The Bible in the Public Square vs. Our Natural Law Foundation

In considering the propriety of arguing from the scriptures in the public square (to advocate in the civil realm) it is well to think of the characteristics of that square. In this regard, the question is not what may be said; the right of free speech does and should allow for scriptures in the public square. Rather, the focus should be on the nature of the public square, i.e., its foundation and consequently the language suitable for the public square. And with that understanding, it is well to consider the Declaration of Independence:

Declaration-of-independence-broadside-croppedWhen in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them,

a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …

In referring to “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God,” the Declaration of Independence is grounded in natural law. That laws of nature, it explains, require an explanation of why they were declaring independence and, based on that same law, the drafters set forth self-evident truths in support, such as the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Complementary to that grounding is the Constitution’s first amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Taken together with the Declaration of 636_ConstitutionIndependence the design was for a country to accommodate various kinds of Christians, deists, and others who would not be under a system built on so many scripture references as if it were a church confession, but, rather under a natural law system that would give opportunity for substantial and principled liberty. That system requires a certain amount of cooperation among its citizens who are in this thing together to make it work.

Unfortunately the Christian Right has adopted the standard politics of the day, using shrieks of victimization as a means to gain power over a perceived enemy. That kind of politicized antithesis might have a certain utility for short-term gain but, in the long view, it invites an opposite and equal reaction and makes us forget that there is benefit to preserving a sense of “we,” as in “we the people…”

The language of recovery from the ugly turn of recent politics is not going to be Bible verses. Besides the tactical issue – non-Christians aren’t persuaded by Bible verses – Bible verses are simply not the basis of our system. Natural law is. To the extent that we use the public square to promote an idea of governance and the laws of our country explicitly based john-adams-declarationon the Bible, we are departing from the agreement we have entered into with our fellow citizens that is reflected in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

So those who would “regain” our country by using the Bible as a basis for civil society aren’t returning to an earlier status quo but aspiring for a different system. The theonomists are straight-forward enough about this, but, in this respect, neo-Cals join them in promoting a system contrary to what the founders intended.


Filed under Church and State, Culture Wars, Establishment of Religion, Natural Law

4 responses to “The Bible in the Public Square vs. Our Natural Law Foundation

  1. Richard

    And here is an excellent example of how natural law arguments work in the public square:

  2. Richard

    Excellent article. It’s interesting the length some Christians will go to in distorting the history of our country’s founding–e.g., David Barton. Americans in general have a pretty shaky view of history–numerous studies show that; we shouldn’t let hucksters take advantage of that. Our Founders were more influenced by natural law arguments from Locke than anything else in forming our country.

  3. Richard, thanks for that. Though I’d rather see the conversation framed in terms of human responsibility toward the other than in terms of individual rights (to liberty or life), that piece coupled with the below links seem to suggest that special revelation is fine but really not necessary to come to correct conclusions.

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