Have you ever seen the movie Amazing Grace? If you haven’t, you ought. It is part of the life story of an exceptional man, William Wilberforce. For those of you who might not know his story, let me fill you in just a little. Wilberforce was an Englishman. He was a gentleman. He had money and had it maybe a bit too young. He made some of the mistakes a young man with money might make. He neglected his studies and stayed up late with friend playing cards. He was brilliant and talented and made friends easily. He became very close friends with William Pitt, the United Kingdom’s youngest Prime Minister at the age of 24. He was poised to have wealth and power and he was interested in both and in self-promotion. In 1785 (just 9 years after the signing of The Declaration of Independence), Wilberforce had some experiences that changed his life and helped him to dedicate himself to the service of God. He became an Evangelical Christian.
Through his study, he attained greater enlightenment, he came to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit. He wrote, "This [led] me to prayer and self-abasement – to penitential sorrow– to humble but earnest supplication for the promised aides of the Holy Spirit, for the sake of that Saviour who died upon the Cross to atone for our transgressions, in order to soften, to animate, to warm my dull heart." (Kevin Belmonte, Hero for Humanity: A Biography of William Wilberforce pg. 84).
This led him to overcome his fear of losing social status, power and influence by reclaiming a childhood friendship with John Newton, former slave trader turned preacher and author of the beloved hymn Amazing Grace. John Newton advised and encouraged Wilberforce to remain in Parliament assuring him that he could serve God there.
Wilberforce followed that advice. Over a period of 26 years and at great personal cost, he fought for the abolition of the Slave Trade. He was attacked and mocked. He was belittled and his relationships were strained. His patriotism was questioned. He said, "If to be feelingly alive to the sufferings of my fellow-creatures is to be a fanatic, I am one of the most incurable fanatics ever permitted to be at large." In the end without war and further bloodshed, Wilberforce won. Right won. Liberty won. God won. The Slave Trade Act was passed in 1807.
At his death a friend paid tribute to his memory, "he was great among the good and good among the great.... His disinterested, self-denying, laborious [and unceasing] efforts in [the] cause of justice and humanity... will call down the blessing of millions; and ages yet to come will glory in his memory" (Kevin Belmonte, Hero for Humanity: A Biography of William Wilberforce pg. 327).
The story of William Wilberforce as depicted in the film Amazing Grace is almost singular in our time. How rarely we see the good that religion does in civic life portrayed in film. How rarely we see in film, theater or television, the influence of God, of faith, of religion acting in the life of a man or woman to the good of others. And yet, those stories are all around us.
Like William Wilberforce, Mother Theresa changed the world in a big way. But, how many people of faith do you know that quietly change their small part of the world every day? I know a great number of these anonymous servants of God. Many of their lives would make great films and yet when I turn on the television, I don’t see these people or their likeness.
Instead, I see characters like Bart Simpson whose prayer goes like this, "Dear God, we pay for all this stuff ourselves, so thanks for nothing." I see women without chastity or modesty, men who behave like boys without character or integrity and who copulate like dogs with anyone that breathes. These are the examples our media puts in front of our children. Do they see a good marriage, a happy family, an honorable father, a sweet and tender mother? Rarely.
In his famous and important speech, Popular Culture and the War Against Standards, given at Hillsdale College in 1991, Michael Medved said, "One of the symptoms of the corruption and collapse of our national culture is the insistence that we examine only the surface of any work of art. The politically correct, properly liberal notion is that we should never dig deeper—to consider whether a given work is true, or good, or spiritually nourishing—or to evaluate its impact on society at large. Contemporary culture is obsessed with superficial skill and slick salesmanship while ignoring the more important issues of soul and substance. This is one of the consequences of the war on standards—a war that is currently being waged on three fronts: the glorification of ugliness, the assault on the family, and the attempt to undermine organized religion." http://www.hillsdale.edu/news/imprimis/archive/issue.asp?year=1991&month=02
To undermine organized religion in America is to undermine our collective conscience and our collective soul. It is the duty of organized religion to watch public policy and encourage its followers to take corrective action when public policy is at odds with God’s law. This was the intention of the builders of our nation. John Adams said, "Religion and Virtue are the only Foundations, not only of Republicanism and of all free Government, but of social felicity under all Governments and in all combinations of human Society." (John Adams to Benjamin Rush, August 28, 1811. Old Family Letters, 354.) And yet, the culture war on organized religion has achieved far too much success. That is something we must change.
