I’m a Catholic. When I was young I went through the communions and other rituals of the Catholic faith. This helps explain why I believe there is something greater than all of us out there. Common sense tells me there’s something else more powerful than what we can know, or understand, at this time. This means, yes, I pray, almost every day. And I pray for others.
Still, with this, I’m pretty sure I don’t “measure up” to the standards of contemporary Christians who believe they know a Man of Faith. But, then again, I’m not too sure many Christians can pass their own standards of “works” and piety (or hypocrisy, which the Bible has much to say about).
This is just one of the reasons why I believe it is a big mistake for any group - and not just Christians - to try and mix religion and politics. There is no set mold for what constitutes a man of faith, a good Christian, or a good Catholic. Public policy is difficult enough without dragging God into our public debates – either as cover for a specific policy, or to suggest that God is on your side.
The Framers of the Constitution understood these dynamics, very well. We often lose sight of the fact that differences in faith led Europeans to lie, cheat, scheme and to viciously fight one another for generations. Indeed, toward the end of one of their seemingly endless wars of religion – the Thirty Years War – the Europeans finally said, “Enough … let’s create a system of sovereign nation-states where each state is free to worship as they see fit.”
And just like that, the Treaty of Westphalia (1648) became the first multi-lateral treaty. It was created because of the need to keep religion out of the political arena. It also created our modern nation-state system.
The Framers saw this, and understood how religion might be used to divide our new nation. They understood that the human condition is so flawed that religion and state institutions could be manipulated if spiritual purity tests were brought into the public square. They understood that faddish ideas and religious passions often run amok, and cloud our judgment. They also understood how all of this had set back human advancement in the past.
The pursuit of moral universalism has done more to hold humanity back than the pursuit of knowledge.
To understand the intent of the Framers when they wrote the Constitution we don’t need to pour over their political speeches, or read their letters. To be sure, they can be helpful. But they can also be confusing because of their differing views, and political aspirations.
This is why, if we want to understand the intent of the Framers when they created the Constitution, we should be reading The Federalist Papers rather than turning to their personal letters.
The Federalist Papers, for those of you who've forgotten, were a series of articles written by the Framers (John Jay, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton). They addressed the human condition. And the Framers weren't really impressed. This helps explain why they created distinct levels of government, with so many checks and balances.
Specifically, the Federalist Papers tell us that “if men were angels” there would be no need for laws (or government). But we’re not angels. So we need laws. We need checks on government power. And we need competing institutions to help oversee both the laws and the government. Why? Because we're really not as good as we'd like to think. In this respect, as Federalist #51 points out, modern government is a reflection of man and all the weaknesses inherent to the human condition.
What’s critical to point out here is that prayer and faith – of any denomination – are not mentioned in the Federalist Papers. As the defining pieces that explain the historical and political roots of the American Constitution, this says everything.
What the Federalist Papers tell us is the Constitution was designed to act as a firewall against human failings, and not as an incubator for Christian beliefs.
How do we know this? I'll be discussing this in a talk that I'm giving in Bakersfield tomorrow (March 21). I'll try and post an abbreviated version of my comments here on Thursday.