Judeo-Christian Values have a foundational role in America, beginning with the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, 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…”
Since the pursuit of happiness, as Sigmund Freud surmised, is tied to human love and to creative work and play, the principles of American Judeo-Christian Values can rightly be summarized as the honoring of God-given Life, Liberty and Creativity. This seed of American Social Justice was then fleshed out in the U.S. Constitution through reason and common sense, unencumbered by the dysfunctional religious and secular traditions and laws of Old Europe.
Our Founding Fathers separated church from state, but they wisely did not separate God from state; they acknowledged God as the source of our rights, and, in fact, they were careful to place Biblical morality directly into our founding documents and laws, and into our values and culture precisely to help prevent a future of totalitarian or tyrannical rule in America. The combination of keeping Judeo-Christian religious morality in the state, as opposed to the church it’s self; and, additionally, setting up our laws based on reason and common sense has contributed to the American Character, and to what is known as “American Exceptionalism.”
Our Founding Fathers were religious in a new way, the Judeo-Christian way, and they were the liberals of their day by deducing that our political and human rights come from a power higher than human government; but they were conservative to Biblical morality. There was and still is a connection between God and Liberty; He is the author of it. It is ironic that American Conservatives are now the champion of this our most liberal founding principle; and also an irony that most American Conservatives are wholly unaware of their connection with the liberal founding ideas of this great republic. It is also an irony that many American Liberals have turned a blind eye to the required connection between God and Liberty. As Thomas Jefferson and John Adams noted, as you will see below, Liberty cannot survive among men without its Divine connection.
In Judeo-Christian America one finds the idea of equality before God and the law, but not government forced economic equality. Modern European culture has stressed the value of economic equality rather than Liberty, and their governments unjustly enforce the principle. This has led to the failed European inventions of Socialism and Communism. Socialists in America have been lured into this failed European idea of social justice. Socialism is a failure in that it unjustly suppresses human creativity by excessively taxing away its rewards, and by foolishly giving economic reward to many who, even though mentally and physically able, fail to honor their Divine privilege and duty to work creatively.
Thus, Socialism is a dual insult to God-given creativity. Communism was much worse in that it also dishonored the sacredness of human life and liberty. Communism was the inevitable result of separating not just church from state, but God from state. Communism dishonored God’s gifts of Life, Liberty and Creativity. European cultures have historical ties to authoritarian and totalitarian systems dating back to the Roman Empire. Even European Christianity was, for a time, contaminated by its links to authoritarian rule.
American Judeo-Christian Culture, on the other hand, has been linked to honoring Life, Liberty and Creativity from the outset; deriving its wisdom from the lights of reason, common sense, and both the Hebrew Bible and New Testament Christian Bible. Thomas Jefferson and the great majority of our Founding Fathers explicitly put God into the national life of the United States, by putting the Creator into the Declaration of Independence. It is important that American Liberty has something to do with God; that is something for students to know and discuss, even if they are not particularly religious. This does not represent some form of tyranny of the religious majority or an injustice; it was in fact the wisdom of our Founding Fathers to stand in opposition to tyranny and injustice by acknowledging the source of our rights — those rights originating from God rather than from King George III, or for that matter from the Soviet or Chinese Politburo, or a courthouse, or a legislature.
America is a melting pot of diverse people including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Atheists; and from the Judeo-Christian perspective, all are made in God’s image. We have in America a multiethnic society, and that is good. What would be unhealthy for America would be for it to become Balkanized, something likely to happen with the atrophy of Judeo-Christian American Culture and Values. Worse yet would be for America to adopt the toxic values which exist in some parts of the world and which are endemic in some foreign cultures. The values of Fascism, Nazism, Communism or Totalitarian Islamic Sharia Law for example must never metastasize into our American Culture, rooted in Judeo-Christian values. These values have been with us from the beginning and they have made us strong and successful. These Judeo- Christian Values should be kept central to the American Spirit and Culture even as we have become more multi-ethnic.
Some of the words of our Founding Fathers will illustrate American Judeo-Christian Values and our separation of church and state, but not the separation of God from state, and provide grounding for our understanding of social justice.
Thomas Jefferson wrote:
“all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed ….”
He also wrote:
“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?” He also wrote: “Almighty God hath created the mind free. … All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion…”
He also wrote:
“I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
Our Founding Fathers wrote the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
President George Washington said this when proclaiming our National Thanksgiving Holiday:
“It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God ….”
John Adams wrote this:
“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Later, Abraham Lincoln wrote these words about the Bible:
“In regard to this great book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to men. All the good Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong.”
He also spoke these words at the Gettysburg Address:
“…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The following are the Judeo-Christian Values embraced by the American Republic and People.
