A recent op-ed in the Los Angeles Times asked “What’s God got to do with it?” The “it” being referred to was the security and freedom that Americans enjoy and often take for granted.
The answer to the question is “quite a bit,” and arguing otherwise requires taking something else for granted: our way of life’s debt to Christianity.
The man asking and answering the question was Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine. Shermer took exception to the words of a recent House resolution to keep “In God We Trust” as the national motto. The resolution read: “Whereas if religion and morality are taken out of the marketplace of ideas, the very freedom on which the United States was founded cannot be secured.”
Shermer was troubled by the “belief that religion has a monopoly on morality,” especially, he says, “in this age of science and technology, computers and cyberspace, and liberal democracies securing rights and freedoms for oppressed peoples all over the globe.”
According to Shermer what really makes people “feel free and secure” are things like “the rule of law,” “education for the masses,” the establishment of “fair and just laws,” and the “equitable enforcement of those fair and just laws.”
What Shermer doesn’t tell us is that things like the rule of law, mass education, and the other things he credits with making our freedom and security possible, didn’t spring fully-formed out of nowhere. They are part of Christianity’s legacy to the West.
Take the rule of law. It was Christianity that taught the West that rulers are not free to do as they pleased and that they are not above the law. According to John Calvin, resisting tyranny was the duty of those “who desire that every individual should preserve his rights, and that all men may live free from injury.”
The same can be said about mass education and even the science that Shermer puts so much stock in. They are the result of what Christianity taught: that God created the world, and we were called to explore every aspect of it.
Most of all, our ideas about what constitutes a free and secure society are derived from Christianity. Political scientist Glenn Tinder has written about how much of what we celebrate in our society, like the “respect for the individual and a belief in the essential equality of all human beings,” has “strong roots in the union of the spiritual and the political achieved in the vision of Christianity.”
It was Christianity, you see, that taught the West that all human beings are created in the image of God. Without that understanding, the very words of the Declaration of Independence, “that all Men are created equal, that they endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights,” could never have been written.
Without this Christian vision we wouldn’t have the freedom and security that Shermer ascribes to science, technology, and politics.
The issue isn’t what’s inscribed on our money but whether Americans understand what makes our way of life possible. Sadly, I’m afraid the answer to that right now is “no, they don’t.” So it’s up to us, the Church, to explain just how vital the Christian faith has been — and still is — to our rights and freedoms.