by Steven Yates by Steven Yates

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On
October 20, Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy S. Moore spoke
to a small group at Willow Ridge Church in Lexington, S.C., and
later, delivered the keynote address before a packed house at the
Second Annual Banquet of the Columbia-based Frontline
Ministries
, Rev. E. Ray Moore Jr.'s project. Justice Moore's
topic was "America's Christian Heritage." Justice Moore
outlined again why his placing the Ten Commandments monument in
the Alabama State Judicial Building in Montgomery did not violate
the First Amendment, and why his refusal to remove it in the face
of a federal judge's order did not violate the rule of law.

Here
is the issue: can the state acknowledge God without violating the
supposed wall of separation between church and state? Can the State
of Alabama acknowledge God? Can South Carolina acknowledge God?
Can the United States of America acknowledge God?

Justice
Moore's answer: resoundingly, Yes, in all cases! Working
through the Foundation of Moral
Law Inc
., he has gone so far as proposing to place his monument
in the U.S. Capitol building.

To
review the case, on August 1, 2001, Chief Justice Moore had placed
the 5,200-pound monument bearing the Ten Commandments along with
inscriptions of a number of this country's founding documents in
the rotunda of the Alabama State Judicial Building. Before the end
of October, two separate lawsuits had been filed against Chief Justice
Moore by plaintiffs with the backing of three left-leaning organizations,
the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Americans United for
Separation of Church and State, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
They charged that the acknowledgement of the Christian God implicit
in public display of the Ten Commandments was "offensive"
and unconstitutional under the First Amendment. In August of this
year, U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson ordered the monument's
removal. Chief Justice Moore stood his ground even when his colleagues
instructed him to remove the monument. Finally, as August drew to
a close, the monument was physically moved from its public location
on the rotunda and placed in the equivalent of a closet. Justice
Moore and his attorneys have appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A decision from the Supremes on whether to hear the case is expected
in November.

What
makes this case both interesting and important, as I reported in
an earlier
article
, is how it illustrates the clash between the two worldviews
vying for dominance in Western civilization. I discussed these worldviews
under the names Christian theism and materialism (or
materialistic naturalism). One can use the term secular
humanism for the latter, although strictly speaking, secular
humanism is an ethical consequence of materialism. There are, of
course, quite a few different ways of cashing out such claims, as
the history of modern philosophy abundantly testifies. There are
also multiple variants on Christian theism, which is why we have
different denominations of Christian churches. But I am more concerned
with similarities than differences. All versions of Christian theism
place a single Supreme Being, God at the center of existence both
metaphysically and morally, and regard the universe (and humanity)
as created rather than self-existent or byproducts of natural (material)
processes. All modern versions of materialism – at least by
implication – deny the existence of a Supreme Being. According
to materialists, the universe is self-existent. Human beings originated
from a natural process with no thought or planning behind it; our
conception of ourselves as moral agents was part of this process.
Morality being a tool for survival, it calls for no theological
justification and has no transcendent significance.

It
seems clear enough from history that the U.S. was founded by Christian
theists in this broad sense, not materialists. The Framers did not
agree on every point of theology, of course, but at the time of
the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Christian theism was an
integral component of what was soon to become the cultural life
of a unique land. "We hold these truths to be self-evident,"
began the Declaration of Independence, "that all men are created
equal, and that they are endowed by their Creator with life, liberty
and the pursuit of happiness." When the Constitutional Convention
of 1787 opened, George Washington invited the convened to trust
that "the event is in the hands of God!" Washington's
Proclamation of 1789 that created the Thanksgiving Holiday, began,
"It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence
of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits,
and humbly to implore His protection and favor." In 1797, Washington
would say, "Religion and morality are the essential pillars
of society."

