Truth Project 10: The American Experiment (Stepping Stones) – Summary

I’m going to warn you right now that this might be one of the longer entries in this series of reviews of Focus on the Family’s The Truth Project. What follows is my summary of the tour, and since the summary is so long, I will post my response separately.

Tour ten of The Truth Project begins with Del issuing a disclaimer (much like he did before tour five). He says that he has three rules: we are not here to deify America, we are not here to deify the founding fathers, and the third is that we will not cast stones at the unbeliever.

He begins the session proper with a question: what should the state (“the King”) look like? Whoever he is, he must see himself in relation to God. Del says that we are looking at America not because he (Del) is an American, but because he thinks that those who founded it had a comprehensive biblical worldview. The founders were sinful people like anyone else, but “I’m convinced,” Del says, “they tried to lay down biblical principles in the founding of this country.”

Del then looks at education in America. He says that there is a great hatred for America within “liberal academia.” It is a country that people love to love and love to hate. He shows the difference in American education between the time that the states were colonies and now. The second best-selling book in the colonies (behind the Bible) was the New England Primer, which contained Bible lessons and catechisms. Now, Del quotes educational reformer John Dewey as saying that faith in God is outmoded and there is no natural law and no absolutes. Del also notes that at their foundings Harvard, Princeton and Columbia were all explicitly Christian, but now none of them are. He then quotes several “founders” (I’ll explain later why I put this in quotes) on education: Gouverneur Morris, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Rush and Noah Webster. They were all of the opinion that religion (specifically, Christianity) is of foremost importance for education of young people. He also cites Article 3 of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance to this effect.

Del then asks, “How do we reconcile these statements with the idea that America was founded as a secular country?” Del himself was taught this, and he tells the story of how he came to change his mind. He worked in Washington, D.C. in the early ’90s, and while he was there he got to know more about the murals that decorate the walls in the Capitol. One is of Christopher Columbus, the second is of the baptism of Pocahontas, and the third is of the Pilgrims on the ship Speedwell. All three of these are religious, Del says, and profoundly Christian. Del then quotes Revelation 2:5, which is Jesus speaking to the church of Ephesus:

Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

Del explains this quote by saying, “When Jesus removes his lampstand from a place, that church, that nation, becomes very dark.”

His transitional moment, he says, came on a Saturday morning when he attended an event where someone dressed as George Washington reenacted his farewell address from 1796:

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 labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens…

Del then quotes John Adams and Benjamin Rush to bolster the same point made by Washington: religion and morality are the foundations of freedom (Adams) and of republican government (Rush). He returns to Washington’s Farewell Address to make the point that morality can’t be maintained without religion. He cites Charles Carroll, Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry in quick succession to reinforce this claim. He also cites Rush again to show that it is not just religion in general, but Christianity:

Christianity is the only true and perfect religion; and that in proportion as mankind adopt its principles and obey its precepts they will be wise and happy.

Del then turns to Alexis de Tocqueville, author of Democracy in America, to argue that religion and politics, at the beginning, were closely tied to one another in America:

The Americans combine the notions and Christianity and liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to make them conceive one without the other.

Del interjects that this is no longer true; we are taught that religion and politics don’t mix. He then cites Benjamin Franklin, Noah Webster, John Adams and Daniel Webster to the effect that laws are inadequate to govern people who are not already governed internally. Here is Adams:

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

“The foundation of this country is not the Constitution,” Del says. “It is much deeper than that.” He doesn’t say exactly what it is, but one can reasonably assume that he means religion (specifically Christianity) and morality.

Del revisits Romans 13 (which he looked at in the previous tour, on the role of the state), saying that the role of the state is to punish evil and condone good. This means that the state must know the basis for calling something good or evil. What do the founding documents of the United States say about the basis of calling something good or evil? Del quotes the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights…

The rights of man do not come from the state, but from the Creator, Del says. He quotes the Declaration again:

… and to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitles them…

Del says that he has heard the term “Nature’s God” is a Deistic term. He claims that it is not, and quotes Sir Edward Coke (1552-1634):

The law of nature is that which God at the time of creation of the nature of man infused into his heart, for his preservation and direction… the moral law, called also the law of nature.

He also quotes William Blackstone, an English jurist who wrote an influential treatise on the common law called Commentaries on the Laws of England.

Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.

