Why America Is in Jeopardy

On page 563 of his latest biography, “John Quincy Adams: American Visionary,” author Fred Kaplan (biographer of Abraham Lincoln, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and Gore Vidal among others) cites this insight of the sixth president:

“Christianity had, all in all, he believed, been a civilizing force, ‘checking and controlling the anti-social passions of man.'”

That insight is pretty much all an American needs to know in order to understand why the American Founders considered religion — specifically ethical monotheism rooted in the Hebrew Bible — indispensable to the American experiment, and why the America we have known since 1776 is in jeopardy.

It is easy to respect secular Americans who hold fast to the Constitution and to American values generally. And any one of us who believes in God can understand why some people, given all the unjust suffering in the world, just cannot believe that there is a Providential Being.

But one cannot respect the view that America can survive without the religious beliefs and values that shaped it. The argument that there are moral secularists and moral atheists is a non-sequitur. Of course there are moral Americans devoid of religion. So what? There were moral people who believed in Zeus. But an America governed by Roman religion would not be the America that has been the beacon of freedom and the greatest force for good in the world.

In order to understand why, one only need understand John Quincy Adams’s insight: How will we go about “checking and controlling the anti-social passions of man” without traditional American religious beliefs?

There are two possible responses:

One is that most Americans (or people generally, but we are talking about America here) do not have anti-social passions.

The other is that most Americans (again, like all other human beings) do have anti-social passions, but the vast majority of us can do a fine job checking and controlling them without religion as it has been practiced throughout American history.

These are the views with which virtually every American who attends secular high school or university is explicitly and implicitly indoctrinated.

Both are wrong. And not just wrong, but foolish — and lethal to the American experiment.

To deny that human beings are filled with anti-social passions betrays a denial of reality and a lack of self-awareness. One has to be taught nonsense for a great many formative years to believe it.

If we weren’t born with anti-social passions — narcissism, envy, lust, meanness, greed, hunger for power, just to name the more obvious — why the need for so many laws, whether religious or secular, that govern behavior?

The second objection is that even if we do have anti-social passions, we don’t need a God or religion in order to control them. Only moral primitives, the argument goes, need either a judging God or a religious set of rules. The Enlightened can do fine without them and need only to consult their faculty of reason and conscience to know how to behave.

Our prisons are filled with people whose consciences are quite at peace with their criminal behavior. As for reason, they used it well — to figure out how to get away with everything from murder to white-collar crime.

But our prisons are not filled with religious Jewish and Christian murderers. On the contrary, if all Americans attended church weekly, we would need far fewer prisons, and the ones we needed would have very few murderers in them.

Meanwhile the record of the godless and Christianity-less crowd is awful. I am not simply referring to the godless and secular Communist regimes of the 20th century that committed virtually every genocide of that century. I am referring to those Americans (and Europeans) who use reason to argue, among other foolish things: that good and evil are subjective societal or individual opinions; that gender is purely a social construct and therefore the male and female distinction is of no importance; that marriage isn’t important — it is just a piece of paper and it was invented by the religious to keep women down; that a human fetus, even when it has a beating heart, a formed human body, and a conscious brain, has less right to life than a cat; and that men, let alone fathers, aren’t necessary (see, for example, The Atlantic Are Fathers Necessary? and the New York Times Men, Who Needs Them?). And that is a short list.

For proof of the moral and intellectual consequences of the secularization of America, look at what has happened to the least religious institution in America, the university.

Is that the future we want for the whole country?

Dennis Prager’s latest book, “Still the Best Hope: Why the World Needs American Values to Triumph,” was published April 24, 2013 by HarperCollins. He is a nationally syndicated radio show host and creator of PragerUniversity.com.


  • Josh

    “Christianity had, all in all, he believed, been a civilizing force, ‘checking and
    controlling the anti-social passions of man.’”

    Yeah. Like those “civilized” Christians in my town, as we speak, in 2014, forcing a tarot-card-reading business out, calling them gypsies and mystics, and likening their activity to Voodoo and Satanism. Never mind we’re talking about a free market, people’s livelihoods, and the supposed freedoms they have to operate a business. This great civilizing force is used by far too many to convert everyone to the same religion.

