TUCKER: Americas religious moorings

In his Sept. 11 column (“A deeper public theology is needed”), Samuel Son raised an interesting — and important— point. He correctly tied America’s founding to its religious foundation and identified the current yearning for a “theological guide to the whole political process.”Political correctness has so gripped modern thinking that many Americans are reluctant to recognize the Judeo-Christian basis of the American republic — and indeed, of Western civilization. We need to be reminded of these roots and to resist the current notion that would remove any mention of religion from the public square in the name of separation of church and state, of political correctness, or of moral relativity. There are numerous expressions of this tie between religion and western civilization, but I would cite two examples of forthright proclamation of these truths — one historical and one modern — as instructive reminders.On Oct. 15, 1924, President Calvin Coolidge dedicated the equestrian statue in Washington of a Methodist bishop, Francis Asbury. Coolidge, the last American president to write his own speeches, spoke movingly of our common religious heritage. He identified the two competing theories of government in the world — one based on truth and righteousness and the other on force. Coolidge then explained, “Our government rests upon religion. It is from that source that we derive our reverence for truth and justice, for equality and liberty, and for the rights of mankind. Unless the people believe in these principles they cannot believe in our government.”Coolidge noted that the American Revolution and the resulting republic emerged out of a religious revival, “The Great Awakening.” He discerned a direct link between the work of clerics like Asbury, who brought “the gospel to the people, to bear witness to the truth and to follow it where so ever it might lead,” and the founding and development of a free political society in America.” He concluded, “The government of a country never gets ahead of the religion of a country. There is no way by which we can substitute the authority of law for the virtue of man.”When Coolidge spoke these words in 1925, there was no question in the minds of his hearers that the religious foundation of America was Judeo-Christian. In recent times, however, there has been a movement to decouple individual freedom and democracy from its Judeo-Christian foundation. In the name of political correctness, many Americans are reluctant to recognize this link or to make any mention of American exceptionalism. Similarly, many Americans today relegate any understanding of truth and righteousness to meaningless moral relativity.It is interesting — and noteworthy — that my second example comes not from America but Great Britain. In his Christmas message of 2015, Prime Minister David Cameron spoke openly and gratefully of Britain as “a Christian country” and noted the manifestations of this heritage in the form of the humanitarian work of “thousands of doctors, nurses, caregivers, and volunteers who… serve the vulnerable” in the U.K. and around the world. In closing, Cameron then made this important link: “I believe we should also reflect on the fact that it is because of these important religious roots and Christian values that Britain has been a successful home to people of all faiths and none.”It is indeed the very bedrock values of Christianity that have enabled the United States — and the West in general — to develop tolerant political societies in which rights are respected and protected. Millions of refugees from other societies, which are based on non-Christian religious foundations, have sought and found refuge in the West. It is critically important that the West, including the United States, never lose the moorings of our modern society to our religious heritage. It is these Christian foundational values which, in Cameron’s words, make us a “successful home to people of all faiths and none.”In order to preserve this exceptionalism and to continue to be a welcoming home for all comers, the U.S. and other western societies must assimilate these immigrants — whether of different faiths or no faith at all — into our common values and heritage, which are broadly based on the Judeo-Christian tradition.Garland S. Tucker III is a Raleigh businessman, historian, and author.