Archive for the ‘ American Character ’ Category

Noah Webster & the Wisdom of Earlier Ages

Noah WebsterI spent a number of years researching Noah Webster, who became the subject of my doctoral dissertation. He’s known primarily for two things: his Speller, which taught Americans to read and write correctly; his dictionary, a monumental effort of about twenty years of his life, and which defined terms in the context of his Biblical worldview.

Webster started out his career as a devotee of the Enlightenment, that movement of the eighteenth century that gave far more credit to human reason than human reason should allow. But he came to the end of his faith in human reasoning that sought to separate itself from God’s revelation. In 1808, he experienced a solid Christian conversion that affected all his works from then on. All his educational efforts were henceforth directed to pointing men to the One to whom they all must answer someday.

His conversion also provided a more Biblical concept of government and education. As he wrote to one of his personal correspondents in 1836,

An attempt to conduct the affairs of a free government with wisdom and impartiality, and to preserve the just rights of all classes of citizens, without the guidance of Divine precepts, will certainly end in disappointment. God is the supreme moral Governor of the world He has made, and as He Himself governs with perfect rectitude, He requires His rational creatures to govern themselves in like manner. If men will not submit to be controlled by His laws, He will punish them by the evils resulting from their own disobedience.

Any system of education, therefore, which limits instruction to the arts and sciences, and rejects the aids of religion in forming the characters of citizens, is essentially defective.

In my view, the Christian religion is the most important and one of the first things in which all children, under a free government ought to be instructed.… No truth is more evident to my mind than that the Christian religion must be the basis of any government intended to secure the rights and privileges of a free people.

When I was taking doctoral courses in history, more than once my professors hinted at the idea that we, in our day, are naturally more knowledgeable and possess more wisdom than those in earlier, more primitive, ages. Well, when I read comments such as Webster’s above, I just kind of smile inwardly at the arrogance of our learned elite today. No, there are some things that earlier generations understood much better than we do now.

WebsterIf you would like to delve deeper into Noah Webster, his thoughts, and his times, I recommend my doctoral dissertation, which is now in book form. The latest version is found at the Barnes & Noble website: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/defining-noah-webster-k-alan-snyder/1005377905?ean=9781591600558

A lot of time and effort went into this book, and I can say I’m pleased with the result. I believe it has stood the test of time and offers some real insights into a man who devoted the last half of his life to promoting God’s truths.

John Jay: Christian Statesman

John Jay 1How about a little wisdom from one of America’s Founders today? Most people are not too familiar with John Jay, but he was central to almost every major event of the Founding. Jay served in the Continental Congress, was one of the principal leaders in the debates leading to Independence, was elected president of Congress at one point, and was appointed one of the peace commissioners who negotiated the end of the American Revolution.

Afterwards, he, along with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, authored some of the Federalist Papers, which today are still the best source for knowing how the Founders understood the nation’s new Constitution. Then, after Washington was inaugurated, he was chosen to be the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Later, Jay resigned from that position because he was elected governor of New York. As governor, he saw the fulfillment of one of his lifelong goals: he signed a law leading to the eventual abolition of slavery in that state.

When Jay finally retired from public service, he became president of the American Bible Society. His Christian faith was the bedrock of his life. This is seen in a number of his writings. For instance, in a letter to Rev. Jedidiah Morse, he opined,

Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.

Notice he considered America to be founded as a Christian nation—not artificially by legislative fiat, but as a matter of choice. The only way a nation can be truly Christian is if the people voluntarily consider Christianity to be the framework for their thinking, their culture, and their laws.

In that same letter to Morse, he commented on the Bible and how it fits into history:

It is to be regretted, but so I believe the fact to be, that except the Bible there is not a true history in the world. Whatever may be the virtue, discernment, and industry of the writers, I am persuaded that truth and error (though in different degrees) will imperceptibly become and remain mixed and blended until they shall be separated forever by the great and last refining fire.

As a historian, I can vouch for that. All histories are a mixture of truth and error, no matter how conscientious we may be. God’s Word, though, can be relied on as absolute truth.

Finally, here is Jay’s perception of the validity of Christianity:

I have long been of opinion that the evidence of the truth of Christianity requires only to be carefully examined to produce conviction in candid minds.

In other words, a clearheaded examination of the claims of the Christian faith should lead anyone with an open heart to the conclusion that it, and only it, is the true explanation of the condition of mankind, the nature of God, and the way to salvation.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a majority of our elected leaders had the same views and character as John Jay? Well, that’s up to us. As Jay said, it is the duty, the privilege, and the interest of the voters to select Christians for their leaders. If we don’t have those kinds of leaders, the fault lies with us.

Our One-Sided Racial Conversation

Two men were killed last week in what have been described as senseless murders. First point to be made: all murders are committed without sense, in that they are violations of the moral code God has inscribed on our hearts. We call some of them senseless because we can’t connect the act to some rationale, however invalid. In both of these cases, the victims were unknown to their assailants and had done nothing to warrant any type of reprisal.