    Some states are still banning books and many religious folks claim Harry Potter and Frozen are society-killing propaganda tools that are forcing magic and lesbianism and such on children.

    Religious people can be every bit as loony as these progressive wingnuts you call simply “secular,” which insults folks like me mightily. (And it’s hard to buy that you respect people who are “secular” when you add the caveat that they must also hold fast to the American values which you insist are religious. So, in order to respect a secular individual, that individual must hold fast to values you call religious. Huh? Impossible standard.)

    This concept of Judeo-Christian values is exceedingly vague; it’s pick-’em, and it’s necessarily nebulous so that folks can eliminate the bad and wrongheaded to focus only on what they perceive as good.

    I’m sure some do find it a civilizing force when everyone believes in the same thing.

    America can most definitely survive without “religious” values, due to the fact that all individuals pick and choose which values they wish to abide and which they wish to dismiss. This has always been the case.

    How “religious” can one claim an individual value is after it’s plucked from its original context in its original listing? For instance, if one abides only 6 of the 10 Commandments, can one then claim that they’re abiding religious values? I’d argue that they cannot. If they were, they would abide all 10. As it is, they’re not using the values in the context of religion; they’re using the values in the context of their lives, their culture, their upbringing, and their will — not their supposed god’s will.

    Values that were loosely inspired by religion: Now, that sounds more accurate.

    And to make a claim that people in prison aren’t religious or that they need to be more religious seems even worse than picking and choosing values. You’re going to tell them they’re not religious because of the end result? Maybe some believe their god had a plan for them that differs from your interpretation of how religious people should act. Maybe some are seriously caught up in an earlier context of religion and choose to go all fire and brimstone.

    This is what I mean. A lot of folks pick and choose which values are considered religious ones, which ones are considered the right ones, which ones America needs, which ones formed America, and which people are actually real religious people based on personal interpretation. And that’s exactly why America can–and will–survive without this nebulous concept of “religious values.”

    They’re not really a legitimate thing in practical application. They’re picked and chosen by every individual, often used as mere talking points, and they drastically change over time. That runs directly counter to their context and intent.

    And let’s not even get started with the false dichotomy of either having the values you personally refer to as religious values or the “godless” values of those progressive wingnuts who even the scientific and skeptic communities dismiss (evidence of which I present here frequently, but few right-wing Christians actually want to know the truth about how the other side is formulated).

    The nation is doing a horrible job at keeping these lunatics out of universities and from influencing our nation. But there are more than two options.

  • Darren Perkins

    using religion to control people is one of the greatest evils the world has been witness to. It is the number one reason that people don’t believe in God. People of faith are often duped into believing things that have nothing to do with God and everything to do with evil. Just look at Islam as a guide of how religion can be used to do the work of Satan and proclaim to do it in the name of God.

    • chuck.tatum

      How do you know your god is the right one and theirs is the wrong one?

      • Brian Fr Langley

        For a start their names give you a clue. The name of the God in Hebrew and Christian scriptures is literally translated “I AM”, or one whose existence is self derived. Having neither beginning or ending. We live in a universe where no such thing is observed. All things known to man (including the universe itself) have both a start point and an end point. Yet all the observable evidence clearly points out (just as the name suggests) that ALL things are derived from ONE thing. Some call it the big bang, others God. The name “Allah” on the other hand, was a name well known (prior to the prophet Mohammed) as a local Arabian moon God. And of course a great contrast lies in the calls of the respective faiths. Jews and Christians are called by the “self existing one”, “to love their neighbor as themselves”, while Mohammed calls on his acolytes “not to suffer an infidel as a neighbor”. So who of the observant “faithful” would you prefer as a neighbor?

        • chuck.tatum

          I’m with the great Christopher Hitchens and the awful Bill Maher on this one. All religions are wrong, but one religion at this point and time is far more dangerous than the rest- Islam. So yea, I’d rather live next to and have inmate converts to Judeo – Christian faiths than Muslim.
          That doesn’t answer the question of why his god or yours is the right one. Semantics is your proof?

