THEY WERE BELIEVERS WITH STEVE FARRELL
One of the great changes in thinking spawned by the American Revolution was that reason and revelation could and should work together to produce men and women of sufficient moral character for an experiment in self-government to succeed.
Founder and second U.S. president John Adams wrote: “Statesmen may plan and speculate about liberty but it is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which liberty can stand.” (1) Religion gives strength and purpose to individuals and nations. Without it, Adams adds, the Adamses “would have been rakes, fops, sots, [and] gamblers.” (2)
Yet Adams was of the belief if religion and morality are to be relied upon as true and of value, this conclusion ought to be arrived at via a man’s intelligence, not just through a religious experience. (3)
In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, he notes:
The human understanding is a divine faculty from its Maker which can never be disputed nor doubted. There can be no skepticism . . . or incredulity, or infidelity here. No prophecies, no miracles are necessary to prove the celestial communication.This revelation has made it certain that two and one makes three, and that one is not three nor can three be one. We can never be so certain of any prophecy, or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle, as we are from the revelation of nature, i.e., Nature’s God, that two and two are equal to four. Miracles or prophecies might frighten us out of our wits; might scare us to death; might induce us to lie, to say that we believe that two and two make five. But we should not believe it. We should know the contrary. (4)
This is not to say that Adams discounted the reality and importance of miracles, prophecies, and revelations. He believed in them, as his references to reason as a “divine faculty from its Maker” confirm again. But Adams was wise enough to understand that while some revelations are from God, there are extremes in religion and in men, and thus also so-called revelations that are nothing more than emotion, and or inventive, manipulative by-products of political ambition and priestcraft. (5) Blind faith was naïve and dangerous. So was blind reason, which led to the atrocities of the French Revolution. A studious, searching, open-minded, free-thinking “rational Christianity” (p. 525) was the superior American way – or what Adams hoped would become the American way. Consistent with this faith and reason approach, Adams believed in the existence of a conscience that “simple intelligence has no association with.” (6) Here was the medium through which revelations came. He observed that through the duel utilization of reason AND conscience “the Supreme Mind bestow[s], on important occasions, by a special superintending Providence, revelations or inspirations.” (7)
Likewise Adams’ believed these divine manifestations ought to conform with nature and reason, or true science and right reason (yet he was humble enough to recognize man’s intelligence was inadequate to test every religious answer by this method – and so adopted a wait and see attitude on those left unanswered).
Not surprisingly, he contended that irrational nonsense had no place in Christianity, that those who so fill it up only discredit it, and consequently serve the cause of Satan and tyranny, not Christ and liberty. (8)
“The Christian religion in its primitive purity and simplicity,” however, met John Adams liberating standard of faith and reason. For true Christianity, he wrote, is “the religion of the head and of the heart.” (9)
Practicality also mattered. Resembling many of his fellow Founders, John Adams grew impatient over creedal niceties, ecclesiastical decrees, and all the “other trumpery that we find religion encumbered with in these days.” Religion is not intended, he wrote, to make us “good riddle solvers or good mystery-mongers, but good men, good magistrates and good subjects, good husbands and good wives, good parents and good children, good masters and good servants.”
Nevertheless, Adams did, if truth be told, ponder mysteries (such as the nature of spirits, the continuation of marriage after death, and the purposes of adversity), but his point was that the most useful companion of religion was not mystery but morality – and any religion that failed to produce, first and foremost, moral men, was a meaningless fraud. (10)
This companionship between religion and morality was also critical to self-government. Adams knew why:
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. [Without these checks] avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.
Thus he concluded: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” (11)This was common sense. Based on this premise, Adams predicted that a so-called freedom revolution conducted by “a nation of thirty million atheists” – he was referring to the French Revolution – would trigger mass extermination, and endless revolutions for over a century. (12) He was right. Look to Mexico today, a nation that modeled its constitution after ours, but has a reputation as one of the most corrupt governments on earth. Both Adams and Jefferson predicted this as well when discussing the independence movements in Central and South America. (13) “[T]he dangerous enemy is within their own breasts”, wrote Jefferson. Freedom, as he and Adams knew it, would be a long ways off until the inner man was enlightened and in control. (14) Simply put: subtract religious conviction and moral restraint, and a good constitution becomes a meaningless scrap of paper. (15)
George Washington knew it too. In his Farewell Address he insightfully asked, “Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert our oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in the Courts of Justice?” And so he cautioned, “[National] morality [cannot] be maintained without religion. Reason and experience … forbid us” to expect anything else. (16)
This is why: The eternal nature of religious principle means that some rights and some general laws are fixed and unalterable, that men and nations are accountable to the same, that no government has the right to revoke such rights and laws – and that a nation of individuals converted to such principles creates the greatest natural check upon tyranny and corruption that is available to man, one which prompts a man to check both himself and his neighbor from abusing political power.
