Thursday, February 11, 2016

George Washington's Defense of the Godless Constitution

One thing to keep in mind on the debate over the US Constitution's Godlessness, is that, however we understand the controversy, it wasn't "made up" by two Cornell professors.

In fact, I was reminded of George Washington's response to a group of Presbyterians who were concerned about the omission of a reference to the Christian religion in the US Constitution. Washington attempted to alleviate their concern writing:
The tribute of thanksgiving, which you offer to the gracious FATHER OF LIGHTS, for his inspiration of our publick councils with wisdom and firmness to complete the National Constitution, is worthy of men, who, devoted to the pious purposes of religion, desire their accomplishment by such means as advance the temporal happiness of their fellow men. And, here, I am persuaded, you will permit me to observe, that the path of true piety is so plain, as to require but little POLITICAL direction.
To this consideration we ought to ascribe the absence of any regulation respecting religion from the Magna Charta of our country. To the guidance of the Ministers of the Gospel, this important object is, perhaps, more properly committed. It will be your care to instruct the ignorant, and to reclaim the devious: And in the progress of morality and science, to which our Government will give every furtherance, we may confidently expect the advancement of true religion, and the completion of our happiness.
I pray the munificent Rewarder of virtue, that your agency in this work, may receive its compensation here and hereafter.
This same group of people -- the religiously correct "orthodox" -- also bothered William Livingston about the explicit lack of Christianity as the foundation for American law in the Articles of Confederation (which unlike the Constitution, isn't a Godless document, but rather, like the Declaration of Independence, appeals to God in a more generic sense).

As Livingston wrote:
[A]nd to have made the 'law of the eternal God, as contained in the sacred Scriptures, of the Old and New Testament, the supreme law of the United States,' would, I conceive, have laid the foundation of endless altercation and dispute....

To the effect ... that of promoting purity of manners, all legislators and magistrates are bound by a superior obligation to that of any vote or compact of their own; and the inseparable connexion between the morals of the people and the good of society will compel them to pay due attention to external regularity and decorum; but true piety again has never been agreed upon by mankind, and I should not be willing that any human tribunal should settle its definition for me.
The tone of the two statesmen are different. But the effect is the same. Government (at least the Federal one) is going to be hands off on religion; the religious ball rather is in the court of voluntary, private entities.

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