Religion Essential

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I have come to believe that one can have a successful Christian society, Jewish society, Muslim society, Hindu society or Buddhist society, but not an agnostic or atheistic society that is successful.

George Washington, as he so often did, explained it quite well in his farewell address:

"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. … And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

Washington was not talking about contentious and doctrinaire people arguing about dogma. He always condemned that. He was referring to the basic underlying morality that all the great religions teach.

The basic thing that protects our persons, our property and our liberty is the morality that individuals possess in their own hearts. The law cannot be a substitute for that. No law can protect you from a dishonest merchant or a thug because the law is always, of necessity, applied after the fact, and then only on a selective basis. Furthermore, as we have seen, the law and the system of justice often degenerate into a tragic farce.

It’s interesting to note that the current debate on a constitution for the European Union involves several states that wish the new document to acknowledge Europe’s Christian heritage. It indeed has one. Europe was once known as Christendom.

Our own country has a Christian heritage. Despite the fact that there were non-Christian minorities, during the Colonial and early republic days the overwhelming majority of Americans were of the Christian faith. What began happily as tolerance for non-Christians has now degenerated into demands by some non-Christians that all traces of Christianity be driven from the public square.

Again, Washington said, "With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits and political principles." It was that sameness of religion, manners, habits and political principles that united our ancestors. Substituting "diversity" will disunite us. There is no virtue in diversity per se. Experience teaches that the most stable societies are the most homogeneous.

Experience also teaches us that a society without an underlying private morality will degenerate into a corrupt jungle. I surprised some people once by saying that I would rather live in a neighborhood of Islamic fundamentalists than in a neighborhood of atheists and agnostics. That’s true. You can count on the morality that Islam teaches; there is no morality for atheists and agnostics, except what they arbitrarily choose.

Some years ago, I inadvertently put this to the test by becoming lost late at night in the slums of Cairo, Egypt. Despite being dressed in an American business suit and far from any law enforcement, I was never accosted or threatened by anyone. I dare say there are American slums where no sensible person would wish to go late at night.

The bottom line is that if we become an immoral people, we will eventually lose both our prosperity and our liberty. A free society cannot exist without trust, and it is morality that cements that trust. We are drifting toward the abyss, and we had all better think seriously about why this is happening.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years, reporting on everything from sports to politics. From 1969—71, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He was an editor, assistant to the publisher, and columnist for the Orlando Sentinel from 1971 to 2001. He now writes a syndicated column which is carried on Reese served two years active duty in the U.S. Army as a tank gunner. Write to Charley Reese at P.O. Box 2446, Orlando, FL 32802.

© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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