On this Good Friday and Passover, it is worth remembering George Washington’s message on morality and religion, in his 1796 Farewell Address.
“Washington—in light of the dreadful events which had occurred in Revolutionary France—wished to dispel for good any notion that America was a secular state. It was a government of laws but also of morals,” writes historian Paul Johnson, in The History of the American People. “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity,’ he insisted, ‘religion and morality are indispensable supports.’ Anyone who tried to undermine these ‘great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens,’ was the very opposite of a patriot.” (P. 229)
There can be no “security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice.” Nor can morality be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
What Washington was saying, explains Johnson, is that America, “being a free republic, dependent for its order on the good behavior of its citizens, cannot survive without religion. And that was in the nature of things.” (P. 229)
It’s hard to reconcile modern-day USA with the America the Founding Fathers bequeathed and envisaged. The law, a branch in what has become a tripartite tyranny, has plunged Americans into a struggle to express their faith outside their homes and places of worship.
Forgotten in all this is that religion is also a proxy for morality. (And I say this as an irreligious individual.)