Why It’s Time to Speak about God Again

Why It’s Time to Speak about God Again

By Jay
Haug

America is living under an illusion:
the idea that we can expunge God (broadly understood) from our national and
public belief system and still operate a moral and accountable
government.

C.S. Lewis summed up the problem
in The Abolition of Man.  “We make men without chests and expect of
them virtue and enterprise.  We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors
in our midst.  We castrate and then bid the geldings to be fruitful.”  John
Adams asserted, “Our Constitution was made for a religious and moral people.  It
is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”  Our founding fathers laid
down a system that demanded conscientious, self-restrained implementation — a
government dependent on the character of the people.  Ben Franklin, perhaps the
most deistic of the founding fathers, famously assured one curious bystander
that the Constitutional Conventions had engendered “a Republic, if you can keep
it.”  How many people today truly understand that America’s health depends on
the moral character of its citizens, of their personal “keeping” of our
nation?

Many people in power have discovered
that what Ivan Karamazov said is true: “If God is dead, all is permitted.”  They
recognize only too well that God has been removed from public life — and with
Him, the attendant moral order.  In their minds, there is no responsibility
because there is no God.  Morality, though not always agreed upon, has become a
matter of opinion, easily dismissed.

How quaint the phrases of JFK appear
to modern ears in his inaugural address: “the same revolutionary beliefs for
which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe — the belief
that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the
hand of God.”  Unlike most of American history, religious utterances today are
considered sectarian, even offensive.  For the publicly disgraced, however, take
a few years in jail or probation and a good lawyer, and they are home free.
Americans forgive, and well they should, but who is left to pick up the pieces
and contemplate the risk/reward of bad behavior?

When was the last time an American
president prayed aloud in public?  It was FDR at the moment of the D-Day
invasion.  According to preacher Andy Stanley, Americans stopped in traffic and
got out of their cars, and major companies sent home their employees to pray for
the invasion.  Children stopped in school, all to pray.  The truth is that for
most of our history, Americans have believed that our nation is accountable to
God for our behavior and prayed publicly for His guidance and forgiveness.  Even
when Abraham Lincoln asserted in his Second Inaugural that “[t]he Almighty has
His own purposes,” intimating that they are not easily discerned, very few
Americans doubted, as Lincoln asserted, that they are “true and righteous
altogether.”

Only since prayer was banished from
public schools in 1962 and a vocal minority began to consider it their right
never to be present in a public place within earshot of a prayer was it that
America decided to hang up on the voice of God in the public sphere.  But this
has not protected us from what Julia Ward Howe called “His terrible swift sword”
— i.e., the consequences for our behavior.  We are reaping the whirlwind even
as we speak.

Many believe that religion should be
confined to the private sphere.  They want religion, in Francis Schaeffers’s
words, “privately important, but publicly irrelevant.”  But the truth is that
public people living out public lives have always been subject to public oaths
and understandings that invoke the name and sanction of God.  According to
historian David McCullough, George Washington added “so help me God” to the
presidential oath, and it has stuck ever since.  In the face of communism in the
1950s, Congress added “under God” to the pledge of allegiance and made “One
Nation Under God” our national motto.  Those who preceded us knew the wisdom of
inculcating an understanding of God and the roots of conscience in all Americans
— even in public schools.  The “lowest common denominator” result of the 1962
school prayer decision was not only foolish constitutionally, but
self-destructive nationally.  Our public schools have never been the same
since.

American history shows that two
“Great Awakenings” presaged the two greatest crises in American history.  John
and Charles Wesley and George Whitfield preached through the entire thirteen
colonies in the 1740s, preparing the next generation for the challenges and
inculcating the self-control needed for revolutionary times.  Charles Phinney,
Lyman Beecher, and others led the 2nd Great Awakening that formed the
backdrop for the Civil War, empowering in the aftermath a greater healing and
reconciliation of the nation than might normally have occurred.  When the Civil
Rights movement reached its critical stage, Martin Luther King, Jr., a
clergyman, appeared on government property and invoked both the Bible (the book
of Amos) and our founding documents to declare racial prejudice wrong, telling
Americans that racism fell short of both God’s laws and America’s founding
vision.  He knew where freedom came from, proclaiming, “Thank God Almighty, I’m
free at last” as he strode from the Lincoln Memorial.  Must God be turned to
publicly only when America is shaken to the core, or when our values are
seriously compromised?  Are we not in that position right now?

America is in crisis.  Unfortunately,
since the 1960s, we have expunged the one Presence from our public life who can
truly help us as He has in the past.  In his book Who Are We?, Samuel
Huntington tells us that America is different from every other nation in the
following regard:  throughout the world, the more impoverished a nation is, the
more time its people spend in religious observance and activities.  The only
exception — the only one — is America.  We are wealthy and we also spend much
time in religious observance.

Huntington warns us that we have
about fifteen years to preserve what he calls “our Protestant heritage.”  Let’s
expand that here to include the public presence of God, which can help to
enliven the private consciences of all Americans.

What we must face is a simple fact.
A morality unhinged from God is not only inadequate for the times, but it will
also doom us to a permanent slide into oblivion.  Many believe that America will
turn publicly to God…eventually.  But will it be too late when the time
finally comes?

Jay Haug is a freelance
writer living in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.  You may e-mail him at
cjcwguy@gmail.com.

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