December 11, 2003

my final presentation, I kicked butt

Andrew Read Wall
Dr. Schulten
World Citizen
December 9, 2003

Final Presentation
Comparing Stephen L. Carter's ideas in his book, 'God's Name in Vain', to chapter 17 of Alexis de Tocqueville's 'Democracy in America."

What insights did I gain in understanding and evaluating de Tocqueville’s ideas in light of my considerations of the perspectives presented by Carter? (Page 9 syllabus) This is my question, this is my answer: I gained one distinct insight. Carter’s thoughts were very evident in de Tocqueville’s writing. In fact, I would wager to say that the writings of de Tocqueville were very seriously read and considered in the thinking of Carter when he wrote his book, God’s Name in Vain.

The role of religion is to stand outside the realm of rulers and call them to rule rightly.

This is the thesis of Stephen Carter’s book. This is his message in a nutshell. Carter had two objections that supported that strategy: (1) the Integrity Objection, which he says is “When a religious community becomes too regularly involved in politics, the community loses touch with its own best self and risks losing the power, and the obligation, to engage in witness from afar, to stand outside the corridors of power and call those within to righteousness.” (Page 22) and (2) the Electoral Objection, which he says is “When a religion decides to involve itself in the partisan side of politics, in supporting one candidate or party over another it not only runs a high risk of error; it also, winds up softening its message, compromising doctrine to make it more palatable to a public that might remain unpersuaded by the Word unadaltered.” (Page 22)

As I read through de Tocqueville’s writings, I looked for things that would either substantiate that message, or contradict it. What I found was an in-depth analysis of what enabled democracy to survive and thrive in America – particularly the United States. He narrowed his study of that topic to three reasons, which I list as (1) The Location, (2) The Laws, and (3) The Lifestyle of this nation. By location, de Tocqueville means the fact that we were not neighbored by any hostile nations and there was a great deal of land to be had and explored. By laws, he means just that – the legal system and the structure of our government. And by Lifestyle, he means the whole manner in which the early Americans lived and approached life. It was here, in de Tocqueville’s writings on the lifestyle of the early Americans that I discovered relevant material for my comparison.

De Tocqueville discovered that religion was the driving factor here. “By the side of every religion is to be found a political opinion, which is connected with it by affinity. If the human mind be left to follow its own bent, it will regulate the temporal and spiritual institutions of society in a uniform manner, and man will endeavor, if I may so speak, to harmonize earth with heaven.” The American people “brought with them into the New World a form of Christianity which I cannot better describe than by styling it a democratic and republican religion. This contributed powerfully to the establishment of a republic and a democracy in public affairs; and from the beginning, politics and religion contracted an alliance which has never been dissolved.” (Page 310-311) As you can see from the words of de Tocqueville himself, politics and religion are forever partners in the governing of men. Carter believed this also when he said, “Religion has been inseparable from American politics for as long as America has had politics, and will likely remain inseparable as long as Americans remain religious.” (Page 11)

From the realization that politics and religion cannot be separated, de Tocqueville comes next to the observation that as he says, “there is no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America; and there can be no greater proof of its utility and of its conformity to human nature than that its influence is powerfully felt over the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.” He continues to write, “I have remarked that the American clergy in general, without even excepting those who do not admit religious liberty, are all in favor of civil freedom; but they do not support any particular political system. They keep aloof from parties and from public affairs. In the United States religion exercises but little influence upon the laws and upon the details of public opinion; but it directs the customs of the community, and, by regulating domestic life, it regulates the state.” (Page 314-315) This statement of de Tocqueville could very well be a quote from Carter himself. For it so perfectly supports the thoughts of Carter that the radical religious right should stand outside the realm of rulers and call them to rule rightly.

As de Tocqueville observed, “the law permits the Americans to do what they please, religion prevents them from conceiving, and forbids them to commit, what is rash or unjust.” Liberty, true liberty is not freedom to do whatever we want, but freedom to exercise our true God-given rights without negative repercussions. De Tocqueville writes, “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.” And he continues to say, “The Americans combine the notions of Christianity and of liberty so intimately in their minds that it is impossible to make them conceive the one without the other; and with them this conviction does not spring from that barren, traditionary faith which seems to vegetate rather than to live in the soul.” (Page 316-317)

This religious quality of Americans may be seen today as a hindrance that we should be glad to be rid of instead of the defining quality that allows us to thrive, but de Tocqueville would say otherwise, “if any hold that the religious spirit which I admire is the very thing most amiss in America, and that the only element wanting to the freedom and happiness of the human race on the other side of the ocean is to believe with Spinoza in the eternity of the world, or with Cabanis that thought is secreted by the brain, I can only reply that those who hold this language have never been in America and that they have never seen a religious or a free nation. When they return from a visit to that country, we shall hear what they have to say.” And just a little later he speaks of liberty and religion when he says, “Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. Religion is much more necessary in the republic which they set forth in glowing colors than in the monarchy which they attack; it is more needed in democratic republics than in any others. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? And what can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity?” (Page 318)

In today’s America, the much-misunderstood idea of separation of church and state would cause us to believe that any use of the Biblical thoughts in public is wrong. I have even been told that the use of Biblical principles in the management philosophy employed at Wal-Mart is somehow a violation of the separation of church and state. Carter speaks about this when he says, “In America, we have long separated the institutional church from the institutional state, a sensible idea, but we have never separated religion from politics, and we are unlikely to start any time soon.” (Page 12) And de Tocqueville goes even further by saying that the peaceful dominion of religion in the United States was attributable to the separation of church and state. He examined the facts and discovered that nowhere did any member of clergy fill any governmental role, he says, “These facts convinced me that what I had been told was true; and it then became my object to investigate their causes and to inquire how it happened that the real authority of religion was increased by a state of things which diminished its apparent force.” How is it, that this separation of church and state actually increased religions power over the state? “Religion,” says de Tocqueville, “then, is simply another form of hope, and it is no less natural to the human heart than hope itself. Men cannot abandon their religious faith without a kind of aberration of intellect and a sort of violent distortion of their true nature; they are invincibly brought back to more pious sentiment.” (Page 320-321)

The second objection, the Electoral Objection, which Carter had, was that when religion supports a specific party or candidate it eventually must compromise its message and thus lose its power. As I continued reading de Tocqueville, I also found that they agreed completely on this point, as evidenced by de Tocqueville’s words, “The church cannot share the temporal power of the state without being the object of a portion of that animosity which the latter excites.” (Page 321-322) And again a little further along, he says, “As long as a religion is sustained by those feelings, propensities, and passions which are found to occur under the same forms at all periods of history, it may defy the efforts of time; or at least it can be destroyed only by another religion. But when religion clings to the interest of the world, it becomes almost as fragile a thing as the powers of the earth…. The American clergy were the first to perceive this truth and to act in conformity with it. They saw that they must renounce their religious influence if they were to strive for political power, and they chose to give up the support of the state rather than to share its vicissitudes.”

As Carter points to the prophets of the Old Testament as an example of the role of religious people in politics today, he shows us the importance of resistance. Resistance to what? To the ever growing trend toward ungodliness, toward the degradation of man, to the devaluing of the family, and the eventual demise of the state itself. For God has never allowed a nation to survive long, who mocks Him. And as it is not our job to force people to believe, but only to preach the message of repentance and righteousness, so it is our priority in politics to preach. To preach to the hearts and minds of not only the politicians but also the people who elect them. For the politicians are not the problem, they are simply a reflection of the people who elect them. The real source of the problem lies in the hearts and minds of the people, and in the failure of the church to reach them.

Posted by GodzScout at December 11, 2003 12:07 AM