The Prayer at Valley Forge From the original painting by Henry Brueckner (from here)
The Prayer at Valley Forge From the original painting by Henry Brueckner (from here)

Article II., Section 3 of The United States Constitution says the following.

He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient; he may, on extraordinary Occasions, convene both Houses, or either of them, and in Case of Disagreement between them, with Respect to the Time of Adjournment, he may adjourn them to such Time as he shall think proper; he shall receive Ambassadors and other public Ministers; he shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed, and shall Commission all the Officers of the United States.

Like much of the rest of our Constitution, the interpretation of that section of the Constitution has degenerated. Thus, the State of the Union has become a grand stage show. Our president makes a flowery speech before both houses of Congress. Like many of his predecessors, only worse, the current occupant of the White House uses the opportunity to further his agenda by promising us “other” people’s money and defining his enemies.

Perhaps, if we held the State of the Union on Independence day, more of us would insist that our president’s speech focus on how well our nation upholds the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence. As it is, even on Independence Day, we rarely consider the cause of the celebration. We wave flags at marching bands and pretty floats, not the heroes who left as their legacy, our liberty. We ooh and we aahh to booming of fireworks. We have forgotten the sacrifices, the long campaigns, the endless waiting, the arduous marches, the cold, the heat, the desperation, the men and women who gave their all in hard fought battles. Instead, we use gloriously colorful fireworks to symbolize the struggles that gave us our liberty, not the drab weariness characterizes a long war.

Yet if we are more thoughtful, if we love our family, friends, and neighbors, the events here of late must alarm us. If we understand the value living in a free country — if we are not blind to the threat to our nation’s institutions — then we must see that those institutions are failing. We must see the unraveling of bonds that once united the People of United States.

What is happening? What is the difference between an enslaved people and a free people? Slave peoples submit to the rule of men. Free peoples uphold the rule of law.

Why would any people submit to the rule of other men, mere mortals like themselves. Because we have put our trust in the wrong place, we would do so in terror.

Jeremiah 17:5-8 New King James Version (NKJV)

Thus says the Lord:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.

Instead of trusting in God, we look to our self. Because our pride is misplaced, we risk failing like that shrub in the desert. Instead of trying to see everything through our Lord’s eyes, we take the measure of all things relative to our own desires. Instead of serving God and our family, friends, and neighbors, we seek first and foremost our own wants.  Yet what matters is that God, the Creator, loves us, not that a puny man loves himself. We are nothing. The universe is too big, too complex, for us. Thus, the man who cares only himself finds himself alone, helpless, and afraid.

Why would a people submit to the rule of law? It is in the hearts of men to do so. Hence, we have the Code of Hammurabi and the Athenian and Roman republics. At God’s inspiration, Moses explained it to the Hebrews this way.

Deuteronomy 10:12-22 New King James Version (NKJV)

The Essence of the Law

12 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good? 14 Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it. 15 The Lord delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day. 16 Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. 17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe. 18 He administers justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. 19 Therefore love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. 20 You shall fear the Lord your God; you shall serve Him, and to Him you shall hold fast, and take oaths in His name. 21 He is your praise, and He is your God, who has done for you these great and awesome things which your eyes have seen. 22 Your fathers went down to Egypt with seventy persons, and now the Lord your God has made you as the stars of heaven in multitude.

Because our Constitution is the creation of men, not God, many confuse the meaning of a secular government. Too many think we can govern ourselves without God. We cannot. Unless we each choose to be guided by God, then we cannot behave honorably. We cannot make honorable laws. Nor can we honor the laws we create.  We can only selfishly pursue our own ends. Then our leaders must divide us, terrorize us, and enslave us.


  1. Well said, Tom.

    I am always fascinated by those words, “endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights.” Quite simply when we are all believing that our rights come from God, they become absolute, non negotiable. When we believe our rights come from government, we hand them a power and authority that only God is truly entitled to have. When rights come from government, government has the authority to revoke them, too.

    1. When rights come from government, government has the authority to revoke them, too.

      And isn’t that what is happening?

      Our leaders tell us that to protect our “rights” they have to enslave us, and too many believe them.

