God Bless America
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Far More Than a Culture War Rages in America

Crossposted at The American Spectator

America’s two greatest presidents, Washington and Lincoln, both believed that the ultimate threat to the United States wouldn’t come from abroad in the form of a foreign enemy but rather from within. In his Farewell Address, Washington warned of the dangers of “party passion,” and the “disposition to retaliate… [giving] ambitious, corrupted or deluded citizens… facility to betray, or sacrifice the interests of their own country…sometimes even with popularity…” Lincoln said, “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.” On another occasion he said, “…if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher.”

Of all the cultural changes that endanger the well-being and happiness of Americans and impair the governability of the nation, severing the present from the past and the rise of division and intolerance are probably the two greatest threats. In the last 25 years, division and intolerance have increasingly become defining characteristics of American politics and culture — attributes at odds with the vision of the founders and most successive presidents who understood that shared values and unity were the bedrock of American strength.

So all-encompassing has division and intolerance become now, that older generations hardly recognize in contemporary American culture, the place and spiritual home of their childhood. And today, one can rarely take in the arts on stage or in museums, comedy, contemporary Hollywood productions or major league sports without having one’s sensibilities offended or being confronted with politically correct inferences that reflect intolerance and condescension.

Beyond our borders it’s always been a crazy and depraved world. Anti-Semitic prejudice and intolerance has a long history in the Middle East and has been on the rise in Europe and the U.S., taking a turn for the worse on U.S. college campuses in recent years and punctuated this last year with mass murder and attempted mass murder at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway, California. In the last 25 years Christian persecution has been increasing in the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa from the upsurge of militant Islam. And just when ISIS appears defeated, the shocking news of mass killings of Christians carried out by Islamist terrorists, who directed their bombings at churches and hotels in Sri Lanka Easter morning reminds us of the harsh reality and magnitude of anti-Christian persecution and intolerance.

In January, Newsweek magazine, which is no friend of Christianity, reported that “Christian persecution and genocide is worse now than in any time in history.” The Pew Research Center recently noted that “in 144 [out of 195] countries in the world, Christians are the most targeted religion.”

To the extent Americans are aware of these facts and that more Christians have died for their faith in the 20th century than at any time in history, some might find consolation that such persecution is primarily taking place outside of the United States. But is that really so and what is to come?

Historians whose research is based on primary sources know that the United States was founded by self-professing Christians. The Founders came from different denominations, but they agreed on fundamental beliefs. And when those fundamentals were applied to the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the trajectory of human history was radically changed, for it was Christian Biblical principles that were the basis for man having inalienable rights from God that no government can deny or take away. In the words of President John F. Kennedy many years later: “The rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.” Similarly it was Christian principles in the Declaration and Constitution that asserted that the legitimacy of government came only from the consent of the people and that human dignity and equality for everyone was the calling of this new revolutionary United States of America.

The supposition that America was founded by Christians based on Christian principles does not mean that every American was or would be Christian. From the beginning, America’s doors were open to people of all faiths — or of no faith — to live in peace and tolerance, knowing they could practice their religion or lack thereof without harassment or discrimination. Christianity not only presupposes respect for people’s free will, but also tolerance, which is the essential guarantor of the rights of others to differ in their personal beliefs and expression.

The earliest groups of settlers coming to America were Protestants — Pilgrims, Puritans, Baptists, Dutch Reformed, Anglicans, and others — and they had various and strong disagreements amongst themselves. By experience, they knew secular government was the only workable option because a theocratic-type alternative would be oppressive and cause perpetual turmoil and civil conflict. Since the founders were Protestants, they were basically optimists and believed that things work together for good because of the dual assumption that the hand of God’s providence is at work in human affairs and that spiritual truth would prevail through man, by love not force, by the example of service and sacrifice for others, and by the exercise of free will in the marketplace of ideas.

The Constitution was drafted in 1787, but its acceptance was stalled for several years because the larger and most influential states feared that the document gave the federal government too much power and they wanted to amend the Constitution to provide for and guarantee specific protections regarding the rights of the people and the states. Finally, with ten amendments, the Constitution was ratified by the last state, Rhode Island, in 1790. Those protections were of course known as the Bill of Rights, with the First Amendment providing the explicit guarantee of religious liberty, which included related rights of freedom of the press, speech, and assembly.

That the United States was a Christian nation was affirmed in 1892 in the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of Holy Trinity Church v. The United States, wherein the Court’s findings included a lengthy and detailed accounting of the Christian foundation of both the individual states’ constitutions and the federal U.S. Constitution. The Court summarized its findings, stating: “Our laws and our institutions must necessarily be based upon and embody the teachings of the Redeemer of mankind. [It is] impossible that it should be otherwise and in the sense and to this extent our civilization and our institutions are emphatically Christian.”

