[If you haven’t read “The Limits of Logic” yet, I strongly urge you to do so before reading this post as this post is based on the information found in there.]
“If there were no God, it would have been necessary to invent him.”
Those words are credited to a French political philosopher who called himself Voltaire. Voltaire is sometimes referred to as France’s Thomas Jefferson (because he played a similar role in the French Revolution as Jefferson did in the American). Voltaire was a Deist. This means he believed in a Creator and that reason alone was sufficient to determine the necessity of the Creator’s existence. But I didn’t choose to use Voltaire’s words because he believed in a Creator; I chose them because he was a man of logic and reason, and as a man governed by logic and reason, he spoke a truth that is necessary to the preservation of a free society. That truth is simple: in order for a free and self-governing society to exist, it must share a universal morality. And in order for there to be such a thing as a universal morality, there must be a higher authority than man which establishes it as a law. This is because of the limits of logic. Therefore, whether one believes there is a Creator or not, logic dictates that a Creator is necessary if man is to maintain a free and self-governing society based on individual rights and liberty. Hence, if He did not already exist, God would be a necessary fallacy.
But, before Voltaire, our founders expressed their own understanding of and belief in this principle. I cite just a few of the many examples of our founders’ thoughts on this issue, not as a source of authority, but as proof that this is – in fact – what they believed, and why:
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
–John Adams, Address to the Military, October 11, 1798
Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for liberty, but it is religion and morality alone, which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People in a greater Measure than they have it now, they may change their rulers and the forms of government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty.
History will also afford frequent Opportunities of showing the Necessity of a Publick Religion, from its Usefulness to the Publick; the Advantage of a Religious Character among private Persons; the Mischiefs of Superstition, &c. and the Excellency of the Christian Religion above all others antient or modern.
–Benjamin Franklin, Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania (1749), p. 22
“Religion is the basis and Foundation of Government…. We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind for self government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.“
– James Madison, known as the “chief architect of the Constitution,” June 20, 1785, writing in regard to the relationship between religion and civil government.
The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the World and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities to be impressed with it.
–James Madison, 1788:
The only foundation for… a republic is to be laid in Religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.
–Benjamin Rush, father of American medicine and, at the time of our founding, one of the three most well known and respected of our founding fathers.
“Do Not Let Anyone Claim The Tribute of American Patriotism If They Ever Attempt To Remove Religion From Politics.”
~George Washington, from his Farewell Address to the Nation
The principle we are dealing with here is who will exercise ultimate control over the individual: he, or the government. If it is the individual, then every individual in society must have the same or very similar notion of what is right and what is wrong. And because no person can claim to be the universal authority for such an issue as morality, this means we must all subscribe to the same or similar understanding of Natural Law – as established by the Creator. Otherwise, we must be controlled by the government and an inevitably growing list of laws designed to constrain our avarice and ambition against our neighbor. The choice was summed up nicely by another American, Robert Winthrop, Speaker of the House:
“Men, in a word, must necessarily be controlled either by a power within them or by a power without them; either by the Word of God or by the strong arm of man; either by the Bible or by the bayonet.”
In the history of man, there have been only two nations that understood and consciously designed civil government around this principle: Israel under Moses and the Judges, and the United States of America. And it is because of this that both nations prospered. Likewise, the decline of both nations can be traced back directly to the point where they turned their backs on this principle. The French political observer and philosopher, Alexis de Tocqueville, in observing America in the early 1800’s, commented on how deeply ingrained this principle was and how well in worked in America (at that time):
The Americans combine the notions of religion and liberty so intimately in their minds, that it is impossible to make them conceive of one without the other.
Religion in America takes no direct part in the government of society, but it must be regarded as the first of their political institutions; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it. Indeed, it is in this same point of view that the inhabitants of the United States themselves look upon religious belief. I do not know whether all Americans have a sincere faith in their religion- or who can search the human heart?- but I am certain that they hold it to be indispensable to the maintenance of their political institutions. (from Democracy In America, 1835, de Tocqueville, America’s God and Country, William Federer, p.204)
De Tocqueville affirms the connection between religion and a free and self-governing society:
Liberty cannot be established without morality, nor morality without faith.
The main business of religions is to purify, control, and restrain that excessive and exclusive taste for well-being which men acquire in times of equality.
So, whether one believes in God or not, there can be no dispute that both reason and human experiences speak to the necessity for a people to embrace the notion of a Creator and for them to see Him as the source of their moral code. For, without this, society will devolve into much of what it has today: a collection of individuals who each believe they are bound by their own notion of right and wrong and are not obligated by any other. And once this becomes accepted as reality, and people start to think of “freedom” in terms of their “right” to live by their own private notion of what is right and wrong, good and bad, it becomes necessary to either rule by the sword or accept the tyranny of anarchy. Thus, it is a simple matter of logic: if a society wishes to remain free while being able to justify a claim to individual rights and liberty, it can only do so by relying on the Natural Law established by the Creator of this universe.
Now, having established this principle, and explaining how it is a logically justified exception to the rules of logic (itself an indication that there must be a Creator), I wish to make it clear that this is in no way a claim as to which God we should obey. In fact, I think Franklin stated it best when he described the “American Religion” in this way:
There is a God.
He governs in the affairs of men.
We have a duty to honor Him.
We will be judged in the next life according to the way we lived in this one.
The best way to honor and serve God is by serving our fellow man.
So long as the people share the same notion of right and wrong, this is all that is required for the maintenance of a free and self-governing society based in individual rights and liberty and the rule of law. But without these things, such a society cannot exist – and has never existed.