As we have seen, biblical principles, more than any other influence, inform the United States Constitution. "As much as I love, esteem and admire the Greeks, I believe the Hebrews have done more to enlighten and civilize the world. Moses did more than all of their legislators and philosophers," said John Adams." Between the time of the signing of the Mayflower Compact in 1620 and the drafting of the United States Constitution in 1787, New England Christians wrote some one hundred different governmental charters of various forms that laid the foundation for the Constitution.
The framers formulated the Constitution based on their Christian worldview, or, as some would say, their Judeo-Christian worldview.16 They believed that man was created in God's image and likeness, as stated in Genesis 1:26-27. This is extraordinarily significant. The concept that man was created in the image and likeness of God means that man has intrinsic worth and dignity. As such, man is endowed with inalienable rights that no other men can rightfully take away; he is entitled to freedom. So the Biblical affirmation of man's inherent worth is fundamental, indeed indispensable, to political liberty. Today's conventional wisdom, as we've observed, says otherwise. It preaches that Christian doctrine is inimical to freedom because it is intolerant, inflexible, and authoritarian. Freedom, it says, derives from tolerance of all ideas-that is, acceptance of the notion that all ideas are equally valid.
Some say today that moral relativism, not biblical absolutes, is the ticket to freedom. But this is manifestly untrue, both in theory and historically. As M. Stanton Evans wrote, "No system of political liberty has ever been created from such notions [moral relativism], nor is it theoretically conceivable that one could. On the other hand, the most brutal forms of despotism, from the age of Renaissance to our own, have been developed exactly on this basis." This is because, explained Evans, only if we subscribe to absolutes is there any basis upon which to affirm man's dignity. If morality is relative, there is no basis upon which to protect human rights against the tyranny of the majority or the arbitrariness of government. Ultimately, relativism necessarily devalues humanity in general and the individual in particular. Just look at Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as two twentieth-century examples of despotism and brutality that sprang from a rejection of Christian moral principles.
But the framers understood that man's entitlement to freedom and his realization of it are dramatically different things. Why? Because of another equally valid biblical principle that they embraced as much as they affirmed the notion of man's inherent dignity as a special creature of God: Man's intrinsically sinful nature because of the Fall.
The framers did not believe, as did the French philosophes who gave birth to the French Revolution, that man is basically good and that human nature is perfectible. Regardless of their differences over the specifics of the mechanics of government, they essentially agreed that postFall man, although still bearing great dignity, is nevertheless sinful in nature. They fervently believed in Old Testament Scripture such as Jeremiah 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all
16 Michael Novak asserts that "all American Christians erected their main arguments about political life from materials in the Jewish Testament." He said they did so for three reasons. They loved Old Testament stories and were very familiar with them. They also did so to avoid denominational disputes, which could be largely avoided by reference to the Old Testament. Third, says, Novak, the New Testament didn't add much to the discussion of government that wasn't already covered in some way in the Old Testament. Michael Novak, On Two Wings, Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding (San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books, 2002), 7. 78. M. Stanton Evans, The Theme is Freedom, Religion, Politics, and the American Tradition (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, Inc. 1994), 42.
things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" The same moral critique, of course, permeates the New Testament. Paul, in Romans 7:18, said, "In my flesh dwelleth no good thing." Alexander Hamilton said, "Take mankind in general, they are vicious." Jay said, "The depravity which mankind inherited from their first parents, introduced wickedness into the world. That wickedness rendered human government necessary to restrain the violence and injustice resulting from it." Patrick Henry said, "Show me that age and country where the rights and liberties were placed on the sole chance of their rulers being good men, without a consequent loss of liberty."
But if a consensus existed that man is sinful, wouldn't that lead to the adoption of authoritarian rule by the best and brightest in a society? That is, if man is so unruly, is there any way other than some form of dictatorship to ensure order? The fallacy of this conclusion is that it considers only the sinfulness of the people being ruled. As M. Stanton Evans pointed out, the ruling class is also afflicted with original sin. And rulers are subject also to the further corrupting influence of power. So unless the rulers are properly restrained, they will subjugate their subjects. Such as been the rule, rather than the exception, in world history. Indeed, from their understanding that all men, including rulers, are sinful, and their awareness that all men are equal before God, the framers concluded that no man is above the law. That's why they formed a government based on the rule of law, that is, a government of laws, not of men.
While we tend to think of the Greeks as authors of democratic principles, neither they nor any of the other ancient peoples enjoyed political freedom on the scale that Americans do. And it is precisely because they had no concept of restraints on government. They permitted popular participation in government, but they did not impose constitutional limitations on their rulers. They specifically did not believe that all men were equal in the eyes of God, or in their case, the gods. To them, as well as to most ancient peoples, the ruling class was above the common man. Reinforcing this belief, said Evans, was their view that the rulers were the conduits to the gods. A man who has unmediated and unchecked access to a deity is one to be feared and in whom authoritarian rule could naturally reside." Moreover, the state's interest was wholly superior to that of the individual, as can be seen in the writings of Plato and Aristotle.
Thus the framers understood that to ensure liberty government had to be invested with sufficient authority to establish order and enforce the rule of law. But unless restraints were also imposed upon the government, it would tend toward absolutism and deprive people of liberty. Their challenge was to find that proper balance. James Madison described it this way in Federalist 51: "If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."
The framers proceeded to design a Constitution that would both empower and limit government. The limitations on government are the key to understanding our freedom. As we've seen, the very notion of limitations on governmental power is uniquely based on biblical principles. Without a firm belief in God-Who is more powerful than all the earthly rulers combined-there is no adequate basis upon which to limit the authority of rulers. The framers limited government in a number of ways. They instituted a system of federalism, which divided governmental power vertically between the federal, state, and local governments. They further divided the federal government horizontally into three branches-the separation of powers doctrine-with an elaborate scheme of checks and balances among the branches to prevent any branch from becoming too powerful at the expense of the others and of the people's individual liberties. They created a bicameral legislature to further retard rapid government action at the congressional level. They established enumerated powers and reserved the balance to the states and the people. As a further safeguard on the tendency of government toward absolutism, they established the Bill of Rights. And to ensure that these constitutional limitations could not be easily eroded, they established a very difficult amendment process.
It was specifically because the framers subscribed to the twin biblical principles of 1) man's inherent dignity by virtue of creation and 2) man's present sinful nature as a result of the Fall that they drafted a Constitution based on the principle of limited government. But they also understood one other pivotal truth. No matter how profound an organizing document they devised in the Constitution, and regardless of its built-in safeguards against excessive governmental power, there was one other extra-constitutional factor that would be essential to preserving American liberties: the underlying faith and morality of the people.
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