Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"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."

President John Adams spoke those words to America's military on October 11, 1798, fifteen years after the American Revolution officially ended. During the infancy of our nation and in the midst of a military expansion Adams expressed a prophetic concern about the nation he helped form. What perspectives solicited such comments from one of our founding fathers?

I don't claim expertise in American History or the life of John Adams, but I will venture a hypothesis regarding Adam's perspective. The founders of our nation established a limited form of government in contrast to the British monarchy from which they separated. The constitutional congress established three branches of government as a means of checks and balances to avoid an authoritarian government that would infringe on individual freedoms. The Bill of Rights proposed by the states further defined and protected the individual liberties colonists held so dear. However, this limited form of government was based upon a general understanding of moral and religious virtues exercised by people as a whole. Of course, there were those of vice prevalent in society, but generally speaking business could be conducted with a handshake and trust in one's neighbor. The golden rule generally applied. When a neighbor went through financial trouble the rest of the town helped them get through it. Government influence was not pursued but shunned.

When the moral and religious fabric of our society began to deteriorate, people were increasingly taken advantage of and hurt. We have seen this often in recent years. After 9/11 many gas stations raised their gas prices in an unwarranted fashion to take advantage of the tragedy. After Katrina, many residents began looting stores and homes. In such a climate, laws are established to curtail the effects of moral bankruptcy and vice. Government grows and new agencies are formed to enforce rules that once were enforced by morality and religious virtue. The larger and more authoritarian government then begins stripping freedoms as a means of 'protecting' its people from themselves. Unfortunately, those who gain governmental power often lack a solid moral and religious foundation themselves, and thus legislate from their own personal opinion of right and wrong.

In the end, the bloated and authoritarian body governing the people no longer matches the limited government established by our founding fathers in the constitution. I believe John Adams understood that once a people lost their moral and religious compass, government would by necessity have to grow and step in to legislate its own understanding of right and wrong.

It seems that this is the current state of our union with an ever increasing government and decreasing individual liberties. However, the answer to our national troubles lies not in the increase of our government, and not even the decrease of government (though that may be beneficial). Rather it lies in the moral transformation of our people, and that can only occur by the work of Jesus Christ in each individual. Only then may we once again enjoy the bounty and blessings of our nation as the founding fathers intended it.

Our call to duty today, thus mirrors the call to duty issued by John Adams on March 23, 1798:

"As the safety and prosperity of nations ultimately and essentially depend on the protection and blessing of Almighty God; and the national acknowledgment of this truth is not only an indispensable duty which the people owe to Him, but a duty whose natural influence is favorable to the promotion of that morality and piety, without which social happiness cannot exist, nor the blessings of a free government be enjoyed; and as this duty, at all times incumbent, is so especially in seasons of difficulty and of danger, when existing or threatening calamities, the just judgments of God against prevalent iniquity are a loud call to repentance and reformation...

...Under these considerations it has appeared to me that the duty of imploring the mercy and benediction of Heaven on our country, demands at this time a special attention from its inhabitants."

May we heed those words today.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Scott for sharing your thoughts. These are really important things to think about.
    I agree that transformation can only occur by the work of Jesus. The failure of the "church" to follow Christ's most basic teachings has led to an increased and misplaced dependence on the government. I have some different ideas about the founding fathers' legacy, but I enjoyed thinking about what you wrote. Tina Malvig