      1. Kind of scary, Tom, in the midst of these great debates over SSM people were saying, “you’re trying to ban love!” Of course that is irrational and illogical, but it revealed this belief that some apparently hold, that government has the authority to decide how you should be allowed “to feel.” That point was all lost in the heat of the moment, but it would have been wise if people had considered what authority, real or imagined, they were actually handing over to the government.

        1. Scary. Yes. But it is not as scary for those who fear God.

          I don’t understand exactly how Romans 1:18-32 works, but it is apparent that when our egos are too big to admit the existence of God we can easily misplace some of the screws and bolts in our cranium. Does that mean that everyone who does not believe in God is crazy? No. I don’t think so. I think some people are just afraid to believe. They honestly don’t think we have sufficient evidence God exists, and therein lies the irony. It is as you have said. If God were to reveal Himself to us, our puny little minds could not handle it. The amount of proof these people demand is enough to destroy them.

          Thus, some unbelievers are seekers. They want the right thing, but they want more than they are ready to handle. That is the gap that faith fills, and that is why we must all pray for God to increase our faith.

          Because faith does not explain everything, and my faith is weak, I wish I knew more. Nonetheless, even though I do not understand it, I can see that Romans 1:18-32 is true. Supposedly, we have put wise men and women on the Supreme Court. How is it then that we have a majority on the Supreme Court that believes same-sex “marriage” is a “right”? Isn’t the difference between the sexes self-evident? Doesn’t a baby know the difference between mama and daddy, even this corrupt culture?

          Without humility, it seems that no man or woman can be wise.

    2. I’m not sure that there are any people who really believe rights come “from” government (aside form the unfortunate act that there are always a few people among millions who believe virtually anything, including UFOs and that Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii). But I would regard it as a common, prevailing understanding among Americans that our structure assumes that individual liberty rights are sourced in eighteenth century concepts of Natural Law as understood by the Founders and that we give powers to the Government, while retaining rights.

      1. “I’m not sure that there are any people who really believe rights come “from” government..”

        I would really like to believe that, but I have seen little evidence of it. As to our rights coming from Natural Law, we’ve done everything in our power to circumvent Natural Law and transform it into nothing more then a social construct. Regardless, none of it bodes well for individual liberty.

      2. As insanitybytes22 observed, your words don’t match reality. Don’t we have a humongous government budget and an out-of-control deficit that testifies against you?

        So why did you say such a silly thing? Why do you support the Liberal Democrats? I don’t know. I just know that ridicule is a powerful weapon, but such ignorant ridicule only works against the ignorant or against people who are afraid of what ignorant people think. So I suppose you think that either the ignorant or people afraid of what ignorant people think will read your words.

        Well, truth be told, I am not too smart. I can also see there are lots of ignorant people, and I am afraid of them. Fortunately, I am more fearful of God.

        1. I don’t think I’ve ever “support[ed] liberal Democrats, Tom. You must be mixing me up with someone else.

          As to your first paragraph, I’m not sure what the absolute size of the federal budget tells us about whether rights come from government or from Natural Law as understood in the 18th Century by our Founders. The numbers associated with governance in this country at each and all levels are indeed large numbers, but the country is quite large, both in absolute terms and relative to the size of the country in the late 18th century. Deficits ebb and flow and are very much subject to external factors such as war or global recessions. Within recent memory, in the 1990s, we started running surpluses. The Iraq War and the Great Recession knocked that all to heck. But, back to your point, I don’t see why it is not possible to have a fiscally undisciplined government, either because the People’s representatives spend too much or tax too little or both, and still have a belief that our structure is based on granting consensual powers to the government(s), while retaining individual rights to the People.

          I couldn’t follow your second paragraph, but if you are positing that I am afraid of what ignorant people think, you are absolutely correct.


          1. @scout who sometimes still forgets and calls himself “novascout,” who wrote:

            Within recent memory, in the 1990s, we started running surpluses. The Iraq War and the Great Recession knocked that all to heck.

            You may need to find information at some other place besides progressive talking points. Your last statement above is utterly wrong, and all of it reflects a tremendous lack of understanding on your part of even recent history.

            Clinton’s economy in 1992-1994 was so bad that he believed he had no chance of re-election in 1996 without major infusions of cash and influence. This is what led him to pursue the Chinese Communists and cut deals with them for campaign cash. The Republicans came to power en masse and took office in 1995, implementing a massive portion of their agenda and completing the “Contract with America” as promised.