End Part 1
Amazing Grace and the War Against Religion Part 2
Critics of organized religion are quick to point out instances in history like the Catholic inquisition, the bloody Protestant Reformation, the Salem Witch Trials, The Crusades and the like. The Founding Fathers were also well aware of these periods of great intolerance. However, any student of history knows that much terror and bloodshed has been committed by the intolerant and Godless. Intolerance from any singular vision can be dangerous. In his book, Knowledge & Decisions, author Thomas Sowell explains, "An ideological vision is more than belief in a principle. It is a belief that that principle is crucial or overriding, so that other principles or even empirical facts must give way when in conflict with it. The inquisition had to reject Galileo’s astronomical finding in the interests of a higher vision, as the Nazis had to reject Einstein in spite of any evidence about his theories or his individual abilities." (Thomas Sowell, Knowledge & Decisions pg.353).
Sowell explains how the Jacobins took an ideology and came to rule absolutely, "The brief rule of Jacobin intellectuals was not only despotic and bloody, but totalitarian in its pervasiveness. The very names of months and years were changed to correspond with their ideology, as were the names of streets, people, and even playing cards. Their regulations extended to friendship and marriage: each adult male had to publicly declare who his friends were, and any married couple who did not either have or adopt children within a specified time were to have their marriage dissolved and be separated by the government." (Thomas Sowell Knowledge & Decisions pg 351).
The Jacobins in their ideological tyranny murdered some 17,000 people just about two years after our Founders adopted The Bill of Rights. The First Amendment of the ten protects religion, religious diversity and diversity of ideological thought. It reads: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
There are many that assert that this amendment is a protection for the people from religion. It is not. The founders were brilliant men of diverse religious practice and thought. They knew that religion and religious societies made for a strong nation, but that creating a state church meant factions and war. So, they protected the people not from religion, but gave us freedom OF Religion. They did not "separate church and state," but they protected the religious freedom of all Americans. Congress could not dictate what faith would be practiced by the country. In addition, the state could not dictate how religion would be practiced. The citizens were granted freedom of speech, freedom of press and freedom of assembly so that they could speak and write and assemble to worship. If they felt these rights were impeded, they were given the right to sue to reclaim those rights. Whatever, rights the First Amendment granted, it granted that Americans could worship after the dictates of their own conscious and not be stifled in their worship or belief by the majority or by some ideological tyranny.
However, in our time, those that would spread ideological tyranny have found a way around The First Amendment. Culture. Through art, literature, television and film, they have created a constant barrage of negativity towards organized religion and people of faith.
In 1992, Elder M. Russell Ballard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints warned, "I believe he [George Washington] would have been troubled to see a time when citizens are forbidden to pray in public meetings; when people claim that "you can’t legislate morality," as if any law ever passed did not have at is heart some notion of right and wrong; when churches are called intruders when they speak out against public policy that is contrary to the laws of God; when many people reject the correcting influence of churches if it infringes on daily living ; when religion is accepted as a social organization but not as an integral part of national culture; when people bristle if churches speak in any forum except from the pulpit.
Indeed, some people now claim that the founding fathers’ worst fear in connection with religion has been realized; that we have in fact, a state-sponsored religion in America today. This new religion, adopted by many, does not have an identifiable name, but it operates just like a church. It exists in the form of doctrines and beliefs, where morality is whatever a person wants it to be, and where freedom is derived from the ideas of man and not from the laws of God. Many people adhere to this concept of morality with religious zeal and fervor, and courts and legislatures tend to support it" (Elder M. Russell Ballard, Religion in a Free Society address given 5 July 1992).
In the recent battle over Proposition 8 in California, Catholics, Mormons and other people of faith voted together twice in order to protect the traditional definition of marriage. Many, many said that the faithful had no right to speak, that organized religion has no business in the public forum. In fact, in his decision to overturn the vote of the people, Judge Walker said, "Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians. The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that... same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples..." If Judge Walker is right, then nothing can be considered immoral, everything must be morally subjective. If everything is morally subjective, how can any law stand at all?
Even if one takes extraordinary measures, it is impossible to fully protect ones family from the destructive filth in the prevailing culture. Our children must go to school, they may go with children whose parents are less careful about what their kids watch and listen to. Children are sure to hear foul language and be subjected to pornographic images and so their education at home must be more influential than their education outside the home. Those who know and love God must stand for morality and character and challenge, kindly, but challenge those who would make organized religion mute and everything morally subjective. As religious people, we need to be more active in our faith and our private charity. William Wilberforce once said, "Can you tell a plain man the road to Heaven? Certainly, turn once at once to the right and go straight forward." America has been heaven on earth, a place where we have had relative peace and great prosperity and greatest of all liberty to pursue our own happiness. Where will be if religion is banned from reminding us of the commandments and our obligations, impelling the citizens toward the greater good in society. Our Founders felt that we would only survive as a nation if we kept God’s laws. If that is so, our liberty is on the line.