          • Brian Fr Langley

            “the right God’? The article was about the civilizing effects the founding fathers found in the Judeo-Christian ethic, which (by the way) provided a coherent moral platform on which the republic was founded. Whom one chooses to live beside, says a lot about the “right God”. As to proof, you couldn’t call it a faith if there was definitive proof. BUT, at least the God of the Bible teaches what came before the big bang. (all things in existance are derived from creator). That is a concept considerably more significant than semantics. Because the only choices left, (if you don’t believe in the self derived creator of the Bible) are 1. all things came from no thing. Or, 2. you have a different religion. Any belief you have on any one of these three, is just that, a belief. Leaving me to wonder why you would consider your faith superior to mine?

          • chuck.tatum

            You object to the term, “right god”? You just claimed Islam has got a wrong one. Buddhists must be wrong, right? North Koreans believe their dear leader is god. Do they have a wrong god as well? We agree these ridiculous faiths are not worthy of believing so we are both atheists when asked if we believe in those religions.
            “As to proof, you couldn’t call it faith if there was definite proof…” Never mind the BUT. A pathetic dodge and yet, somehow that is logical to you. “You couldn’t call it faith…” as if that is something special and superior to a fact driven appreciation of life.
            “All things in existence are derived from the creator.” If nothing cannot exist unless it came from something, who created your god?
            “…why you consider your faith superior to mine.” Saying non-belief is a belief, is like saying not having a hobby is a hobby. If we were to agree non-belief is a belief, and I don’t, I can feel my “belief” is superior to yours because you feel yours is superior to Islam. Again, I agree with your atheism to Islam.

            Science does not have all the answers. And what science understand as fact today may change in the future. And when new evidence is proven by review and falsifiable testing, they will readily admit their mistakes. Why can’t believers admit their books are wrong in hundreds of ways?

          • Brian Fr Langley

            I was not objecting to the term “the right God”, I was just pointing out, that at least to you, the “right God” may just be the one whom you’d choose to live as neighbor among his adherents. Or the “right God” may be the one on whose ethics founded this nation. That is, when comparing the God of the Bible to other Gods, as a civilizing force, he comes out rather well. As to belief vs unbelief, your logic is unsound. If I tell you there is a God, and you tell me there is not, (a premise which can neither be proven or disproven), then clearly both parties are operating from a system of belief. If you believe in the big bang theory of evolution, then you either believe all things came from no thing, (a miracle by any definition), or you have “faith”, that some other natural explanation will (eventually) be found. There is no lack of some kind of belief whatever, in saying their is no God. It’s just an article of a different faith.

          • Josh

            “As to belief vs unbelief, your logic is unsound. If I tell you there is a
            God, and you tell me there is not, (a premise which can neither be
            proven or disproven), then clearly both parties are operating from a
            system of belief.”

            That’s incredibly simplified to the point of being a gross misrepresentation. It stems from the logic that one cannot prove a negative, but that in itself isn’t necessarily true. It depends on the context.

            It also creates a strawman while simultaneously shifting the burden of proof, as the claim from one party is born solely of the continuing claim of another.

            For instance, John keeps telling Jack there’s a purple monster in his attic. Jack searches doesn’t find it, but John keeps telling him there is. Finally, after years of this, and after repeatedly searching and not finding, Jack claims “there’s no purple monster in your attic.”

            These are not equal claims. The latter is a direct result of a burden of proof failing to be realized, plus ample experimentation that bore no fruit. For all intents and purposes, Jack’s claim is to be taken more seriously on an objective level, though it cannot stand as a proven claim — whereas John’s claim has yet to even begin to meet its burden.

            They are not nearly equal and thus saying they both take “faith” is actually rather insulting to those who do have true faith.

          • Brian Fr Langley

            You say, a gross misrespresentation? If the argument was, there is no proof there is a God, (creator), or there may (or may not) be a God, fine. But the argument I was responding to, was the definitive claim (made by Hitchens) there is no God. That belief is illogical. It’s illogical because humans still do not know the answer to 3 extra-ordinarily profound mysteries. From whence came the universe, from whence came life, and from whence came human consciousness, (tied in with the equally mysterious ability of human language). To claim definitive believe that there is no creator, is as much faith as any other, and folks choose to live their lives accordingly, which is proof they’re acting on their beliefs. (faith).

