It has long been my contention that the discipline of most religions, particularly Christianity, is a good thing for society. Living life as defined by the rules of Christianity, whether or not one believes in Christ or in God, will produce a more stable, a more moral and a more ethical society than if individuals in a society follow their own rules, which may be based upon personal convenience and personal desires, and which will likely be different, one person to the next.
I have also contended that the Founding Fathers were largely religious men who understood the value of a religious society, that their references to God and a Supreme Being were expressions of their religious beliefs, and those beliefs were inherently tied into the concepts they incorporated into the design of our country, but were not inconsistent with establishing a nation based upon religious freedom that disallowed the establishment of a state religion. In other words, they believed religion was an important element in a successful society, and that a religious society could easily co-exist with a government that maintained a non-religious stance.
The following passage from Chapter V of Gertrude Himmelfarb’s wonderful book, One Nation, Two Cultures, documents that truth:
Like civil society, the polity and the law are necessary but not sufficient remedies for the disorders of society. Even as the Founding Fathers devised their “new science of politics” based upon the principle of divided powers and interests, they understood that that “science” alone cannot sustain a proper republican government. Republican government means self-government—self-discipline, self-restraint, self-control, [and] self-reliance—“republican virtue,” in short. In the absence of such virtue the best political arrangements are of no avail. “I go on this great republican principle,” James Madison said, “that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom … To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.”
What the Founding Fathers also understood was that in a republic such virtue is intimately related to religion. However skeptical or deistic they may have been in their own beliefs, however determined they were to avoid anything like an established church, they had no doubt that religion is an essential part of the social order because it is a vital part of the moral order. “If men are so wicked as we now see them with religion,” Benjamin Franklin said, “what would they be if without it?” John Adams put it more tactfully: “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” And George Washington, in his Farewell Address, cautioned his countrymen not to “indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion”: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.” And then, as if to warn them that enlightenment was no substitute for religion, he added: “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.”
Even Thomas Jefferson, who was suspected of being a non-believer, believed in Christianity as the national faith. A recently discovered handwritten history of a Washington parish recounts his exchange with a friend who happened to meet him on his way to church one Sunday morning carrying his large red prayer book.
“You going to church Mr. J. You do not believe a word in it.”
“Sir,” said Jefferson, “no nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I as chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give the sanction of my example. Good morning Sir.”