Polemics & Exchanges

On Christianity and the State

Philip Jenkins' tactful and balanced review ("Unbaptized America, May 1996) of Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore's The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness gives credit to the authors' attention to detail but fails to take note of their tendentious tendency to mislead their readers about the "Christian foundations" of our American republic. They are right, of course, in pointing to the fact that the Constitution does not embody religious values and in asserting that the values reflected in the Declaration of Independence, while consistent with Christianity, do not say more than Deists or Freemasons would.

The idea that the Constitution was written at the high point of secularism and of the conceit that man had "come of age" and could dispense with religious tutelage makes sense. The authors think that if the Constitution had been drafted several decades later, it would have been more explicitly Christian; this is an interesting and probably valid suggestion.

What is overlooked, however, is the fact that the U.S. Constitution not only does not contain Christian values, but it does not contain values at all. As the late Harriet Pilpel pointed out in her pro-abortion arguments, the document does not contain a right to life. It basically establishes a methodology permitting the citizens to order society and the state according to the principles they cherish, but it docs not contain principles. But it is important to note that although the Constitution did not embody religious values, the American people did. As long as the consensus was largely Christian, the Constitution served as a methodology for the people to order society in a way consistent with Christianity. Once the consensus, or at least the policy- and opinion-making elite, is no longer Christian-oriented, the Constitution permits the Christian values to be discarded and to be replaced with whatever the majority of the moment wants.

It ought to be acknowledged that the United States have never been formally or structurally Christian, but it also ought to be recognized that our people, our ethical principles, and our wav of life were once far more Christian than they are today. There really is something missing in our national life, something that once was there.

        —Harold O.J. Brown
Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Deerfield, IL

Messrs. Kramnick and Moore in their book Unbaptized America (or perhaps it was the reviewer Philip Jenkins) need to address many issues if they want to reconcile completely the argument regarding church and state. First, nowhere in the Constitution do the words "separation of church and state" appear. There is a vast difference between the First Amendment prohibition of the establishment of religion and the "separation of church and state." When one considers that Congress on several occasions in the early years of our nation appropriated money to support Catholic and Protestant missions on Indian reservations, and the money was accepted and used by several Presidents, including Jefferson, one recognizes the dimensions of the difference. (Note: This is the same Jefferson who originated the phrase "separation of church and state" and also the same Jefferson who vetoed appropriations to build roads through Kentucky on the grounds of constitutionality.)

Second, the First Amendment was meant to apply to the federal government only. (The Tenth Amendment now largely ignored was very important to the Founders.) Under no circumstances would these early signers of the Constitution have condoned federal courts telling states and local governments how to react (one way or the other) to religion.

Third, the authors themselves recognized that the Founders of our nation did not intend a hostility to Cod. They did not, however, address the belief of many Americans today that our government is hostile to God. It is hard to argue otherwise. In short, the Constitution is in no way Godless (as the authors claim), nor was it intended to be. The Constitution was intended to prohibit the federal government from establishing a church sponsored by the government and supported by taxes as was the case in most European countries. That is all the Constitution says. That is all it meant. Historical scholarship does not refute (but supports) the above statement.

        —Paul Gottfried
Elizabethtown College
Elizabethtown, PA

On Paleoconservatism

I have followed the Samuel Francis saga ("The Rise and Fall of a Paleoconservative at the Washington Times," Part I & II, April and May 1996) with keen personal interest. I am an enthusiastic reader of Chronicles and other traditionalist writing. As a young paleoconservative who has worked on political campaigns and recently jumped to journalism, I have become accustomed to establishmentarians warning me about my ways. Most often, neoconservative high priests advise that I am simply too young and idealistic to understand how things really work. I should shun radical ideas if I want to avoid trouble and get anywhere in this town, I am told. Unfortunately, uncensored history, cultural tradition, religious dedication, and wholesome public policy tenants are considered subversive rather than necessary. In this system, realism is derided as racism, the majority are blatantly subjected to the minority, and decency is construed as vulgarity. All in all, I suppose I am idealistic because 1 understand that while paleoconservative beliefs beget persecution, tyranny begets rebellion.

        —Brett M. Decker
Washington, D.C.

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