God’s in Charge and Christian Conservatism

David Limbaugh pens an interesting article at Townhall, “Liberal Paranoia About Christian Conservatives.” In it, he argues that those on the Left reflexively attack any hint of religiosity demonstrated by any conservative as proof that conservative are fighting tooth and nail  to establish a Christian theocracy. He ties this to a desire by the Left to suppress any legitimate religious expression.

Well, Limbaugh has some valid points. The farther left you go, the more hostility you will find to religion in general, and Christianity in specific. Of course, when you go far enough to the left, any expression of traditional values of any sort, be they religious or otherwise, are rejected as well. And the Left is insanely paranoid about the influence of conservative Christians in politics, to the point that any hint of religiosity or piety on a conservative brings up rants about the Christian Coalition or the Moral Majority — groups that have been effectively defunct for decades, and have no real influence outside of leftist scare-mongering.

Limbaugh starts to slip in his arguments, though. The center of his focus is a column in the Guardian by Northeastern University associate journalism professor Dan Kennedy, criticizing Christian undertones at CPAC. Kennedy does seem to be severely overreacting to references to God in CPAC speeches, and this is what Limbaugh touches on.

The main source of Kennedy’s current angst seems to be a few statements from Republican politicians at the Conservative Political Action Conference a week ago. Apparently, the greatest offender was Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, whom Kennedy describes as a “fire-breathing Christian warrior and aspiring presidential candidate in his spare time.”

What did Pawlenty say that struck such fear in Kennedy? He said: “I want to share with you four ideas that I think should carry us forward. … The first one is this: God’s in charge. … In the Declaration of Independence, it says we are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. It doesn’t say we’re endowed by Washington, D.C., or endowed by the bureaucrats or endowed by state government. It’s by our Creator that we are given these rights.”

Kennedy responds that Pawlenty misrepresented the Founders’ “intent” because Jefferson, the “primary author” of the declaration, deleted all references to Jesus’ deity from his personal Bible.

Jefferson’s Christianity may be subject to debate, but it is clear that he didn’t view himself as expressing his own views in the declaration; rather, “it was intended to be an expression of the American mind.”

Jefferson was not a Christian. There is no debate. Like many of of the Founding Fathers, including several who were nominally Christian, Jefferson was a Deist. This postulated a divinity that could almost be seen as a force of nature, some sort of overarching essence that supported the world but did not necessarily influence it. References to God in the Declaration of Independence were purposely limited to vague terms like “Creator,” “Nature’s God,” or “Providence.” God in this sense was not specifically referring to a personal deity known as Yahweh, but as the inherent organizing force of the Universe. Yes, our rights were believed to come from God, but in the sense that as sentient beings of Nature, we inherently possessed those rights by our very existence. If that divinity was understood as a personal God which granted those rights, so be it, but the Founders certainly intended it as a more generalized concept.

Limbaugh seems to miss this point, and assumes any reference to God can only imply a Christian God.

If you merely invoke God in your public pronouncements, such as Pawlenty’s “God’s in charge” or Huckabee’s call to “take this nation back for Christ,” you’re proposing “a theocracy of believers.

Huckabee’s notion of “tak[ing] this nation back for Christ” can easily be seen as a proposition for Theocracy. Sure, Christian values have overwhelmingly permeated and influenced our culture, but this nation was not founded for Christ. It was founded for reason and liberty. The Founding Fathers were careful enough with their language that if they had intended for even an instant that this nation be dedicated to Christ, such wording would have appeared in the Constitution. It does not. Now, I don’t think that Huckabee is calling for a theocracy, but I can see how his statements can lead some to believe that — “taking”  a nation for a god certainly rings of theocracy.

Fortunately, Limbaugh doesn’t carry these ideas too far, and does seem to grasp the essence of what the Founding Fathers intended:

When Christians say God is in control, they mean that in the sense of his divine sovereignty — not as some endorsement of turning any political control over to a national church, much less any individual church.

The idea that God was in control is easily supported by the deism of the Founding Fathers. The only debate is the nature of who or what God is. Attempts to solidify that nature as any matter of policy are invalid here — it is simply enough to acknowledge that we have our rights not because they were granted by other men, but because they are inherent in our existence, and who- or whatever may be responsible for that in any sense.

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