Dr Michael Novak

It is clear that virtually all of the top hundred founders of the United States-including the ones who signed the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, or both-held that republican governance and respect for individual human rights are inconsistent with atheism. As Tocqueville notes, they gave a whole series of reasons why they believed that atheism undermines the beliefs and practices on which republican governance and respect for human rights rest.

We in our own day are testing that proposition, aren't we? Contrary to our founders, many of our most highly educated elites seem to hold, as Freud did, that being religious indicates a neurosis, a need for a crutch. Our cultural elites talk as if unbelief represents an emotional advance beyond belief. Secure in this belief, they feel free to abandon every outward sign of religion. They entrust the future of the republic, if not to atheism, then at least to official indifference with respect to religion. We will discover the outcome of this new experiment in another two or three generations.

For it is usually the case that the first generation to reject religion continues to live from the internal capital they have inherited from belief and its inward practices. However, they have now made themselves incapable of passing on the inner beliefs and practices of their own life to their children. Thus their children grow up in an entirely different situation, and even more so do the children of their children. In this way, the loss of belief is not generally felt throughout society for at least three or possibly four generations.

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