            The economy turned around strongly fueled by tax reductions forced on Clinton, the Internet boom, and the general feeling that the Republican Congress would keep the Democrats in check. For the next few years, tax revenues grew so rapidly Congress was not able to outspend it. But with Gingrich forced out of the leadership role because an intercepted phone call made him sound briefly almost like a Clinton — this was in the news week after week — Clinton was able to push through some Democrat regulation and tax increases.

            By March of 2000, this was starting to be felt. By April, some greatly anticipated IPOs like were being delayed; that one was canceled weeks later. The markets began falling rapidly, though the news was barely mentioned since Al Gore was seeking election. By the end of Clinton’s term, NASDAQ had lost more than half of its value — and the economy was cratering. Still, the OMB projected the same surplus as from 1999 for the next ten years, despite the obvious zero chance of it happening even in the current year. This was the situation when Bush took office.

            Bush, of course, was blamed for the Clinton recession. Months later, the 9/11 attacks dealt an additional massive blow to a suffering economy. But Bush’s tax cuts were already starting to turn things around; the recession of 2000 was one of the shortest in post-WWII history and the rest of the Bush years were good, until the Democrats took over in early 2007.

            The Iraq war was a relatively small expense as wars go; it did not figure into economics until the recovery had already taken place, and for each of those subsequent years the deficit was smaller than pundits were loudly anticipating, because even with tax rate cuts, tax revenues were up sharply.

            Unfortunately, Congress can spend without limit. This was as true of the Republican-led Congress as of the new Democrat majority. And the Democrat oversight of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, extending their leverage from 5 to 1 all the way to 45 to 1 primed the explosion. And even those numbers were the result of false bookkeeping. Remember the “cooking the books” fiascoes that got FM head Franklin Raines fired with $90 million in bonuses? The man was so corrupt that Obama hired him as a financial advisor.

            This overextended mortgage leverage and drop of mortgage-backing standards by the FMs was fueling a housing bubble that everyone could see was ready to collapse in late 2007. I was overseas, and reading about the first major shock waves in August of 2007 as the major story day after day in the Financial Times; these were repeated in March of 2008.

            But now we had a new effect: The election year. The shock waves were subsiding and the market correction working itself out when the media decided in August of 2008 to play up how bad the economy could get, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and making the collapse of September much worse than it would naturally have been.

            The Democrats (notably Frank and Dodd) who had previously admitted culpability were now blaming Bush, and the media managed to make it look as though the boom years of 2003 to 2007 were merely part of an unending string of “horrible bad awful Bush years.” Thus, Obama could get into office based on the media/progressive re-write of history.

            And that re-written history is what you evidently remember, not the actual events.

            And Obama, another progressive that believes the hype, has some combination of no idea and no desire to boost employment in the US. His catastrophic effect on the economy has only been partly masked by the part-time counts as full-time equivalence trick and the millions forced out of the job market entirely so that they do not figure into the percentages.

            ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

          2. @novascout

            I cannot begin to top what Keith wrote. So I have sought the aid of writers who may have been more talented.

            I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer. ― Benjamin Franklin (from =>

            When people begin getting “charity” from the government, they begin to expect this charity as a right. Here is another quote along those lines.

            A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy. ― Elmer T Peterson

            Because we have elected officials who diligently ignore the Constitution, we are no longer a functional republic. We a democracy, that is a majoritarian tyranny. Unless we can reverse this state of affairs, we will bequeath our children and grandchildren a dictatorship.

      3. We have politicians announcing that they support an amendment to repeal the Second Amendment. Under your theory, this would not work as the Second Amendment merely documents an already existing right.

        We have Supreme Court justices wishing to limit the First Amendment (specifically in this instance to eliminate the ability to criticize Islam; Justice Breyer likened it to shouting “fire!” in a crowded theater, and completely botched the history of that expression and ruling). Under your theory, this repeal of free speech would not work.

        We have politicians who propose to coerce people who have religious objections to an act, people whose religious freedoms were protected last year, to be compelled to perform those acts this year. This compulsion would be through fines, through jail, or through monetary compulsion through loss of non-profit status. These penalties are already being used against people and more are on the way; this is not a hypothetical. Under your theory, this makes no sense.

