. . .
George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin. All of these men were deists, yet they subscribed to core values which opposed much of the rest of the world. They envisioned a new human experiment that would be self-sustaining and politically reforming.
The French believed in “liberté, égalité, fraternité” (liberty, equality, and brotherhood). The Romans believed in “absolutum dominium” (absolute dominion). Yet it wasn’t the equality of France or sovereignty of Rome that made those nations lead or last. America’s founders believed in something as old as history itself but never before tried. This experiment was so novel that some of the ramifications was too much for many of its backers. (The founders even fought against their own people, as abolitionists, when it came to treatment and freedom of slaves.)1
Os Guinness calls these core values the “Golden Triangle”–Faith, Freedom, Virtue.2 Dennis Prager calls them the “American Trinity”–In God we Trust, Liberty, E. Pluribus Unum.3 Though never mentioned explicitly, these were the ethical foundations of a leading society driving through the minds of the founders.
But where did these values come from?
-Was it the oneness of Hinduism?
-Was it the God of Islam?
-Was is the liberty of Atheism?
-Was it the justice of Buddhism?
It was the truth which shined through the worldview of Judeo-Christianity. Although many framers of the Constitution were deist in their beliefs about God, they surmised that the greatest foundations for a nation came from the ethics of Christ. They realized that the only way to continually sustain a nation is to have unity, faith, liberty, and justice.
Jürgen Habermas said it well:
Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct heir of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern chatter.4
It is certain that the founders had great admiration for Jesus and they understood the truth of His ethics. Where they slipped is in the proper defining of of those ethics. Yes we need unity, but what are we to be united under? Yes we need freedom, but what are we to be freed from? Yes we need justice, but what who determines what is right and wrong? Those definitions could only come from God, yet the self-righteousness of the founders impeded them saying who God was.
Benjamin Franklin called God the “Superintending providence”; George Washington could only squeeze out the word “Providence”; and Thomas Jefferson cut-and-pasted his own version of the gospel of Jesus. It was this sort of personal preferences that deluded a true representation of a government from God. And it’s this belief in subjective truth that plagues the development of our policies today.
1 Barton, David. “The Founding Fathers and Slavery.” WallBuilders. N.p., July 2011. Web. 18 Apr. 2013. <http://www.wallbuilders.com/libissuesarticles.asp?id=122 >.
2 Guinness, Os. “The Golden Triangle of Freedom.” Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. RZIM, 21 Aug. 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2013. <http://www.rzim.org/just-thinking/the-golden-triangle-of-freedom/ >.
3 Prager, Dennis. “The American Trinity – Political Science.” Prager University, 12 Feb. 2009. Web. 18 Apr. 2013. <http://www.prageruniversity.com/Political-Science/The-American-Trinity.html >.
4 Habermas, Jürgen. “A Conversation About God and the World.” Time of Transitions. Polity Press, 2006. 150f. Print.