Our beliefs shape our world view. If you believe there is no God, no heaven or hell and therefore no eternal consequences for your actions, then life has little, if any, meaning. If you lose a loved one to cancer, a car accident, war or something else, then all you are left with is sadness and bitterness.
Conversely, if you are a Christian, the sting of loss is just as real, but your faith allows you to see a larger meaning in the loss you experience. Because you know that life has meaning, and that life is eternal, you know that what we do in life echoes in eternity.
I hold to the second of these two world views. Yes, I understand that other faiths may also provide the same eternal perspectives on life, but I can’t speak to those faiths and their influence on world view. More importantly, for my purposes here, the vast majority of America’s founding fathers not only held to the Christian world view, they counted on the vast majority of Americans also subscribing to this world view. Why? Because if a Representative Democracy is ultimately ruled by “we the people,” then just rulers can only be produced by a just citizenry that acts not only in the interests of those alive in the “here and now,” but also for “our posterity.”
Thus, world view shapes and governs moral character. This moral character reinforces and sustains from generation to generation that same world view – or not. I believe that the moral character of Americans is shaped through what we believe, read and experience. These three things mold who we are and what we hold most dear. Therefore, that which we feed the minds of our citizens when they are young will be reflected in their behavior when they are old. I will call this our “reference point.”
The Original Reference Point
History records that when George Washington was sworn in as President of the United States, he was very aware of the precedent he was setting for the new nation of America. Scholars have found in his First Inaugural Address an American application of Moses’s warning in Deuteronomy chapter 28, in which Moses laid out the blessings God would bestow on Israel if they followed his commands, and the curses that would befall them if they failed to do so. Washington said:
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. …These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. … Since we ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained: … I behold the surest pledges … that the foundations of our National policy will be laid in the pure and immutable principles of private morality; and the pre-eminence of a free Government, be exemplified by all the attributes which can win the affections of its Citizens, and command the respect of the world.
How would the young country promote “private morality”? The founders saw the need to provide for a system of public education. In passing The Land Ordinance of 1785, they established a means for funding public education. Section 16 in each township was reserved for the maintenance of public schools. In 1836, William McGuffey published what came to be called the McGuffey Eclectic Reader. It was the nation’s first common textbook, and sold over 120 million copies. John Westerhoff III, in his book “McGuffey and His Readers,” wrote :
When we investigate the content of McGuffey’s Readers, three dominant images of God emerge. God is creator, preserver, and governor
But the McGuffey Readers were not the only means of reinforcing the lessons of moral character upon which the American world view was anchored. Research recently conducted Dr. Lincoln Mullen, Assistant Professor in the Department of History and Art History at George Mason University, reveals how the lessons learned by American students were reinforced in adulthood. He has compiled a database cataloguing references from the Bible in American newspapers from 1837 to 1922.[i]
Bible verses were once everywhere in newspapers. Nineteenth-century periodicals printed Sunday school lessons, ran Bible clubs for readers and circulated sermons. Editorials alluded to well-known scriptural references, and verses even turned up again and again as the punch lines of jokes.
This practice extended into adulthood the moral and ethical teachings children learned at school and their growing-up years. Thus, in spite of social upheavals such as the Civil War, the Industrial Revolution, and increased urbanization of American culture, ideological core beliefs, though stretched by “info wars” launched through the period of the muckrakers and yellow dog journalism, were not snapped. These ideological core beliefs reinforced personal responsibility for one’s actions. It was a natural outgrowth of the educational and socialization process that had followed on the heels of the founders’ desire to nurture a society guided in private morality.
Dr. Larry Arnn in his book, The Founders’ Key, touches on this topic on page 93 of his book when he writes:
… the purpose of politics is the well-being, the good of the people. At the same time, politics depends on the well-being, the good of the people. It is not easy to be a good citizen in a bad country; it is not easy to have a good country full of bad citizens. The relationship makes a circle.
Today in 2017, this original reference point is unraveling. Some even try to argue that it never existed. This is the first in a series of posts I intend to write on the general topic of what I call The Unraveling. It is based on an essay that I have written which you can find at www.wisejargon.com/docs/theunraveling.pdf. In that essay I lay out my thoughts as concisely as I can, with a full series of references endnotes (27 for those with a scholarly bent). In this series of posts, I wish to expand on the original essay, and make it easier to digest via social media.
I also wish to invite a discussion on this topic. To do so, please see my posts at DISQUS.
I know I am not alone in my observations of this unraveling. I know there are high level policy folk interested in the topic. But I also know that without a grassroots effort to build support of ideas that might halt and reverse The Unraveling, all those great think tank ideas will remain just that.
It’s time that all of us work together to reverse course, and return to the original reference point.
[i] Zauzmer, Julie. The Washington Post. “Newspapers were once full of Bible quotes – and a local professor’s tool lets us learn from them,” 8/3/2016. Accessed at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/08/03/newspapers-were-once-full-of-bible-quotes-and-a-local-professors-tool-lets-us-learn-from-them/ on 11/25/2016.