        In essence, while many people may utter that “rights don’t come from government,” those with the reins of government in their hands are perfectly happy to arrange for government to take the rights away.

        But you’ve approached this as if your notion was so obvious, so self-evident, that you seemed puzzled that Citizen Tom could even express a contrary idea. Your thinking ignores, or is ignorant of, the current political climate and pushes for restrictions of rights. You seem happy indeed that new rights have been found, but don’t have any concerns about the fact that this scheme takes existing rights away.

        Your approach takes amazing liberties with reality.

        ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

        1. Other than holding slaves, Keith, what rights have we lost that our forebears had at the Founding? If there is a trend since then, it seems to have been in interpretation of those rights in a manner that expands, rather than restricts individual rights. Can you name any religious practice that has been restrained or restricted by any ruling of the Court (or federal courts) since the Reynolds case on polygamy in the late 19th Century? (Oops, in typing the question, I somewhat answered it for myself – there have been federal court decisions that have constrained Christian Scientists and similar sects from withholding medical treatment from sick children, job actions against Native Americans who use peyote in religious ceremonies – subsequently overruled by Congress – and, possibly, snake handling, if memory serves). But the intent of my question was whether any mainstream religious practices have been constrained by the federal judiciary. If your view is yes, toss up your examples, and we can discuss. My point of departure on this topic is that the federal judiciary has not interfered with religious practices, noting, however, as I must, the exceptions noted above, none of which are particularly concerning to Tom or his readers, if I read them correctly. Certainly, as a practicing Christian, I have encountered no changes in the last 50 years in my religious activities because of federal interference.

          You do raise an interesting question, however: could the People, however misguided, use the mechanisms of the Constitution, a document designed to protect rights, to diminish those rights (to make the hypothetical interesting, we need to assume that all procedural requirements for amending the Constitution were complied with)? I haven’t thought about it deeply, but I think my answer would be yes, even though I say that with great trepidation and considerable discomfort. Although the Declaration eloquently identifies the source of the rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness as emanating from a concept of immutable Natural Law, the Constitution enumerates specific rights in the first ten Amendments, and, when synthesized with the Declaration, suggests the existence of others. My experience with the Constitution, however, has been that it has few friends when political hormones are active. I could easily imagine contexts in which Ist, VIth, VIIIth, Vth, or IVth amendment protections (for example) are restricted by operation of the amendment process. I don’t like the idea, but if the People forfeit rights in a manner that adheres to requirements for the Amendment of the Constitution, I would be hard put to argue that they cannot do it. (I doubt that the political climate would allow that for Second Amendment issues_. If you want to pursue this, I would be interested in your more detailed thoughts.

          This is one that I would like to be wrong on, but I take your point that my faith in the concept that rights are based on Natural Law and that the Government’s powers are limited by what the People see fit to grant it could run afoul of an emotional, provoked effort to use political processes to undermine the content of the Constitution.


        2. According to the Constitution, the SCOTUS could interpret arms to mean whatever they want, effectively abolishing popular belief as to what it means. In any rhetorical debate, the person who is in control of the definition effectively wins the argument. By controlling what things mean, it doesn’t really matter what the other person believes.

          For example, if you had a Catholic and a Calvinist debating the nature of grace and the Catholic has the Calvinist agree to the definition that grace is a free gift from God for the sanctification of human persons, the Catholic could refute the notion of Irresistible Grace by taking the logical conclusions of the definition.

          Since the SCOTUS is enumerated with the power to interpret what the Constitution means, they have the power to determine what rights are protected under law. So the fear of the Anti-Federalists are realized by their proposed mechanism of defense:the Bill of Rights.

          1. @mastersamwise, who wrote:

            Since the SCOTUS is enumerated with the power to interpret what the Constitution means, they have the power to determine what rights are protected under law.

            You used the word “enumerated” here, which in this sort of context refers to powers itemized within the Constitution. But this was not an enumerated power of the Supreme Court at all; it was a mantle that Chief Justice Marshall donned for himself in the Marbury v Madison case.

            Bizarrely, Federalist Supreme Court Chief Justice Marshall wrote the opinion on the Constitutionality of a case involving acts by Federalist Secretary of State John Marshall. For a while, he actually performed both jobs at the same time. And even though the case ultimately involved a ruling restricting the reach of the Supreme Court, the way he went about it (by determining the Constitutionality of the expansion) set the precedent for future expansion.

