures by an intelligible word, a hurdle has been cleared for a human document to be similarly inspired. It is reasonable to think that prayerful, God-fearing statesmen could produce–after long deliberation and careful attendance to the wisdom that God had previously revealed in Scripture—a document that bore enough similarity to the character of the Creator to be carefully and scrupulously attended.
And this is what we find. Most people who hold to a vibrant and meaningful faith in the Christian Bible also hold the Constitution of the U. S. in high regard. And most people who find the Bible to be myths and fairy tales hold a similarly scornful view of the Constitution.
Today’s youths are taught to value cleverness above wisdom, and innovation above truth. With such a foundation as this, how can we possibly hope for the founding documents of this nation to survive?
I fear that this battle may have been lost long ago, and we are only now seeing the fruits appear of what has been sown now for generations.
So what are we to do? In coming days I'll give you some practical ideas about how to live as a follower of Jesus Christ in the midst of this present generation.