The Great Experiment
Sometimes children disappoint their parents. John Adams’ father wanted him to become a minister, but he opted for a career in law. Adams graduated Harvard at sixteen, became a college professor at seventeen, and was admitted to the bar at the age of twenty-three. Thomas Jefferson called him the “Colossus of Independence” because of the role he played in our nation’s founding. He nominated George Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, and served on more committees in the Second Continental Congress, including the one that drafted the Declaration of Independence, than any other representative. He was an ambassador to France and Great Britain, and helped negotiate the treaty that ended the American Revolution. Adams wrote the Massachusetts Constitution, was the first Vice-President of the United States, and our second President. I guess some parents are just impossible to please.
Although he never became a minister, Adams understood the importance of religion in “The Great Experiment.” In a letter to the officers and men of the Massachusetts Militia, he noted that “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” It’s rather an odd statement coming from a man who shunned the cloth for what he considered the nobler calling of the law. What did Adams mean by this statement?
Adams understood that the United States was a new type of nation, something never before seen in human history. We are the first nation in history in which the people govern themselves. The United States is the world’s first self-governed nation, and it is impossible to overstate the significance of this achievement.
Throughout history, in all cultures and civilizations, the people have always been governed by a ruling class. There had always been a nobility or aristocracy that set themselves apart from and above the common man. Their power was based upon the property they inherited. They secured their position and controlled the masses by keeping the people economically dependent on those who owned the property. The ruling elite did not permit social mobility; if you were born a commoner, you died a commoner, and if you were born privileged, you died privileged. Our Founding Fathers broke from this mold. America was, and still is, “The Great Experiment.” The great experiment to see if a people could govern themselves.
There have never been a people who have enjoyed more personal liberties and freedoms than the Americans. However, Adams knew this autonomy carried with it dangerous and potentially fatal challenges. The greatest threat to the nation was, and remains, the people. In order for the nation to thrive, the people would have to exercise an extraordinary amount of self-control and self-discipline. An amount Adams believed could only be achieved if the people were both “moral” and “religious.”
Adams understood human nature. He knew that with unlimited freedom, the people could abandon the moral virtues to which their religion compelled them, in order to pursue more self-indulgent intentions. Our democracy would degenerate into an anarchy in which no citizen respected the rights or property of anyone else. This would create the situation in which a tyrant, promising to restore order, could rise to power and usurp the liberties and freedoms on which the nation was established.
Religion serves two critical functions in “The Great Experiment.” First, it is freedoms guarantee. The Declaration of Independence states that we are endowed by our Creator with the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. No state or government can take these from us because they are God given. A religious people can always invoke the protection of the Almighty in preserving their liberty. Second, religion is a regulator of human behavior. A people who are motivated to love and serve the Lord will continually strive to do the right thing. They will be willing to make the sacrifices necessary to preserve, promote and protect the liberties and freedoms of future generations. The willingness to sacrifice in the present for the benefit of tomorrow is absolutely essential if a society is going to thrive and endure.
Today, the United States is heading down the perilous path of secularism. There is an on-going effort to remove God from “The Great Experiment.” The consensus among the enlightened liberal elite is that religion is passé. They believe that our society has evolved to the point where God is no longer desirable or necessary. If they succeed, “The Great Experiment” will end badly.
The twentieth-century has numerous examples of secular-atheist states that were successful in removing God from their societies. The Soviet Union, Communist China, North Korea, and to some extent, Nazi Germany are the most notorious. These Governments instituted policies that effectively outlawed religion and openly persecuted people of faith. Not surprisingly, these states are the worst violators of human rights in history, using economic repression, starvation and mass murder to achieve their political objectives.
Those who believe that, it could never happen here are deluding themselves. It didn’t happen in those places because they were Russian, Chinese, North Korean, or German. It happened in those nations because they were human. When you remove God from the equation you create a power vacuum; a vacuum which someone like Stalin, Mao, Kim or Hitler will gladly try to fill.
God is the ultimate moral authority; the benefactor and protector of all human rights. God is the best guarantee we have to safeguard and preserve our fundamental and inalienable rights. John Adams understood this. He feared that America could drift away from its Judeo-Christian roots and start down the slippery slope of secularism. He warned; “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”