Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there, the more did I perceive the great political consequences resulting from this state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other; but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country. –Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835
Alexis-Charles-Henri Clérel de Tocqueville was a French political thinker and historian best known for his book Democracy in America. In Democracy in America, published in 1835, Tocqueville wrote of America and its growing democratic order. He saw democracy as an equation that balanced liberty and equality, concern for the individual as well as the community.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. –1 Corinthians 10:23-24
America grew and thrived precisely because of that principle. Liberty and equality were balanced–though not perfectly. Most people of that age placed the good of others either ahead of or equal to their own.
What happens when people reject God–the moral foundation of their society? Benjamin Franklin said that as nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters. The apostle Paul, speaking to the church at Rome, spoke of those who rejected God and the consequences of that rejection.
God’s wrath is being revealed from heaven against all the ungodly behavior and the injustice of human beings who silence the truth with injustice. This is because what is known about God should be plain to them because God made it plain to them. Ever since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—God’s eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through the things God has made. So humans are without excuse. Although they knew God, they didn’t honor God as God or thank him. Instead, their reasoning became pointless, and their foolish hearts were darkened. While they were claiming to be wise, they made fools of themselves. They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images that look like mortal humans: birds, animals, and reptiles. So God abandoned them to their hearts’ desires, which led to the moral corruption of degrading their own bodies with each other. –Romans 1:18-24
Paul goes on to talk about the character of people who have so completely rejected God. The consequences he states in the following verses are the judgement of God, resulting from God abandoning them to their heart’s desires.
Since they didn’t think it was worthwhile to acknowledge God, God abandoned them to a defective mind to do inappropriate things. So they were filled with all injustice, wicked behavior, greed, and evil behavior. They are full of jealousy, murder, fighting, deception, and malice. They are gossips, they slander people, and they hate God. They are rude and proud, and they brag. They invent ways to be evil, and they are disobedient to their parents. They are without understanding, disloyal, without affection, and without mercy. Though they know God’s decision that those who persist in such practices deserve death, they not only keep doing these things but also approve [of] others who practice them. –Romans 1:28-32
One does not have to look farther than the newspaper or television to see what happens to a society that rejects its moral underpinnings. Can we see injustice, wicked behavior, greed, rudeness and pride? These are signs of a society in decline–the decline of the ungodly.
Benjamin Franklin’s words to the Continental Congress in 1787 resonate just as powerfully today as they did when he spoke them:
In this situation of this Assembly, groping as it were in the dark to find political truth, and scarce able to distinguish it when presented to us, how has it happened, Sir, that we have not hitherto once thought of humbly applying to the Father of lights to illuminate our understandings? In the beginning of the Contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, & they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance?
Can you think of some examples of “inappropriate things” that result from rejection of God? Next month we’ll look at some examples.
If you missed the first two parts in this series: Part I and Part II
-Steve keeps busy with five children and a job in information security. He also has a second job as principal of the Hodgepodge homeschool.