On page 563 of his latest biography — John Quincy Adams: American Visionary — author Fred Kaplan (biographer of Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, and Gore Vidal among others) cites this insight of the sixth president:
Christianity had, all in all, he believed, been a civilizing force, “checking and controlling the anti-social passions of man.”
That insight is pretty much all an American needs to know in order to understand why the American Founders considered religion — specifically ethical monotheism rooted in the Hebrew Bible — indispensable to the American experiment; and why the America we have known since 1776 is in jeopardy.
It is easy to respect secular Americans who hold fast to the Constitution and to American values generally. And any one of us who believes in God can understand why some people, given all the unjust suffering in the world, just cannot believe that there is a Providential Being.
But one cannot respect the view that America can survive without the religious beliefs and values that shaped it. The argument that there are moral secularists and moral atheists is a non sequitur. Of course there are moral Americans devoid of religion. So what? There were moral people who believed in Jove. But an America governed by Roman religion would not be the America that has been the beacon of freedom and the greatest force for good in the world.
In order to understand why, one only need understand John Quincy Adams’s insight: How will we go about “checking and controlling the anti-social passions of man” without traditional American religious beliefs?
There are two possible responses:
One is that most Americans (or people generally, but we are talking about America here) do not have anti-social passions.
The other is that most Americans (again, like all other human beings) do have anti-social passions, but the vast majority of us can do a fine job checking and controlling them without religion as it has been practiced throughout American history.
These are views with which virtually every American who attends secular high school or university is explicitly and implicitly indoctrinated.
Both are wrong. And not just wrong, but foolish — and lethal to the American experiment.
Dennis Prager is a SRN radio show host, contributing columnist for Townhall.com and author of his newest book, “The Ten Commandments: Still the Best Moral Code.”
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