Morals, Manners, Virtue and Religion — T.F. Stern

By T.F. Stern,

Recently a friend who lacks faith in God or formal religion asked, “Can you have morals/manners without it being centered around god?”  The answer depends entirely on the definition applied to morals and/or manners; however, there’s book by David Barton, Importance of Morality and Religion in Government, which covered this question and so I’ll use it as needed to establish a working answer.

“[I]t is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free constitution is pure virtue.”  If we are to accept that statement then it would seem religion and morality go hand in hand.”  John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams

This easily becomes an open invitation for “expert witnesses” much as in the movie, Miracle on 34th Street.   The prosecutor representing the state required irrefutable evidence proving not only was Santa Claus real; but the fellow who had been working for Macy’s was the one and only Santa Claus.  You’ll recall how the clever attorney used a letter addressed to Santa Claus and delivered by a representative of the United States Post Office as proof that Kris Kringle, defendant, was recognized as the one and only Santa Clause; case dismissed.

David Barton must have had someone ask him, “Can you have morals/manners without it being centered around god?”  Barton’s answer:

“Many of the strongest opponents of anarcho-capitalism are atheists, secularists, and “Objectivists” who indulge without caution the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Such people have abandoned reason in an irrational quest for autonomy which ironically leads them to support a State which inevitably evolves into socialism.”

George Washington, a man who could not tell a lie, from his Farewell Address in 1796 wrote:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of man and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice?

And 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 principle. It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?”

Benjamin Franklin, often cited by scholars as a deist rather than a man of religion no doubt had difficulty with formal religion in his day; however, that did not keep him from assigning due diligence and respect for the powers from on High.

“I therefore beg leave to move-that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that Service.” Benjamin Franklin, Request for Prayers at the Constitutional Convention (July 28, 1787)

Franklin was not alone in respect to having prayers offered at the beginning of government meetings.  James Madison recorded:

“I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the Sacred Writings, that “except the Lord build the House, they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel: We shall be divided by our partial local interests; our projects will be confounded, and we ourselves shall become a reproach and bye word down to future ages. And what is worse, mankind may hereafter from this unfortunate instance, despair of establishing governments by human wisdom and leave it to chance, war and conquest.

I therefore beg leave to move that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the clergy of this city be requested to officiate in that service.”  The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 

While these comments by Adams, Washington, Madison and Franklin don’t provide irrefutable evidence uniting morals, manners, virtue and religion; their testimony indicates they are inseparable.

The Moral Lib­eral’s Senior Edi­tor, T.F. Stern, is a retired City of Hous­ton police offi­cer, self-employed lock­smith, and gifted polit­i­cal and social com­men­ta­tor. His pop­u­lar and insight­ful blog, T.F. Sterns Rant­i­ngs, has been up and at it since Jan­u­ary of 2005.