Amy Coney Barrett and Who We Are as a Nation

So, it’s Amy Coney Barrett. How great is that? Deo Gratias. For secularists and others out there, that means “thanks be to God.” He is the one who makes all things and keeps all things in existence, even you.

Amy believes that. Maybe that is shocking to you. She also believes that the meaning of her life and work is to see the face of God in the Beatific Vision and live with Him forever.

Once upon a time, these were unremarkable beliefs. They were commonly held. Not at all shocking as they are now.

There have been two competing visions of who we are as a people. One argues that we are a Christian nation and that we were founded that way, that Christianity has pride of place among all faiths, and that the roots of our governmental system are found in the Bible. There is another view: we may be a religious people, but our government may only ever be secular, that is, without God or religion.

Professor Stephen D. Smith of the University of San Diego School of Law calls these the “providentialist” and the “secularist” view. He writes, “Providentialists declare that God works in history, that it is important as a people to acknowledge, and that the community should actively instill such beliefs in children as a basis for civic virtue.” Secularists, on the other hand, “insist that acknowledgments of deity (if there is one) ought to be purely private and that government acts improperly if it enters into religion or expresses or endorses religious beliefs. Thus, what one constituency views as imperative, the other regards as forbidden.”

Many others have recognized these two strains in America’s view of itself. Noah Feldman of the Harvard Law school describes one as “values evangelicals” and the other as “legal secularists.” James Davidson Hunter, author of the influential Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, described the two camps as “orthodox” and “progressive.” The orthodox camp is defined by “the commitment on the part of adherents to an external, definable, and transcendent authority” that tells us “what is good, what is true, how we should live, and who we are.” Hunter argues that the progressives, even the religious ones, place their trust in “personal experience or scientific rationality.” These two views naturally play out in different ways concerning political issues. But even more, they inform the adherent as to who we are as a nation. Are we a religious nation, or are we a secular nation? 

The answer to this question will be expressed in the public statements of our leaders, in the ceremonies we carry out, in the words on our money, our national motto, even and perhaps especially in how and what we teach our children. 

Both of these views find warrant in our history and our founding documents. Therefore from our founding onward, each has been competitive with the other. Since this has been a competition, the “providentialists” will have the upper hand at various times, and at other times the “secularists” will dominate. Professor Smith says the competition has been similar to that between the political parties. Sometimes the Democrats win, at other times the Republicans win, but the federal government has never taken a side. 

Something changed in 1962 when the Supreme Court took a side in the culture wars, and it was not our side. In the school prayer decision, the Supreme Court not only struck down fairly innocuous and entirely voluntary school prayers, it determined that the purpose of government must be secular. I would argue this was the nascent establishment of an official state church, a breach of that wall that was supposed to protect believers from the government. This official church has grown larger and more robust and now imposes its dogmas on our school children.

We salute Trump for appointing a real believer to the high court. We look forward to Amy Coney Barrett writing the majority opinion when Roe is overturned. As high as those stakes are, the stakes are higher still, higher than Roe, higher than Obergefell, higher than Eisenstadt and Griswold. Higher than all these encyclicals of the sexual Left. The stakes are nothing short of who we are as a people. Do we have an established secularist church? Are we a Christian people being suffocated by this church? 

I think the Church of the Secularists knows these stakes, and this is why in the coming weeks, they will attack Amy Coney Barrett with all they have, and that is why we, the Christian people, must defend her just as we would defend ourselves and our own children. Those are the stakes. 

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