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In Rick Bellows July 5 letter, "America is not a Christian nation," the writer uses the rhetorical device "even a cursory reading of history" to suggest that Trevor Thomas has not been sufficiently studious in his research. I differ with him on that conclusion among other things.
And I will turn the device against Mr. Bellows himself: It would be only a cursory reading of history indeed that finds the primary roots of our form of government in the Enlightenment as Mr. Bellows does. Deeper study reveals the fallacy of that conclusion.
Our political roots run back a few thousand more years, to the Greek city states; to Athens, the seat of Democracy; to Rome and the Roman ideas of virtue being essential to the success of the polis; to Jerusalem and Hebrew Law, and the higher standard set by Christ, and more.
And the "Enlightenment," a misnomer in my opinion, had a strong and basic strain of thought that our founders wisely strayed away from: The idea that the power of man's reason could produce perfectibility in society and government. Even some Enlightenment thinkers scoffed at this, Rousseau being one of them. They knew the pursuit of perfectibility would produce tyranny. (That came to pass in the 20th century "utopias" that communism and fascism inflicted on hundreds of millions of people.)
The founders' view of man was a Christian view: Man was flawed and fallen, perhaps capable of great things, but in need of institutional restraints lest anarchy and tyranny result. Hence, all our checks and balances are designed to protect our liberty.
We also need to remember that while our founders were well read in philosophy and history, they were above all practical when it came to government: They relied heavily on the long experience of the human race — going back to Greece and Rome — and including their own experience.
Instead of philosophizing about abstract schemes, they wanted to know what had worked and what had not worked throughout history. They learned much in the interim between the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. States tried all kinds of things in that brief period, many of which did not work.
Our founders drew heavily on those experiments. Our great Christian nation is the result of their thought and effort. That is true enlightenment.