Friday, January 16, 2015

Faith, Virtue, and Freedom—When Government Can No Longer Govern

Is there a possibility that the government of nations may fall into the hands of men who teach the most disconsolate of all creeds: that men are but fireflies and this is all without a father?” --John Adams (1805

When asked if we have arrived at this point in history, Os Guinness replied, “What Adams gloomily foresaw, we’ve arrived at.”  In a recent WORLD Magazine interview, Guinness, a Christian journalist, scholar, and author of A Free People’s Suicide:  Sustainable Freedom and the American Future (IVP, 2012), opined that our post-modern philosophies are eroding the “foundation for human dignity.”  According to Guinness, the Framers of the U.S. Constitution believed that freedom was possible and that it could be sustained only if it has three “legs” like a stool (emphasis mine):

...and secure the Blessings of Liberty
to ourselves and our Posterity…
Freedom requires VIRTUE
, leg one. Virtue requires FAITH, leg two. Faith of any sort requires FREEDOM…[and] ad infinitum, a recycling triangle, a brilliant, daring suggestion as to how freedom can be sustained. 

But the “legs” of freedom are under attack today as it has been throughout American history.  Indeed, the attack on freedom is rooted in spiritual warfare that dates back to the beginning of creation.  Our Constitution was drafted by those who held to at least a basic understanding of the Bible as a sacred and Divine revelation, man’s depravity, and the importance of the disciplined life of faith and virtue.  But today, a shrinking proportion of Americans acknowledge the authority of the Bible and its revelation of human origin, the curse of sin, resultant human depravity and the need for salvation through Christ.  Perhaps even fewer Americans recognize God’s principles for daily living—the importance of the Spirit-filled life, the sanctity of human life, the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman, the fundamental role of family, a respect for parental authority, and the function of government to protect human freedom through an objective system of laws and their just enforcement.   Is it any wonder many Americans view the Constitution as being outmoded and deny the exceptional nature of American life and the culture it has provided for over two centuries.

President John Adams highlighted the necessity of religious virtue in maintaining moral and civil order under the Constitution when he spoke these sobering words to the Massachusetts militia, in 1798:

…we have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion.  Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net.  Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.   It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

Almost daily we see evidence that the “cords of our Constitution” are being broken by the deterioration of institutions in which faith and virtue are nurtured.  The traditional family unit is being torn apart by court rulings and legislation that undermine traditional marriage and parental responsibility.  Declining church attendance coincides with a weakening of moral leadership and teaching in the home. Meanwhile the media promotes distorted views of family life and disrespect for parental authority.   At the same time, Judeo-Christian teachings are banned from our public schools leaving behind an environment in which our teachers and students are no longer safe from violence.  Many of our youth graduate without learning the moral and ethical disciplines necessary to contribute to American society.  Absent in the home, local churches, and in our schools and colleges are the necessary disciplines for adult living.  Until recently, young adults who lacked the disciplines for life could learn them in the armed services—or, of last resort, by harsh penalties issued by our judicial and law enforcement systems. However, now even the armed forces and law enforcement system are being weakened and have begun to reflect the moral corruption present in our society at large.

Police in riot gear and vehicle in Ferguson, MO
The fruits of a crumbling moral and ethical foundation once maintained by strong family, schools, churches, and law enforcement are the increasing reports of violence in each of these spheres of authority.  Need I mention Sandy Hook Elementary, Ferguson, and Fort Hood to name a few?  And sadly, instead of respecting the ancient moral and ethical “boundary” (See Proverbs 22:28 and “Stewardship of Creation and ‘Natural Law” ), we are being encouraged by our government to surrender our firearms while our government is stockpiling ammunition and rifles (I wonder why.).  Meanwhile, we watch our police departments enforce order with armored vehicles and riot gear.  Clearly, John Adams was correct:  Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.   It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. 

While faith, virtue, and freedom steadily decline, Americans increasingly turn to science and human reason for answers to life’s questions.  But science and reason have provided amazing technology that has run far ahead of our stunted morality and ethics needed to govern the use of technology.   Consequently, our society is being transformed by the emergence of lawless behavior coupled to a technological revolution that equips the lawlessness with new tools for their trade.  Advancements in computer technology are affecting the capacity of our democratic government to maintain order.  At issue is the increasing role of computer and information technology in transforming the landscape of political power through the control of access to and dissemination of information.  A few current news stories will illustrate.

3-D Printed Metal Gun by Solid Concepts
Have you heard that 3-D printers can now be used to manufacture guns?  Three years ago, Glenn Beck demonstrated on the air how to make 3-D objects like child’s toys with a 3-D printer and predicted this technology would soon churn out more serious items.  Within the same year, the first 3-D plastic gun was printed.  Today, you can visit the website of
Defense Distributed (DD) and read the historical account of the release of durable printed guns and standard capacity magazines.  