Christopher LaneChristopher Lane was a college student in Oklahoma, a native Australian who was in the United States on a baseball scholarship. He was jogging, bothering no one, when a car pulled up behind him and shots were fired. He died almost immediately, according to those who arrived on the scene to try to minister aid to him.

The three youths arrested for the act were all black—perhaps one was mixed-race—and reports are that they did this a) because they were bored; b) for the fun of it; or c) as part of a wannabe-gang ritual. According to the authorities, one of the youths, after being arrested, danced around and laughed about it, apparently enjoying his notoriety. This same young man, aged 15, had commented on Twitter that he hated whites.

Delbert BeltonThe other victim was 88-year-old Delbert Belton, of Washington state, who was simply sitting in his car when two youths came up to him and beat him to death with flashlights. Belton was a WWII veteran who had been injured in the Battle of Okinawa. Again, the culprits, as caught on surveillance cameras, were black.

Now, in neither of these murders did anyone say they were doing this as payback for Trayvon Martin. No, there’s probably no such connection. And when you compare the three separate incidents, you see a clear distinction. In the Martin-Zimmerman case, there were mitigating circumstances that had to be sorted out. In the latter two, there are none. Neither Lane nor Belton had done anything at all to warrant an attack.

So are these racial incidents? Are they fueled by racism? Well, at least one of the youths who killed Lane, as I’ve already noted, is on the public record as being racially motivated, even though the prosecutors in the case seem reluctant to press that issue. Is that where we’ve come to as a nation? Are we not allowed to apply racism equally across the board, wherever it may appear? And when is President Obama going to insert himself into this? He certainly wasn’t reluctant when Trayvon Martin was the one who died.

If I Had a Son

And of course there are his willing accomplices in the media who are prone to look the other way:

 Martin-Lane

Is this the new, improved version of separate-but-equal?

Both Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, have boldly declared that the nation needs to have a conversation on race. We’ve heard that repeatedly throughout this administration. It’s getting rather old by now:

National Conversation

I’m not opposed to that conversation. I believe all races stand equally before God, since He is the One who created this diversity in the first place. It’s just that a conversation has to go two ways, or it won’t be a conversation at all. I don’t think the president wants to invest himself in the current conversation because it’s not going the way he intended. The conversation he seeks is one-sided, whereas we need to cover all topics: racism no matter what the source; broken families; slanted and deficient education; a welfare state that creates a sense of entitlement. We need to talk about the American character and what has happened to it. We need to discuss the loss of Biblical absolutes in our society and the consequences.

Would he be open to that conversation?

Snyderian Truism #6

When I teach history, the emphasis is not on statistics, charts, or graphs, helpful as they all are. Instead, I concentrate on individuals and their impact on events. I believe history is a story, which includes themes, plots, and character development. As we begin to delve into the events of history in class, I reveal to my students another Snyderian Truism that I hope will make them see a significant distinction:

Personality and character are not the same: the first arrives with you at birth; the second is a matter of choice and requires work on your part.

I find that people often confuse the two. There is no moral aspect to one’s personality. It’s simply the type of person you are, as created by God. Some are more take-charge types, while others are laid back. We have introverts and extroverts. The distinctions could go on for quite some time. Yet all types are necessary; that’s the kind of diversity God seeks. They each have their unique strengths.

Noah WebsterCharacter is the moral side. We are all free moral agents made in the image of God, and we must take on His character in order for the world to operate the way He intended. Noah Webster, in his original dictionary, defines the generic “character,” apart from the human element, in this way:

A mark made by cutting, engraving, stamping, or pressing.

I say that’s the generic definition because it applies to the word in general. One makes a character on a sheet of paper, for instance, by pressing down with a pen. Anyone remember typewriters? When you press the key, the designated letter jumps up and stamps or engraves the mark on the paper. It makes an impression.

We can make the application to human character as well. How is our character formed? All the cutting, engraving, stamping, and pressing that occur in daily life—also known as trials, tribulations, challenges—shape our character. We emerge from these pressures as different people. God uses them to help conform us more to the image of Christ. Our hearts are changed along the way, and we take on a greater measure of the character God intended for us. It’s our hearts that are affected; we are transformed within, and then the transformation shows up on the outside so others can see it.

I find this exemplified in a statement the apostle Paul made to the Corinthian church. In 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, he remarks,

Your yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You know that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.

When we see exemplary character exhibited in history, it serves to inspire us to emulate that character. The prophet Samuel, upon his retirement, asked the elders of Israel to tell him if he had done anything to harm them while he served in his high office. They responded,

“You have not cheated or oppressed us. . . . You have not taken anything from anyone’s hand.” Samuel said to them, “The Lord is witness against you, and also His anointed is witness this day, that you have not found anything in my hand.” “He is witness,” they said.

Think about that. What a testimony. How many politicians can we say that about today? They exist, but we see the opposite so often that it invites cynicism. Another great example from the Old Testament is Daniel, who served in the government for most of his life. At one point, the other government officials were so jealous of his success that they sought to find a reason to get him kicked out. Here’s what happened:

Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators . . . by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. . . . The administrators . . . tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.