          • Josh

            I can’t say it any more clearly than I have: They are not nearly equal and thus saying they both take “faith” is actually rather insulting to those who do have true faith.

            Claiming these as equal is actually downplaying faith in a god.

            Something that the devoutly religious claim to believe in, give their hearts to, live their lives for, teach their children, fight to have entire communities and nations built around their personal interpretation of faith — yet someone claiming their god isn’t real is somehow equal to that devotion?

            It’s silly. It’s a creationist-developed talking point that, like most things creationist, wasn’t really thought through before putting into circulation; yet it’s stood by, like most things religious, despite the glaring lack of logic. It couldn’t get more ironic if one tried to intentionally tamper with it.

            But if you want to stick by that, I have no beef. Knock yourself out in likening your faith in your god to the supposed faith some have that your god doesn’t exist.

            Though what you’re saying, basically, is either that your faith isn’t as grand as what you claim, or that people who claim gods don’t exist are as dogmatic as the religious — both of which really stain religious faith as a concept if you’d actually take time to ponder what you’re saying.

          • Brian Fr Langley

            Where your argument fails is that you presume faith in a creator is some how difficult, I don’t make the claim “faith is grand”. Faith is simply the logical outcome of belief, which in turn is simply the logical outcome of humanity’s big questions. Who are we? What are we? Where did we come from, and of course where are we going. The fact is, (as Descartes points out) “I think, therefore I am”. But how is it, the I that is me, is a recent addition to history? Where was I before? My existence (appears to me) to have simply materialized from thin air. ( a miracle). Humans are curious, we are interested in knowing these things (thus the trillions we spend studying them. (can you say Large Hadron Collector) Faith is NOT some grand thing, faith is belief, belief is how we answer these questions. And in asking these questions, we all have a belief (in one way or another) as to the answers we believe. Anything else wouldn’t be human.

          • Josh

            Difficult? I don’t know. All-compassing, life-altering, and other “grand” things? Most definitely.

            If I’m mischaracterizing those who are devoutly religious, let me know.

            A person who identifies as a real, abiding Christian, for example, most likely believes in one God. They believe Jesus Christ is their personal lord and savior and that they have a personal relationship. They believe that God created everything and has a purpose for life, including their own personal life. They pray to God for everyday things, and for health, success, etc. The devout worship regularly at the appropriate locations, pay in their tithe (or offering, or whatever their sect may call it), and recite their passages from their Bibles.

            The devout believer seeks to construct a moral life based on what their religion teaches (or a rather loose interpretation for many). They often seek to convert others to their religion, or at least to mold society in the image they interpret from that religion. And they do all this on faith. No empirical evidence; nothing objective. But faith.

            Many claim personal experiences, and that’s how they claim to know, without a doubt, God is real. They understand that this isn’t evidence, hence “faith” being pretty much the prerequisite. Of all the many definitions of faith, the majority have to do with believing in something without evidence or proof of its existence. The person who has real religious faith claims definitively that their God did all that’s attributed to him, that he’s the original creator, and that, despite the number of other gods worshiped and religions followed, their one God is the true god.

            If you find that to be easy and believe it isn’t some grand thing, I’m just confused. To be religious and to truly have faith is more than simply believing in a god. That’s spirituality more than religion.

            To then say that the person who claims that those types of beings do not exist–due to the burden of proof for the original claim not being met–is displaying just as much faith really downplays the meaning, essence and practice of faith.

            If you want to say something like, “You can’t make a definitive claim without evidence, and God is beyond evidence” that’s one thing. But when you try to play the you’re-just-like-us card, needlessly to boot, it just muddies what faith is.

            Yes, we all have a belief. As I like to say, which I stole from Penn, “We all have our gris-gris.” I do. Most undoubtedly do. But not all claims are equal. Not all of what you call “faith” is equal.

