Saint John Paul II once met with President George W. Bush and later said,
In my recent meeting with President Bush, I emphasized my deep esteem for the rich patrimony of human, religious and moral values which have historically shaped the American character. I expressed the conviction that America’s continued moral leadership in the world depends on her fidelity to her founding principles. (Address of the Holy Father to the New Ambassador of the United States of America to the Holy See, September 13, 2001).
However, many Secularists in America today do not want to be governed by our Constitution nor to St. John Paul II’s call to “fidelity to [our] founding principles.” Below is an example from the Facebook page of my daughter, Maggie Lynch Eisenbarth. She posted the following thread including herself, Secularist Karen, and Anthony (Tony) Esolen, author and professor at Magdalen College:
“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” (John Adams, Letter to the Massachusetts Militia, October 11, 1798).
Secularist Karen sarcastically replied:
Silly me…. I thought it was for all citizens!
I am saddened that this suggests that a person must be religious in order to be an adequate and moral human. Will any religion do or is there a specific one we must adhere to?
Hi, Karen, how are you? John Adams, our second president, understood this to be true: that immoral people would not want to be governed by the Constitution. It is a deep thought and one that asks for charity and logic of thought.
I’m continually struck by how EASY people in our time think it is to hold to the moral law. We are a nation of rogues, liars, cheats, sluts, drunks; we are touchy, vindictive, foul-mouthed, ungrateful, and selfish; we slander our forebears; we put our sexual gratification before the welfare of our children; we butcher children in the womb; we care so little about a child’s innocence that we permit the sewage of pornography; we talk a big talk about love but we assume that it costs us nothing, that love does not mean sometimes accepting unhappiness, even the sacrifice of what you want the most … It’s as if we weaklings could just smile and be pleasant and that will be all right.… When Adams uses the word “religion,” he uses it in its full sense: it implies personal duties not only FROM God but TO God; it implies the virtue of piety.
I think it is striking, it is not a “religion” that John Adams is referring to, but a code and a particular code, based on morals. Today, moral vs immoral is subjective. I think he was wise to foresee that the Constitution, meant to govern as an allowance of freedom, would be attacked and would not govern those who are slaves to immorality.
Maggie asked Professor Esolen:
Is morality fluid? Does our Constitution tell us how to behave? What is natural law and what are God given rights?
This is how I see it, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is futile if those people to which our Constitution is governing, in order to secure those rights are void of morals such as Communists, Marxists and the like, because their end goal is not individual liberty and freedom. John Adams’ quote was as important in 1798 as it is in 2021. Communism is not dead. In addition, the 5th commandment, Thou shall not kill, is relative today to your size, your race and your age.
Professor Esolen replied:
Our Constitution doesn’t tell us how to behave. It is a set of by-laws establishing departments of government, delimiting their areas of operation, and outlining their mutual relations. It was not supposed to be a cultural document, much less a moral code or a catechism.
Morality is not fluid. What is fluid is man’s perception of it, but if you step back and you look at human cultures generally, you will find broad agreement on the principles. C. S. Lewis notes them in the appendix of his Abolition of Man.
All of the Founders took for granted, from their readings of history, the poets and philosophers both pagan and Christian, and the Scriptures, that you will pursue happiness quite in vain unless you are virtuous, and that it is very difficult to be virtuous. I get the feeling these days that people think you are “virtuous” if you have the “correct” political opinions and if you are what is called “nice.” That’s nonsense. Niceness is more a matter of your temperament and digestive system than of virtue. The proof comes when times are hard. How many “nice” people break their vows to God and man when they divorce — for one example?