The Role of Faith
The Role of Faith
Regardless of whether one has a faith or not, we all have benefited from living in a nation where most do.
(1) A moral base to form a nation
From the first shot fired in Lexington, Massachusetts in 1776 to the peaceful transfer of power at the inauguration of President John Adams in 1797, a mere 21 years had passed. That’s how long it took a ragtag group of British colonies to win their freedom, establish a functioning democracy, and prove its viability through the most significant test of the democratic process — the peaceful transition of power.
In contrast, it took France 80 years to establish a stable democracy, with the first decade overshadowed by a Reign of Terror driven by mob rule and the murder of nearly 17,000 people.
Both revolutions happened nearly in parallel and were driven by similar ideals of “enlightenment,” and the rights of man. According to British history Paul Johnson, however, there was one key difference: “The American Revolution, in its origins, was a religious event, whereas the French Revolution was an anti-religious event.”
Since the arrival of the very first settlers in the Americas, the spirit of the colonies, and later the country, was rooted in religious freedom. Such roots have staved off potential threats of tyranny against all of our liberties, assuring we remain fundamentally a free people. As John Adams wrote in 1798, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and Religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
(2) A cornerstone of other liberties
As a cornerstone of our legal framework, the protection of religious liberty has also ensured the protection of many other liberties. There is no example in history of a regime repressing religious freedom and not suppressing other freedoms. Why? Religious liberty goes to the heart of what it means to be free; free to be and think as you choose. Without that safeguard, all other liberties will likely fall. Looking at the rise of the largest communist regimes in history — Russia and China — one sees that the first freedom taken by those in power was religious freedom. It is the quintessential “tell” of a rising tyranny.
(3) A check on government power
More people have died under atheist regimes in the last 100 years than all the people who have died in all the wars throughout recorded history. Why is this? There are many factors, but a key factor is this: faith has kept the worst of human nature in check, especially among powerful leaders. When governmental power is concentrated among a small group of elites, it is often the common people who suffer at their whims, and all the more so should these leaders have no faith to restrain them. It is, therefore, no coincidence that the deadliest regimes of the last 100 years were all devoid of faith (i.e. communist Russia, communist China, North Korea, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, many of the Nazi leaders, etc.).
(4) Champions of human rights
Religious devotees have been a driving force for securing and defending human rights in America and around the world.
Devout Christians were the first and most active abolitionists in America, clearly labeling slavery as an abomination and an institution in direct conflict with Christian values. Religious devotees remained a driving force against slavery up through, during, and after the American Civil War.
Eleanor Roosevelt was a lifelong Episcopalian. She was very public about her faith, and how it helped drive her human rights work. The former first lady was the driving force behind The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and served as the chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
The Christian church, with the Reverend Martin Luther King at the helm, organized and led the American Civil Rights movement, drawing much inspiration on the non-violent ideals of India’s Mahatma Gandhi, who himself was a religious devotee.
César Chávez was a devout Catholic who incorporated his faith in his quest for the rights of Mexican labor workers in the American southwest during the mid-20th century.
In short, people of faith have been among the most effective actors in defending the rights of all Americans.
(5) The foundation for a moral, empathetic society
For thousands of years, traditional religions have encouraged us to cherish virtues, to have compassion for others, and to guard against committing sins or bad deeds. Broadly speaking, they teach that good and evil have their consequences. They may also give us some guidance on how to live a morally upright life and be a good person in society.
As George Washington once said, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports… A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity.”
(6) Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness
For generations, Americans have enjoyed the benefits of religious freedom. And immigrants from all backgrounds and faiths have sought the land of opportunity, whether for religious freedom or economic prosperity—what some might call the “American Dream.”
While surveys have shown that young Americans nowadays are slightly less likely to devote themselves to religion or faith than those of older generations, perhaps owing largely to the influence of modern life and values, a study also shows that in some ways American are becoming more spiritual in recent years.
Across the generations, communities with strong religious traditions have tended to have more cohesive families—including more harmony among family members, lower rates of divorce, and stronger emotional/spiritual support for each individual. The common values stemming from a family’s religious beliefs (e.g. love, patience, humility), as well as the shared activities during community and outreach activities, seasonal traditions and religious holidays, have helped to strengthen bonds within families and a community.
But whether we choose to partake in spiritual practice or not, the key is to recognize that the freedom to choose is of utmost importance for the morality and well-being of any nation.