Tuesday, July 9, 2024

Offsite Post: ‘The First Amendment Has Got to Go!’


In an essay at the Chronicles magazine web site - ‘Will Africa Save America?’ - Mr. Daniel McCarthy makes some rather extravagant claims about Europe and the United States:

Early Christians believed that the Roman empire, for all its sins, served a providential role by creating the worldly conditions for the spread of Christianity, even among the peoples who ultimately conquered the Roman west.


Europe and the United States have likewise fostered an environment in which Christianity flourishes, on a global scale. Will a post-Christian Europe and America sustain that environment—or if Christianity succumbs to culture wars here, will Christianity everywhere be in mortal danger?


Conservatives are right to take heart from the religion’s growth in Africa.  Yet if the civilization that Christianity created in Europe and America cannot survive here, the prospects for Christian civilization anywhere are bleak.


The West is not the faith—but it is the moral battleground on which the future of the faith on several continents depends.

There is a disturbing lack of knowledge about the post-independence goals of the US project present in those lines.  Yet this is far from an outlier in the US:  A large portion of Evangelical Protestants and others of the MAGA variety ardently believe, for instance, that the federal constitution drafted in 1787 is quite literally divinely inspired, making it akin to the Holy Scriptures themselves.  Some corrective notes are therefore in order.

A Roman Catholic writer, Christopher Ferrara, has written a profound rebuke of the notion of a deeply ‘Christian America’ with his book Liberty: The God That Failed.  There are some significant passages that lay bare the un-Christian foundations of the US:

As Locke foresaw, the unchallenged monism of state power that is at the essence of Liberty would be insured by a multiplicity of Christian sects.  . . . in the Essay Concerning Toleration, Locke advised that when any sect is “grown, or growing so numerous as to appear dangerous to the magistrate” the magistrate “may and ought to use all ways, either policy or power, that shall be convenient, to lessen, break and suppress the party, and so prevent the mischief”—the “mischief” being the mere existence of a dominant religious faction capable of posing a challenge to the State.  Both Jefferson and Madison, following Locke, expressly recognized the division of Christianity into sects as a primary safeguard of Liberty.  In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson observes that the “several sects perform the office of a Censor morum over each other,” preventing any one sect from installing the “Procrustean bed” of “uniformity” via government.  Likewise, in Federalist No. 51, written to persuade the holdout states to ratify the Constitution, Madison declares, with the supreme religious indifference of the Deist he was, that:


In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights.  It consists in the one case in the multiplicity of interests, and in the other in the multiplicity of sects.  The degree of security in both cases will depend on the number of interests and sects, and this may be presumed to depend on the extent of the country and number of people comprehended under the same government. . . . In the extended republic of the United States, and among the great variety of interests, parties, and sects which it embraces, a coalition of a majority of the whole society could seldom take place on any other principles than those of justice and the general good. . . .


Like Locke, Madison viewed the very multiplicity of sects as necessary to secure “justice and the general good,” by which he means what Locke means:  “to preserve men in this world from the fraud and violence of one another” and “promoting the general welfare, which consists in riches and power” as determined by “the number and industry of your subjects.”  Christianity divided poses no threat to the power of the State as the guarantor of a “social peace” limited to the absence of aggression against property rights, including the right to own slaves (as Madison, Jefferson and Washington did), or, as contemporary libertarians contend, the right to abortion as incident to Lockean “self-ownership” [to which we many now sadly add things like transgender mutilation—W.G.]. . . . Lockean polities require for their equilibrium and survival a divide and conquer strategy toward Christianity as their only serious rival.  This is why, to recall Peter Gay’s startling observation, “political absolutism and religious toleration [are] the improbable twins of the modern state system” (Tacoma, Wash., Angelico Press, 2012, pgs. 542-3).

Post-1776 arrangements within the US, contra McCarthy and others, were not designed to create a Christian republic but a safe haven for a vague ‘pursuit of happiness,’ however one wishes to define that, as the Declaration of Independence famously put it.  To do that, as Mr. Ferrara says, one must neutralize Christianity.  And that is precisely what the clauses in the federal and State constitutions like the First Amendment do (by forbidding the establishment of any religion/denomination and guaranteeing the free exercise of religion to any and all).

But Mr. Ferrara is far from done.  Here is another important passage:

This business of freeing the world from its monkish ignorance and superstition [a phrase of Jefferson’s describing the effect of the ‘American experiment’ on the peoples of the wider world—W.G.] was the culminating practical project of the Enlightenment, designed precisely to preclude the intrusion of divine claims into politics—above all the claims of Christ on men and nations so handily excised from the “Jefferson Bible.”  John Adams explained in perfect Enlightenment style why the Framers had rejected any divine intrusion into their work:  “It was the general opinion of ancient nations that the Divinity alone was adequate to the important office of giving laws to men,” he wrote, but the new state and federal governments of America “have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature”—principles that had somehow eluded man’s understanding until 1787.  Further, Adams declared, it must not be pretended that those involved in devising these new governments “had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise and agriculture. . . .”  Rather, Adams predicted:  “[I]t will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.”  Nor would Locke have had it any other way (Ibid., p. 550).

There is an interesting confirmation of Mr. Adams’s view in an article at the Tenth Amendment Center, detailing the influence of the rational, mechanical thinking of Isaac Newton upon the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the federal constitution:

 . . .

The rest is at https://orthodoxreflections.com/the-first-amendment-has-got-to-go/.


Holy Ælfred the Great, King of England, South Patron, pray for us sinners at the Souð, unworthy though we are!

Anathema to the Union!

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