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Approaching the holiday season is always a joyous thought. It brings to mind those things which are most important in our lives and gives us extra special reasons to remember and celebrate them. It may also cause us to think how much others in the world are missing who do not have what we have, either in material blessings or in religious beliefs. It is no secret that this world, and particularly the United States, is becoming increasingly secularized – it is turning away from the very roots which made it great.
One of the most instructive studies one can undertake is the example of a nation in modern times which not only rejected nearly every semblance of Christianity but took active steps to root out anything remotely reminding one of Christian principles. It is the story of the nation of France in the latter half of the 18thcentury. Because it was happening at the same time our nation was being formed, it provides an excellent comparison for any student to observe the causes and effects of such action.
During the 17th century, France had become one of the most important nations of the world. With a large industrial populace, rich fertile soil, and a considerable international commerce, she seemed to have all the outward ingredients for success.
The world had been through the Renaissance, a period of new birth, where an appreciation of the finer things of life, the humanities, were helping people come out of the misery of the dark ages. This was the original definition of humanism. Then there was the period of the Reformation, when the cold doctrines of medieval religion yielded to a greater effort to return to more sound religious doctrines which warmed believers with spiritual awakenings. Even though France was predominantly Catholic, King Henry had previously issued the Edict of Nantes, which gave a degree of religious freedom to the Protestants, or Huguenots, in that country. Then came Louis XIV. In his zeal to return France to the Roman religion, he repealed the Edict of Nantes and instituted severe persecution of the Huguenots. He engaged France in many new wars which led to social and economic upheaval. Intellectuals of the day blamed religion and this led to a whole new kind of humanism – the so-called Enlightenment Period – wherein destructive, anti-Christian philosophies became popular. These humanist philosophies would eventually lead France on a downward slide toward revolution.
The two most notable philosophers of the Enlightenment were Voltaire and Rousseau. These philosophers are usually treated as enlightened, progressive, thinkers in today’s high school and colleges texts, but there is much more students should know about them. Voltaire, for example, who is known as the Father of the Enlightenment was very witty and intellectual and openly attacked Christianity in the name of reason. He tried to disprove the Bible. He said that in another century from his time, nobody will even want to read the Bible anymore and the only place one would be able to see a Bible would be in a museum. It is interesting that when Voltaire died, a Bible society purchased Voltaire’s home and set up a printing press in order to print Bibles! His philosophy of rationalism stated that man’s reason is the sole criterion for truth. He said reason is god and there are no absolutes. He even advocated revolution to overthrow traditional institutions of home, church, and government so that a new order could be set up based on reason and science.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau thought Voltaire’s rationalism was too cold, and that the basis of man’s actions should be his emotions and feelings. This is the philosophy of French romanticism. Rousseau taught that the root of man’s problems is society and that if man were left in his uncivilized state, he would be morally superior! His ideas became the thinking behind the today’s ideas of permissive child rearing (after all, it’s not the child’s fault), social planning (government must provide everything for the child), and environmentalism (individual control of property leads to social evils).
The result of these ideas becoming the thinking of a nation are for all to read in the history books. France went from the tyranny of kings to the anarchy of chaos. Louis XVI and his wife were guillotined. Various groups struggled for control, each one putting the previous one under the guillotine. Ironically, a “Committee of Public Safety” was set up to supposedly prevent anarchy. Its leader, Maximilian Robespierre, instituted the famous Reign of Terror and was later himself put under the guillotine.
One textbook describes the effort to rid France of any vestige of Christianity during this period.
“By this point, the ideas of the Enlightenment had taken control as atheism reached its height in France. It is no coincidence that the Reign of Terror was bloodiest at the same time that atheism was at its peak. Convinced that all religion was counter-revolutionary, one extreme group of revolutionaries promoted a program of “de-Christianization” in France. Some revolutionaries even tried to persuade the National Convention to utterly abolish Christianity by decree. Radicals in Paris declared that the Revolution would not be complete until it had “dethroned the King of Heaven as well as the kings of the earth.”