            We argue using phrases such as strict text, original intent, context, and changing meanings of a living document over time. They had these same arguments even during the First Congress. And the republicans (the one labeled derisively the “anti-Federalists,” a label which has stuck) were absolutely correct in pushing for a Bill of Rights, as it is clear that anything not on the list is fair game if politically expedient. This is on top of the redefinition issue you describe.

            Perhaps a detailed, expansive list of the rights to be protected should be worked into an amendment. I am working on this, but it is several pages so far and attempts to incorporate what we’ve learned in the interim. And, no doubt, it cannot be exhaustive. But at least it would, if adopted, make loopholes for attacks on inherent rights harder to come up with.

            ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

          2. “The judicial power shall extend to all cases, in law and equity, arising under this Constitution, the laws of the United States, and treaties made, or which shall be made, under their authority;–to all cases affecting ambassadors, other public ministers and consuls;–to all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction;–to controversies to which the United States shall be a party;–to controversies between two or more states;–between a state and citizens of another state;–between citizens of different states;–between citizens of the same state claiming lands under grants of different states, and between a state, or the citizens thereof, and foreign states, citizens or subjects.” US Con. Article III, section 2. There authority to adjudicate was extended here. America’s legal system is based on stare decisis and common law to resolve disputes, including Constitutional ones.
            It must be admitted that the Bill of Rights has, paradoxically, been used to limit freedom. Take the recent case in Oregon with the Christian bakers. There would be no question of whether or not those bakers were protected under the 1st Amendment. Rather, they would prove that they have the right already that the government needs to recognize. Take the recent ruling on gay marriage. Instead of proving that the 14th Amendment gives gays the right to marry–we can be honest here and admit that it does in the strictest legal sense–they would have had to prove that they indeed had that right to begin with. The conversaiton would have been completely different. Instead, we have certain rights guaranteed under the Constitution and American jurisprudence has to treat them as our ONLY rights because, you know, that’s how courts work. Anything not on the list would have to be debated philosophically instead of legally. The discussion would change from one on rights granted by the instrument of government to one on the rights inherent in each person. We would need to have conversations based on who we think man is, his place in society, and what the answers to those questions reveal about his rights.

            A detailed and expansive list would only serve to limit man further. The Federalists agreed to the Bill of Rights because it was short. A more extensive list would only make more extensive ways for people to refine those freedoms down to the molecule or grant unintended liberties. No, change the conversation and get rid of the bill of rights.

      4. I’m not sure that there are any people who really believe rights come “from” government

        There are people who believe rights and privileges stem from government — then and now. For example, read the Declaration of Independence and Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen — there is a stark contrast between the two.

        1. Just in case some of you decide to look up what Mathew is talking about, there are two versions, one written in 1789 and another written in 1793.

          This was the first.

          This Declaration was directly influenced by Thomas Jefferson, working with General Lafayette, who introduced it.

          Unfortunately, some men succeeded in corrupting the French Revolution. Here was their preferred version.

          Wikipedia has a couple of articles.

    1. That’s a peculiar leap in logic, but I suppose it was inevitable that someone would go there. Sigh. Nevertheless, I thank you for reading what I wrote and thinking enough about it to comment.

      Consider. Didn’t I state my support the Constitution and the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence? How does asking people to turn to God and trust in Him establish a theocracy?

      What does government exists to do? The founders said (in the Declaration) that government exists to protect our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Have you ever thought what the founders meant by the pursuit of happiness? Some will say that happiness is about owning things and enjoying them, but surely someone who calls himself mastersamwise knows better. Aristotle would have told you that the pursuit happiness is the pursuit of virtue. Unfortunately, Aristotle was a pagan.

      Contrary to Aristotle’s hope, governments do not instill virtue into their People — when the People belong to the government, government has enslaved the people and wants docility, not virtue. The People instill virtue into their government. (from here =>

      If we want to be free, then we have to be worthy of freedom. We must instill virtue into our government. When we cannot do that, that indicates how sick our souls must be, and that is a far more serious problem than tyrannical government.

      Since you call yourself mastersamwise, a most noble hobbit, I presume you know that J. R. R. Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic, but perhaps not. So you may find these references interesting.

      PS — This seems to be the commenter’s blog =>
      Looks interesting, but I have only scanned it.