Samuel
Adams had said, in Rights of the Colonists (1772) that "the
natural rights of the Colonists are these: first, a right to life;
secondly, to liberty; thirdly, to property; together with the right
to support and defend them in the best manner they can…. The rights
of the Colonists as Christians may be best understood by reading
and carefully studying the institutes of the great Law Giver and
Head of the Christian Church, which are to be found clearly written
and promulgated in the New Testament." John Quincy Adams would
say later that "The highest glory of the American Revolution
was this: it connected, in one indissoluble bond, the principles
of civil government with the principles of Christianity." Perhaps
Adams' best-known statement came in 1798: "Our Constitution
was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate
for the government of any other." This sheds light on Benjamin
Franklin's remark about the importance of education – ominous
in light of the past hundred years of the gradual dumbing
down of America
: "A nation of well informed men who have
been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them
cannot be enslaved. It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny
begins."

The
"wall of separation between church and state" was thus
never intended as a complete separation between government and Christianity,
much less the complete removal of Christianity from public life.
Its intent was to forbid government from creating a state-sponsored
church along the lines of the Church of England. The idea of separating
church and civil government, Justice Moore points out, was not invented
by Thomas Jefferson in his famous letter. It is implicit in Scripture
itself, in passages such as Jesus Christ's admonition to "render
… unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's, and unto God the things
that are God's" (Matt. 22:21, KJ) The Ten Commandments themselves
acknowledge that church and government are different institutions.
The first four commandments involve our duties to our Creator (e.g.,
"thou shalt have no other gods before me"); the other
six involve our duties to each other (e.g., "thou shalt not
steal"). The first four are carried out in church; the latter
six become the foundation of civil society and the basis for the
rule of law.

Justice
Moore explained all this with two illustrations, one depicting the
Christian theist perspective of the separation; the other depicting
the materialist or secular humanist one. The first places God at
the center. Under God – separated from one another because they serve
different functions – are Church and civil government. Thus the separation
between church and state. The second places Man at the center. It
then conflates the Church with God in order to replace the former
with the latter in our consciousness, resulting in the sort of separation
between God and public life that the Framers wanted to avoid. In
other words, separating Church and state is not equivalent
to separating God and state. Reams of legal documentation now rest
on the refusal to recognize this distinction.

Therefore
either federal or state governments can acknowledge God without
violating the First Amendment or any additional edict to separate
Church and state (since this edict does not appear in the First
Amendment). Justice Moore was right. Those who forced the removal
of the monument from the rotunda of his courthouse were wrong. He
defended his actions: "I'm ordained, and sworn, to uphold the
Constitution of the United States…. The rule of law is not what
a judge says it is. When a judge takes the law into his own hands,
he becomes a tyrant."

We
thus have to ask, with Justice Moore, who has the real power in
our country? What is the supreme secular authority? Is it
the Constitution? There are cases on record – numerous and growing – of
judges forbidding any mention of the Constitution as they hear cases!
The Constitution is supposed to be the supreme law of the land.
Modern doctrines such as the "living Constitution" essentially
reduce the meaning of important statements in the Constitution such
as the First and Second Amendments to whatever the Supreme Court
says they mean or whatever federal judges say they mean. In effect
this makes the Supreme Court and federal judges supreme civil authorities,
not the Constitution. We might as well not have a Constitution at
all!

In
my earlier essay I proposed that societies adopting materialism
as a worldview, whether tacitly or explicitly, tend to become more
and more tyrannical. It is important to understand: I'm not saying
that materialism causes tyranny. There are tyrannies grounded
in theistic ideologies, too (e.g., Islam); there were tyrannies
long before the rise of distinctively modern forms of materialism,
obviously. Tyrannies arise when men attain unlimited power. One
of the manifestations of sin in the lives of these men is their
lust for power. What the gradual adoption of materialism in the
West has done is loosen the ties between morality and Christianity
that formed an important bulwark of limited government, placing
a firm check on those motivated by power. To paraphrase John Quincy
Adams from above, limited government is only possible when the vast
majority of people can be counted on to live morally sound, upright
lives – within their family units and otherwise. Such a citizenry
will not put up with unscrupulous politicians. Christianity provided
the moral basis and educational framework for a free society. To
make a very long story short, none of the secular moral theories
proposed by Western philosophers hold up under sustained scrutiny.
The historically most important based morality on structures of
human reason (Kant) or on the pursuit of the greatest amount of
happiness for the greatest number (Mill). But what the idea that
morality is exclusively a human or natural phenomenon does is something
the Framers were very aware of: it loosens the chains of those whose
primary interest is power.

