One Nation Under God: America as a Theocracy—Part 4

President Calvin Coolidge’s defense of the Declaration of Independence provides the perfect commentary about the universal and absolute truths on which America is founded.

If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just power from the consent of the governed, that is final.  No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions.  If anyone wishes to deny their truth and their soundness, the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward toward the time when there was no equality, no rights of the individual, no rule [by] the people.  Those who wish to proceed in that direction cannot lay claim to progress.  They are reactionary. 

Of all political documents in history, only the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution offer a seamless theory and practice of enlightened government.  Collectively, they address all levels of our existence.  Think of it as a pyramid such as the one on the Great Seal of the United States, with the Eye of Providence above the pyramid representing the nation.

First and foremost, our founding documents recognize God, the Spirit of Liberty, as the source of all life, all liberty, all rights and all good.  That is the Eye of Providence above the pyramid.  

Next, in the Declaration of Independence, they enunciate the basic principles of liberty descending from God to be applied in the body politic.  That is the top of the pyramid.

Then, in the Constitution, they articulate the architecture of liberty, which describes how our federal government is constructed, and in the Bill of Rights they enumerate the inalienable rights of each individual citizen.  That is the middle of the pyramid.  Those architectural plans make secure the blessings of liberty as they establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare. 

Last of all, they demand and encourage elected officials and civil servants of integrity, calling on them to enact and enforce laws, policies and practices of liberty, which are the base of the pyramid. 

At every level of human activity, from the physical through the mental to the spiritual, from the individual through the local, state and federal government, they declare God as the divine basis and governor of our existence, individually and collectively.  We Americans should thank God for the blessings we have:  personal, political, economic and social freedom, the right to self-determination of our lives and the opportunity to lawfully pursue happiness as we define it for ourselves, rather than being forced into abject, slavish service to a totalitarian state run by despots claiming to be divinely guided.  We should express that gratitude through lives which serve—not rule—others, from the nuclear family to the human family.  

We should also gratefully honor those who went before us—often in great hardship, suffering and bloodshed—to build and defend a haven for us in the wilderness of man’s longstanding inhumanity to man.  

Last of all, we should be vigilant, active citizens who work to preserve the blessings of liberty so they may be passed on to our posterity and the boundaries of our haven may be peacefully enlarged to encompass all humanity.  We should do all that in recognition that the blessings of liberty come to us from our Creator, Nature’s God, Divine Providence, the Supreme Judge of the world who is, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, “the common Father of us all.”

America—love it and live it!

One Nation Under God: America as a Theocracy—Part 3

And what is the foremost ideal, principle or value of America?  The very first one mentioned in The Bill of Rights, the very first amendment to the Constitution:  freedom of religion.

That is unique in history.  That is a radically new form of theocracy—both new and better.  It is fundamental for the future of freedom—your freedom.  It empowers people rather than suppresses them.  It is an advancement in establishing a God-centered society beyond even that which our Pilgrim forefathers intended, which was a theocracy, a Holy Commonweal of the elect.  Understanding the magnificence of our Founders’ achievement is critical for the future of freedom here.   

The Pilgrims were separatists; they separated from England in order to set up a society in which God, not the King, was head of state.   “No king but God,” they said.  Yet for all the debt of gratitude we owe our Pilgrim forefathers, we must not overlook the fact that their theocracy was a decidedly narrow, restrictive one, and intolerant of divergent religious beliefs.  In fact, in the case of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, it was oppressive enough to send Roger Williams into the Rhode Island wilderness—fleeing at night for his life—to establish a colony more hospitable to religious freedom for all.  (Williams described the religiously pluralistic society he sought as one in which “all men may walk as their consciences persuade them, everyone in the name of his God.”)   He named his religious haven Providence, and the term Divine Providence would become widely used throughout the thirteen colonies.  It also became one of the four references to deity in the Declaration of Independence

So understanding the magnificence of our Founders’ achievement—a theocracy based on freedom of religion and freedom of conscience for all individuals, including even those who deny the existence of God—is also critical for the future of freedom around the globe.

Although our Founders separated church and state, they did not separate God and state.  How could they?  The Declaration makes clear that from our beginning we have been, as our Pledge of Allegiance states, “one Nation under God.”

What follows from that theory of government is the marvelous liberty of America in which, while holding God central to it, people can worship, speak, assemble, write, travel, work, marry and live as they wish—in short, pursue happiness as they wish—so long as they do not violate another’s right to do likewise.  

Yes, that marvelous liberty has been abused by some citizens.  And yes, because liberty carries inherent responsibility, it requires a conscience, a sense of civic duty and a sense of respect for public decorum—in short, voluntary compliance—to live properly in accordance with our national ideals, principles and values.  As Thomas Jefferson said, the qualifications for self-government are not innate; they are the result of habit and long training.  But without that spiritual foundation asserting your right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and without the constitutional protection guaranteeing your freedom, your sovereignty and your rights… well, renounce your American citizenship, move to a theocracy such as Talibanistan and find out for yourself what follows.

