As I watched video of people banging on the doors to the U.S. Supreme Court chambers while Justice Kavanaugh was being sworn in last Saturday, I couldn’t help but wonder, am I witnessing the end of the first American revolution or the beginning of a new one?
Over the last few years, I’ve heard talk about the beginning of a revolution in America, either a revolution against our current form of government emblemized by the protesters caught on video last Saturday or one instigated by those fed up with them. But I wonder if both views are wrong.
How to Define a Revolution
There are many ways one might determine whether a revolution is taking place. If a worldview approach to the question is taken, we must compare the worldview of those who we think may be revolting to the worldview of those who formed our social order and framed our civil government.
If the contemporaneous worldview is the same as that on which our social order and civil government were laid, then there is no revolution even though things may seem to be in turmoil. The turmoil, in that case, is just an outworking of the original worldview’s implications.
The Worldview That Defined the American Revolution
No doubt, most of our Founders had what Christians would call a basic Christian worldview. They believed in a Creator God, that rights came from that God and not the civil government, and that fallen (sinful) people were predisposed to liking autonomous power that they could corrupt and would corrupt to the extent possible.
So, they articulated the first two points in the Declaration of Independence and listed some of those rights in the Bill of Rights.
The third point they enshrined in the U.S. Constitution by creating a mixed form of civil government. They divided power between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches; created dual sovereigns in the form of state and federal jurisdictions; and provided various checks and balances in regard to the branches of government and the dual sovereigns.
Did the Founding Fathers Sow the Seed From Which We Now Reap?
But our Founders, particularly Jefferson and Franklin, were not immune from their own times and the influence of Enlightenment thinking, which exalted the power of man’s reason and minimized the effect of the biblical doctrine of the Fall on man’s reason. It made man’s reason autonomous and the need for revelation in the day-to-day affairs of man unnecessary.
We see this Enlightenment influence in the Declaration of Independence’s reference to self-evident truths. The signatories got the part about the source of rights correct but didn’t do so well in the part about truth being self-evident. The truths to which they held were only self-evident because they presumed the biblical story of Creation and the Fall.
As long as that presumption had rather broad currency among our people, then things proceeded without insurmountable upheaval. But all that changed when, in 1859, Darwin began to put the creation story to flight among the Enlightenment crowd and when it was no longer self-evident that one person should not own another as a piece of property. The Civil War ensued.
Then, in 1925, the Scopes trial prompted evangelicals (then called “Fundamentalists”) into a full-scale retreat. Many thought they could “protect” Christianity by relegating its truth claims to a personal, spiritual closet where what they believed didn’t have to do battle with the evolutionary streams of thought that had begun to infiltrate the natural and social sciences and the law.
Without God to constrain the conceits of autonomous reason (called “vain thinking” in the Bible), people were free to reason their way to anything. They could even divorce the thoughts of their minds from the objective realities about which their minds thought; in other words, someone like me thinking I am a woman despite what my biological reality tells me I am.
America’s ‘French’ Revolution Coming to a Head
The anti-God, Enlightenment thinking that fueled the French Revolution ended with its leader, Maximilien Robespierre, being subjected to the guillotine, and its terror was only brought to an end by the tyranny of Napoleon.
With respect to America, in 1959, historian Roland Van Zandt wrote, “America’s French Revolution has awaited the twentieth century.”1 And I think he was right, though off by maybe 75 to 100 years or so.
With the pounding on and screaming at the U.S. Supreme Court’s doors, an America revolution isn’t starting; the old one is headed into its final stages. I think what we’re seeing is the inevitable consequences of an error in our Founders’ thinking, though seemingly small in view of how much they got right, but error nevertheless—trust in the autonomous reason of man.
The question in my mind is whether the chaos that comes in the death-throe thrashings of that revolution will be greeted by a tyranny worthy of Napoleon or a reformation worthy of Luther in Germany and a great awakening worthy of Jonathan Edwards. I’m praying for and working toward the latter.
- Roland Van Zandt, The Metaphysical Foundations of American History (Mouton & Co., 1959), p. 72.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
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