Friday, June 17, 2016

Virtue, Faith, Freedom and Separation of Church and State-If You Can Keep It

Whenever I see a book that not only correctly portrays the Founding Fathers, but also quotes them, I get all fired up! Reading what the Founding Fathers actually wrote is the key to understanding our republic. I'd much rather read their words than 21st century words...unless it's a book like Eric Metaxas' If You Can Keep It, which points us to the writings of the Founding Fathers. If we don't understand what they wrote, then we'll have trouble "keeping it."

Yesterday I blogged about the faith of the Founding Fathers. Today we shall examine virtue...because that is part of the Golden Triangle of Freedom. I've heard of the necessity of virtue before from the fiery Patrick Henry at Colonial Williamsburg. I know I bring them up a lot, but that is because I have learned far more there than I have in most books. As Metaxas says, it's like all this information is a deep secret, a secret that he wants to share!  I like books like that! 

Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom." (Metaxas, 55)In fact, in regards to virtue and freedom Metaxas says of Franklin, "He goes far beyond that to say that without one, the other is impossible." (Metaxas, 55)

"In June 1776 another of the founders, John Adams...writes, "The only foundation of a free Constitution is virtue." (Metaxas, 56-57)

"Adams even went on to warn that if the people of the newly formed United States did not have a virtue in 'greater measure' in the years ahead than they did when he was writing, they would not have a liberty that would last. 'They may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty. They will only exchange tyrants and tyrannies." (Metaxas, 57)

As there is a degree of depravity in mankind that requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature that justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form. Were the pictures that have been drawn by the political jealousy of some among us faithful likenesses of the human character, the inference would be, that there is not sufficient virtue among men for self-government; and that nothing less than the chains of despotism can restrain them from destroying and devouring one another. (The Federalist Papers, James Madison, as quoted in Metaxas, 57-58)   

For Virginians, however, the most important element of their basic political ideology, the central defining quality of their political system, was virtue. As one foreign traveler reported, by the last half of the 18th century, free Virginians conceived of themselves as having 'an inborn higher morality' that had infused itself into the political system. Composed of fallible men, that system might occasionally make mistakes. But its leaders prided themselves upon the fact that Virginia was almost wholly free of the political corruption that had tainted and eventually destroyed so many political systems and that as political leaders they always tried to consider the welfare of the whole community rather than the particular interests of any of its parts. (Political Life in Eighteenth-Century Virginia, Jack P. Greene, 45)

That was from a book specifically about Virginia, but I think much of the same can generally be said of all the colonies, based on what we know about the Great Awakening and the faith of our Founding Fathers. My purpose in sharing that quote is to showcase that yet an author of a secular book noted the importance of virtue.  

President Washington said in his 1796 farewell address, "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 principles." (Metaxas, 65)

"But once we have seen that the founders unanimously thought virtue necessary to freedom  and religion necessary to virtue, we must ask: What allowed religion itself to thrive as it did? And now we have come full circle-or full triangle, if you will..." (Metaxas, 67) This is all from the Golden Triangle of Freedom chapter in Metaxas' book, that he learned from Os Guinness...a Brit of all people! (I have to does the British Os Guiness know more about American history than us Americans? I guess that is another book. But I thank God for him...and now to get back on topic to freedom.)

"For many the idea of faith and freedom working together to bolster each other brings about cognitive dissonance. That's because in America today we have stepped backward to a cultural situation less like the earlier times in our own which religion and freedom were thought to be bitterest enemies." (Metaxas, 67)

This freedom is referred to...

in a letter written on the first day of 1802 to the Danbury Baptist Association by then-President Thomas Jefferson. In it Jefferson coined the phrase 'wall of separation between church and state' but the phrase has become so well known today many believe it to be in the Constitution itself. It exists only in that letter to the Baptist Association of my hometown, but it's become a shorthand way of talking about the Establishment Clause in the Constitution, expressing the idea that the national government cannot take sides with one church over another. This is an astonishing notion in the history of the world, that a state would not be directly or officially affiliated with a religious institution. (Metaxas, 71)

"This is what religious liberty is and was. The government essentially said, Yes, be religious. We will not only tolerate it; we will respect it and we will encourage it. But we cannot take sides or put our thumbs on the scales. But the understanding of this has been lost to many in modern America." (Metaxas, 73)

I can testify  that on  many a visit to Colonial Williamsburg, where we can meet the Founding Fathers (portrayed by interpreters whose first level of research is to deeply study and even memorize the writings of the personas they portray) I have heard President Thomas Jefferson explain separation of church and state in the same way Metaxas does. It is so misunderstood today. We've got to understand the works of the Founding Fathers according to their intent as opposed to the revisionist history we've been taught in public schools and in the media.   

Metaxas goes on to use the word picture of corporations to explain the meaning of church and state. Then he states..."The Founders wrote that the government could not 'establish' a religion. This meant that the government could not favor one religion over another." (Metaxas, 74)

...religion itself could not properly function unless religion were detached from the government. Only when religion was truly free could it be true religion-and only then could all other religions follow.  That this was never possible until the last years of the eighteenth-century tells us that it is not a naturally occurring phenomenon. Many things had to be in place for it to be possible. (Metaxas, 76)

Over the years many homeschoolers have asked me for a primer type government book to use as a foundation for digging deeper during their busy years of college prep. If You Can Keep It is it! This is the primer! I'll talk more about this in a separate post but Metaxas references many sources for digging deeper. His book is an easy read. I highly recommend it!


If You Can Keep it is available for purchase at your favorite bookstore, including through Amazon. By the way, I receive no commissions. I did, however, receive a free copy to review before the launch date which was June 14th. I blog because I'm passionate about this topic and I've been sharing bits and pieces of this information over the years. Because many of my readers have asked me questions about resources for this topic before, I want to make If You Can Keep It known. It's highly relevant for today, for adults as well as students. You can read more about it at Metaxas' website.

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