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Retiring the Gods from Politics

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Recently I have received a number of emails from atheists. This isn’t unusual since American Vision publishes a number of books refuting common atheist arguments, and I’ve written a few articles on the subject as well. American Vision has published four books refuting three top-dog atheists: Letter from a Christian Citizen, Return of the Village Atheist, God Is, and The Deluded Atheist (order the “Atheist Delusion” pack here).

One emailer sent me something from the skeptic Robert G. Ingersoll in which he stated the following: “In 1776 our fathers endeavored to retire the gods from politics. They declared that ‘all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.’”1 Really? Then why does the Declaration of Independence, drafted in 1776, state the following:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Ingersoll quotes the second bold faced phrase but leaves out the all-important first phrase which makes governments possible and legitimate. Without God there are no fixed rights and no legitimacy in governing. What earthly governments protect is first derived from God. If rights are determined solely by the “consent of the governed,” then rights can continually change because governments change. What’s a right today can be a non-right tomorrow. Keep in mind that even the Bible recognizes the reality of the “consent of the governed” under God (Ex. 18).

The Declaration also includes the basis on which those who signed the document pledged everything that was temporal:

And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

Atheists might want to take note of the fact that Constitution includes the phrase, “Done in the Year of our Lord,” a reference to Jesus Christ. The people at the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State dismiss this historical fact by claiming that it was the documentary style of the day. How can this be if, as Ingersoll claims, “our fathers endeavored to retire the gods from politics”? Did they forget to retire Jesus from the Constitution? This would have been a perfect time to retire any implication that God and government intersected at any point. “Our Lord” is a certain reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. The use of “in the Year of Our Lord” continued to be used, even through Jefferson’s administration. In 1807, Jefferson signed a federal passport that allowed the ship Hershel to proceed on its Journey to London that was dated September 24, 1807 “in the year of our Lord Christ.” Notice the addition of “Christ.” Jefferson could have crossed it out. He didn’t. All 50 state constitutions make reference to God in different ways: Almighty God (the most frequent), Creator, Supreme Ruler of the Universe, Supreme Being, Sovereign Ruler of Nations, Legislator of the Universe, Creator and Preserver of the Universe in their preambles. Did all 50 states forget to retire God from politics?



Then there are the official documents that called for national days of prayer. On March 16, 1776, “by order of Congress” a “day of Humiliation, Fasting and Prayer” where people of the nation were called on to “acknowledge the over ruling providence of God” and bewail their “manifold sins and transgressions, and, by a sincere repentance and amendment of life, appease his righteous displeasure, and, through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, obtain his pardon and forgiveness.”2

Congress set aside December 18, 1777 as a day of thanksgiving so the American people “may express the grateful feelings of their hearts and consecrate themselves to the service of their divine benefactor”3 and on which they might “join the penitent confession of their manifold sins . . . that it may please God, through the merits of Jesus Christ, mercifully to forgive and blot them out of remembrance.” Congress also recommended that Americans petition God “to prosper the means of religion for the promotion and enlargement of that kingdom which consists in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Ghost.4 Here’s one from 1799 during the administration of John Adams:

[That April 15, 1799] be observed throughout the United States of America as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that the citizens on that day abstain, as far as may be, from their secular occupation, and devote the time to the sacred duties of religion, in public and in private; that they call to mind our numerous offenses against the most high God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore his pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer, for our past transgressions, and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit, we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to his righteous requisitions in time to come; that He would interpose to arrest the progress of that impiety and licentiousness in principle and practice so offensive to Himself and so ruinous to mankind; that He would make us deeply sensible that “righteousness exalteth a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people [Proverbs 14:34].”5

Only a fool would claim the people are independent sovereigns, and Ingersoll was a fool, and so are his atheist descendants. When the people are the sole authority, they become the new gods of politics—Vox populi, vox dei, “the voice of the people is the voice of God.” If each of us is a god, then we are a law unto ourselves. Those with the biggest clubs get to make the rules. It’s the world of Mad Max. Of course, the people generally never reach divine status; they put people in office who become the new gods or some people claim divine status for themselves like that of the Caesars. George Orwell said it best, “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others.” This was the claim of the pigs that control the government his dystopian allegory Animal Farm. The reality of Animal Farm is a declaration about the hypocrisy of governments that proclaim that the rulers serve “the people” but in reality become their gods and use them to gain power and privilege for themselves. There is no getting away from God. We either become gods ourselves or others force themselves on us as gods. In either case, the prospects are frightening.

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Endnotes:

[1] Robert G. Ingersoll, The Works of Robert G. Ingersoll, 12 vols. (New York: The Dresden Publishing Co., 1919), 11:123.
[2] A copy of the original document can be viewed at www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/f0404s.jpg
[3] In another context, “divine benefactor” would be viewed as a deist ascription to an unnamed deity. It’s obvious that in this context the Christian God is in view.
[4] A copy of the original document can be viewed at www.loc.gov/exhibits/religion/vc006494.jpg. The proclamation can also be seen in Gary DeMar, America’s Christian History (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2005), 252.
[5] John Adams, “National Fast Day,” A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1:284–286.

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