I wonder what they’d think.
The question came to me first at Independence Hall in Philadelphia last week, then Plymouth Rock, and again at the Old North Church in Boston this past Sunday.
As I walked the same ground as people like Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, it was hard not to wonder what they’d think of the nation that has sprung up from their hard labors.
Even as a tourist it’s hard not to wonder such things.
I found it refreshing to be tangibly reminded of the strong belief in God that our founders had, and to see firsthand how some of our biggest challenges today would be helped by returning to their blueprint.
Like it or not, the fact is this: You and I stand on the shoulders of people who gratefully attributed America’s birth and success to God’s blessing, and committed their futures to his will.
The assumption among the framers of the Constitution was that our government’s success ultimately depended on the people’s virtue, as defined by the Bible.
Consequently, biblical truth was taught in families, and public schools, so that faith in God and adherence to his truth would continue in succeeding generations.
Those who disagree these days should consider the evidence: The New England Primer, from which most Colonial youngsters learned to read, taught the alphabet with Bible stories, from A – “In Adam’s Fall We sinned All” – to Z – “Zaccheus he Did Climb the Tree His Lord to see.”
Benjamin Rush, a signer of the Constitution, is buried next to Christ Church in Philadelphia, as is America’s more famous Benjamin: Franklin.
Rush had this to say as America began her second decade as a nation: “The only foundation for … a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments.”
These are not the words of a narrow-minded or poorly educated man. Rush is considered by many to be the father of American medicine and psychiatry.
Today, a lot of Americans recognize Samuel Adams as a brand of beer. Last Sunday, my wife and I strolled past the Granary Burial Ground in Boston, where Adams was buried in 1803.
Toward the end of his life, Adams wrote a letter to his cousin, second president John Adams, arguing that young people must be taught to fear and love God and be led “in the study and practice of the exalted virtues of the Christian system.”
I’m not offering these observations as a history lesson. Nor am I under the delusion that our Founding Fathers were perfect, or even all Christians.
It’s just that their beliefs and the lives that flowed from those beliefs are the bedrock the country rests on – and a compass of sorts for today.
The resting places of people like Rush and Adams now lie in the shadows of skyscrapers, amid the din of metro buses and hot dog vendors. In such a setting it’s hard not to contemplate how they’d react if they could see America today.
Yes, they would see a country that still is a worldwide emblem of freedom, the envy of nations. But they’d also see a country that has thrown God from its public square and now puzzles over why things aren’t going so well.
I wonder what they’d think.