      1. I did note your support of those principles and I don’t necessarily agree. What is meant by Liberty? Taken from a Christian perspective, it is the ability to be virtuous. This is antithetical, you must admit, to the political philosophies that influenced those documents. Indeed, the current state of affairs could be said to be the logical conclusion of those Enlightenment influences.

        Aristotle’s philosophical decedent, Thomas Aquinas, was not a pagan though. Indeed, it was his fusion of Christian communal or corporeal–in the sense of a body–pursuit of God and the Aristotelian teleology in a harmonic synthesis between citizens and the excise of power that the Enlightenment thinkers who influenced the American founders rebelled against, thus creating the false dichotomy of people verses government. The Enlightenment established that government in se was always at odds with the governed. This becomes even more ridiculous in representative governments.

        Indeed, the Roman Church influences me greatly as does Tolkien. The Stewardship of Gondor failed not because the Stewardship itself was bad, but because there were bad Stewards. Tolkien takes great effort to point out that Aragorn was not crowned, nor even entered the city until his virtue was proven.

        I make the Geneva comment because it is necessary to remember that we cannot legislate religion. What, then, is the next step? Is it to go the way of Locke and keep all religion out of the public sphere? Or is it to abandon the failed philosophies of the Enlightenment and confront the beast of positive nihilism by making clear and rooted definitions of things? Do we follow Chesterton–a great influence on Tolkien–and give a vote to our ancestors? Do we follow tradition ante-Enlightenment?

        1. What is liberty? To properly make use of our liberty, we must be virtuous. Hence our second president made this observation.

          While our country remains untainted with the principles and manners which are now producing desolation in so many parts of the world; while she continues sincere, and incapable of insidious and impious policy, we shall have the strongest reason to rejoice in the local destination assigned us by Providence. But should the people of America once become capable of that deep simulation towards one another, and towards foreign nations, which assumes the language of justice and moderation, while it is practising iniquity and extravagance, and displays in the most captivating manner the charming pictures of candour, frankness, and sincerity, while it is rioting in rapine and insolence, this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world. Because we have no government, armed with power, capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge and licentiousness 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. Oaths in this country are as yet universally considered as sacred obligations. That which you have taken, and so solemnly repeated on that venerable ground, is an ample pledge of your sincerity and devotion to your country and its government. — John Adams, Letter to the Officers of the First Brigade of the Third Division of the Militia of Massachusetts, 11 October 1798, in Revolutionary Services and Civil Life of General William Hull (New York, 1848), pp 265-6. There are some differences in the version that appeared in The Works of John Adams (Boston, 1854), vol. 9, pp. 228-9, most notably the words “or gallantry” instead of “and licentiousness”. (from here)

          Enlightenment principles. We throw a fancy phrase out, and that ends up meaning what? Has it occurred to you that during so-called Enlightenment people did what they have always done. That to the extent possible, curious and inventive people thought up and tried all kinds of ideas?

          So are Christian virtues antithetical to the political philosophies that influenced the Constitution and the principles embodied in the Declaration of Independence? I don’t think so, and I believe you misunderstand the Enlightenment.

          What really distinguished the Enlightenment? Books! Books were starting to become commonplace. Lots of people were writing and reading. Lots of ideas were being thrown out and tried. That included the Bible. In England and America, the people read the Bible and took it seriously. Some other parts less so, France, for example.

          Some years back I wrote a book review on The Roads to Modernity: The British, French, and American Enlightenment by Gertrude Himmelfarb. Excellent book! That book review also addresses most of your arguments.

          Is government always at odds with the governed? Of course it is, but that is simply because we are always at odds with each other. Because we are imperfect, we always have trouble resisting temptation, and the power government can exercise is a great temptation.

          So or later the United States will fall. We could just experience a natural disaster, but like as not, we will elect one too many poor leaders, leaders who fail to resist the temptations of power. Only God can save it, and He may not. He intends to establish something better, His own Kingdom. Therefore, like Frodo and Samwise, until Jesus comes again, all we can do is our best. We can join in voluntary fellowship. We can help each other acquire and grow in faith. That is what churches exist to do. Nevertheless, each of us must fight our own individual battles. Like Frodo we must each must bear our own ring (or cross), and we must ask the Holy Spirit to help us do that.