This is reason looking at religion and saying, ‘Yes, it is useful. Yes, it is critical to the permanence of free government.’
Yet, while reason and revelation are vital, they are not enough. This duo needs to be part of a trio. The First Amendment, with its prohibition against government abridgment of freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly, is the missing member.
In 1786, Thomas Jefferson, outlining the background of the Act for Religious Freedom that he fathered, explained:
Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against terror. Give a loose to them, they will support true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only. Had not the Roman government permitted free inquiry, Christianity could never have been introduced. Had not free inquiry been indulged at the era of reformation, the corruptions of Christianity could not have been purged away. If it be restrained now, the present corruptions will be protected and new ones encouraged. (17)
And so, “difference of opinion is advantageous in religion,” he noted, while coercion, on the other hand, “make[s] one half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites.” (18)What is true of religion is equally true of government. Political truth can only triumph in an atmosphere of free debate – and freedom of speech strengthens the arguments of political truth, in the process. And that fortification is a good thing …
Adams contended: “[We] must allow that honesty has a hard struggle, and must prevail by many a well-fought and fortunate battle. …” This must be so, even if truth’s victory “must look to another world for justice, if not for pardon.” (19)
On that last point, again religion plays a critical role in preserving liberty and providing resolute muscle to the cause – for the hope of an afterlife, and a just one at that, was the crowning jewel, the genuine article, the higher purpose that made “Give me liberty or give me death!” seem reasonable and worth fighting for. For if not liberty in this life, then in the next; but never slavery in either. Void of such a hope, men prefer “chains and slavery,” as Patrick Henry (20) said, or “opium,” as said Adams. (21)
Thus, religion, reason, and the first amendment are indissolubly linked as key players conducive to the perpetuation of free government and true religion, and in the Founders view, the perpetuation of every useful science as well.
Missing the Mark – Religion Goes First
If one were to miss the mark with religion in public life in regard to the above, the simple scheme would be a two-step plan.
First, scrap the just stated American founding model of the Enlightenment which combined faith with reason, for the European version which divorced faith from reason, as did France, and later the modern communists.
Second, much later, divorce reason from science by politicizing science, legitimizing emotional debates and re-introducing religion into public life, but not the religion of old – but a new one, void of reason and Judeo-Christian morality, full of mysticism, emotion, fierce intolerance, and revolutionary politics.
Critical to both steps, engage in an ongoing campaign to re-invent the First Amendment, as necessary.
We have all witnessed Act I. Freedom’s enemies have rid science, government, public life and the classroom of religion through the exaltation of the scientific method, the re-invention of the First Amendment (changing “freedom of religion” to “freedom from religion”), the extending of federal educational and scientific grants to the states, followed by anti-God Supreme Court rulings and the rewriting of American history (eliminating the positive and vital role of religion in that history), and much, much more, to include the replacement of religious morality with psychology, drugs, sex, wealth worship, hero worship, self-worship, socialism and national service.
Mission sufficiently accomplished as to Act I; Act II now moves forward. For those scientists and scholars who tra-la-la’d along as religion took a beating, who took their grants and shut up, who were too weak in their faith to balance out their presentations in public classrooms for fear of peer ridicule, or employment loss, have had the tables turned on them. For a government powerful enough to intimidate them into hiding the truth about one “insignificant” thing is now powerful enough to demand that they hide the truth about many more things – or else.
And reason must go, because the problem with reason is that, although it is incomplete in its approach, if honestly pursued it still tends to lead to various truths, in science, in government, in sociology, and in religion. As one ancient prophet testified, “All things denote there is a God; yea, even the earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator.” (22)
Or as even non-Christian Cicero confirmed: “[Correct reason leads all men to believe in] one eternal and unchangeable [set of laws] … valid for all nations and all times, and . . . one master and ruler, that is God, over us all, … [who] is the author of this law.” (23)
That IS a problem. For a political revolution [and I mean the revolution of socialism] built on false premises, false methods, false analysis, false conclusions, false solutions, false promises – all of them operating upon a plan which admittedly “contradicts all past historical experience” (24) – must treat right reason, as it does religion, as the enemy.
To convince educated, thinking people that something which has never worked, does not now work, will somehow – poof! – work tomorrow, requires a Herculean effort – one which undermines reason.
Hence, a new sort of “scholar” has arrived on the national scene, one who would have been laughed off the campus only a half century ago as a babbling, bumbling buffoon, but who is hailed today as progressive, brave and visionary – not because his or her arguments are reasonable (for they are not), but only because they boldly confront every existing notion that defends American principles of government and law, the truthfulness and usefulness of Judeo-Christian dogma and morality, the prosperity economics of laissez-faire, and any scientific or sociological study that exposes the dangers of sins against nature, drug usage, single and later homosexual parenthood, and of tuning in to the doomsday, pro-Globalist conclusions of eco-scientists and their earth-worshipping prophets.
