Judeo-Christian Values in America have a basis in 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 equal 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 human 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 acknowledging God as the source of our rights, keeping Judeo-Christian religious morality in the state, as opposed to the church its 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.” As Thomas Jefferson said of it, The Declaration of Independence is “an expression of the American mind,” and it succinctly summarizes our values rooted both in Judeo-Christian faith as well as Enlightenment reason.
Our Founding Fathers were religious in a distinctive 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, and that just government power can only derive from the informed consent of the governed; 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 idea, one of our most liberal founding principles; and it is also an irony that many American Conservatives seem 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. Thomas Jefferson noted that, 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 human Liberty, and their governments unjustly enforce this French Revolutionary and Marxist principle. Social engineering of this sort has led to the failed European inventions of Socialism and Communism, and Socialists in America have been lured into this failed European idea of social justice. Marxist Socialism is anti-American because it is a form of elite minority rule. Most people prefer to be hard-working and creative; and by violating the will of the majority to keep their hard-earned property, Socialism becomes unjust as it represents government power without the informed consent of the governed. Socialism is a failure in that it unjustly suppresses human creativity by excessively taxing away its rewards; and on the other hand by foolish redistribution of economic reward to many who, though mentally and physically able, fail to honor their Divine privilege and duty to work creatively. Why work if the reward (your property) is taken by the state; and why work if you don’t have to? Socialism is a triple insult to the pursuit of happiness: it coerces conformity, it suppresses God-given human creativity; and it damages the social fabric by promoting resentment on the one hand, and ingratitude on the other. Marxist Communism was even worse in that it also dishonored the sacredness of human life and liberty, and was the inevitable result of separating not just church from state, but the separation of God from state. Communism dishonored Gods 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 as I can tell, the great majority of our Founding Fathers explicitly put God into the national life of the United States, precisely 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. It should be self-evident that if our sacred human rights are derived from government, they can also be removed by government.
America is a melting pot of diverse people including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists and Atheists; and from the Judeo-Christian perspective: all made in God’s image. We have in America a multiethnic society, and that is good. What is unhealthy for America is for it to become Balkanized multi-value society, which is very likely to happen with the atrophy of American Judeo-Christian Values. Worse yet would be for America to adopt the toxic values which exist in some parts of the world and in some foreign cultures. The values of Fascism, Nazism, Communism or Totalitarian Islamic Sharia Law for example must never metastasize into our American Culture and Law. Our Judeo-Christian Values have been with us from the beginning; they have made us strong and successful, and our values should remain central to the American spirit and culture. Recognizing other cultures is desirable, but we should never tolerate the foreign values of gratuitous violence, coercion, supremacism, bigotry, intolerance, slavery or totalitarianism; values which are sadly endemic in some foreign cultures.
Several quotations from 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:
“The God who gave us life gave us liberty.”
“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?”
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 …”
Later, Abraham Lincoln 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.”
What follows is a list of what this American considers to be our Judeo-Christian Values, the values established by our Founding Fathers, and the basis for which is to be found in the Bible, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. 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” & “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.
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 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.”
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.” Our Founding Fathers understood that peace can only occur under liberty; peace under tyranny is an oxymoron. The tyrant or terrorist is, by definition, at war with liberty-loving people; and we either accept the struggle for Liberty, or we accept the tyranny. Just war in medieval times was connected to the defense of life and privilege for kings and tyrants; American just war refers to the defense of life and liberty of a free people – individuals who wish to be free from tyranny and terror. Americans with Judeo-Christian Values will defend their God-given Liberty.
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, as they suppress human creativity.
6. “Establish justice.” This is commanded repeatedly in the Hebrew Bible, and this is how it has been done in America: Honor Life, Liberty and Creativity. Honoring the life of others is rooted in the “golden rule”: “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.” Liberty in practical terms means: Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, no established or state-supported church, right to own property and to privacy at home, right to bear arms and act in self-defense, uninterrupted elections, and the division of powers into three branches, and among the states. It is unjust when special group rights trump the pre-existing individual God-given rights of Life, Liberty and Creativity. Our Founding Fathers enumerated these essential individual 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.” Americans with Judeo-Christian Values, as opposed to European leaders, 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. Giving is a Judeo-Christian value and duty.
10. Self-discipline, self-respect, respect for elders and for others, individual responsibility, loyalty and gratitude are Judeo-Christian Values, and also valued in other cultures.
11. Courage is a Judeo-Christian Value, and it is also valued in other cultures. Courage can be defined as the willingness to place one’s self into harm’s way; and, if necessary, to die in defense of God-given Life and Liberty. I can think of no better example of warrior courage than young David as he stood with his sling before Goliath. There is no greater example of pacifist courage than Jesus, as He gave His life in defense of eternal Life and Liberty. Without sacrifice the protesting pacifist is a coward; Jesus was not a coward. The warrior and the true pacifist are linked by self-sacrifice: self-sacrifice in defense of Sacred Life and Liberty.
12. 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.
13. 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 of lesser importance should melt into what is very important and which should unite us: our value of Life, Liberty and Creativity – those individual human rights identified by the Declaration of Independence as the gifts of God.
14. 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.
Elite European leaders and philosophers, and many Americans in mass media and the ivory tower, have decided that “God is Dead.” They have it wrong; and our Founding Fathers have said otherwise. The European separation of God and state in the Twentieth Century resulted in Communism and Nazism, and a disgusting explosion of mass murder, wars of aggression, indecency, subjugation and human suffering. The Judeo-Christian Values of our Founding Fathers has resulted in an explosion of Life, Liberty and Creativity for hundreds of millions of people. It can be so for our children, and their children, and for our posterity into the future – a bright future. Europe, and now The United States have a choice: Accept and defend Judeo-Christian Values by placing God, but not the church, back into the state; or accept a new wave of Totalitarianism – most likely this time of the Marxist &/or Islamist variety.
America does not have an exclusive claim on Life, Liberty and Creativity; these are the universal rights of all people, everywhere, and for all time. Recall that our Founding Fathers were revolutionaries; and realize that the American Revolution will not end until there are no longer enemies of our God-given Life, Liberty and Creativity, foreign or domestic. The Liberty that flourished in ancient Greece, and during the Roman Republic, was short-lived. American Liberty, however, can last as long as the Earth exists, because our Liberty has been bequeathed by the King of the Universe.
Ronald R. Cherry, MD