jasonbwatson

November 1, 2016

The Prophetic George Washington (Part 2)

After addressing the dangers of political parties and factions George Washington makes a clear and unmistakable shift in focus, beginning with this statement: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

I think anyone would be hard pressed today to find any evidence to refute this statement. Political prosperity is not something that the United States is enjoying today by almost any means of measurement–and the “indispensable supports” of religion and morality have been increasingly seen as dispensable over the past fifty or sixty years. Notice, by the way, that Washington did not say that religion and morality were helpful or beneficial or even advantageous; rather, he said they are indispensable. Much like fuel for an automobile, in other words; without it, the car is not going anywhere. Similarly, in Washington’s mind, there cannot be political prosperity without morality and religion.

Washington went on, though, in order to ensure that there was no misunderstanding the point he was making. First, he said it was contradictory to claim to be patriotic while also opposing or undermining morality and religion. Second, he said that without religion and morality property, life and reputation were all tenuous at best. Third, he said,

And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of the 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.

Morality is all about right verses wrong–specifically the principles of right conduct. Washington knew, without a doubt, that if religion is removed, or even significantly diminished, that morality would crumble. That is because without religion–specifically, a belief that there is a God and that He created earth and humans and is sovereign–there is no basis for right and wrong. When God is removed from the equation it all boils down to survival of the fittest, might makes right, he who has the most toys wins, or fill in the blank with any other self-centered, power-based worldview.

It matters not at all, Washington said, if there is a wonderful educational system. That is because if the supports of religion are removed, what is being taught is all without foundation. It is tenuous, it is temporary, it will shift with the whims of the people or the preferences of those in power. “Who that is a sincere friend to it [a free government] can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?” Washington asked. And, that by way, was a rhetorical question, assuming the answer of “no one.” That is because, in Washington’s mind–and based on his experience–the two were mutually exclusive.

So, when we find ourselves looking at the mess our country is in, wondering how the best two candidates “we the people” could come up with for the highest office in the land–if not the world–are a serial liar and serial adulterer, someone with no regard for the law and another with no regard for common decency–we need look no further than Washington’s Farewell Address. We have systematically removed religion from the public sphere and even done our best to minimize it in the private sphere–or at least to keep in private–and the result has been a collapse or morality, an embrace of that which has served only to “shake the foundation of the fabric” of our country. We have bid adieu to religious principle; we cannot now be surprised that national morality has followed it out the door.

December 19, 2012

“We can’t tolerate this anymore”

If you were watching Sunday night football this past Sunday you were taken from the game to President Obama speaking at a prayer vigil for the victims of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That is the only way I happened to see it. I am sure, though, that other channels too showed the speech, and the full text of the address is available on washingtonpost.com (as well as many other sites I am sure). If you pay much attention to politics in America than you were probably as surprised as my wife and I were to hear how frequently and apparently-sincerely the President quoted Scripture and referred to God and even Jesus. Indeed right off the bat, immediately after the obligatory nod to the governor, the families, the first responders and guests, Mr. Obama quoted 2 Corinthians 4:17-18. In their entirety. He did not provide the reference, but he did say, “Scripture tells us” before reciting them.

Shortly thereafter Mr. Obama said, “Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation.” After outlining the brave actions of teachers and students alike, naming the teachers who lost their lives and even sharing what the simultaneously touching and funny account of one student offering to lead the way out because he knows karate, and commending the town for their the President said, “This is how Newtown will be remembered, and with time and God’s grace, that love will see you through.”

Mr. Obama was wise to draw from Scripture during such a time of intense grief and inexplicable tragedy. After all, when confronted with the reality of man’s inhumanity to man, where else is there to go for comfort? Relativism offers nothing even remotely comforting. Saying, “that’s just part of life” is not a good way to win friends and influence people. The truth is that when tragedies like the one in Newtown take place humans everywhere shift their attention to God. Some look to Him in anger, some with genuine perplexity, and many with sorrow that is seeking consolation. There is a part of every human that knows that God is there, and that only is He is big enough to wrap His arms around these situations and provide, if not easy-to-understand answers, at least a refuge and a safe place.

Unfortunately Mr. Obama strayed some as his comments continued. He said, “We know that, no matter how good our intentions, we’ll all stumble sometimes in some way.” I agree; absolutely. Immediately thereafter, though, he said, “We’ll make mistakes, we’ll experience hardships and even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.” I agree as well that there are many times when it is difficult to discern God’s plans, individually and corporately. It is difficult even for those who diligently seek Him. But in the middle of this conversation Mr. Obama used these as examples of what we humans strive for: “wealth or power or fame or just simple comfort.” Sadly, he is not off the mark. Is it any wonder, though, that we have trouble discerning God’s plan when we spend our time focused on making more money, accumulating more toys and/or building a following for ourselves?