Again, what a solid testimony of God’s character through an individual.

George Washington1When George Washington stepped down as general of the army at the end of America’s war for independence, he sent out a letter to the states in which he prayed,

That He [God] would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do Justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.

That prayer is still urgently needed. The truth of Washington’s statement remains. Unless we take on the character of Christ, we will be most miserable as a people. It’s the Christians who have to take responsibility to show the way. We must fulfill our obligation to reveal the character of God, and it’s through our own character that He is to be revealed.

The Greatest Scandal of All

The word “scandal” is increasingly being used to describe a multitude of developments in this Age of Obama. I thought it might be helpful to define the term. After looking up a number of definitions, I think this one summarizes pretty well:

An action or event regarded as morally or legally wrong and causing general public outrage.

In order to properly identify a scandal, there must first be a standard of morality that nearly all adhere to, and there must be a commitment to the rule of law to judge legality. To complete the definition, there must also be a sense of public outrage over the event or action. For me, and others who think like me, a lot of what has been transpiring around us clearly fits the definition. The problem is there are fewer people who think the way we do: the Biblical standard of morality that once infused our society is crumbling; the rule of law, which is closely allied to that morality, is falling with it; and the public outrage, which should be universal, never touches a large segment of the population.

People do get selectively outraged. Some individuals, by their over-the-top actions, create an atmosphere of general revulsion:

Mars Colony

There are times when a systemic problem encourages and abets inexcusable actions, such as the Ft. Hood killings. The general public might still get outraged over this one, provided the media cooperates in revealing the systemic problem:

Unindicted Co-Conspirator

Some things that should be scandals become acceptable over time—they slowly creep up on us and become part of the culture before most people realize it. Of course, those very people who are slow to realize it are the ones who voted for it in the first place:

Diet Plate

The scandals that have most recently gained our attention are only symptoms of the growth of government. What most people don’t understand is that they are undermining our entire system:

We the People

Anyone who votes for a party that seeks to ignore and/or destroy the rule of law is an accomplice in scandal. It’s hard for there to be general outrage over this when half the country votes for it. If we want to locate the basic problem, and the source of all our scandals, we have to look in the mirror.

What has happened to the American character? Rejection of God and His moral law is at the root of our current political, economic, and social distresses. We will never adequately deal with those distresses until we first return to God’s truths and proclaim our fidelity to them. If we continue to dismiss God’s perfectly reasonable morality, we can only expect things to decline further. And what’s worse is we won’t even be outraged anymore by the decline. That’s the greatest scandal of all.

The Remedy for Racial Discord

Someday, we may be able to leave the George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin case behind us. I know I’m tired of it. Yet it depends on whether others are willing to let it go or whether they are more invested in promoting racial disharmony. We are supposed to be citizens of the United States; we should all be identified as Americans. But what do we see? There is a concerted effort to divide us by ethnicity, gender, age, and whatever new category the culture masters deem appropriate. Just look at a typical focus group or discussion panel on television:

Our Panel

It’s becoming nothing short of ridiculous. People are people. Yes, there are cultural differences, but the basic makeup of each person is the same. God created us all in His image: we all have an intellect, emotions, free will, and a conscience. Further, we all have identical needs: love, security, etc. Yet we insist on harping on the differences. For some people, it’s like an industry. That’s why I’ve criticized Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, who probably wouldn’t have much of an income without their talent for fomenting discord and promoting grievances. Unfortunately, we’ve now seen that rise to the very top of our government:

 Perhaps One Day

Wake up. We are no longer living in a segregated society. Although pockets of discrimination will always exist, simply because of man’s sinfulness, one of the few improvements since the 1960s has been in the area of race relations and opportunity for all. At least, that was the trend until this administration decided to turn up the heat on racial discord through its statements and the actions of the DOJ.

Let’s keep this in mind: we will never achieve a perfect society; problems between individuals and groups will always be present. Those barriers come down in the proper way only by first acknowledging our common Creator. Real love for others will be manifested only by mirroring the love of God as demonstrated through His Son. Yet with all the new attacks on Biblical Christianity—which should be a redundant description—our future as a nation is uncertain. And any disintegration of Biblical foundations will lead to even worse race relations.

The remedy is simple, but the resistance to it is massive: acknowledge and be ashamed of sin in one’s life, repent of it, and turn to the One who laid down His life to bring reconciliation across the board—with God first, and then with others.

Reclaiming the Liberty Bequeathed to Us

Don’t forget the real reason you have the day off today, and keep in mind that the liberty won in that struggle from 1774-1783 was not a foregone conclusion. In fact, few reasonable people at the time predicted victory over the mightiest empire on earth. What was won should not be taken for granted; liberty can be taken away before we realize it. Just look at what has occurred in our nation since inauguration day 2009. Christian character—humility, fortitude, integrity—are essential if we are to reclaim what the Founders once obtained for us.

 Declaration Closeup