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The end of a very old social compact Print E-mail
By Archbishop Charles Chaput   
Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Early America could afford to be “secular” in the best sense, precisely because its people were overwhelmingly religious. The Founders saw religious faith as something separate from government but vital to the nation’s survival. In the eyes of Adams, Washington and most of the other Founders, religion created virtuous citizens. And only virtuous citizens could sustain a country as delicately balanced in its institutions, moral instincts and laws as the United States.

As a result, for nearly two centuries, Christian thought, vocabulary, and practice were the unofficial but implicit soul to every aspect of American life—including the public square. The great Jesuit scholar John Courtney Murray put it this way: “The American Bill of Rights is not a piece of 18th-century rationalist theory; it is far more the product of Christian history. Behind it one can see, not the philosophy of the Enlightenment, but the older philosophy that had been the matrix of the common law. The ‘man’ whose rights are guaranteed in the face of law and government is, whether he knows it or not, the Christian man, who had learned to know his own dignity in the school of Christian faith.”

The trouble is that America’s religious soul — its Christian subtext — has been weakening for decades. We are watching the end of a very old social compact in American life: the mutual respect of civil and sacred authority, and the mutual autonomy of religion and state. And that’s dangerous.
 
 

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