History is filled with short-lived republics and democracies. It seems like freedom is ephemeral while tyranny is inevitable. Paradoxically though, human nature is responsible for both the deep yearn for freedom and the ushering in of tyranny. Human nature is complex, contradictory, and at times, dangerous. Throughout the ages, there has been only one effective suppressor of the primitive, barbaric, and immoral aspects of human nature—religion.
Religion has allowed for freedom to abound and civil societies to flourish. There will always be moral atheists and immoral religious people; but generally, when a body politic is free, only religion and accountability to a transcendent God can ensure evasion of debauchery, atrocity, and moral chaos. Religion also has traditionally given people meaning, purpose, and a contentment that is crucial to warding off feelings of resentment, anger, jealousy, and malcontent, which threaten the civil society. While secular government protects the civil society, an irreligious, secular people endanger it.
Secularism creates a vacuum in the individual. God and religion have traditionally satisfied the human being’s greatest psychological hunger—the hunger for meaning. As Dr. Victor E. Frankl points out, meaning is something humanity craves as much as food, air, or water. Humans cannot survive without meaning and purpose in their lives. And as members of society become more secular, their meaning is increasingly found in causes or movements that inevitably involve the enlargement of the State.
For example, environmentalism, globalism, material equality, state-controlled healthcare, etc., are no longer just political positions. They are now movements that inspire passion and give the empty secularist meaning, and prevent his psychological and emotional atrophy. The problem is, however, that even if the desired outcomes of each of the aforementioned issues were achieved, the secularist would not be satisfied. Some new “issue” would present itself and also deserve a religious-like devotion, regardless of the “issue’s” authenticity. And while the state expands, and liberty contracts.
The founding fathers recognized that liberty could be dangerous when in the hands of an immoral, unscrupulous mobocracy, which is why they all emphasized the importance of religion to a free society. As John Adams once wrote, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
Freedom and the state constantly vie with one another for dominance because one can't increase without the decrease of the other. And as God's role in society becomes smaller and less pervasive, the state becomes larger and more ubiquitous. This is huge a problem. As GK Chesterton once said, “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”
That “anything” is an imminent threat to limited government, freedom, and republicanism.
Ross Dubberly studies economics at University of Georgia.