Apologetics Recommended Reading: America’s Moral Vision and the Administrative State || November 05, 2014 at 07:00AM

Posted: November 5, 2014 in Uncategorized
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America's Moral Vision

In contemporary American society, the administrative state is overwhelming classical liberalism. Freedom will not survive unless the moral vision of the American founders is recovered. This point was well made by Matthew Spalding, President of Hillsdale College in Washington, DC, and author of We Still Hold These Truths: Rediscovering Our Principles, Reclaiming Our Future, at a Faith and Law presentation on October 31.

Spalding believes it is vital in response to the legal advance of social liberalism that social conservatives do not “hunker down,” and seek what security can be found in a claim of religious freedom. The key element in the American founding, indeed the driving force in seeking independence from Great Britain, was the appeal to moral truth, not the desire for a nation of wealth and power, Spalding maintained. In seeking independence from Great Britain, the American founders “went behind” their rights as Englishmen and appealed to rights based on nature. These were “rights written on the human heart by the law of God.” George Washington said he took to the field in the American Revolution in the interest of “civil and religious liberty.”

Freedom in the new republic was secured by making the doctrine of particular churches separate from any law of the state; nevertheless, America’s liberal founders did not want to separate religion in general from the state. There was a “profound moderation” in this, according to Spalding. The state cannot profess to know the highest truths (as churches do profess to know in their doctrine), rather the attempt to know this truth is left to the individual. This “lowered the ends of politics, but not the ends of man.” The government guarantees only the pursuit of happiness, not happiness itself, and even happiness is understood in its classical sense, of realizing one’s full capacity in a preordained nature, not the contemporary sense of satisfying one’s desires. For this purpose “pursuing and practicing religious liberty should be given space … this is the consensus argument of the American Founding.” It was also key in the Civil War. Spalding pointed out that Abraham Lincoln supported compromises over slavery until 1854, when the “popular sovereignty” idea threatened to remove the issue from national debate. Then no more progress could be made against slavery, and Lincoln had to take a “principled stand” against slavery to preserve society’s moral grounding.

“Progressivism,” which was introduced to America in the early twentieth century directly attacked this moral base. Progressives preferred to turn to science instead of religion and morality. This viewpoint was well expressed by Supreme Court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who claimed that there is “no moral truth.” The conflict between the classical liberal orientation of the American founding, based on a transcendent morality, and the ever evolving ideology of progressivism, aimed at enabling individuals to “pursue and enjoy one’s passions” occupied most of the twentieth century and continues in the twenty-first century. The founders would refer to the progressive idea of happiness as “licentiousness,” Spalding observed. It is a battle between a transcendent basis for law (the founding), and a nontranscendent basis (progressivism), between allegiance to permanent and contingent things. Currently it is focused on sexual morality and the marriage issue. Here Spalding recommended “do not concede an inch.”

While the commanding heights of the culture are no longer occupied by people who believe in the nation’s Judeo-Christian basis, Christians should not be discouraged. First of all, our true freedom has already been “bought and paid for” by Jesus Christ. Secondly, in the battle for the America, the American soul is greatly on our side, Spalding believes. A problem in this struggle is that Judeo-Christian morality has now been proscribed by the Supreme Court as “animus” towards dissenters, and as Spalding conceded in a question and answer session, it is very difficult to change legal precedent (especially, it might be added, with decisions that are deemed to advance progressivism). Nevertheless, Spalding held it crucial to engage the public on questions of moral truth, and not hide behind a claim of religious freedom (which will be deemed to protect a harmful irrationalism). If Christians can prevail in the court of public opinion to the effect that traditional morality is rational, a way will ultimately be found to protect the freedom of Christians and orient society on a moral basis. This hope is the natural conclusion of Spalding’s argument.

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Thanks for visiting. Please check out my other Apologetics-related posts. Follow me on Twitter @xianreasons, and on Face book at Christian Reasons. Have a blessed day! simul iustus et peccator, Eric Adams

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