In
another recent
piece, on the Iraq War
, I proposed that the primary problem
of political philosophy is not how to build the ideal society but
how does society control power? How, that is, do individuals who
want to be free bind those who want to take away their freedoms,
and still preserve justice? A subsidiary question for those for
whom moral philosophy is not an academic game: how does society
control vice? More specifically, how do individuals control vices
resulting from powerful sexual urges, dishonesty in both government
and the workplace, sloth, etc., under circumstances when "thou
shalt not get caught" becomes the only operant commandment?
Traditionally, the answer has been: a strong nuclear family – not
government. But today, the nuclear family is under a direct and
concerted attack, whether the source of that attack is easy divorce
or the homosexual lobby. The bottom line: freedom in civil society – liberty – is
not the freedom to do whatever we please. Freedom comes with specific
responsibilities. When individuals feel free to act in any way they
please, liberty will quickly diminish, replaced by either anarchy
or statism. My argument has been that materialism indirectly encourages
both tyranny and a culturally-destructive hedonism, whether intellectuals
promoting materialism want those consequences or not.

Whether
we call it materialism, secular humanism, or something else, this
latter kind of thinking permeates government schools from kindergarten
up through state-sponsored "research universities." It
permeates our mainstream media, the entertainment industry and our
legal system. This is why homeschooling has become the fastest growing
education movement in the country. This is why movies such as Mel
Gibson's new film The
Passion
, depicting the life of Jesus Christ reverently,
are raising eyebrows. A lot of entertainment industry moguls are
doing whatever they can to block that movie. This is why our legal
system, with one Supreme Court decision after another for the past
50 years, has more and more interpreted the phrase separation
of church and state to mean that acknowledgements of God must
be completely excluded from the government schools and the public
square.

Focus
on the Family's Dr. James Dobson, a long time supporter of Justice
Moore, recently observed: "The issue in Alabama is not simply
about a 5,300-pound monument depicting the Ten Commandments in an
Alabama courthouse. It is about the right of the people of that
state, and indeed, the people of this entire country, to acknowledge
God in the public square…. If we fail at this moment of destiny,
we will become a secularized nation like Canada or the continent
of Europe, whose laws are based on secular humanism, or worse, on
postmodernism, which holds that there is no truth, no basic right
or wrong, nothing good or bad, nothing evil or noble, nothing moral
or immoral. Law then will be a whimsical standard that shifts with
the sands of time….

I
am all too aware that not everyone reading this is a convinced Christian.
Many libertarians are not, having been influenced by various Enlightenment
doctrines about reason, the perfectibility of man, and such. However,
I am convinced – and not just because of my own Christian beliefs
but because of these in light of my own detailed studies of philosophy,
history and economics – that what Christian groups such as Frontline
Ministries, and individual Christians such as Justice Moore are
opposing is a fundamentally pernicious worldview, something that
will eventually doom Western civilization if it is not rolled back.
No one, Christian or otherwise, can seriously maintain that we as
individuals are as free in America as we were 50 years ago, or even
that men and women were as free 50 years ago as they were 100 years
ago. We have been on this slippery slope for a long time. Under
the influence of the materialistic and humanistic doctrines that
underlie both the welfare-warfare state and our increasingly hedonistic
culture, we are moving in the wrong direction at a rate that is
accelerating. Sooner or later – hopefully before it becomes too late! – we
all have to start drawing lines in the sand, just as Justice Moore
has done.

October 25, 2003

Steven
Yates [send him mail]
has a
Ph.D. in philosophy and is the author of Civil
Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action

(1994). He is currently at work on three books: In
Defense of Logic,
a philosophical treatise; Skywatcher's
World,
a science fiction novel, and This
Is Not the Country I Grew Up In,
a collection of past articles from LewRockwell.com and other
sources. He is an adjunct scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute,
and next January will be joining the adjunct faculty of Limestone
College. He lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

Steven
Yates Archives


        
        

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