Once considered the most towering figure in the Democratic Party, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt said in 1935 that, “We cannot read the history of our rise and development as a nation, without reckoning with the place the Bible has occupied in shaping the advances of the Republic.…[W]here we have been the truest and most consistent in obeying its precepts, we have attained the greatest measure of contentment and prosperity.”

Fast forward a generation from Roosevelt and things began happening that rapidly changed the path of American values and culture. Two Supreme Court case rulings on the interpretation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause in the early 1960s removed reference and respect for the Almighty from public schools. Together, Engle v. Vitale (1962) and Murray v. Curlett (1963) ruled it was unconstitutional to have prayer, and readings or recitations from the Bible in the classroom or on the grounds of public schools.

Nine years later in 1971 the Supreme Court took up Roe v. Wade, ruling on January 22, 1973, that under the 14th Amendment, a woman’s right to abortion trumped any other competing rights and could not be abridged by state laws banning abortions. This ruling effectively stripped unalienable rights and equality from both the unborn and the father. In yet another 14th Amendment ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, handed down on June 26, 2015, in a narrow 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court, legalized same sex marriage nationwide, a decision that transformed the definition of the family, which had been for millennia the foundational institution for pro-creation and child-rearing. In the dissenting words of Chief Justice Roberts, that narrow majority ruling was likely to unleash a new level of intolerance and division because it “not only overlooks our country’s entire history and tradition, but actively repudiates it, preferring to live only in the heady days of the here and now.”

That these Supreme Court rulings incrementally and collectively weakened the authority and influence of Christianity in American society and culture, there can be little doubt. In legislating from the bench and creating whole new rights, these Supreme Court rulings are fundamentally problematic, as they run contrary to the Constitution’s requirements of separation of powers. In both Roe and Obergefell, the Supreme Court usurped and nullified the legislature, whose constitutionally defined role was to originate, debate, and vote on new laws — particularly important when those new laws would fundamentally change family life and society. But also — insofar as law is uncompromising — the Obergefell ruling would escalate the culture war because newly created rights of a minority were certain to clash with and encroach on the rights, sensibilities, and long-standing moral values and institutions held by the majority.

The imprimatur of five Supreme Court justices effectively opened the door to some 2% of Americans being able to dictate to the population at large what they can say, how they can conduct their business, and even influence what churches and synagogues are allowed to practice and preach. From there it’s been a short step in the LGBT agenda to demand ever more equal rights — such as equal access to public bathrooms and locker rooms of either sex, and the right to participate in sports under the transgender’ s new sex rather than the biological birth gender like everyone else. And the way it has been going, those who dare question these trends are likely to be charged with being homo- or transphobic and engaging in hate speech.

Thus, the mooring of a Christian anchor hat helped provide protection and continuity around common sense and shared values — established over millennia — and for some three centuries dating back to colonial times, was cast aside in the course of a few decades. Effectively, a few Supreme Court decisions were instrumental in bending the trajectory of American society’s values and priorities that had been shaped by 2000+ year-old transcendent virtues, aspirations and unalienable God-given rights to a new direction preoccupied with unrestrained self-interest and man-made worldly rights of self-gratification.

To be fair, gradual steps leading to marginalization and discrimination against Christians in America were underway considerably before the aforementioned Supreme Court decisions. The influence of John Dewey, lauded as the greatest educational thinker of the 20thcentury, can be traced back to the 1920s. Dewey was an atheist, who believed and said, “There is no room for fixed and natural law or permanent moral absolutes.” In the decades that followed, various quarters of the public school educational establishment sought to downplay and erase the facts about the role of Christianity in America’s founding and shaping of the nation.

In 1986, Dr. Paul Vitz, a professor of psychology at New York University, published the findings of a commission’s study in which he participated to examine the degree and nature of bias in 60 social studies and history textbooks used by 87% of public schools across the United States. Not only was there no God being thanked by the Pilgrims in the first Thanksgiving, but the study found that almost every other reference to the Christian influence of early America was systematically removed.

In this regard George Orwell’s dystopian future depicted in 1984 has already arrived. Orwell wrote: “Every record has been destroyed or falsified, every book rewritten, every picture has been repainted, every statue and street building has been renamed, and every date has been altered. And the process is continuing day by day and minute by minute. History has stopped. Nothing exists except an endless present in which the Party is always right.”

As Orwell also noted, “the whole aim of Newspeak and Doublethink is to narrow the range of thought.” Political correctness has the same goal and that’s why its adherents are so intolerant — seeking to shut down and silence people with whom they disagree on college campuses across the country, clamoring for removal of historic statues and monuments, and demanding that people with differing views on such subjects as climate change and LGBT rights be silenced, fined or arrested.

