It seems to me that our country is becoming increasingly chaotic, violent, and fractured. I think I’m finally beginning to grasp what, at root, is happening, and if I’m right, I think the electoral plight of one politician may give us some insight into where we’re headed.
Last year I read this statement written in 1959 by Roland Van Zandt, “America’s French Revolution has awaited the twentieth century.” 1
Was America Rooted in ‘Enlightened’ Thinking?
The context of his observation was that our studies of American history have largely “ignored” the philosophical battle taking place in the latter 1700s between Christianity and ideas of the Enlightenment. While Christianity emphasized a Creator God and the necessity of revealed truth as the foundation for building up a nation and civilization, the Enlightenment held that God, if He even existed, was really irrelevant to everyday life and that reason alone was a sufficient guide in the building up of a nation and civilization.
Van Zandt asserted that America had escaped enough of the catastrophes of the French Revolution that Thomas Jefferson was able “to reassert his, and America’s, continued faith in the philosophy of the Enlightenment” through his assertion in the Declaration that there are “self-evident truths.”
I’ve always liked that statement in our Declaration, but as Van Zandt suggested, I’d never given much thought to the fact that it might rest upon a belief in the sufficiency of human wisdom to know the truth without revelation, and that such a belief would ultimately lead to the irrelevance of that revelation’s God.
The Heart of the Revolution
Then last Sunday afternoon I was reading a book written in 1847 by Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer. I found this statement very fitting given Van Zandt’s statement and the fact that this month marks the 500th anniversary of what is called the beginning of the Reformation when Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg:
The [French] Revolution ought to be viewed in the context of world history. Its significance for Christendom equals that of the Reformation, but then in reverse. The Reformation rescued Europe from superstition; the Revolution has flung the civilized world into an abyss of unbelief.2
Putting these two statements together, I think we would have this proposition, and it’s a conclusion to which I’m increasingly being drawn: While many of our Founders were professing Christians, the seedbeds of the chaos that unbelief and reliance on human wisdom that the French Revolution produced were planted early in our country’s formative years, and our revolutionary chaos was still to come; it was just a matter of time if we allowed them to take root and grow.
If my conclusion is correct, I think Van Zandt was telling us those seeds took root and grew; he just missed his prediction by about 50 years.
Understanding the Struggle and the Solution
Then van Prinsterer said this, which touches on the political sphere in which I’ve spent most of my adult life:
The [French] Revolution doctrine is unbelief applied to politics. A life and death struggle is raging between the Gospel and this practical atheism. To contemplate a rapprochement between the two would be nonsense. It is a battle which embraces everything we cherish and hold sacred and everything that is beneficial and indispensable to church and state.3
The parallel to what I’ve observed in American politics is compelling. The problem in modern American politics is that those who deny the God of the Gospel and His revelation and those Christians who are perhaps very pious but deny God in the realm of politics as a “practical” matter are largely the ones now governing us.
This problem is reflected, at least in my experience, in the fact that too many, if not most, of our Christian politicians (and too many Christian leaders) are consumed with the attitude of “rapprochement” which, according to Webster’s, means the “establishment of or state of having cordial relations.”
I don’t think van Prinsterer meant that incivility in discourse is required. Rather, I think he meant that if cordiality means we will seek solutions to our problems only on the terms and conditions imposed by the purveyors of unbelief and practical atheism, we will never stem the tide of the “French Revolution” that is swelling in our country.
How Would You Vote?
It is for that reason I was captivated by Judge Roy Moore’s public statement the other day:
This is an awful moment for our country. Should I keep back my opinions in such a time as this, I would consider myself guilty of treason toward my country and an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.4
While other politicians in Washington may believe what Moore believes, he was willing to say it—that there is a “majesty of heaven” to be revered and that he will bow before none who would seek to ascend to that high place.
Roy Moore’s politics is the politics of “belief” in the God of heaven and not “unbelief,” whether of the real or practical kind.
Now I ask this question: Would his statement make you more or less likely to vote for him or for a politician in Tennessee like him?
Your answer might just provide a clue as to which side you are on in the “struggle . . . raging between the Gospel and . . . practical atheism.” And if enough Americans say his statement would deter us from voting for him, then maybe we better get ready for the revolution.
- Roland Van Zandt, The Metaphysical Foundations of American History (Mouton & Co. 1959), p. 72.
- Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer, Unbelief and Revolution, p. 14.
- Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer, Unbelief and Revolution, p. 7.
- “Alabama’s Roy Moore to Christian Summit: We Need to Make America Good Again,” FOX News, http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/10/13/alabama-s-roy-moore-to-christian-summit-need-to-make-america-good-again.html.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.