          Our government cannot help us bear our cross. Our government cannot instill virtue in us. That happens only when we turn to Christ for an example. That happens only when we see Christ in others. Then, in addition to being saved, there is a small side benefit. While we live, we can instill a bit of virtue in our government.

          1. Your telos for liberty is not consistent with the Enlightenment principles. Generally speaking, philosophers like Locke, Kant, Descartes, and Hume all saw liberty as the ability to pursue your own self interests without harming another person’s ability to do so. Madison was naive if he really believed America was “untainted.” The pluralism in America then made it ripe for differing views on morality and religion. Need I remind you of the Anne Hutchinson “trial” and Coode’s Rebellion?

            The Christian notion of liberty, unless all those years studying theology were for naught, is as you describe above: liberty is the ability to do good/virtue. This is the opposite of the general sense of the Enlightenment which, as I said before, that liberty was for self interest. If that is what St. Paul meant by “Not I but Christ through me” then centuries of Biblical exegesis has been thrown out.

            See, the interesting thing about Frodo was that he wasn’t able able to destroy the ring on his own. Indeed, there is much debate as to whether he did actually destroy it or if he just destroyed Gollum in an attempt to keep the ring. In any case, it is established that Frodo would never have made it out of the Shire if he did not have normal, regular, help from his community. Is that not the ideal society? Persons coming together out of a common desire to do the good? Government then would be the means by which the community watches and takes care of each person in it. Not an Orwellian big brother, but a government working for the common good of all persons in the community. What is the common good? Virtue.

            The problem is less that government is always vicious, but that man does not continue to seek the good in it. Care for the community is subordinate to the self interest of the individual. How can the common good of the persons be affected if government works for the self interest of the individual? It is a conflict of interest if ever I saw one.

          2. That quote belongs to John Adams. Was he guilty of naiveté? Perhaps. He was not a particularly good president. At least part of the reason the country elected Thomas Jefferson was Jefferson’s promise to restore the liberties Adam’s party sought to suppress.

            Liberty is one thing. What we do with Liberty is another. Of itself, liberty is neither good nor bad.
            Why liberty? Any government that permits freedom of conscience allows the people to make their own choices and to suffer the consequences. That is how we pursue happiness. We learn from our mistakes.

            What distinguishes a government that promotes liberty? When we each suffer the consequences of our own bad choices, that government lets us suffer. If private groups choose, in mercy, to mitigate the harm, that is their choice. Government, on the other hand, does not redistribute the consequences of bad choices. The sort of taxation and spending that requires is stealing. Instead, government prevents us from infringing upon each others rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

            Consider the conundrum. While it might seem like a good idea for government to help the poor and needy, for example, giving the government such power creates a conflict of interest. How can the same government be trusted to prevent us from infringing upon each others rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Only the naive would believe it possible.

            How did Tolkein describe the government of the Shire? I don’t recall very much formality. Hobbits may be very formal, but a formal government? Tolkien’s hobbits struck me as far more interested in family, friends and neighbors. Hence, when we speak of the help Frodo received, we do well to remember that those who helped him chose freely to do so.

            Government exists as a last resort. Government exists to apply force to problem people, people who have become vicious. When government becomes vicious, that government regards the people as its property, not as citizens.

          3. Adams is an interesting man. I just spun off some stream-of-consciousness about him in my blog.

            But there is a quote from Adams that is apposite regarding virtue and natural rights like the pursuit of happiness:

            Our republic is founded in the great fact, in the whole course and economy of Nature, the indissoluble connection between virtue and happiness.”

            In this Adams echoed a bit of Aristotle’s ideas about virtue.

            But I am not completely happy with President Adams, and that’s what I wrote about.

            ===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle

          4. So what you are saying is that liberty is the ability to do both good and bad?

            Hobbits were never an ideal though. They were removed from the world and that removal brings them suffering. Indeed there removal from the world was only possible the exiled shadow government of Arnorians, then called rangers. As a matter of fact, the shire and it’s people were only sustained by government agents keeping them safe and ensuring their trade and general way of life is maintained. Certainly the exiled Arnorians had better things to worry about than a bunch of freeloaders who never lifted a finger to help the realm at large when it was taken over.