            The way you’re phrasing it, “faith” becomes more synonymous with mere confidence in a curiosity. True faith isn’t simple belief. And I don’t understand why a religious person would sell faith short for the sole purpose of trying to claim atheist types exercise faith just like they do. It’s needless. You can call claims out in ways which don’t make it appear as if religious people have this simple belief.

            It’s not as if most religious people are just throwing their hands up and saying “it musta been some deity that put us here.” People follow, interpret and create incredibly exacting standards for what they have faith in and what they follow and how they view their gods. Hence around 40,000 separate sects in Christianity alone.

            And how many millions of people have serious struggles with their faith in everyday life? “I’m struggling with my faith,” or some variation, is an incredibly common phrase. Odd that something so simple would cause so much conflict.

            Maybe your faith is simple. I don’t know. I always had you pegged for a true believer. Or maybe you’re just taking the creationist line and not really thinking the charge through. All I do know is that if you replace gods/no gods with anything else (which you never allow to happen; we’ve tried it many times), the issue becomes a lot clearer.

          • Brian Fr Langley

            Your problem is you can’t seem to equate “true belief” with logic. In my experience, most “true believers” (of the evangelical conservative Christian variety, count me in that number) are the most logical people on earth. Arthur Conan Doyles Sherlock Holmes deduced Moriarty using logic. Yes I’m a true believer, but that does not make my faith illogical. As I pointed out earlier there remain 3 outstanding miracles for which science can not explain. From whence comes the universe, from whence comes life, and from whence comes human consciousness? The most logical explanation for what appears to be a miraculous design, (even the most die hard atheists agree the universe appears to have a “grand design”), is a miraculous designer.

          • Josh

            This goes nowhere. You have just shifted the goal posts so drastically that we’re no longer on the same field. I’m not sure you read or understood my previous post.

            Believing that there’s some great being, some creator, some design, is a far cry different from giving that creator a name, a story, a likeness, sets of rules, and living one’s life by having faith in one specific religion.

            Basic belief that something, anything, must be responsible vs. faith that you know exactly who/what it is. You’re trying to tell me they’re the same thing?

            There have been thousands upon thousands of gods worshiped throughout history and said to be supposedly responsible for creation. Believing that it could be any one of those, or maybe one not discovered, would be a relatively easy leap of faith, I suppose.

            So, you believe just any old god is responsible? Or do you have a specific god, with specific rules, with a scarified son, with specific miracles, with a specific purpose, etc?

            And there’s no sense in getting into what you’re passing off as “miracles,” because you start out with those questions placed directly in a religious context, thus setting the stage for the only possible answer being religious. Moreover, being attributable to your specific god. That’s quite the opposite of logic.

            “even the most die hard atheists agree the universe appears to have a “grand design””

            Quote-minded stuff from Hawking again?

            Instead of replying to me with a response that moves the conversation another 50 degrees east for no reason, try reading people in full context rather than some snippet plucked at random.

          • Brian Fr Langley

            The argument, (if you read the post) is that Christianity is (was) a civilizing force, and in large part contributed to the greatness that made America great. (exceptional if you prefer). Some folks implied that this was not only untrue, but implied “Christians” are just simple nut bars, whose religion is akin to any ignorant savages believing the thunder they hear, is a god talking. (this I believe is the thrust of all your penning herein). Then you go on to suggest that the sustained practising of ones faith, is some kind of hard to sustain religious ferver, while atheism is the natural order of any sane person. (requiring no faith or belief). And here I could not disagree more. You live in a Nation where “civilized” Christians routinely “testify” as to their experiences with their creator and savior. It’s inescapable. Yet you reject their testimony and mock their belief. Your penning herein is purposeful, yet why bother? You bother because you’re trying to vindicate your “belief”. If that’s not an act of faith, I’m not sure what is?

          • Josh

            I don’t even know what the heck you’re talking about now. It’s turned into some random words strung together that, to you, seem to form a coherent point, but to me just conflict and contrast and come across as gibberish.

            In other words: Huh?

            I responded directly to you with one point, in one context: Your assertion that “faith” is the same for people who don’t believe in a god as it is for people who do believe.

            I disagree with that, obviously. The rest of the stuff appears as if you’re just throwing random thoughts at a wall.

