“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” affirms our Declaration of Independence, “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.”1
On this foundation rests our entire way of life. And it must be preserved!
Self-evident truths are powerful because they are true (we can all recognize them, despite the insistence of some that they cannot) and because they are universal (for the benefit of all, even those who refuse to recognize them).
In the United States, there are many who not only refuse to believe in these truths, but actually despise them, working tirelessly to see them eradicated from public life. And they have been very successful. Their successes come not from effective attacks on the foundations themselves, for these foundations are incorruptible, but from our unbelief. The attacks are aimed at us. The assaults have shaken our trust and reliance on what we know to be true. That’s the danger!
The Founding Fathers knew how important it was to protect this foundation. The words of John Adams still reverberate today, “It is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.”2 And, “Our Constitution was made only for a religious and moral people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.”3
So what must we do to ensure this foundation is secure? As Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover these precious values: that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control.”4
Let us consider some of these self-evident truths then. Through this ten-part series, I intend to use the Ten Commandments (the best condensed introductory summary of self-evident truths available) to show how they sustain our way of life and why we must protect them if freedom is to flourish in our land once again.
The First Commandment tells us “You shall have no other gods before Me.”5 This is the first and most basic principle we depend on and one which anchors all others. We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. We are “one nation, under God.”6
The principle, of course, presupposes that there is in fact a God. And as a self-evident truth, it suggests that deep inside we all know this to be true.
Our belief in a Supreme Being sustains our freedoms because even the skeptic can see that, “All the foundations of the earth are unstable.”7 In other words, whatever we think of God, we know ourselves, and we know how incredibly flawed we are. Any system based on earthly authority is bound to fail as corruption, greed, lust, and pride take root. History bears the painful scars of such attempts.
Notice the principle refers to one God, a Creator, a God, to the exclusion of all others. There is one true God. This fact, which some attack as “intolerant” and “discriminatory,” in fact serves as the foundation for our rich religious liberty tradition. Since there is a God, all men should be free to pursue Him. The principle does not endorse a religion, but in fact recognizes man’s natural thirst to know his Creator.
The concept embraces every sincere attempt to connect with this one God. It does not matter where your search for Him begins – whether in Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc. The search for Truth will eventually lead you to the one true God.
We, therefore, do not fear religions different from our own. There is no need to “kill infidels” or impose a theocracy. The principle demands freedom, for a forced conversion is no conversion at all.
That does not mean all religions are equal, for there is only one God. As a Christian man, I believe any sincere search for God, no matter where it starts, will eventually lead you to the God of the Bible and His Son Jesus Christ.
Truth, then, does not require neutrality (as post-modern despots demand), but sincerity and truthfulness.
Here is a concrete example of how this principle is applied. The Declaration of Rights of the Maryland Constitution shows the magnificent balance it brings:
[I]t is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to Him, all persons are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty; wherefore, no person ought by any law to be molested in his person or estate, on account of his religious persuasion, or profession, or for his religious practice, unless, under the color of religion, he shall disturb the good order, peace or safety of the State, or shall infringe the laws of morality, or injure others in their natural, civil or religious rights;8
Notice how the “duty” of every man to worship God actually demands religious liberty for all, including the non-believer.
Still, the existence of this One who created us demands a response from us. It imparts in us a sense of gratitude and responsibility. It establishes a hierarchy and order. Respect, reverence, worship, goodwill, a desire to do good while realizing how impossible a task that is, all flow from that recognition of our Creator.
Here is another practical example, again, from the Declaration of Rights of the Maryland Constitution, relating to witnesses and jurors:
[N]or shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror, on account of his religious belief; provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that under His dispensation such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefore either in this world or in the world to come.9 [Emphasis added]
We gain much as a society when we recognize that our actions have eternal consequences. No need for a military state to enforce common laws when everyone in themselves recognizes their duty to behave in a moral way. When someone serving as a witness or a juror recognizes he is responsible before God, who sees everything, he will be much more inclined to refuse a bribe, for example. He is not just worried about getting caught, he is now worried about doing the right thing.
This is, indeed, an amazing, liberating thought. Far from the restraining, claustrophobic impediment the modern cynic portrays a belief in God to be, this belief actually releases us to be free to trust, love, and coexist in community.
Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments.10
- Declaration of Independence, para. 2 (U.S. 1776).
- John Adams in a letter to Zabdiel Adams, June 21, 1776. The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, 1854), Vol. IX, p. 401.
- Id at 229, October 11, 1798.
- Martin Luther King, Jr., Sermon: Rediscovering the Lost Precious Values, Detroit, February 28, 1954.
- Exodus 20:3 (NKJV).
- The Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag, 4 U.S.C. 4.
- Psalm 82:5 (NKJV).
- MD CONST. Declaration of Rights, art. 36.
- MD CONST. Declaration of Rights, art. 36.
- Charles Carroll, Signer of the Declaration of Independence, in a letter to James McHenry, November 4, 1800. Bernard C. Steiner, The Life and Correspondence of James McHenry (Cleveland: The Burrows Brothers, 1907), p. 475.