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National Daily Republican Story Archive A22

December 12, 1996

The Ethical Foundations of The United States

by Howard Hobbs, General Editor Daily Republican Newspaper

WASHINGTON DESK - History has taught us that freedom cannot long survive unless it is based on moral foundations. The American founding bears ample witness to this fact. America has become the most powerful nation in history, yet she uses her power not for territorial expansion but to perpetuate freedom and justice throughout the world.

Since the momentus events in the year 1776, Americans have held fast to a belief in freedom for all men. The basis of this belief can be traced to an ancient moral heritage.

John Adams, second president of the United States, wrote in 1789, 'Our Constitution was designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.'

Today, it is not surprising that most young people know little of their nation's moral foundation. The federal government steps on school districts who still allow teachers to emphasize national pride and civic duty.

John Winthrop, who led the Great Migration to America in the early 17th century and who helped found the Massachusetts Bay Colony, declared, 'We shall be as a City upon a Hill.' On the voyage to the New World, he told the members of his company that they must rise to their responsibilities in charity, love, and cooperation with one another. Most of the early colonists were inspired with the same idea, and they tried to live in accord with the Christian ethic.

Some of them were Protestant, some were Catholic, others were Jewish. In Europe, they did not feel they had the liberty to worship freely and, therefore, to live freely. The first American colonists set out on a perilous journey to an unknown land, with the idea of establishing their own form of republican government in order to live freely, to obtain title to their property, and to buy and sell in an unrestrained, free and open market place.

The faith of America's founders affirmed the sanctity of each individual. Every persaon was to be responsible for productive work and to contribute to the safety and the wealth of the nation.

This was not a faith that allowed people to do whatever they wished, regardless of the consequences. The Ten Commandments the injunction of Moses 'Look after your neighbor as yourself', the Sermon on the Mount, and the Golden Rule made individual ethical practice a requirement for each and every American. Eventually, the etical foundation of American beliefs made it possible to form strong communities and to devise American laws that would protect individual freedom.

Today, the Christian ethic at the center of American traditional values is being challenged.

Professor Burton mack, of Claremont's School of Theology is the author of a best-selling book about the origins of Christianity. He was recently quoted in the Atlantic Monthly as saying that he believes Christianity is partially to blame for centuries wrongdoing by the U.S. government.

A group of scholars at the Claremont Institute of Antiquity [an institute for basic research on the origins of western civilization focusing on the ancient Near East, early Judaism and Christianity, and classical Greece and Rome.]

Researchers have been looking for a historical Jesus divested of theological credits. The believe that they have now found him in a primitive text they refer to as the 'Source' or 'Q' for short. The 'Q' document is a reconstructed Greek text composed mostly of sayings of Jesus.

Edward Gibbons (1734-1794) writing about the government of ancient Romne in his book The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1776 thought that he had found the historical Jesus.

No other historian has so eloquently and penetratingly portrayed the terrible magnitude of the Roman Empire's descent into anarchy. During the Roman government period beginning with Nero he writes that the magistrates were stern and intolerant to those members of a new Jewish sect of primitive Christians who practiced liberty of conscience and who were denied the common benefits of the Roman citizen.

Gibbon writes that the true cause for the persecution of the Jews sect and the reason for denial of the rights of Roman citizenship was that the Jews refused to pay tribute to Roman magistrates. Jewish resistance to the Roman occupation of Palestine often broke into violent insurrection and riots against the Roman Legions. Repression by means of force and fear, violence and massacres followed.

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was not just an eighteenth-century intellectual attitude, but was a forceful interpretation of the Roman period. As leading experts of today study Gibbon's writing, new light is thrown on the degree to which he can be regarded as a trustworthy guide to late antiquity and the middle ages in the late 12th Century.

Western nations recognize their debt to other cultures, as well. In the pre-Christian era, for example, the ancient philosophers like Plato and Aristotle had much to contribute to our present beliefs about truth, goodness, and virtue. They knew full well that personal responsibility was the price of freedom. Yet it is doubtful whether truth, goodness, and virtue founded on reason alone would have endured in the same way as they did in the West, where they were based upon an ethic derived from the ancient writings of the historian Josephus, and the writers of the Christian gospel of Mark.

Sir Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), author of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, wrote tellingly of the collapse of Athens, which was the birthplace of democracy and the model of our republican form of government. Gibbon writes that, in the end, the Athenians did not want to work. The Atenians wanted government hand outs more than they wanted to be free. Thus, the Athenians lost control of political and economic cycles and handed over the reins of government to foreign interests. Soon 'third-world' immigration flooded into Athens. The Athenian military abandoned their posts when the government failed to pay them. When reduced productivity swept the Roman world Athens was swept into the dust bin of history.

In 1996 the American republic is following along those same lines.

Bibliography for further reading:

Allen, Charlotte, The Search for a No-Frills Jesus Atlantic Monthly December, 1996.


Duruy, Victor. THE WORLD OF THE ROMANS. Geneva: Minerva, 1972.

Gibbon, Edward and Low, D. M., abridger. THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE.(1776) New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1960.

Grant, Michael. CITIES OF VESUVIUS: POMPEII AND HERCULANEUM. London: Penguin, 1979.

Grant, Michael. THE JEWS IN THE ROMAN WORLD. New York: Scribner's, 1973.

Kaehler, Heinz. THE ART OF ROME AND HER EMPIRE. New York: Greystone Press, 1965.

Macnamara, Ellen. EVERYDAY LIFE OF THE ETRUSCANS. New York: Dorset Press, 1973.

Maiuri, Amadeo. POMPEII. Novara, Italy: Instituto Geografico Do Agostini, 1957.

Moore, R. W. THE ROMAN COMMONWEALTH. London: English Universities Press, 1953.

Quennell, Marjorie and C. H. B. EVERYDAY LIFE IN ROMAN AND ANGLO-SAXON TIMES. New York: Dorset Press, 1987. $8.50

Rykwert, Joseph. IDEA OF A TOWN: THE ANTHROPOLOGY OF URBAN FORM IN ROME, ITALY AND THE ANCIENT WORLD. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976.

Salmon, E. T. THE MAKING OF ROMAN ITALY. London: Thames and Hudson, 1982.

Suetonius. THE LIVES OF THE TWELVE CAESARS. New York: Random House (Modern Library),1932.

Time-Life Books. LOST CIVILIZATIONS: POMPEII--THE VANISHED CITY. Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1992.

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