“Any restoration of American law to the truths we hold dear
must begin with a sober recognition on our part:
There is an antithesis of worldviews in our culture, and only one worldview gets to govern.”
ederal laws are supposedly grounded in objective truth. This means that when government gets “truth” wrong, the ensuing spectacle is a tragic farce, one that brings harm in the name of truth and justice.
Laws, by their very nature, apply to everyone in a jurisdiction. This means that, to the extent that the government makes laws, its own worldview is being forced on society at large. Governance, after all, isn’t based on nothing; it’s based on a view of how things are — a worldview. To be fair, there are other forces involved in government, like power interests and corruption, but those are circumstantial elements -- not the normative basis for the law as a whole. When we take the law as a whole, it serves as a kind of worldview-in-action, and it represents the empowerment of one worldview over against competing worldviews. That may sound somewhat harsh, but we actually want this. When laws are just, we want to see them enforced, even though angry mobs of people disagree with us. When laws are unjust, however, it’s the worst of both worlds: Injustice wins the day, and it parades itself as Justice and Goodness.
But if one worldview gets to govern, then whose worldview is it? Obviously, in a democracy like ours, it’s the overlapping worldview of the voting majority. But more and more, that governing worldview is not ours. It is decidedly un-Christian.
Religious and Secular Dogmas
For centuries, since America’s conception, the laws on our nation’s books were self-consciously informed by a generically Christian worldview. This is often described as the Judeo-Christian ethic. The fundamental premise of the Constitution, and therefore all additional U.S. laws, was deeply theological: God has given us certain basic rights, and so the government must not infringe them. The application of this concept was, of course, grossly imperfect, as evidenced by the scourge of slavery that tragically endured for a century. Nevertheless, Christian understandings of man, of his duties toward others, and of a proper social order (particularly the familial order) were virtually assumed in our common political life, and our laws reflected this. The beliefs held by the state and those held by the religious populace were more or less coextensive. The idea that churches, Christian colleges, or religious charities might run afoul of federal laws was thus inconceivable.
Needless to say, the federal government today is in a vastly different place. The state is now engaged in a kind of self-imposed theological detoxification. Having removed from our laws the old social mores of our “prejudiced” past, the state now purports to have uncovered (at long last) a final, neutral ground based in objective reality, not premised on religious commitment (which is deemed irrational). This alleged Reality includes such obvious truths as the fundamental sameness of men and women, the nature of marriage as “mere consent,” and, in Justice Anthony Kennedy’s straight-faced words, “The right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and of the mystery of human life.” Obvious truths. Yes, obvious — that is, if you’re an atheistic nihilist.
This is the state of affairs that men like Francis Schaeffer and Richard John Neuhaus foresaw in the rise of secularism. It is a vision of public life that Neuhaus coined as “the naked public square.” At its heart is a propitious lie: that a public square stripped of theological underpinnings would be a neutral and just administer of the Good Society. In truth, such worldview-neutrality in the making of laws is a farce. Contrary to the dominant thinking, secular reason is not a pure, unadulterated kind of reason; it is merely reason that proceeds from atheistic premises. It is a logic which, from the start, is opposed to basic Christian propositions — propositions that provide the basis for human rights, for the sanctity of life, for the legitimacy of the family, and for a host of other cherished values.
Reason Based in Reality
If reason is to be sound, then it must accord with the way the world actually is, and the inescapable fact is that we live in God’s world. The whole creation attests to His reality (Rom. 1:20; Psalm 19), and it is infused with natural and moral laws that impinge upon all of us. Government either functions in accordance with those laws or in self-deluded rebellion against them (Rom. 1:18). In the latter case, it sets up an alternate Reality for itself, a metaphysical Tower of Babel that has no basis in reality. Its only basis is in the arbitrary self-will of those who suppress the truth around them.
This latter kind of government (which increasingly characterizes the U.S. government) is anything but neutral and unbiased. It claims to be so, but it is an emperor with no clothes at all. In denying the basic theological axioms that once underpinned Western civilization, and by extension Western law, our government is applying more and more aspects of the atheist worldview, imposing them on us all. It gets away with this because nobody thinks the laws are atheistic. People think they are based on discrete and obvious facts, as though facts could be interpreted without a worldview framework. No — the Naked Public Square has atheism as its philosophical foundation, and we must see it as such.
This will take a good deal of mental rewiring, even for many Christians. Functional atheism has crept into our own psyches a lot more than we may realize. We’ve been trained for years now in the West that religion and theology have no place in the public square. We’ve learned that those are “private” beliefs, and that accordingly they belong in the private realm, the hidden spheres of the church and family where reason need not rule. Christians will usually reject such a view when it is stated so plainly. Yet we subconsciously buy into it all the time when we refuse to connect our political views to their logical foundations in Christianity. Instead of citing Christian truths as the basis for, say, banning public nudity, we resort to emotions and intuitions: “That’s gross and shameful. We can’t have that. And there are children watching!” Or consider the right to assisted suicide. How have we argued against that? “Life is sacred, and our duty to respect life must trump a miserable patient’s wishes.” Neither of these two arguments are technically wrong, and they may even convince some people. But they don’t answer the “why” question. Why are these things the case? When pressed on our rationale, we are often hesitant to give a theologically sufficient answer. Thus, we are submitting to the atheistic rules for public debate: No theological claims allowed.
Taking Back God’s World
The reason we submit to these rules is because we haven’t fully recognized their atheistic nature. When we abide by them, we agree to fight with one hand tied behind our back; we cut our arguments off from their own logical foundation, and in so doing we give Public Secularism an undue advantage. Every move that follows from there is only a tactical retreat on our part.
We Christians need to see through the charade of anti-theological Reason and realize that the truths our government still takes for granted — things like human dignity, the right to private property, the legitimacy of the family, etc. — are in fact based in the Christian worldview. The only reason our country still cherishes such things is because we have inherited them from our forefathers. We take them completely for granted, yet they have no rational basis in the Naked Public Square. Our culture is beginning to see this, and we're seeing the ripple effect make its way through our civil law. Family, once definite, is now malleable. Gender, once obvious, is now a matter of feeling. Life, once inviolable, is now expendable. The more things change, the more Christian we realize the West really used to be.
Any restoration of American law to the truths we hold dear must begin with a sober recognition on our part: There is an antithesis of worldviews in our culture, and only one worldview gets to govern. Instead of feigning neutrality and trying to hide the theological foundations of our own values, we should be open and honest about them, without any fear of sliding into "theocracy" as some would accuse (and which is neither an effective nor a biblical option). If we simply look to our forebears — to Washington, Adams, Lincoln, and Martin Luther King — we will find thoroughly Christian arguments that would serve us well today. In a pluralistic society where the foundations for democracy and for human rights are alarmingly up for grabs, we have no excuse to be silent.
Daniel Davis lives in Washington, D.C. and serves as Editor-in-Chief for Ecclesiam. He graduated from Wheaton College in 2014 with a B.A. in History, having minored in Political Science. He loves theology, history, philosophy, and politics, and he enjoys engaging those subjects from a biblical worldview. His work has been published by The Federalist, Townhall and Values & Capitalism. His views are his own and in no way reflect those of his employer. Daniel is an active member of Capitol Hill Baptist Church. You can follow him on Twitter at @JDaniel_Davis.