Shocking as it might seem, a pattern has been emerging in the U.S. with similarities to the longstanding standard practices in Communist and Fascist totalitarian states — that is: to rewrite history and indoctrinate the youth so as to be able to manipulate and control the future cultural and political landscape.

In that sense the U.S. is closer to a future that is reminiscent of developments that led to persecution in 1930s Germany than anyone would like to contemplate or admit. The Nazi propaganda machine censored non-conforming views and sought to isolate and discriminate against Jews — a strategy intended to engender hatred and prejudice against them within the greater German population, thus setting the stage for the genocidal “final solution” of the Holocaust.

This is not to say that Christians are on the threshold of massive physical persecution in the U.S. But make no mistake, Christianity in America is being marginalized and put on the defensive by growing prejudice and outright hostility. And this trend of intolerance and disenfranchisement of Christians is happening at a time when the digital megaphone of social media is getting increasingly dominant.

Propaganda may actually be more effective in America than in totalitarian societies because of the power of repetitive messaging from ostensibly separate and diverse private media sources within the United States. Citizens in totalitarian societies aren’t as easily fooled because they know that the government controls the media and all its messaging.

In America propaganda narratives originate less from government than from progressive-minded groups of people who tend to think and act “collectively.” Many with this collective mindset are naturally predisposed to joining forces with what Boston University Professor Angelo Codevilla described as America’s Ruling Class, by pursuing careers in the knowledge and information industry — where others of a similar progressive mindset tend to work. Institutions that are largely dominated by the Ruling Class include the mainstream media; social media and information search multinational corporations — notably but not limited to the near monopolies of Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Microsoft and Google; the educational establishment and universities; government bureaucracies; large segments of the law practice and the Democratic Party; and many non-profit foundations.

It is noteworthy that the rise of militant secularism and a decline in tolerance and civil discourse has taken place concurrent with the rise and proliferation of social media in America. And for many, visceral hate and name calling have all but replaced civil discourse and debate. America is more divided now than at any time in its history, except perhaps during the period leading up to the Civil war. But because it is hatred and intolerance that fuel this so-called culture war, we have actually opened the floodgates of spiritual warfare, with the forces of darkness and deceit seeking the destruction of the forces of light and truth.

Just so we can’t miss what’s at stake, this epic spiritual battle — that threatens the very foundation of society and the nation — is driven by extreme hate and intolerance, and Christianity, the religion of love and the Savior, is now in the crosshairs.

Who can deny that America’s blessings are unparalleled in human history? The colonists, through their representatives, drafted a revolutionary Constitution that created a system of limited government with checks and balances and separation of power, which also prioritized the protection of the people’s rights and property. It was the first government in human history whose legitimacy came from the people and whose purpose was to serve the people.

As a result the United States rose from colonial poverty to the world’s most creative, prosperous and generous nation in just 200 years. A miraculous accomplishment. And that success happened not by chance, but because the nation’s Christian foundation and Constitution put limits on government and empowered the people to be creative and productive. In the words of the 30thpresident, Calvin Coolidge, “Who can doubt that it has been guided by a Divine Providence?”

Unfortunately, with affluence comes spiritual laziness. Comfortable and disengaged Americans have forgotten the admonitions by Washington, Lincoln, and a number of modern presidents, that it’s necessary to understand and overcome the forces and determined enemies within who seek power by emasculating the values of individual liberty and the institutions that have made America great. Some 20 years before he was elected the 40th U.S. president, Ronald Reagan reminds us that, Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

What’s needed now is an awakening and spiritual revival within Christianity that acts as a positive force throughout America. That revival would not only inspire believers and reach non-believers, but it would also help the silent majority and less engaged people whose yearnings may be simple, such as the return of civility, satisfaction, and joy that comes from being more authentically connected with people and with the nation’s profound heritage. If Christianity is the source of both love and the principles that are at the heart of the Constitution, it is certainly worth defending. For as Christianity in America goes, so goes everything else.

Scott S. Powell

Senior Fellow, Center on Wealth and Poverty
Scott Powell has enjoyed a career split between theory and practice with over 25 years of experience as an entrepreneur and rainmaker in several industries. He joins the Discovery Institute after having been a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution for six years and serving as a managing partner at a consulting firm, RemingtonRand. His research and writing has resulted in over 250 published articles on economics, business and regulation. Scott Powell graduated from the University of Chicago with honors (B.A. and M.A.) and received his Ph.D. in political and economic theory from Boston University in 1987, writing his dissertation on the determinants of entrepreneurial activity and economic growth.