Summarizing what Judge Robert Bork said of these new ‘scholars:’ They confront their opponents not with “the … universal disciplines of logic, mathematics, and science, and the intellectual values of objectivity, clarity, and precision on which the former depend” (25) but with fiery rage, political nonsense, false history, personal harangues, the “all viewpoints are equally valid” argument, (26) and warped appeals to religious principles (that they reject anyway), and with a newfound trust in the politically convenient “we are all one” mystic conclusions of Eastern religion. They then brag about their liberating departure from the old educational pedagogy – for, after all, the old pedagogy is based on patriarchal constructions of knowledge, (27) masculinist outlooks, (28) cruel discrimination, (29) religious tradition, (30) linear thinking, (31) racism, (32), as well as exploitation, protectionism and narrow nationalism.
None of it makes sense, nor does it have to, and that’s the point. For as Jefferson says of attempts to replace reason with Plato-like “sophisms, futilities … incomprehensibilities . . . [and] whimsies” – the product of “foggy minds” – they are but tools for opportunists to “build up an artificial system, which might, from its indistinctness, admit everlasting controversy, give employment for their order, and introduce it to profit, power and pre-eminence … [so that they might herd] all living, men, women and children, pell mell together, like beasts of the field or forest.” (33)
Foggy minds, however, need a cover to free their forgery from being found out. Terminating free speech places the final nail in the finished coffin.
Aristotle wrote the history of eighteen hundred republics which existed before his time. Cicero wrote two volumes of discourses on government, which, perhaps, were worth all the rest of his works. The works of Livy and Ticitus, &c., that are lost, would be more interesting than all that remain. Fifty gospels have been destroyed, and where are St. Luke’s world of books that have been written? If you ask my opinion who has committed all the havoc, I will answer you candidly – Ecclesiastical and Imperial despotism has done it, to conceal their frauds. (34)
Yes, truth has always been suppressed, stomped on, strangled, scalded, scorched and scattered by those who will always make war on such things, because true religion, right reason, and free speech are the natural enemies of the tyranny such king-men seek to impose.
They Were Believers is a project of Steve Farrell and the Self-Educated American. Copyright 2019 © Steve Farrell and Self-Educated American.
Steve Farrell is Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Self-Educated American (2008-Present), one of the original and most popular pundits with NewsMax.com (1999-2007), press agent for Defend Marriage, a project of Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Jr. Law School (2003-2004), author of the highly praised inspirational novel, “Dark Rose” (2003), and founding managing editor of Right Magazine (1998-1999). Steve received his bachelors in liberal arts from The University of the State of New York’s Excelsior College (1999).
Gaustad, Edwin Scott. “A Religious History of America.” New York, Hagerstown, San Francisco, London: Harper & Row Publishers, 1966, 1974, p. 127.
Cousins, Norman. “In God We Trust: The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers.” New York: Harper and Brothers Publishers, 1958, pp. 253-256.
Ibid., 139. Typical of the statements by Jefferson and Adams on this subject is Jefferson’s to Samuel Kercheval, January 19, 1810: “Nothing can be more exactly and seriously true than … that the purest system of morals ever before preached to man has been adulterated and sophisticated by artificial constructions, into a mere contrivance to filch wealth and power to themselves [to enslave mankind]; that rational men, not being able to swallow their impious heresies, in order to force them down their throats, they raise the hue and cry of infidelity, while themselves are the greatest obstacles to the advancement of the real doctrine of Jesus, and do, in fact, constitute the real Anti-Christ.”
Adams, Charles Francis, ed. “The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: Volume IX.” Boston: Little, Brown, 1854, p. 229.
Cappon, Lester J. editor. “The Adams Jefferson Letters,” Chapel Hill and London, The University of North Carolina Press, 1959, 1987, pgs 457, 463.
Attributed to Dr. Cleon Skousen while lecturing on “The Making of America,” Salt Lake City, Utah, 1985/86, attended by this author.
Washington, George. “Farewell Address.”
Henry, Patrick. Quoted in “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!”
Cousins, 105. Said Adams: “Let it once be revealed or demonstrated that there is no future state, and my advice to every man, woman, and child, would be, as our existence would be in our own power, to take opium. For, I am certain, there is nothing in this world worth living for but hope, and every hope will fail us, if that last hope, that of a future state, is extinguished.”
Alma 30:44, “The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.”
Ebenstein, William. “Great Political Thinkers.” New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1963, p. 133.
Marx, Karl. “Communist Manifesto.”
Patai, Daphne; Koertge, Noretta. “Professing Feminism: Cautionary Tales from the Strange World of Women’s Studies.” New York: Basic Books, 1994, p. 116.
Bork, Robert H. “Slouching Towards Gomorra.” New York: Regan Book/HarperCollins Publishers Inc., 1996, p. 244.
Ibid., 201, 202.