Since its 1947 decision in Everson v. Board of Education (with an opinion written by Justice Hugo Black), the Supreme Court has further considered and limited the active role that religion or religiou

Since its 1947 decision in Everson v. Board of Education (with an opinion written by Justice Hugo Black), the Supreme Court has further considered and limited the active role that religion or religiou

Compose an essay of at least 2000 words but no more than 3000 words (not including your references list) in which you discuss in depth the following topic, making sure to offer your critical thinking opinions (opinions plus reasons and evidence) of relevant ideas from the Weeks 1-4 readings wherever possible:

Faith and the American Founding:
Illustrating Religion’s Influence
Michael Novak
H
ow  long  are  we  going  to  keep  this  experiment,
this America? We are “testing whether this nation
can  long  endure,”  Lincoln  said  at  Gettysburg.  We’re
still testing. Is America a meteor that blazed across the
heavens and is now exhausted? Or rather is our pres

ent moral fog a transient time of trial, those hours cold
and dark before the ramparts’ new gleaming? Are we
near our end or at a beginning?
In  answer  to  these  questions,  I  want  to  tell  six
brief stories to illustrate the religious principles of the
American founding. For a hundred years scholars have
stressed  the  principles  that  come  from  the  Enlighten

ment and from John Locke in particular. But there are
also first principles that come to us from Judaism and
Christianity,  especially  from  Judaism.  Indeed,  it  is
important to recognize that most of what our Founders
talked about (when they talked politically) came from
the  Jewish  Testament,  not  the  Christian.  The  Protes

tant  Christians  who  led  the  way  in  establishing  the
principles of this country were uncommonly attached
to the Jewish Testament.
Scholars  often  mistakenly  refer  to  the  god  of  the
Founders as a deist god. But the Founders talked about
God  in  terms  that  are  radically  Jewish:  Creator,  Law

giver,  Governor,  Judge,  and  Providence.  These  were
the  names  they  most  commonly  used  for  Him,  nota

bly in the Declaration of Independence. For the most
part, these are not names that could have come from
the  Greeks  or  Romans,  but  only  from  the  Jewish  Tes

tament.  Perhaps  the  Founders  avoided  Christian  lan

guage because they didn’t want to divide one another,
since different colonies were founded under different
Christian inspirations. In any case, all found common
language in the language of the Jewish Testament. It is
important for citizens today whose main inspiration is
the Enlightenment and Reason to grasp the religious
elements in the founding, which have been understat

ed for a hundred years.
For  these  principles  are  important  to  many  fellow
citizens,  and  they  are  probably  indispensable  to  the
moral health of the Republic, as Washington taught us
in  his  Farewell  Address:
“Of  all  the  dispositions  and
habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and
morality are indispensable supports.”
Reason  and  faith  are  the  two  wings  by  which  the
American eagle took flight.
If I stress the second wing, the Jewish especially, it
is because scholars have paid too much attention to Jef

ferson in these matters and ignored the other one hun

dred  top  Founders.  For  instance,  we’ve  ignored  John
Witherspoon,  the  president  of  Princeton,  “the  most
influential  professor  in  the  history  of  America,”  who
taught one President (Madison stayed an extra year at
Princeton  to  study  with  him),  a  Vice  President,  three
Supreme Court justices including the chief justice, 12
members  of  the  Continental  Congress,  five  delegates
No. 7

No. 7
to  the  Constitutional  Convention,  14  members  of  the
State Conventions (that ratified the Constitution). Dur

ing the revolution, many of his pupils were in positions
of command in the American forces. We’ve ignored Dr.
Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania, John Wilson of Penn

sylvania, and a host of others.
I  want  to  quote  from  some  of  the  Founders  to
give  you  a  taste  of  the  religious  energy  behind  the
founding.
Je
FF
e
R
son’s
sA
nct
I
on
Here is my first little story, an anecdote recorded by
a minister of the time:
President  Jefferson  was  on  his  way  to  church  on
a Sunday morning with his large red prayer book
under his arm when a friend querying him after
their  mutual  good  morning  said  which  way  are
you walking Mr. Jefferson. To which he replied to
Church Sir. You going to church Mr. J. You do not
believe a word in it. Sir said Mr. J. No nation has
ever yet existed or been governed without religion.
Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best reli

gion that has ever been given to man and I as chief
Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the
sanction of my example.
Good morning Sir.
Note  what  Jefferson  is  saying.  He  didn’t  say  he
believed  in  the  Christian  God;  he  evaded  that  point.
But Jefferson did agree with what all his colleagues in
the founding thought, that a people cannot maintain
liberty without religion. Here is John Adams in 1776:
I sometimes tremble to think that although we
are engaged in the best cause that ever employed
the human heart, yet the prospect of success is
doubtful,  not  for  want  of  power  or  of  wisdom
but of virtue.
The  founding  generation  had  no  munitions  fac

tory  this  side  of  the  ocean,  and  yet  they  were  facing
the  most  powerful  army  and  the  largest  navy  in  the
world. Besides, their unity was fragile. The people of
Virginia did not like the people of Massachusetts. The
people  of  Massachusetts  did  not  think  highly  of  the
people of Georgia. Reflecting on this point, President
Witherspoon,  who  had  just  arrived  from  Scotland  in
1768 and was not at first in favor of it, gave a famous
sermon  in  April  1776  supporting  independence  two
months before July 4. His text was read in all 500 Pres

byterian  churches  in  the  colonies  and  widely  repro

duced.  Witherspoon  argued  that  although  hostilities
had been going on for two years, the king still did not
understand that he could easily have divided the colo

nies and ended the hostilities. That the king didn’t do
so showed that he was not close enough to know how
to govern the Americans.
If they were to stick together with people they didn’t
particularly like, the Americans needed virtues of tol

erance,  civic  spirit,  and  a  love  of  the  common  good.
Further,  because  the  new  nation  couldn’t  compete  in
armed  power,  the  colonists  depended  on  high  moral
qualities in their leaders and on devotion in the people.
In order to win, for instance, Washington had to avoid
frontal combat, and to rely on the moral endurance of
his countrymen year after year. To this end, Washing

ton issued an order that any soldier who used profane
language  would  be  drummed  out  of  the  army.  He
impressed upon his men that they were fighting for a
cause  that  demanded  a  special  moral  appeal,  and  he
wanted no citizen to be shocked by the language and
behavior of his troops. The men must show day-by-day
that they fought under a special moral covenant.
Now  think  of  our  predicament  today.  How  many
people in America today understand the four key words
that  once  formed  a  great  mosaic  over  the  American
Republic?
Truth
,  we  “hold  these  truths”;
Liberty,
“con

ceived in liberty”;
Law,
“liberty under law”; and
Judge,
“appealing  to  the  Supreme  Judge  of  the  world  for  the
rectitude of our intentions.” On the face of things, our
Founders were committing treason. In the eyes of the
world, they were seditious. They appealed to an objec

tive world, and beyond the eyes of an objective world,
they appealed to the Supreme Judge for the rectitude

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