quarta-feira, março 09, 2005

Religião e liberdade

Every single one of the Founders believed that, at the level of both individual morality and public policy, the demands of reason and of revelation powerfully reinforce one another. They understood that with respect to the ultimate questions--the creation of the universe, the purpose of human existence, and the hope of life after death--faith and philosophy might differ. In the practical world they inhabited, however, the Founders believed that both Socrates and Jesus enjoined their followers to accord all persons truth, justice, and charity.

Indeed, the Founders saw the cultivation of religious sentiment as the ultimate safeguard of American liberty. They knew that liberty could only prosper among moral citizens, whose practice of self-government in their private lives was a necessary prerequisite for its exercise in public. They believed that even if it were possible for certain individuals to behave morally without believing in God, on the whole an entire citizenry could not long keep its moral bearings without the guidance of religious faith.

This conviction permeates their public and private writings. George Washington placed it at the heart of his Farewell Address, in which he advised the nation that of "all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men & citizens." Indeed, he continued, "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

Thomas Jefferson shared this sentiment entirely, as when he famously wondered whether "the liberties of a nation [can] be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but by his wrath?" John Adams likewise held the opinion that republican government required religious practice, as when he wrote as president: "We have no government armed with power of contending with human passions unbridled by morality or religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

Such thinking runs throughout the whole of American political life, from Washington to Lincoln to Roosevelt to Reagan, and up to the present day. It is a tradition from which President Bush has not deviated.

Bush does not doubt that the religious principles of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews have nurtured and maintained our constitutional democracy. He doesn't see an intractable opposition between Enlightenment and Christian principles. Rather, he perceives an innate affinity, a belief in which he is joined by the overwhelming majority of Americans. And until Brooke Allen, The Nation, and the cultural Left make their peace with that fact, they will remain on the fringes of our national politics, isolated and confused.


Michael Novak