(To be concluded)

One Nation Under God: America as a Theocracy—Part 2

Whether you believe in God or you don’t, if you are American, you should understand the profound difference which our theory of government makes for us from all other theories and forms of political organization.  The fundamental idea of America is this:  Our liberty, our sovereignty, our equality, our rights, our justice and our human dignity are bestowed upon us by our Creator and are guaranteed by the Constitution.  All that may not be violated or taken away by laws, court decisions, executive orders or social majorities intending to do so.  Rather, the primary role of government is to protect all that from anyone who seeks to harm it or override it.  As the Declaration of Independence puts it, governments are instituted to ensure those God-given rights.
If God is the foundation of America, we can rightly say America is a theocracy.  But it is a democratic nonsectarian theocracy operating through a constitutional republic rather than an autocratic religious junta such as the Taliban or a monarch with a divine right to rule.  Our Founders wisely separated church and state to prevent just that.  
Unlike the former condition of Afghanistan with the Taliban and unlike the former condition of China or Japan with their emperors, clerics and divine-right monarchs do not rule here and the First Amendment assures they never will.  The individual comes first, not the state, not an establishment of religion, not a clerical caste, not a ruler regarded as semidivine.  By virtue of what the Declaration of Independence says is our spiritual nature and our moral equality, in American society every citizen is a direct representative of God.  And by virtue of the Constitution, every citizen is a full and equal member of the ruling body known as “we the people.”  We the people rule America.
Yes, we have a religious society—one can even correctly say, historically speaking, a Christian society.  But thanks to the wisdom of our Founders and the Framers of the Constitution, we have a secular government.  On one hand, that government is circumscribed in its power by the First Amendment, which prohibits it to meddle with the free expression of religion by the public.  On the other hand, that government has its delegated authority protected by the Sixth Amendment, which prohibits any religious test for public office.
Ideally speaking, therefore, America is a theocracy because it is governed by God through the total population of our divinely guided citizenry who are the true heads of state and who are educated in the religio-moral ideals, principles and values of our society.   They provide the governance of our society from which the representatives of our government are elected.  Our national character is the seedbed from which our public officials grow. 
(To be continued)

One Nation Under God: America as a Theocracy—Part 1

Shortly after 9/11, I attended a local prayer breakfast at which service club members, clergy and town officials gathered to consider the Pledge of Allegiance’s phrase “one Nation under God.”  
As I reflected on that theme, it occurred to me that Osama bin Laden and his cohorts—the Taliban of Afghanistan—might also say their objective is “one Nation under God.”  After all, they speak of the “nation of Islam” and call for an Islamic theocracy.   
A theocracy, Mr. Webster tells us, is a state governed by immediate divine guidance or by officials—a monarch, council or junta—who are regarded as divinely guided.  What distinguishes the Islamists’ version of nationhood from ours?
Although our Founders had a wide variety of denominational affiliations, they unanimously believed that Man is made in the living image of God.  Furthermore, they said, the basis on which our nation stands is acknowledgment of God as the supreme authority for the conduct of our national life and our personal life.  No less an anticlerical deist than Tom Paine said in the dark days of the Revolution that he was not so much of an infidel as to suppose that God “has relinquished the government of the world, and given us up to the care of devils…”  
The Declaration of Independence, our founding document, has four references to deity.  They are “Nature’s God,” “Creator,” “Supreme Judge of the World” and “divine Providence.”  (John Adams also referred to God as the “Spirit of Liberty.”)  Those phrases collectively declare that God is the mighty author of our being and the moral authority for our laws, and that we humans, by virtue of our spiritual nature derived from God, are created equal and are endowed with “certain unalienable rights.”  The purpose of government, the Declaration says, is to ensure that those rights are not violated because each individual citizen is sacred, sovereign and equal in moral value to all others.  Government, it adds, exists legitimately only when it has the consent of the governed.
Did bin Laden and the Taliban offer anything comparable?  That’s a rhetorical question.
Look at Afghanistan under the Taliban, which hosted bin Laden.  Where was the freedom we cherish—freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, freedom of speech and the press, freedom to assemble and to travel, freedom to criticize the government, freedom to seek redress of grievances, freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, freedom to work as we wish, freedom of education, and so forth?  The Taliban suppressed all that.  Radio, TV and entertainment were forbidden except for government-approved forms.  There were no minority parties campaigning for election because critics of the government were publicly executed.  
As for other religions, Christians were persecuted and jailed for the “crime” of teaching about Christianity.  Hindus were forced to wear a sign on their clothing to identify themselves as non-Muslim.  Ancient Buddhist sculptures regarded by the world as art treasures were blown up.
Also look at the condition of women under Taliban rule.  They had to be covered from head to foot, including their face; they were beaten on the street for showing even an ankle.  They couldn’t vote.  They couldn’t go to school or work outside the home.  Female teachers couldn’t teach.  Even female doctors, whose medical services were badly needed, were forbidden to practice their profession.  (Please note that this terrible treatment of women is not inherent in Islam, but was due to the twisted mentality of the Taliban.)  
Noble-sounding words can be misused to disguise something totally opposite to their meaning.  That is what the Taliban, bin Laden and their followers did.  Their version of “one Nation under God” was a brutal totalitarian dictatorship—the antithesis of everything for which America stands (and, according to some Muslim scholars and clerics, the antithesis of what Islam stands for also).  
(To be continued)