To remove any remnant of religion from government, the Convention introduced a new calendar, which removed Sundays, Easter, Christmas, and all other religious holidays. To avoid dating history by the birth of Christ, they declared the year 1792 to be the year 1 (the beginning of the Republic). Months were renamed, and weeks were declared to be ten days long rather than seven. (They were renamed “decades,” with the tenth day of each decade taking the place of Sunday) It is said that people and even horses were physically unable to cope with ignoring God’s law of one day of rest in every seven. The system was shortly abandoned as unworkable. The revolutionists also devised a new system of weights and measures, the metric system, because the old system reminded them of the kings and aristocrats who had established it.” (World History and Cultures, A Beka Book, Pensacola, Florida, 1997, p. 310)
As the true nature of the French Revolution became manifest, John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson saying: “Rousseau and other revolutionary philosophers preached to the French nation liberty, until they made the most mechanical slaves; equality till they destroyed all equity; humanity till they became weasels and African panthers; and fraternity till they cut one another’s throats like Roman gladiators.”
When Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States during the early 19th century, he had the advantage of looking back on the recent French Revolution and comparing it to what he was learning about the American Revolution. In his book entitled Democracy in America, De Tocqueville warned his countrymen of the perils of attempting a republican form of government without the supports of Christianity. De Tocqueville’s warning is applicable to all countries, including America: “[There are some] who look forward to a republican form of government as a tranquil and lasting state, towards which modern society is daily impelled by the ideas and manners of the time, and who sincerely desire to prepare men to be free. When these men attack religious opinions, they obey the dictates of their passions and not of their interests. Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. Religion is much more necessary in the republic which they set forth in glowing colors than in the monarchy which they attack; it is more needed in democratic republics than any others. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie relaxed? And what can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity?”
In summarizing his findings as to why America was as good as it was, de Tocqueville issued his famous explanation as to America’s great secret:
“I sought for the greatness and genius of America in her commodious harbors and her ample rivers, and it was not there; in her fertile fields and boundless prairies, and it was not there; in her rich mines and her vast world commerce, and it was not there. Not until I went to the churches of America and heard her pulpits aflame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
A comparison between the Enlightenment and the liberal philosophies of our day, beginning in full since the 1960s, reveals some disturbing similarities:
Even though wise men of our Founders’ era decried and warned about the French Revolutionaries’ tactics, yet nearly every radical and revolutionary of the past two centuries has romanticized the French Revolution because it demonstrates the potential to make radical changes in society through totalitarian rule, either by mob or by dictator.
How thankful we Americans must be for our Founders who had a deep reverence for God and His power to help a humble people. Listen to their pleadings:
“Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of the Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and whereas both houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:
“Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these states to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted; for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
“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 enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our national government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.”
Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3rd day of October, A.D. 1789.
George Washington -“No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the affairs of men, more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.”
George Washington-“No man has a more perfect reliance on the all-wise and powerful dispensations of the Supreme Being than I have, nor thinks His aid more necessary.”
George Washington-“It will ever be the first wish of my heart to aid your pious endeavors to inculcate a due sense of the dependence we ought to place in that all-wise and powerful Being on whom alone our success depends.”
George Washington-“I am sure there never was a people who had more reason to acknowledge a divine interposition in their affairs than those of the United States; and I should be pained to believe that they have forgotten that agency which was so often manifested during our revolution, or that they failed to consider the omnipotence of that God who is alone able to protect them.”
George Washington-“The success which has hitherto attended our united efforts we owe to the gracious interposition of Heaven, and to that interposition let us gratefully ascribe the praise of victory and the blessings of peace.”
Thomas Jefferson –“Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we remove their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people, that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.”
Thomas Jefferson-“The relations which exist between man and his Maker, and the duties resulting from those relations, are the most interesting and important to every human being, and the most incumbent on his study and investigation.”
