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Friday, February 17, 2012

Relevant To Both Public And Private Life

Two political scientists from the University of Houston, Donald Lutz and Charles Hyneman, set out to read all the political writings of Americans published between 1760 and 1805. This included all books, pamphlets, newspaper articles, and monographs on the subject of civil government written for the general public of that day. 

They wanted to find out which sources most influenced the thinking of leaders during the “founding era,” when the early state and national constitutions were framed. The researchers felt that by identifying who the founders quoted in their writings, they would discover whose ideas most influenced these men.

Starting with 15,000 writings, and narrowing it down to some 2,200 writings dealing specifically with political content, Lutz and Hyneman identified 3,154 quotes or references from other sources. Their findings were published in The American Political Science Review [March, 1984]. What they discovered was, the single source most often quoted by the founders of America was the Bible. In fact, 34 percent of all quotes were from this source.

Can you imagine seeing one-third of all quotes in the political writings of our day coming from Scripture? In a day when we’re told it’s unconstitutional to post the Ten Commandments on public school walls, or to put a nativity scene in front of a post office, it’s amazing to know that the very ones who founded the American republic turned more often to the Bible than to any other source for support of their ideas.

Strange as it may sound today, in the 1830's, when  Alexis de Tochville observed America, it was assumed that although the government of the state should not encroach upon the affairs of the church, or vice-versa, the Bible was relevant to both public and private life. 

Early Americans saw a difference between the separation of church and state, and the separation of Christianity and state. They wanted the former, but not the later. Americans did not want civil authorities to dictate church policy, or church authorities to govern the state. Yet for the healthy functioning of civil government, a biblically-informed populace was an active ingredient.

Did our forebearers always "get it right," in practice? People never do. Nonetheless, they acknowledged a Higher Judge with Higher Law, to whom all men and women are accountable, both farmer and statesman alike.  

More to come. 

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  1. Efforts to derive from Lutz's research the conclusions you draw have been thoroughly debunked. Indeed, his research actually suggests that the Bible played little role in the political discourse about the Constitution. http://candst.tripod.com/tnppage/arg9.htm http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-rodda/no-mr-beck-our-constituti_b_637451.html

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  3. Thank you for submitting your comment, Doug.

    The article you reference, by Chris Rodda, is part of a series she wrote for the express purpose of “debunking the American history lies” told by Glenn Beck and David Barton.

    It is not my intention here to defend Mr. Beck or Mr. Barton. Rodda has some valid criticisms. When I did research at the University of Washington on various primary sources for Christian-oriented quotes by early Americans, I discovered a particular quote used by David Barton (at that time) which could not be substantiated by an original source. Apparently there have been other non-substantiated quotes used by Barton, as mentioned by Rodda. I don’t question this is a problem.

    Rodda’s article, however, has its own problems. She acknowledges “it really does appear that 34% of the citations in the documents studied came from the Bible. That’s because they did.” OK. But then she goes on to minimize the 34% figure by making reference to Lutz’s note that “most of these citations come from sermons reprinted as pamphlets; hundreds of sermons were reprinted during the era, amounting to at least 10% of all pamphlets published. These reprinted sermons accounted for almost three-fourths of the biblical citations…”

    Here is where Rodda misses the mark. I don’t think she is intentionally misleading the reader, but I suspect she misses the mark because of a common tendency people have to interpret the past through the lens of the present. Let me explain.

    Rodda implies that because about three-quarters of all the Bible citations found by Lutz came from pamphlets taken from sermons, these quotes don’t carry as much weight as quotes found in other documents not drawn from sermons. This is an error. One cannot conclude that because most of the Bible quotes were found in politically-oriented pamphlets that were drawn from sermons, they were not as influential in shaping opinion, or indicative of the thinking of the founders. One could come to this conclusion if the pastors of that day were as uninvolved in political matters as most of today’s pastors are, but this was not the case. While today, most pastors avoid talking about political matters, many pastors in the founding era included political concerns in their sermons. One could even build a case that the voice of the pastor was the weightiest voice in the community. What was stated from the pulpit was extremely influential, and simply cannot be minimized or marginalized.

    While Rodda has some valid points with respect to other (unrelated) matters, her point about how the data from Lutz’s study is to be interpreted does not hold water, as I see it. Pastors were “heavy weights” in shaping public opinion. The fact that three-quarters of the Bible citations found in political publications during the founding years were connected with sermons underscores the point of my post, rather than detract from it.

    Regardless, the fact that the Bible was viewed as relevant to both public and private life does not depend upon the Lutz study.

    Consider these words of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, Time magazine, February 15, 1954:

    “I believe no one can read the history of our country…without realizing that the Good Book and the spirit of the Saviour have from the beginning been our guiding geniuses….Whether we look to the first Charter of Virginia…or to the Charter of New England…or to the Charter of Massachusetts Bay… or to the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut…the same objective is present: a Christian land governed by Christian principles….

    I believe the entire Bill of Rights came into being because of the knowledge our forefathers had of the Bible and their belief in it: freedom of belief, of expression, of assembly, of petition, the dignity of the individual, the sanctity of the home, equal justice under the law, and the reservation of powers to the people….”

    Check out the seventh and eighth paragraph of the Charter of Delaware, created in 1701: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/de01.asp

  4. In our culture, the idea that God and goverment are linked together is like saying oil and water mix. We have strayed so far that we forget what our very foundations are. In Ancient Israel, the king had to first speak to God before even making a choice. if he did make a choice without asking God, he (and his nation) paid heavily. He had to publically offer sacrifices and plead for forgiveness. I wish, oh how I wish, that is was still like that.

  5. Thanks for checking in, Grace.

    It would be great if we all consulted with God before determining direction. The hopeful thing is, as individuals we are free to do so!

    I think Daniel is a great model. He lived in a culture that did not take the living God into consideration, yet Daniel was able to be an excellent public servant who was greatly respected by the kings he served.

    Of course, maintaining his personal integrity before God did get him thrown into a den of lions once...