Although President Obama and many in Congress want to severely restrict access to hand guns, the world is undergoing a sea change around them.  Now that 3-D printing technology enables individuals to manufacture firearms illegally, our government will be powerless to restrict gun access from anyone except law abiding citizens who willingly subject themselves to governing authority.  That is, “rule of government” will only apply to those who consent to be governed.  It will not apply to those who wish to arm themselves to oppose it.  The words of John Adams ring true that our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people...[and it] is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

Reported screenshot of message
posted on Sony employees' computer screens
ust as exploding 3-D printing technology threatens government regulation of firearms, so also advances in information technology threaten to expose private information to the public eye.  Computer capabilities have multiplied our capacity to collect, store, and disseminate information.  It follows that those who gain access to either classified government information or to the personal information of private citizens have “power.”  A case in point occurred in December, 2014 when hackers stole terabytes of private information from the network of Sony Pictures Entertainment.  Then, they used the information to enforce terror threats against movie theaters that show, The Interview, produced by Sony.  Since then, social media accounts, including accounts of U.S. Central Command personnel, have been hacked with subsequent threats allegedly coming from Islamic State militants.

Both the illegal manufacture of firearms using 3-D printers and the manufacture of life-threatening situations through improper use of stolen personal information are expressions of flagrant disregard for civil and international laws.  Such actions within the cyber world are increasingly difficult if not impossible to anticipate and stop.  If they are not stopped, the results may include loss of financial assets, ruined personal reputations, loss of human lives, and even larger scale economic and political chaos.  As Glenn Beck has stated, “All secrets are going to be gone. That’s a good thing unless you like secrets.”

By now, you are no doubt quite depressed.  Indeed, the news about America’s future and the future of our families is not good.  What events do you see on the horizon?  Total chaos?  Totalitarian government?  Could our Founding Fathers have anticipated the America of 2015?  I say a hearty, “Yes.”  They not only believed human freedom under the U.S. Constitution would be threatened, they also understood the root cause of the threat—the innate depravity of mankind.  Remember John Adams’ words? 

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.   It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

Adams and many of our Founders recognized the moral and spiritual battle that would determine the longevity of the American government under the Constitution—the struggle within every individual to grow in faith and virtue by disciplined living while daily facing the human tendencies driven by passions and greed.  We long for the taste of power; and power intoxicates us into actions to gain more power.  But there is good news.  John Adams believed that our human bent toward evil could be harnessed by a decentralized government with checks and balances.   He explains as follows:

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.   -- Notes for an oration at Braintree (1772)

Here, Adams words are aligned with the truth claims of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures concerning the human passions and depravity of mankind unless bridled by morality and religion.

There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for god;
All have turned aside,
Together they have become useless;
There is none who does good, not even one.
Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,
The poison of asps is under their lips;
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness;
Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Destruction and misery are in their paths,
And the path of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of god before their eyes
.   -- Romans 3: 10-18

The clear message of this New Testament Scripture drawn from the Old Testament books of Psalms and Isaiah is that all of us are guilty rebels against God.  And the Apostle Paul names the root cause of human pride and rebellion:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3: 2).  Then, in Romans 6: 23, he explains the “wages” (penalty) we have earned for our sin; namely death; but the free gift of God is Eternal Life through faith in Jesus Christ Who paid our penalty on His cross and rose again in victory over His death for us.

In conclusion, I have explained that the “legs of the stool” of freedom have been severely weakened.  We have reached the point where the behavior of a large proportion of the American people is no longer under the discipline of a personal code of ethics.  Without individual self-control, they will not be controllable by government no matter how many more laws are passed or how much our law enforcement and justice system is beefed up to oppose them.

Is Os Guinness correct that we have arrived in a Post-Christian era in which the “foundation of human dignity” has been eroded?  Is it too late for America as we have known it?  Interestingly, the nation of Israel was described by the writer of the Judges in the Old Testament--
In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes
(Judges 17:6).  I believe there is hope for America if each individual will turn from pride, selfishness, and greed and submit to God out of recognition that we are to be stewards of the freedoms allowed under God and under the U.S. Constitution.  Os Guinness has it right, and I close with his answer to the question, ‘What can we do as Christians?’ 

As Christians, our challenge is to go back as close as we can to the gospel and truly to be the church.  Increasingly, we’re likely to be a counter-culture.  As that happens, we will the last great defenders of reason, of truth, of human dignity, with the task of defending not just theoretically, in apologetics, but practically—as the early church did—hospitals, orphanages, and so on,  Our privilege will be to repeat that story in our time.

What is your prediction for America in the next five years?  How specifically are you praying-- and actively involved?

Related Articles:

Oikonomia:  "Dealing with Dangerous Weapons--Guns, Cell Phones...What Else?  Dec. 28, 2013
  “The Disintegration of the United States of America”  August 17, 2012
WORLD Magazine:  “An Election Day Homily” Marvin Olasky, Nov. 1, 2014  “The Great American Worldview Test—The 2012 Election,” September 6, 2012

1 comment:

John Silvius said...

Comments from Brent T.:
In response to your question at the end about the reader's prediction for America for the next five years: I don't know. I agree with much of what you said. It makes me sad to see the height from which America has fallen. As much as I love so much of what America was founded on (freedom, hard work, honesty, equal rights), it is hard to identify with or support much of what I see in America today. You wrote: "I believe there is hope for America if each individual will turn from pride, selfishness, and greed and submit to God out of recognition that we are to be stewards of the freedoms allowed under God and under the U.S. Constitution." I would agree that submitting to God is the only hope for Americans (including myself). I'm just doubtful that many will take up the call to do so. I pray they will. I think our hope (ultimately) can't be in America, but in the body of Christ - in the gospel. With that said I'll work a bit on my overseas voter registration form before going to bed.

I've been teaching biology in Jakarta, Indonesia for about 3 years now and am getting married in 5 months and 10 days! I hope you and your family are doing well. God bless you.