On his radio show yesterday, Dennis interviewed Thomas Kidd, associate professor of history at Baylor University. His new book is God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution.
Dennis: This notion that God was the author of liberty was an American innovation.
Professor: “I think so. When Thomas Jefferson says all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, this is a notion that had been there in the Jewish and Christian traditions for millenia but for the Americans to put it on paper coming out of the Revolution was a powerful articulation of that tradition.”
Dennis: “Overwhelmingly in human history, the more powerful the religion, the less the liberty. America said, the more powerful the religion, the more the liberty.”
Professor: “There is an argument going on today about whether religion restricts liberty or enhances liberty.
“Alexis de Toqueville said that in America it is the pervasiveness of religion that helps make the Revolution succeed and makes liberty work. If you just have freedom for freedom’s sake, that leads to anarchy, but in America, freedom sees religion as its companion because religion helps us to know what we should do with our freedom. It gives us an ordered liberty, not just an anarchic liberty.”
To be a “deist” in America in the late 18th Century was different from what we think of a “deist” today. Ben Franklin believes in prayer and provides and the hereafter and a God who judges, he just wasn’t Christ-centered (along with Thomas Jefferson). They doubted the divinity of Jesus and the resurrection.
The enlightenment in America was Christian, while in France and Europe it was dominantly secular.
Removing religion from the public sphere, this radical secularism is a post-WW II phenomenon in America that takes after Europe. It has nothing to do with America’s founders.
Professor: The founders said that religion had to play a critical role in undergirding and giving the animating principles to government. They did not want the establishment of a religion, but they thought that a republic needs a virtuous people, and that virtue comes not from government but from religion.
Dennis Prager: The American view was that without God, there was no liberty. The European view was that without God, there was liberty.
Professor: The churches supported the American revolution. There are religious concepts and displays shot-through the revolutionary experience. In America, it is religion that guides our liberty and freedom. The word “virtue” is used constantly in the era of the American Revolution. George Washington said that religion and morality were indispensable supports.