Editor’s Note: A version of this article was previously published on the author’s substack, Saving America, on September 21, 2023. With his permission, an updated version has been published below.
But what will become of men then?’ I asked him, ‘without God and immortal life? All things are permitted then, they can do what they like?
— Fyodor Dostoevsky—The Brothers Karamazov
We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other. — John Adams in an address to the military in 1798.
Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.
— Northwest Ordinance of 1787 (reestablished by the 1st Congress of the U.S.)
I use the above three quotes—among others—in the beginning of each class I teach on the American Constitution. My point is not to proselytize my students but to explain the philosophical viewpoint held by the Founders that religion, specifically Christianity, was necessary for good government. The first quote from Dostoevsky simply means that if there is no God or creator, then man’s actions can be justified. Rape, murder, theft, genocide, and slavery are all on the table. After all, if we are merely animals here by chance, the strongest should rule in any manner that benefits their self-interest.
The second and third quotes are exemplary of the belief that to have a limited government that maximizes liberty without license, the people and the government itself need to be constrained in their passions and base instincts by a religious moral code. The prominent, if not routinely ignored, role of religion in the Founding and the argument from Alexis de Tocqueville that a shared and promoted religion is one of the main buffers that would prevent the American form of democracy from ultimately becoming a soft despotism or a benevolent tyranny are important considerations as to why we should welcome religion in society.
However, I want to focus on a different aspect of the consequences of a society devoid of morality and law underwritten by religion: the worship of the self.
When religion inhabits the soul of man, it looks beyond the material life and focuses on service, love, and the afterlife. In other words, they live not just for the moment, not just for the material, not for fleeting happiness or pleasure, but for the everlasting life spent with a creator, whatever that afterlife may be. In doing so, their actions and thoughts are not just focused on the self, on instant or momentary gratification. Instead, they work towards a common good, consider the consequences of their actions on others, and practice self-sacrifice. This is one of the many reasons why the Founders sought to create a government that promoted religion because they believed that Christianity was the religion most favorable to liberty and that without it, a limited government would not be able to reign in man’s base instincts. Therefore, without religion, the government would need to grow in strength to control man’s actions. Of course, there are religious people who violate those morals and principles, just as there are atheists who care and love for others and live moral lives, but we are speaking in terms of society at the macro level.
Two videos that I saw last year illustrate the danger of a society that no longer promotes religion but instead promotes love of individualism and love of the self.
In the first video, two young teenagers record themselves running over a retired police chief who was riding his bike in Las Vegas. They are laughing in the video as the chief is hit and flies over their car and later dies from his injuries.
In the second video, two women are discussing abortion. One woman said she had an abortion and wanted to look into the eyes of her abortionist as he rips “the baby from my p***y” because it was “kind of hot.” The second woman said that perhaps women who needed help paying for abortions should create an OnlyFans page because she was sure that there were plenty of people with a fetish for watching abortions.
It’s obvious from these videos: these people worship the god of self.
They exhibit no remorse for their actions. One can only imagine that these individuals have placed self-gratification as their main reason for existence. They lack the ability to empathize with another human being, most likely because they see others as having no intrinsic value—a value that religion teaches we all have. When people reject God, they begin to seek pleasure as their main goal. For some, this pleasure comes in the form of money, materialism, sex, drugs, or whatever they desire at the moment. For these people, often, things that get in the way of self-pleasure do not matter. They are willing to hurt anyone to get what they want. The idea that they would sacrifice themselves for the good of another may never cross their mind.
In my view, abortion is an example of an act of self-worship in most cases, regardless of whether those involved consciously realize it. Whether they have abortions because it would interfere in their career, their social life, their sex life, or because they are too young, it is ultimately a reflection of placing their needs above that of another. Every parent, whether biological, step, adoptive, or foster, understands that good parenting requires sacrifice. When we love ourselves above all else, the idea of self-sacrifice for the needs of others is a foreign concept. Ironically, those who choose to sacrifice the self for children gain joy, happiness, and satisfaction that drugs, sex, or other endeavors cannot replicate.
When we use others for sex, commit violence against them, steal, or simply treat others with disrespect or disgust, we exhibit the love of self as our god. Society tells us to do what makes us happy: put ourselves first. The consequence? High divorce rates, youth experiencing the highest levels of depression in history, cycles of unhappiness, addiction to social media, and a level of dehumanizing others that can ultimately threaten the very fabric and foundation of America.
The Founders of this country were not perfect, but they were wise and understood human nature. They knew that if society did not inculcate morality in its citizenry, society would evolve into a depravity of love of self where people would ultimately begin to justify any action as long as it brought short-term pleasure to themselves. Most of our ills as a society would evaporate if morality and religion were encouraged by civic institutions the way our Founders intended. Perhaps, in time, we can return to such a society.
Photo by Jared Gould — Adobe — Text to Image