Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Memo to Mitt on the atheist question

Leave behind the Adamses for a moment and quote the obviously heterodox Jefferson to this effect: "[C]an the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?" I know that there’s also this: "[I]t does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god." But Jefferson recognized that relatively silent, inactive atheism isn’t harmful in small doses.

Romney could also quote the questionably orthodox Washington’s 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 labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? 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.

Yes, there are "minds of peculiar structure," but, for the rest of us, there’s religion as the essential prop to liberty.

Finally, he might call attention to the practice of Benjamin Franklin, also a man of dubious orthodoxy, who seems to have contributed to all the churches in Philadelphia.

So Romney could have it on pretty good authority that liberty requires religion, and even the atheistic friends of liberty should concede that.

Update: Romney could also take RJN’s advice, which, in this instance, is more religious than political:

Mr. Brooks is right to complain that “there was not even a perfunctory sentence showing respect for the nonreligious.” There should have been more than a sentence explaining why such respect is mandated precisely by the Judeo-Christian tradition Romney so strongly affirms.
Yes, th liberty religion demands for itself, it cannot refuse to others. No one’s conscience should be coerced. But politically the atheists who contribute to our liberty are those who either respect religion or hide their disdain for it.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Joe - Many thanks for these posts.

JK wrote: "So Romney could have it on pretty good authority that liberty requires religion, and even the atheistic friends of liberty should concede that."

They [atheists] might concede that Jefferson and Washington wrote and spoke those things. But I doubt very much they would concede the underlying premise that God exists. And since they won't concede that, they won't allow that liberty and morality come from God.

C. S. Lewis wrote in the opening chapter of "Mere Christianity" that any argument conducted by us ultimately is an appeal to a higher authority. Eventually that authority must jump the bounds of our existence. Absent that, there is no way to resolve conflict between competing flavors of morality. Except, of course, with force.

Atheists will reject that argument. They will say that Darwinian natural selection has formed in us certain concepts of fundamental morality. When asked to reconcile the concepts of "survival of the fittest" (a selfish instinct) with the obvious existence of altruism in humans, they point to the concept of "tribe level" survival -- the sacrifice of one member of a tribe for the good of the whole.

I'm not persuaded by those arguments, but that's not the point. The point is they rest on those kinds of counter arguments.

Atheists insist there is no need for a God to have things like morality, liberty, justice, goodness, charity and kindness.

I'm quite certain Christopher Hitchens would resist conceding "liberty requires religion."

The evolutionists could certainly argue that since the Enlightenment, humankind has become more educated, achieved greater progress in knowledge and technology, and evolved over several centuries. As a result, we have conquered evil, murder, wars, and genocides. There is definitely an evolutionary growth in the basic goodness of humans.

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