February 17th, 2014

Consequences of a Refusal to Recognize Our Creator

Can an ungodly society be a free society?

This question has kept busy both philosophers and pastors for ages. Whether the bondage of sin correlates to, or causes, the bondage of statism is a subject of significant importance. How necessary, really, is a belief in God?

Of course, a belief in God is rather irrelevant without corresponding behavior; actionable belief, or in other words faith in God, is what’s important. Too often faith is treated with tunnel vision, whereby people only consider its influence on their individual lives. But just as faith can move mountains, it can shape societies—and a lack of it can likewise leave a noticeable imprint.

It takes effort not to notice the many stains on society that surround us—news reports overwhelm us constantly with tales of government corruption, societal scandal, depravity, or corporate malfeasance. In systematic fashion, people use their rights in an irresponsible way or have them violated by others acting wrongfully. All of this stems from a rejection of our Creator.

The Declaration of Independence rightly recognizes that our Creator endowed us with unalienable rights. This acknowledgement of a pre-existing source elevates our rights over the state and suggests their importance. Can we ignore or outright reject this Creator without disregarding the endowments he gave us?

Closing our eyes to God’s role in our lives does not just impact our belief regarding, and attitude towards, our birthright of freedom. Abandoning a Creator-centric philosophy impacts our every action; if a person is not concerned about being judged for his behavior, then the natural course is to proverbially eat, drink, and be merry despite a higher, ignored life calling.

The Protestant traditions that influenced the foundations of the New World recognized the self-moderating nature of this future judgment and pointed to it often. Many philosophers of the time, along with the politicians that learned from them, understood the role of religion and morality in influencing civil government for the better—including restraining the abuse of power. Thus John Adams’ first draft of the Massachusetts Constitution stated that “the knowledge and belief of the being of God… and of a future state of rewards and punishments [are] the only true foundation of morality.”

Corrupt figures both past and present concern themselves primarily with whatever they think they can get away with. They take no thought of God’s approbation of their activity, but instead conceal their crime from their peers. They “seek deep to hide their counsels from the Lord” and work “in the dark.” When their scandals are made public they consider themselves “caught,” but even then place little importance on the punishment their Creator may have in store for them.

Diminishing our Creator’s role in our lives distorts how we understand, value, and exercise our rights. It also removes this future judgment as a factor in our daily decisions. A person who is considering an immoral action might subconsciously perform a cost-benefit analysis, weighing the pros and cons. Getting caught might entail angering the person’s spouse, jeopardizing employment, or risking social status, fines, or jail time. Pride or simple stupidity might give the person confidence that he can evade detection, increasing the likelihood that the action will be performed.

If this same person had faith in God and placed any sort of importance in His judgment, the Creator’s ever-present knowledge of our activities would surely be an factor in that same cost-benefit analysis. Spouses, friends, co-workers, and reporters may never learn of our behavior, but God sees everything and therefore can hold us accountable. This reality can restrain our individual behavior, but more generally, it “benefits society in a dramatic way when adherents engage in moral conduct because they feel accountable to God.”

President George Washington wrote that “reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.” Benjamin Franklin agreed: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.” Patrick Henry listed “virtue, morality, and religion” as the “great pillars of all government.” He continued: “This is the armor… and this alone, that renders us invincible. These are the tactics we should study. If we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed… so long as our manners and principles remain sound, there is no danger.”

The reason that many of the studious Founders encouraged faith in God was because they understood this concept: as we alienate ourselves from God, so too do we alienate the liberty He bestowed upon us. Contrary to Cain’s misguided claim, we cannot be free while being evil.

This is not to say that we must all share a common theology, or pay tithes and perform service and otherwise engage in the positive behavior most such religions require. What has long been recognized as important and influential, rather, is an allegiance to God—a recognition of our role as stewards and a belief that we will one day be held accountable.

And it is our deficiency in this regard that has led our society to become as it is; sin has contributed to statism. If we wish to be free, we must understand that a future judgment will hold us accountable for our actions, whether or not those actions are recognized and rewarded or punished by our peers in this life. More importantly, that understanding must lead to self-restraint, personal responsibility, and submission to our King.

Those who do not accept the yoke of Christ, as is readily evident, are led to bear the yoke of Caesar.

13 Responses to “Consequences of a Refusal to Recognize Our Creator”

  1. Clumpy
    February 17, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    Given the intertwining context of religiosity and law in American history, I really have to doubt that one has a firm, causal relationship with the other. Did the instigators of the Alien and Sedition Acts, or the Trail of Tears, or American slavery, or Jim Crow laws, or “anti-miscegenation” legislation, or mandated segregation, or the zoot suit riots, or the myriad deportation of political opponents and destruction of oppositional media, all of which occurred during more pointedly religious periods of American history, have the judgment of an angry God in mind? These were all very horrific and open denials of the sort of universal human dignity one might expect to be associated with a view of our fellow beings as children of God, yet they occurred.

    What an omnipotent being wants is astonishingly subject to current cultural norms, and many if not most of the politically affluent have been astonishingly skilled at turning this Divine mandate into justification for great evil. Those who are primarily concerned about taxation and regulation of business and not the things I’ve noted above may note an increase in their prevalence associated with a decrease in American religiosity, but on the whole it seems odd, given the full historical context we have at our perusal, to argue that a belief in God leads us inexorably to some free, conscientious society. It feels like an extension of the “things were great before but now the world is going down the tubes” fallacy which stems from all sorts of selective perception.

  2. Kaileo
    February 19, 2014 at 1:30 am #

    Exactly what Clumpy said!

