Vail Valley Voices: Was our nation born with a biblical moral spine?
July 31, 2010
Sam Adams, a Puritan patriot who led Boston’s Sons of Liberty to revolt against the British Crown, is a favorite pick of the Texas Board of Education. A majority of these board members frown on Thomas Jefferson.
Who Texas picks as their historical favorites plays out in our nation’s classrooms. Money talks. Especially the big bucks Texas deals. This state ranks as one of the largest purchasers of textbooks.
Consequently, its curricula guidelines put enormous pressure on publishers to include what Texas demands.
The majority on the Board of Education in Texas argues that Judeo-Christian morality formed our republic.
The patriot Sam Adams believed our nation flourishes when its leaders and citizens take responsibility for their actions, are trustworthy, and pray for divine providence to direct their paths.
These ethical norms come straight from the Bible, claims the Texas Board of Education. The revolution Sam Adams led mirrored what happened to the ancient Hebrews at Mount Sinai. “God spoke all these words” (Exodus 20:1) which were revealed to the Jews as the Ten Commandments. Jesus reiterated these norms for building a godly society in his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7).
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Don McLeroy, an ardent conservative who formerly chaired the Texas Board of Education, bluntly pinpoints the kind of history he expects be written into textbooks.
For patriots like Sam Adams, McLeroy writes, “The theme is freedom. These men understood America and the principles upon which she stood: self-evident truths; liberty, with its twin corollaries of limited government and individual responsibility; the embrace of Judeo-Christian values; and a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence.”
In contrast, Jefferson believed freedom thrived when ethics wasn’t rooted a dominant or favored religious tradition. He read history as a sad litany when religious zealots imposed their values on government. Those who dared defy popular religious norms were tarred and feathered, spit upon in stocks or burned alive in Jesus’ name.
Sam Adams, the kind of patriot the Texas Board of Education prefers, believed our republic thrived when God’s law ruled the government. This Boston brewer intoxicated patriots with his revolutionary newspaper editorials. His eloquence rivaled that of Jefferson and Tom Paine.
Jefferson commended him as “truly the man of the revolution.”
How did this ardor rise up? Directly from the biblical God, claimed Adams. Using the pen name “Valerius Poplicola,” he expounded on his conviction that patriots had a religious duty to stand up for freedom. Writing in the Oct. 5, 1772, Boston Gazette, Adams declared, “The Religion (Christianity) and the public Liberty of a People are intimately connected; their Interests are interwoven, they cannot subsist separately; and therefore they will rise and fall together. For this Reason, it is always observable, that those who are combined to destroy the People’s Liberties, practice every Art to poison their Morals. How greatly then does it concern us, at all Events, to put a Stop to Progress of Tyranny.”
The Texas Board of Education concurs with Adams’ insistence that Christianity functions as the moral platform upon which our republic is built.
Thomas Jefferson disagreed because he knew of some intensely moralists who weren’t religious. Consequently, the board’s majority have largely banished him from the textbooks they buy.
Jefferson believed a nation could be exceedingly moral having a dominant religion discerning right from wrong. He trusted in reason, what his senses authenticated as reliable, rather than divine revelation. Such reason allied itself with nature. That is, both ardent believers and blatant atheists are created with a moral sense. It’s rooted, taught Jefferson, in “instinct” and is “innate.”
The moral sense, for Jefferson, was as natural as breathing. It didn’t appear because of external laws imposed by religion — such as the Torah, the Ten Commandments, or any other religious ethic. Morality, he maintained, came from sixth sense, a human being’s conscience that tells us what’s naturally right or wrong.
Jefferson believed morality is necessary for the republic’s freedom to flourish. But he didn’t want this freedom to be tied to a specific religion, lest that faith tradition gain power over the government and trample liberty.
In every era, though, we hear Sam Adams-like voices on the Texas Board of Education instruct us to renounce Jefferson. If follow their advice, won’t life become like the texts the Board approves; heavily edited with ideas blotted out that contradict party agendas. Party.
Doesn’t history show freedom curtailed when a ruling religion’s scripts are the only ones allowed in print?
The Rev.Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the non-profit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.