US Attorney-General Bill Barr gave the commencement speech at Notre Dame University last week. I think he summed up very well the real issue with American politics and society today. I’ll quote from his remarks at some length.
In one sense, Barr simply explained what President John Adams meant by a statement he made in a 1798 letter. He then showed the significance of that statement to American life today.
“We have no Government armed with Power which is capable of contending with human Passions unbridled by … morality and religion,” Barr quoted from Adams’ letter. “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious People. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”
Within this context, Barr accurately described the cultural war raging in America today.
“The challenge we face is precisely what the founding fathers foresaw would be the supreme test of a free society,” Barr told the Notre Dame law students.
“They never thought that the main danger to the republic would come from an external foe,” he said. “The question was whether the citizens in such a free society could maintain the moral discipline and virtue necessary for the survival of free institutions.”
“And this is really what they meant by self-government,” said Barr. “It did not mean primarily the mechanics by which we select a representative legislature. It referred to the capacity of each individual to restrain and govern themselves.”
“But what was the source of this internal controlling power?” Barr asked. “In a free republic, those restraints could not be handed down from above by philosopher kings. Instead, social order must flow up from the people themselves freely obeying the dictates of inwardly possessed and commonly shared moral values.”
“And to control willful human beings with an infinite capacity to rationalize, those moral values must rest on an authority independent of men’s wills,” he said. “They must flow from the transcendent Supreme Being. In short, in the framers’ view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people, a people who recognized that there was a transcendent moral order antecedent to both the state and to manmade laws and had the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles.”
. . .
Barr argued that “secularists” are now attacking the moral order that is the foundation of our liberty and threatening religious freedom in pursuit of their cause.
“First is the force, fervor and comprehensiveness of the assault on organized religion we are experiencing today,” said Barr. “This is not decay. This is organized destruction. Secularists and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry and academia, in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values.”
The threat is not that the government will establish a state religion; the threat is that the state will attack people for conscientiously practicing their own.
“The problem is not that religion is being forced on others,” Barr said. “The problem is that irreligion is being forced, secular values are being forced, on people of faith.”
. . .
“Education is not vocational training,” he said as he neared the goal line at Notre Dame.
“It is leading our children to the recognition that there is truth and helping them develop the facilities to discern and love the truth and the discipline to live by it,” he said.
“We cannot have a moral renaissance,” he concluded, “unless we succeed in passing to the next generation our faith and values in full vigor.”
There’s more at the link. It’s worth reading in full.
Being a man of faith myself, I think Mr. Barr is spot on. I agree with almost every word. I know that those of different (or no) faith(s) will disagree with him, and that’s OK, but remember the context of his argument. He’s quoting President Adams and his remarks; and President Adams was one of the Founding Fathers who drew up our Constitution. I submit that if the Founding Fathers believed what the evidence shows they did believe, they were probably right to say that the Constitution they gave us is suitable only for a people of faith. Without that faith, the Constitution becomes a dead letter, a burden rather than a framework for life.
It appears that a good half of American society today believes that to be the case. They are not people of faith (or, at least, not the faith of the Founding Fathers) and have no intention of becoming one.
Therefore . . . whither our Constitution? Whither the road map that has guided the United States to where it is today? Can it serve us in the future, or is it doomed to be replaced by a more secular society that will abandon many of the founding principles of this nation?
I can’t answer that . . . but I fear the answer that many will give.