It is then that Mr. Obama misses the target completely, though. After citing Scripture and making reference to God’s plans, the President said, “There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other.” At least he did not go so far as to say that there is nothing that we can be sure of. But if the love of a parent for a child is the only thing that we can be sure of, we are in trouble. What hope can we have in that? After all, I doubt a day goes by that we cannot find a story of a parent committing horrible offenses against a child. I do not doubt for one moment that the parents of the children who died in Newtown loved their children and will miss them terribly. I cannot imagine the pain they are experiencing. I cannot, though, find comfort in the statement that the only thing we can be sure of is a parent’s love.

Taken as a whole, I thought that the President’s comments were heartfelt and appropriate. For most of the speech he spoke as a father far more than he did as a politician. And I do not want to use Newtown as an instrument for any agenda. But the President’s remarks serve only to reinforce the fact that Mike Huckabee was right; we cannot expect to teach morality and accountability and responsibility without God any more than we can hope to comfort those who grieve without God. Why is the latter okay but the former is a violation of religious freedom?

Mr. Obama wants to put an end to these tragedies. “We can’t tolerate this anymore,” he said. “These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.”

He is right. It will not happen though until we realize, collectively, that we will have to continually comfort grieving hearts if we never try to reach the hearts of those who would commit horrific acts…and attempts to do that without God will continue to be futile. Bringing God and His morality back into the discussion…that is the change we need.

December 15, 2012

“This is a heart issue”

Yesterday’s shooting in an elementary school in Colorado is a tragedy, and there is absolutely no other word for it. I have addressed here before the question of why God would allow such things to happen (see my September 27 post, “Why Does God Allow Tragedy and Suffering?”) but that question is on many lips and in many minds again now. I do not, at the moment, have anything new to add to the answers I provided on that question three months ago. I do, however, want to chime in on the answers given in response to that very question by Mike Huckabee on FOX News on Friday evening. His comments have already generated a fire storm of online commentary, mostly against. But I think what Mr. Huckabee said has considerable merit.

First, what exactly did he say? When asked about the shooting, and why God would allow such a thing, Huckabee said, “When we ask why there is violence in our schools, but we’ve systematically removed God from our schools, should we be so surprised that schools have become a place for carnage because we’ve made it a place where we don’t want to talk about eternity, life, responsibility, accountability?”

Elliot Friar, on Policymic.com, took Huckabee to task for these comments (he did the same in response to comments Huckabee made after the shooting in the Colorado theater last summer). Friar writes, “What makes you so sure that your God is the answer to all evils? Over and over you say that people kill people, guns don’t. Well, we supply the people that kill people with guns that do, in fact, kill people. Between 2006 and 2010, a staggering 47,856 people were killed by firearms in the U.S. More than any other way of killing. Guns do kill, and they kill a lot. … How dare you blame their deaths on the absence of religion in our schools and in their lives. Even God himself, any God, could not prevent the easy purchase of multiple assault rifles to murder elementary school students.”

Well Mr. Friar, first of all, God Himself could prevent the easy purchase of guns if He wanted to. That gets into the questions I addressed in September, so I won’t elaborate on that here. But you’re also missing Huckabee’s point. He is not denying that the bullets and the guns do the actual killing. He is denying that it is the guns themselves that are the problem. If somehow the United States eliminated all privately owned guns with the snap of a finger, the thoughts and desires that lead people to kills dozens of innocent people, whether adults or children, in a theater or a school, would not also disappear. There was another tragedy in a school yesterday too; a man in China stabbed 22 children. Should China ban knives, Mr. Friar?

Mr. Huckabee’s point is that when we make everything relative, when we refuse to teach children that there are such things as absolutes, when we make excuses for wrongs rather than holding wrongdoers accountable…that is how we “set the stage” for these kinds of tragedies. No one thinks about the possible consequences of taking ideas to their extremes. Instead, we think about lovely it would be to eliminate the rules and let everyone do whatever they want. After all, why should any one person, group of people, or even God, have the right to tell me or anyone else what I can and cannot do? That sounds dandy in theory. But in reality, when boundaries are eliminated and right and wrong cease to exist, chaos results. Anarchy is an incredibly frightening thing. If there are no rules, no absolutes, how can we say that the perpetrator in Connecticut was wrong? He was, of course, but I can only say that because I believe in right and wrong. Interestingly, everyone seems to believe in right and wrong moments after a tragedy. But then it’s too late…the damage has been done.

Prior to make the statements cited above, Mr. Huckabee said, “Ultimately, you can take away every gun in America and somebody will use a gun. When somebody has an intent to do incredible damage, they’re going to find a way to do it.
People will want to pass new laws…. This is a heart issue — laws don’t change this kind of thing.” At the conclusion of his remarks Huckabee said of God, “Maybe we oughta let him in on the front and we wouldn’t have to call him when it’s all said and done on the back end.”

That’s the irony, I’m afraid. As Huckabee suggested, America has been engaged in a systematic effort to remove God from the public square for decades; all efforts at insisting on and teaching morality are met with cries of Puritanism or extreme right wing religious zealotry. Why, then, when our culture wants nothing to do with God, seldom even bothering to acknowledge His existence, is the first instinct to look at Him and ask why He would let this happen? God is a God of love…but we cannot ignore Him all the time and then blame Him when things don’t work out. The law of the harvest still exists…we will reap what we sow.

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