            They protected them because it was their job. They preserved their liberty even when their actions and choice to be isolated should have brought about their destruction. But they fought for the hobbits good, even though the hobbits never knew it.

        2. Liberty is having the right to choose. We can do good, bad, nothing, or something that does not matter much.

          And some say we have guardian angels. Certainly, our Lord keeps Satan on a leash.

          1. Taking into account that we share the concept of an objective moral law that is the Divine Law and–I suppose–an objective natural law that was established prior to that of man himself, is it not fair to say that the true object of law and therefore government is to foster authentic freedom. That is to say, man is most himself and therefore most free when he is good. So shouldn’t the positive laws of government reflect at least the natural law? It could never be said that the liberty of will given to man by God was given so that man could choose evil but rather magnify his choice of goodness. Thus, it should be the object of every government to be informed by those natural laws that make judgments of right and wrong actually possible. A strict adherance to natural law, however helpful, will not solve all problems. Thus, a strong philosophical body must continue to defend the natural law as it is described by the Divine Law, a function government cannot usurp. It is therefore left to the philosopher to ensure that the real natural law, that is the one written by the author of nature itself, be the law that informs every positive law lest the laws of men become arbitrary whims of misconceived liberty.

          2. That is a clever argument, and I fear it has always been popular in some form. Here are the problems I have with it.
            1. Look at the Bible. God uses rulers to fulfill His Will, but he uses them in spite of themselves. Do governments push people for doing things they should not do? Yes, but that is just about the only complementary thing the Bible has to say about government.
            2. If we wish to be perfected, we must go to God and submit to His will. Government, usually run by the basest of men (Daniel 4:17), is more likely to corrupt us than it is to perfect us.
            3. Because the object of the leaders of every government is the acquisition of power, every government seeks to control our choices. Thus, until they say what they want, governmental officials will contort philosophy (natural law, for example) and languages. Isn’t that how we got same sex “marriage.”
            4. Because men cannot be trusted with power, we cannot entrust government with the power to perfect us. Because parents love their children, and because we have no other practical alternative, we entrust that kind of power to parents. But government officials? Have you considered the public schools?

            Anyway, as far as I can tell government exists as a last resort to make us leave each other in peace. When people talk about positive law or something even more silly, positive rights, I just think of the tendency of scholars and lawyers to corrupt the language (as noted in point #3).

            But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. — James Madison from The Federalist No. 51

          3. 1. On the contrary, David was a man after God’s own heart. David led the Israelites, despite his stumbling, not to power or wealth, but to virtue and God, then those things were added unto them. So having government oriented toward the Natural Law–the Mosaic Law cannot be said to be fully the Divine Law as it did not have the influence of Grace which would only be possible after Christ–is effective and in fact ideal for God. God himself sets up a government and allows for a king. God wants government, but a government oriented toward the Natural Law.

            2. See point 1. If the majority electorate ordered their passions away from entitlements and guns and toward justice and temperance, it is not impossible that a good man would be elected.

            3. See point 1. King David had no other motive except virtue and God, except when he fell like any man. Certainly there were no idols in the days of David. As far as religious freedom goes, is David a good leader for banning Baal?

            4. Men can be trusted with only as much power as those around them can reasonably give them. There was no divine mandate that formed the Constitution. It can change so that less power is held by fewer or more people depending on the mode by which we can reasonably be our brother’s keeper. Have you considered the virtue almost antithetical to American individualism: publicmindedness?

  2. “Instead of trusting in God, we look to our self. Because our pride is misplaced, we risk failing like that shrub in the desert. Instead of trying to see everything through our Lord’s eyes, we take the measure of all things relative to our own desires. Instead of serving God and our family, friends, and neighbors, we seek first and foremost our own wants. Yet what matters is that God, the Creator, loves us, not that a puny man loves himself. We are nothing. The universe is too big, too complex, for us. Thus, the man who cares only himself finds himself alone, helpless, and afraid.”

    Very well said Tom. This is the very reason why our country, families, and even many churches are in such a dreadful condition. We have left the Lord’s desires behind us and, instead, have looked to our own carnal, sinful desires to lead us. May the Lord help us all as we continue to see the unraveling take place.

  3. Well said Citizen. A Higher Authority calls to us and all that we see, this unravelling, is just more proof that our time is short and soon the trumpet will sound. We must be about the Father’s business.

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