  3. LLP
    February 19, 2014 at 4:43 am #

    Connor,

    Surprised at your argument from authority? Although God did create man and thus “his nature” of having in unalienable rights, an argument for Liberty is better framed in the “nature of man”.

    To reference God as the author of Liberty leaves open the argument of whose God. Allah, and the god of most sects of “Christianity” don’t exactly have a stellar track record of defending those unalienable rights.

    As argued by Clumpy so many atrocities through out history have been perpetrated on the basis of a “godly” mandate. You need look no further than Islam’s “holy jihad” and the LDS church advocacy of “gay friendly” ordinances to see that most people’s gods are not defenders of Liberty.

  4. Cary
    February 19, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    Like the other commenters, I find that I must voice my complete disagreement with this proposition. Your perspective in this regard is of and within a completely closed system without regard for any external evidence or example. Your reasoning circles back on itself so many times I got dizzy just reading it; “we need god for liberty because he said so.” -Absolutely not. And without evidence, for which there is none, this statement cannot survive the light of reason.

    Liberty is independent of god. Period. There are many examples of cultures who exist within a framework of liberty, but which are not theocratic. There are cultures that enjoy liberty under the banner of gods outside the realm of Christianity, and there are theocracies living in severe oppression despite a nearly universal belief in god to a degree that makes modern American Christianity look like a casual board game.

    I would dare say you have confused “belief in god” with “morals”, and have made a case here for the existence of objective morals based on a narrow model of belief without consideration for systems outside that model that work perfectly fine without a god, or that breach the rules you have outlined, or that don’t comply with what I assume is your world view based on your post.

    Liberty allows for you to have your beliefs, and you are free to enjoy them as far as I am concerned, but don’t frame liberty within the confines of that belief; you will find that it quickly loses its relationship with freedom and starts looking like fascism for anyone outside that system.

  5. Connor
    February 19, 2014 at 2:39 pm #

    It’s important to note, despite (mis)interpretations to the contrary, that I am not arguing that liberty is dependent upon God or that “we need [G]od for liberty because he said so.”

    I have said elsewhere that liberty is connected to our humanity, and whether you ascribe that humanity to our Creator or to natural evolution, the end result is the same—our liberty predates and thus supersedes the state.

    What I am primarily arguing here is that a recognition of our Creator, and an understanding of his future judgment, can and should serve as a moderating influence. So as more people abandon God, and in many such instances abandon morality, the self-restraint that faith in God provides is not an influence in their lives—and this, I argue, leads to people being tempted to do whatever they (think they) can get away with.

    I know atheists who I would call moral people. I observe many more to whom I would not apply that label. So I’m not tying liberty to faith in God without qualification, just as I’m not tying immorality to atheism. There is nuance involved, and I recognize that.

    So, to sum: we don’t need God to have liberty, but I argue that our Creator is in fact the grantor of that liberty. But as more and more people alienate themselves from God, they have the tendency abandon moral restraints, caring nothing of God’s future judgment, and as such tend to minimize the importance of liberty, and in factor engage in actions that violate that very liberty.

    Sorry if this isn’t making much sense, I’m extremely busy at the moment so my thoughts are a bit jumbled.

  6. iimx
    February 20, 2014 at 6:00 pm #

    Sam Harris makes a great case for morals and ethics without god in his book, “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values” Very interesting read, as prior to that I had always thought that atheism would result in decay of morality and civility. Not necessarily so, in fact I think atheism has brought to the planet greater civility, civil rights and ethics.

  7. Nick
    February 21, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

    “Abandoning a Creator-centric philosophy impacts our every action; if a person is not concerned about being judged for his behavior, then the natural course is to proverbially eat, drink, and be merry despite a higher, ignored life calling. ”

    A person doesn’t need a Creator to be concerned about being judged for his behavior. The higher power is simply the community, the people, humanity. That is why they don’t eat, drink, and be merry.
    I can think of nothing greater for this country than to abandon God and take on a new god: the collective good. Our fellow man.

  8. Brandon
    February 23, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    “I can think of nothing greater for this country than to abandon God and take on a new god: the collective good. Our fellow man.”

    And what is the collective good? If God is a fiction, then why is the “collective good” any less a fairy tale? Why is your new god any better than the Old? There is no single objective reality called “collective good.” There are just as many different ideas about what is for the common good and there are about God, if not more.

  9. Nick Mathews
    February 24, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

    We’ll take the best ideas of the collective good and get them into law. Democracy. We’ve been doing an all right job. We just need to go a little further. We need informed voters, not ones afraid of Biblical nonsense and pissing off “the Creator.” We need to match Europe. No more meddling from the clergy and groups who claim to know what one guy upstairs supposedly wants. It’s the people’s turn to make laws for the people, not for a guy who is completely arbitrary and moody.

  10. Eric C
    February 25, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

    I’d much rather be “guilted” into obedience to an imaginary god than be mercilessly chained to the whims of a capricious society.

  11. Nick
    February 25, 2014 at 6:08 pm #

    Give me an example of how society is capricious. You mean, when they readily cast off biblical norms in a decade’s time? Because those don’t count, obviously.

  12. Clumpy
    March 8, 2014 at 12:46 pm #

    @Nick

    We cast off Biblical norms in a decade’s time? I was under the impression that marriage being something that happens in the desert and involves concubines changed quite a bit earlier.

  13. Nick
    March 8, 2014 at 4:35 pm #

    @Clumpy
    True. :)
    But Eric mentioned a “capricious society” and I was trying to figure out what would make him say that, especially with regard to God and junk. The only thing I could think of was society’s turnabout on gay marriage. So that was my subtext on the “biblical norms” comment.

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