            If I can simplify what I’m saying in the previous comments so that you don’t somehow get lost in the context and infer things that aren’t even close to being there, I’d say, simply, it takes stronger “faith” to believe in one specific deity out of thousands than it takes to believe in just any random deity, and it takes even less “faith” to believe that, rather than a deity, there’s a natural order to existence that falls in line with what’s observable today.

            I don’t see how you read that as attacking. And I still can’t see where you see “faith” as being this equal thing across the board.

            I’ll say again: It’s not as if you yourself have this beautifully simplistic belief that there’s a random creator behind the universe. No. You have a name for it; you have a complete story for it, along with a set of rules, along with practices you observe, and you worship and observe one type of that religion, for one god of thousands known, and you deny the rest.

            And it goes even deeper if you’re a Biblical literalist. Then you believe a whole long list of things that aren’t simple beliefs based on those three miracles you cite, but rather are stories you hold as true even when they’re contradicted by some pretty convincing stuff: The age of the earth, a great flood, demonic possession causing sickness, prayer actually healing, etc, etc.

            Are you going to say that anyone who believes in just any random creator has the same level of faith as someone who believes in the literal scripture of one religion?

            How are you reading any of this as an insult? For Pete’s flippin’ sake here, man. I’m just attempting to point out that the faith of a devoutly religious individual is stronger than the faith of a person who isn’t devout or who isn’t religious.

            Why would a devoutly religious person disagree with that? I thought faith is something you folks took great pride in.

            Arguing that seems to me like you’re slapping yourself in the face and are attempting to say that your faith isn’t a big deal.

            Okay. Fine. Your faith isn’t a big deal. It’s simple then! Happy? I don’t believe my neighbor has any cheese in his refrigerator, and that belief I hold is just as strong as your religious faith! (I don’t believe that, but that’s what you’re selling me right now.)

  • chuck.tatum

    “But our prisons are not filled with religious Jewish and Christian murderers.”

    I beg to differ. The jails are filled with believers. But I’ll assume Prager means that a murderer could be a believer their entire life, but during the moments of committed a crime, they weren’t a believer at that moment. Totally false.
    It does say a lot to us secular people what the believers would do if they found out there their god isn’t real. They would run out and kill, steal, rape and lie since no one is watching them and there is no afterlife consequences. So they behave because they believe a watchful “camera” in the sky is pointed at them.
    I wouldn’t say a non-believer is incapable of committing any type of crime. I will say non-believers are far more moral than any believer. We mostly try to do the right thing when nobody is watching because we understand we get our morals from society (as does religion). We don’t do the right thing for fear of afterlife rewards or punishments. We do the right thing because society depends on it.

    • Josh

      Yeah. That’s one of the biggest pet peeves with any person’s ideology or faith or thing they deeply believe in. When someone doesn’t toe the exact same line they toe, it’s always, “Well, they’re not really religious, or else they would/wouldn’t have ______”

      That goes for political ideologies and stuff like believing in UFO abductions too. People who are true believers in something seem to always believe that their particular way of belief is the only way of belief.

  • Steve Fair

    Yawn. I guess Prager believes that America had more of a moral compass during the days of slavery, Jim Crow, child labor, lynchings, witch hunts..etc…

    • Josh

      Those “values” don’t count, Steve. That’s the great thing about these values. If someone doesn’t like a value like not suffering a witch to live (and the history of fingering and killing witches), they can just skip over it and say “The main message is ‘love thy neighbor,'” and instead switch it to instances of love while chalking the bad up to different times, only a few people, etc.

      To me, one cannot claim “religious values” without embracing them all. Without them all, they’re no longer religious values; they’re just picked-and-chosen values that were perhaps loosely inspired by religion, but could also be culturally inspired. But, another good thing about faith: It doesn’t have to be logical to anyone else. People’s beliefs are their own, and a lot of people are quick to throw that out there like the Enterprise shields.

      Basically pulling a victim card, is what I’d liken it to. “You can’t question my faith. It’s personal!” In reality, that precedent is why a lot of seriously nutso uber-progressive totalitarians get away with killing free speech and such. They’re just following in the footsteps of the people who did it for generations.