TORRES: Preserving free society

There is a mistaken assumption amongst the haughty secularists of modern Western society that religion is not only antiquated and destructive, but also has no place on the political stage or in the public forum. The American secularists rightly acknowledge that church and state should be separated insofar as the state should not adopt a religion. But they mistakenly conflate the idea of the separation of church and state with the complete secularization of public life and the severance of all religious doctrine, belief and morality from entering the public sphere.

To be clear, a separation of church and state is not a separation of religion and politics. Religion, and the requisite morality and virtue of religion, not only have a right to be involved in the public sphere and in political discourse, but they are also necessary for a free polity to exist and thrive.

Alexis de Tocqueville stated that freedom “considers religion as the safeguard of mores; and mores as the guarantee of laws and the pledge of its own duration.” Without religion, political rights and the freedom that we enjoy are badly secured and easily restricted. Religion was and is the basis of the rights we enjoy because it establishes our rights on the foundation of God, which even the most powerful man in the world cannot cross. Religion transcends politics and gives man higher worth and moral protection that would otherwise be absent. The secular view that man is merely an animal in a material world with neither a soul nor innate worth can’t provide the robust concept of human dignity on which our human order depends.

Without religion every freedom we enjoy and every privilege we come to think is our right is only preserved to the extent that the sovereign of the nation wishes it to be preserved. Natural rights have no basis if not in religion, hence the reason why the Declaration of Independence claims that the natural rights of people are “endowed by their Creator.” No other source of endowment would be sufficient.

Now, if being a Christian nation means that our government must adopt Christianity as the state religion and form all law upon the precepts of religious dogma then we are not a Christian nation. However, this straw man is a completely inadequate representation of what it means to be a Christian nation. America was, and we can only hope it remains, a Christian nation insofar as the values and rights that are the bedrock of our society — for example, equality before God, a belief in the innate worth of the individual and basic freedom of action — are Christian and depend upon faith.

To say we cannot have a religious rationale for our public actions, our laws and our rights is to reject the fundamental principles of the republican order in which we live.

Only in the past few generations have Americans believed that government must adopt the religion of secularism in order to preserve the separation of church and state. Never before has religious principle been seen as an illegitimate basis of debate or law because never before has religion been so irrationally misunderstood.

Now the secularist may set up another straw man stating that some founders were deistic and obviously they wanted religion as far away from American politics and public life as possible. While the extent to which the founders were deistic is always highly over exaggerated (I welcome everyone to read the first four paragraphs of Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography and contest the fact that the most deistic founder still believed in a very active God), their values and the core of their political beliefs were Christian.

Whether or not the religious people of America are on the right or wrong side of history is irrelevant. The course of history is neither progressive nor normative and all who think we properly and continually march forward toward a non-religious, pleasure-centered, utopian, social-democratic polity are deceiving themselves with the false pretenses of their own irrational dreams.

Any good, free society needs religion to survive. The American religion has been and continues to be, albeit in a weakened form, Christianity. As such, we should not only recognize that America is a Christian nation, but love the fact that it is so.

Alec Torres is a senior in Trumbull College. Contact him at alec.torres@yale.edu .

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