Thomas Jefferson–“If the freedom of religion … can … prevail, the genuine doctrines of Jesus … will again be restored to their original purity. This reformation will advance with the other improvements of the human mind, but too late for me to witness it.” On another occasion he wrote that he was “Happy in the prospect of a restoration of primitive Christianity.”
Benjamin Franklin-“It is that particular wise and good God who is the author and owner of our system that I propose for the object of my praise and adoration. For I conceive that he has in himself some of the passions he has planted in us, and that, since he has given us reason whereby we are capable of observing his wisdom in the creation, he is not above caring for us, being pleased with our praise, and offended when we slight him or neglect his glory. I conceive for many reasons that he is a good Being; and as I should be happy to have so wise, good, and powerful a Being my friend, let me consider in what manner I shall make myself most acceptable to him.”
Benjamin Franklin-“That Being who gave me existence, and through almost threescore years has been continually showering his favors upon me, whose very chastisements have been blessings to me; can I doubt that he loves me? And, if he loves me, can I doubt that he will go on to take care of me, not only here but hereafter? This to some may seem presumption; to me it appears the best grounded hope: hope of the future, built on experience of the past.”
Benjamin Franklin-“I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue; and the scriptures assure me that at the last day we shall not be examined [by] what we thought, but what we did; and our recommendation will not be that we said, Lord! Lord! but that we did good to our fellow creatures.”
Benjamin Franklin (attributed)-“A nation of well-informed men who have been taught to know and prize the rights which God has given them cannot be enslaved. It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins.”
Benjamin Franklin–“Here is my creed: I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe. That he governs it by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is in doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion.”
James Madison-“The Religion or the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, being under the direction of reason and conviction only, not of violence or compulsion, all men are equally entitled to the full and free exercise of it according to the dictates of conscience; and therefore that no man or class of men ought, on account of religion, to be invested with peculiar emoluments or privileges; nor subject to any penalties or disabilities unless under color of religion, any man disturb the peace, the happiness, or safety of Society. And that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity, toward each other.”
James Madison-“The real wonder is that so many difficulties should have been surmounted … with a unanimity almost as unprecedented as it must have been unexpected. It is impossible for any man of candor to reflect on this circumstance without partaking of the astonishment. It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution.”
John Adams when asked if he thought we should succeed in our struggle with Great Britain said, “Yes-if we fear God and repent of our sins.”
John Adams–“I always consider the establishment of America with reverence and wonder, as the opening of a grand scene and design in Providence for the illumination of the ignorant, and the emancipation of the slavish part of mankind all over the earth.”
John Jay–“The inspired prophets on the contrary, expressed the most exalted ideas of the law. They declare that the law of the Lord is perfect; that the statutes of the Lord are right; and that the commandment of the Lord is pure; that God would magnify the law and make it honorable.”
John Jay–“Uninspired commentators have dishonored the law, by ascribing to it, in certain cases, a sense and meaning which it did not authorize, and which our Saviour rejected and reproved.
George Mason-“My soul I resign into the hands of my Almighty Creator, whose tender mercies are all over His works, who hateth nothing that He hath made, and to the justice and wisdom of whose dispensations I willingly and cheerfully submit, humbly hoping from His unbounded mercy and benevolence, through the merits of my blessed Savior, a remission of my sins.”
“If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
“And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth …. But it shall come to pass, if thou wilt not hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all his commandments and his statutes which I command thee this day; that all these curses shall come upon thee, and overtake thee …. The Lord shall send upon thee cursing, vexation, and rebuke, in all that thou settest thine hand unto for to do, until thou be destroyed, and until thou perish quickly; because of the wickedness of thy doings, where by thou hast forsaken me.” Deuteronomy 28:1-20
As many of you are aware, we recently finished our new curriculum on the Principles of Liberty using The Five Thousand Year Leap. Your regular monthly or annual contributions are still needed and appreciated as we now focus on finishing our new curriculum centered around The Making of America.
May God’s richest blessings be with you all during this season.