Del says that “laws of nature” is a legal term that comes from Coke and Blackstone. However, Del says, something has happened in the concept of law in America, as a result of the theory of evolution. Darwin’s Origin of Species was published in 1859. In 1869, Charles Eliot was appointed president of Harvard. In 1870, he appointed his friend Christopher Columbus Langdell as the head of Harvard Law School. Eliot and Langdell both believed that evolution was true. Langdell, Del says (supporting this with a quote), approached law the same way evolution is approached in biology. Law is, said John Chipman Gray, one of Langdell’s colleagues in changing the view of law in America

a living thing, with a continuous history, sloughing off the old, taking on the new.

This new legal philosophy was called legal positivism, which Del defines as “the claim that the state is the ultimate authority for creating, interpreting and enforcing law. All legal truth is based on the decision of the state.” Del quotes Oliver Wendell Holmes as a proponent of this view of the law.

Del then quotes Noah Webster to the effect that it is important for people in political office to “rule in the fear of God.” Del says that virtually all of the constitutions of the early states had religious tests for office – that is, they had to make a statement before taking office that they were Christians or at least believed in God. He cites the original Delaware state constitution as an example. He says they did this because people wanted to make sure that if they gave the power of the sword to the civil magistrate, they wanted to make sure that he bore that power under the authority of God.

Going back to the larger story, Del cites the “first Constitution of the United States,” the Constitution of the New England Federation from 1643. It says

Whereas we all came to these parts of America with the same end and aim, namely, to advance the kingdome of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to injoy the liberties of the Gospell thereof with purities and peace, and for the preserving and propagating the truth and liberties of the gospell…

Del thinks it is because of these roots that it is now in vogue to hate America. He has Fr. Robert Sirico, head of the Acton Institute, talk about how we got to this point. Sirico says that Judaism and Christianity invented Western civilization, and asks, How did we lose control? and How are we going to re-insinuate ourselves into it?

Del says that when he was young he was taught to believe, in contrast to Sirico, what Bishop Paul O’Brien says, that the United States was started by pagans and Deists. Del says that it was a Deist, though “not in the modern sense of the term” who stood up at the Constitutional Convention on June 28, 1787 and proposed that the delegates have someone (a clergyman) pray for them and their deliberations every morning. Del responds, “That’s one of your least religious founders. A pagan? I don’t think so!”

Del then quotes Alexander Solzhenitsyn as saying about Russia in the 20th century: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened,” and Del applies this to the United States. He also applies these three passages from the Bible to the United States:

When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me. – Hosea 13:6

Take care that you do not forget the Lord your God, by failing to keep his commandments, his ordinances, and his statutes, which I am commanding you today. When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, an arid wasteland with poisonousb snakes and scorpions. He made water flow for you from flint rock, and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good. Do not say to yourself, “My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, so that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your ancestors, as he is doing today. If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish. Like the nations that the Lord is destroying before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the Lord your God. – Deuteronomy 8:10-20

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. – 2 Chronicles 7:13-14

After quoting Hosea 13:6, Del says, “The warning is to us.” After quoting 2 Chronicles 7:13-14, he says, “It is you and I that must go before the Lord.”

Del ends with the metaphor of light and darkness. It is very interesting, so I will quote it in full:

Darkness doesn’t overtake light; light overtakes darkness. Why this rise of hatred for America? Why is this historic revisionism going on? If the enemy can destroy the Christian’s passion for America, then he has won the major battle for the soul of this nation. If you do not have a heart for her , if you don’t have a passion for her, you can learn all you want about Christian worldview… but you won’t do diddly doo for her. [Quotes Revelation 2:5] If Jesus removes the lampstand, we will become a dark nation like many who have fallen before us.”

The above is just my summary of tour 10. Since I thought it was very important to include many parts of Del’s argument, it is long. So I will stop there, and leave my response to this tour until the next post.

Update: My response is posted here. And just to warn you, I probably disagreed with Del on this tour more than any other tour of the Truth Project.

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5 thoughts on “Truth Project 10: The American Experiment (Stepping Stones) – Summary

  1. A0 June 5, 2009 / 7:45 pm

    Keep up the good work — your experience is a few weeks ahead of mine, so I’m really eating this up!

  2. David July 12, 2009 / 7:25 pm

    Was excellent and very inspiring. Loved it! That’s your “deists” for you!

  3. elliot July 12, 2009 / 9:42 pm

    David,

    I think you might have confused my summary of Del’s argument with my own thoughts. I have updated the above post with a link to my response.

Comments are closed.