I am indebted to Dennis Prager who has listed Judeo-Christian Values and elaborated on this subject long before I took it up; and those who know his work will recognize many of his thoughts.
1. Our sense of right and wrong and our sense of wisdom come from the use of reason and common sense, but also, and importantly, from the Bible which, by faith was considered by our Founding Fathers to be God’s inspired text; and not just from the mind or heart of man. This faith lead to the mottos: “In God We Trust” and “One Nation under God.” Our Founding Fathers were believers in the God of the Bible, even if some were not orthodox Christians, and they put that faith into the Declaration of Independence, into our laws, into our national monuments, and into our culture. Faith is a part of American Culture, something Atheists, Secularists, Humanists and those of other religions should acknowledge and accept as historically accurate truth. To remove the results of Biblical Faith from America is to undo what the Founding Fathers have wrought.
2. Truth is Sacred; there can be no liberty or justice, and little happiness without it. Jesus connected truth and liberty when he said “the truth shall make you free.” In the Book of Exodus of the Hebrew Bible God describes Himself: “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth…” In Deuteronomy God is described this way: “He is the Rock, His work is perfect; For all His ways are justice, A God of truth and without injustice.” Listen to King David in Psalm 25: “Show me Your ways, O Lord; Teach me your paths. Lead me in Your truth…”; and in Psalm 51: “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.”
3. Human life is the first gift of God, and it is of infinite value since man is made in the image of God. Judeo-Christian Values have lead to a culture of life in America, not a culture of death. Americans with Judeo-Christian Values will defend innocent God-given life.
4. Our Liberty is a gift from God and stated so in the Declaration of Independence. It is also stated in the New Testament Christian Bible: “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is Liberty.” Americans with Judeo-Christian Values will defend their God-given Liberty from tyranny and terror.
5. Human creativity is also a gift from God and is not to be unjustly suppressed by totalitarian, tyrannical or excessively taxing government. The work ethic is an important part of Judeo-Christian Values since honorable work is a reflection of God-given human creativity. Human reason is also a part of God-given human creativity, and it has led to scientific knowledge and technological progress. Reason and science are important aspects of Judeo-Christian Values. Human creativity is central to the pursuit of happiness, but does not guarantee it; totalitarian systems such as Communism or Islamic Sharia Law guarantee utopian happiness, but don’t deliver it.
6. “Establish justice.” This is commanded repeatedly in the Hebrew Bible. This is how it has been done in America: Honor Life, Liberty and Creativity. Liberty in practical terms means: Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, no established or state-supported religion, right to bear arms and act in self-defense, uninterrupted elections and the division of powers into its three branches. Where our culture is now headed in the wrong direction, in my opinion, is to provide special rights for certain groups of people. Our Founding Fathers acknowledged these basic rights for all people, and our Civil War enforced it for the American slaves when they were denied their God-given Liberty.
7. “Hate Evil”. This is commanded three times in the Hebrew Bible; this is from the book of Proverbs: “The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.” Hear the Prophet Isaiah: “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness….” Americans with Judeo-Christian Values, as opposed to Europeans, still believe in the death penalty for pre-meditated murder, and America is still the nemesis of terrorists and tyrants – see the seal of the state of Virginia.
8. “Love your neighbor” – commanded in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles. “Love your enemy” – commanded in the New Testament Christian Bible. Generations of Americans, starting with our Founding Fathers, have had to square the values of “Hate Evil” with “Love your enemy.” This has been done by hating the evil within the enemies of God-given Life and Liberty, but not hating the evil-doer him/herself.
9. In the Judeo-Christian Value System there is a natural and common-sense balance between compassion and courageous confrontation of evil. This can be seen metaphorically as a natural balance between femininity and masculinity; both good and necessary. The secular culture of Europe and of many in the United States today have unwisely suppressed the masculinity of Judeo-Christian American Culture, and this has put our society out of balance.
10. From Many, One: e pluribus unum. Ethnicity and race don’t matter, but values do matter. We Americans should consider ourselves blessed to live under God-given Liberty in the same melting pot; and we are privileged to pursue happiness through creative work and play, unencumbered by excessive government. Those things that divide us, such as race or ethnicity, can be viewed metaphorically as our various styles; and are not very important. Those things of lesser importance should melt into what is very important and which should unite us: our value of Life, Liberty and Creativity – those rights defined by the Declaration of Independence, and rightly identified as the gifts of God.
11. The natural resources of the Earth, including the animals, along with the rest of creation should be honored and well cared for, but also used and enjoyed; and never worshiped.
Ronald R. Cherry is a medical doctor.