I have given a great deal of consideration to this years Thanksgiving post. In the process, I dusted off some very old books, did a bit of reading, and meditated on the deep divisions in our country today.
As I gave thought to these divisions and how they pertain to the thanksgiving holiday it occurred to me that one aspect of our society where these divisions run deepest is between the “America was founded as a secular nation” and “America was founded as a Christian nation” crowds. Oddly enough, to a degree both are correct.
See, the modern American concept of Christianity made manifest in mega churches and televangelists would have been abhorrent to the nations founders. For them the foundational elements of Christian philosophy – the flaws of human nature that necessitate the need for sincere repentance, the importance of heartfelt thanksgiving, humility – were a sublime world view that influenced a great deal of their thinking.
They also understood another key component of the Christian philosophy, acceptance or acknowledgement of Christ must be made of a free will. Hence, each individual must be free to worship according to the dictates of their hearts. They were also intimately familiar with the problems that result from Christianity being reduced to a mere religion constrained by the dictates of church doctrines and the inherent danger of allowing the doctrines of the church to influence governmental policy.
“Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mohamed inculcated upon our youth than see them grow up devoid of a system of religious principles.”
Dr. Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, and one of the first to call for the creation of a free public school system, continued with, “But the religion I mean to recommend in this place is the New Testament…All its doctrines and precepts are calculated to promote the happiness of society and the safety and well being of civil government.”
This knowledge was the cornerstone for adoption of the first amendment on June 15, 1790. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” In America, there would be no Church of England and the Vatican would not dictate governmental policies. There would, however, be an underpinning of Christian philosophy.
Chief Justice Joseph Story explained the essence of the First Amendment like this. “The real object of the First Amendment was not con countenance, much less to advance, Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects.”
From the very origination of the colonies, Christian philosophy was a cornerstone. And yet we, the American people found ways to justify genocidal policies toward native Americans and slavery.
Men like William Penn applied Christian principles toward native peoples and treated them with great dignity and respect. But yet he owned slaves.
Thomas Jefferson penned one of the greatest political statements ever written, the Declaration of Independence. The man who wrote that all men are created equal owned slaves.
From the perspective of the 21st century this is blatant hypocrisy that negates their Christian world view. That is largely resultant of the fact in this age we see Christianity as being individual centered and not God centered.
The group of men lumped together as the founding fathers were painfully aware of their shortcomings, and the shortcomings of man in general, and how those shortcomings affect a society. Hence the creation of a truly revolutionary government, a government that would allow for the addressing of those short comings.
“The ethics, doctrines, and examples furnished by Christianity exhibit the best models for the laws,” Dewitt Clinton, a governor New York and senator, at the introduction of the 12th amendment.
That is enough of a preamble. Lets let George Washington explain the concept of a thanksgiving holiday.
A proclamation issued by President George Washington, October 3, 1789. “Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor…”
Towards the end of this unique document he concluded with, “And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions…To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue.”
With this said, may I respectively ask that today as you gather with friends and family for an afternoon of food, of football, and good times, a moment be given for reflection, for thoughts on the need for national repentance, and that just a moment be given for sincere reflection on how blessed we are as a nation in spite of our many shortcomings.