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American Gadara




By James Kushiner - 

On a fine spring day in Charlottesville, Virginia, about eight years ago, I was having lunch with two professors from two different universities. While I knew them both as friends, they had never met each other, and during that lunch they discovered they had one unhappiness in common. Each professor's career had suffered at the hands of university authorities because they were both traditional Christians and had published their views in Touchstone. So, no tenure for one, no new job for the other. So much for academic tolerance!

I had just come from a visit to nearby Monticello, home of American founder Thomas Jefferson. Though Jefferson was not an orthodox Christian, he, like most if not all of his fellow countrymen, had no problem with Christians holding office in the government or teaching in universities. Yet the current attitude and belief of many of today's professors, politicians, and media elites is that religion should be kept out of public sight and silenced in the public discourse about consequential matters, including morality.

But religious belief was not merely a context in which the American republic had been founded; it was also a necessary condition for it. The Constitution's framers not only assumed the presence of a strong religious citizenry; they were banking on it. John Adams put it this way: "We have no government armed in power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion." And George Washington agreed: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to a political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports."

Note well: "no government . . . capable," and religion is "indispensable." No religion, no governable republic—a constitution itself is not enough.

We are convinced that only traditional Judeo-Christian morals in practice can sustain the virtuous citizenship necessary for any nation, not just the United States, to flourish in sustaining liberty and justice.

While many today assume that a benign and tolerant society could be sustained if people would only be nice to each other, this hope in its present form is almost entirely dependent on the moral labors of previous generations, who built our society's economy, technology, culture, and institutions of government, higher education, science, and healthcare. Healthy societies are never self-sustaining; to endure, they require the same measure of disciplined labor and self-restraint that was required to create them in the first place. No dynamic system can coast indefinitely; there are no perpetual-motion cultures.

Only the character-building power of true religious faith can address our cultural decay. If traditional Christianity does not serve as a dynamic and corrective restraint on man's fallen inclinations, then more coercive faiths and political ideologies will fill the moral and spiritual vacuum, replacing our freedoms with the unyielding constraints of servitude.

The Way of the Serpent

In Charlottesville this summer, there met two malignant forces—neo-Nazi fascism/white supremacy and Antifa/leftist fascism—clashing in the vacuum. Whether against the offensive removal of statues or for the removal of offensive statues, there were moral demands being made in that vacuum, but Christ was nowhere present in the words or minds of the combatants. Eventually, the passions led to deadly violence.

How can the republic of Mr. Adams govern such passions without Christ? With more force?

When moral governance "from above," i.e., true religion, is lacking, self-restraint withers, and as self-restraint withers, the need for coercion expands. When a fixed, divine moral code is replaced by a code of merely human construct, raw political will to power will dominate the public square. This is the way of the serpent, not of the dove.

America's past is not without sin, but those sins are revealed and seen most clearly in the light of Christ, the eternal Word. Yet now, as in Gadara of old, Western secularists in large measure have bidden Jesus to retreat from public view. They cannot bear his scrutiny, nor his remedy for sin. Academic elites wanted nothing to do with my professor friends because of their Christian beliefs. Their actions say, "Jesus, what have we to do with you?"

A secularized nation stands alone, like the Gadarene, naked except for its constitution, a mere fig-leaf of paper that blows in the winds of degrading passions. More than a legion of cultural and political elites have declared independence, saying, "We have no king but Caesar." Well, to Caesar they shall go. But note well: Caesar is not abounding in steadfast love, nor does his mercy endure forever.

James M. Kushiner is the Executive Editor of Touchstone.


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