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28. February 2012

Christian Sharia? Part 1: Biblical Law in Historical America

In a world of political slander and misrepresentations both purposeful and accidental, there are few insults less ridiculous than those pertaining to “Christian Sharia,” or, rather, that the logical conclusion of a Biblical legal stance is Arabic despotism.  One doesn’t have to look far back in history to see that many figures (if not most) crucial to the establishment of classical liberalism, as well as to the foundation of the United States of America, proclaimed without hesitation that law itself, if it was ever to be just, must agree with the legal principles contained in Scripture or be opposed.

If one is to make such a list, it would only be appropriate to begin with John Locke, the man responsible for the term “life, liberty, and estate,” and heavily influential to our Founding Fathers, who agreed in Second Treatise of Government that any law contradictory to Biblical Law was null and void (sect 135-136).  Sir William Blackstone, whose Commentaries on the Laws of England served an entire American century as a primary legal textbook, and also provided the American frontiers with working knowledge of common law, wrote in those commentaries, “Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.”  And later, in the same chapter, “if any human law should allow or enjoin us to commit it, we are bound to transgress that human law, or else we must offend both the natural and the divine.”

The highly-educated and Law-respecting Puritans, considered by Alexis de Tocqueville to be most possessive of the democratic spirit of liberty and self-rule, though imperfect, were described as being fearless political adventurers, daring innovators, and not as mixing religion and politics, but as viewing them interdependent.  Tocqueville wrote not just of the Puritans, but of the entire region, “in America religion is the road to knowledge, and the observance of the divine laws leads man to civil freedom.” The youthful nation was simply steeped in Christian Law, which he noted as being common to all sects of Christendom, Catholic and Protestant, Methodist and Lutheran.

One can look to original state constitutions and find, without an arduous search, that provisions enforcing the Sabbath and Christian government were common, and that Americans, though asserting freedom of religion’s primary importance, obviously didn’t intend for that practice to transgress Divine Law.

If one looks to Vermont’s state constitution of 1777, it grants men an “unalienable right to worship Almighty God, according to the dictates of their own consciences and understanding,” with but one reservation:

Nevertheless, every sect or denomination of people ought to observe the Sabbath or Lord’s day, and keep up some sort of religious worship which to them shall seem most agreeable to the revealed will of God (Chapter 1, sect 3).

The people of Pennsylvania, zealous for political liberty, declared in their constitution of 1776,

That all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences and understanding: And that no man ought or of right can be compelled to attend any religious worship, or erect or support any place of worship, or maintain any ministry, contrary to, or against, his own free will and consent: Nor can any man, who acknowledges the being of a God, be justly deprived or abridged of any civil right as a citizen, on account of his religious sentiments or peculiar mode of religious worship (sect II).

Yet this zealotry, being rooted in an unprecedented sensibility, was plainly confined within Biblical boundaries.  They wrote,

[E]ach member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz: I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration (sect 10).

Delaware‘s intentions were equally plain, affirming in their constitution of 1776 that

There shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this State in preference to another; and no clergyman or preacher of the gospel, of any denomination, shall be capable of holding any civil once in this State, or of being a member of either of the branches of the legislature, while they continue in the exercise of the pastorial function (art. 29)

Yet, found beside this most radical bulwark against a union of church and state, is article 22:

Every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust, before taking his seat, or entering upon the execution of his office, shall take the following oath, or affirmation, if conscientiously scrupulous of taking an oath, to wit: [...]

“I, A B. do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration.”

And supposing the above three constitutions insufficient for persuasion, a fourth may be found which further concludes the matter.  Georgia, as the others, granting every resident a right to worship the Almighty (art. LVI), required all representatives to “be of the Protestent religion (art VI).”

Moving beyond constitutional law, Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense,

But where says some is the King of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve as monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING.

In Paine’s view, liberty didn’t simply require the rule of human law: spurring the colonists into patriotic and violent rebellion, he cried that the law itself must be based upon the rights in Scripture which King George III had so brazenly and repeatedly violated.  And as for the founding fathers, they need little mention here.  Their quotes and speeches about the necessity of Jehovah and his Scriptures have filled entire volumes, and to the educated American, they are almost cliche’.

There are really only several conclusions possible from these historical facts, neither of the first two compatible with reality. Americans must conclude that either the founding fathers and the enlightened purveyors of classical liberalism were ignorant of Biblical Law; that they weren’t ignorant, but were liars (or what amounts to the same thing, dishonestly inconsistent); or that because their policy didn’t end in Sharia-like theocracy, there exists another understanding of Biblical application to the legal system.  Since the first two of these options are absolutely unthinkable, the intelligence, enlightenment, and character of those fathers being unparalleled in nearly all of human history, their names no longer established in simple heroics, but in legend, the third option is for the true American the only educated path possible.

As such, the concept of a Biblical liberty must be reconciled, and any misconceptions demolished not simply as an exercise of academics, but with a holy patriotism unapologetic and unbridled.  For the years have grown dark and cold, a night without a foreseeable dawn; the Republic is collapsing.  Yet even in the darkness a faint light can be seen, a beacon to a land of liberty not enclouded within metaphors and riddles, but beckoning to mankind in unadulterated brilliance.  Civilizations have collapsed before; small and great succumb to the onslaught of time, and it appears that history leaves few survivors, if any.  But if the question of collapse is asked, it must be properly framed. Instead of a who, it must be when; and if when, then why. 

If this is so, then let collapse be tomorrow, for we know upon what foundation America was built, and what can sustain her. Let it be said of us that our birthright, bought with the blood, sweat, and tears of the honorable, was not expended in ignorance and immorality, and let our tombstones be etched not in shame, but with declarations to our grandchildren of our Godly nobility. Let us reach for the fallen standard, the cross clutched in eagle’s claws, and carry the vision forward, perhaps if not to restore Biblical Law as an identical copy of Mosaic Israel, then to forbid the immoral acts it forbids, and to defend the duties it defends, as John Calvin called Christian societies to do.

I have found the way back to my Lady Liberty.  My hand extended, I call you to join me.

Part 2: The Application of Biblical Law to Free Societies

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