Eidsmoe's Institute on the Constitution,
Reviewed by Fr. James Thornton
Institute on the Constitution: A Study on Christianity and the Law of the Land, by John Eidsmoe, Marlborough, NH: The Plymouth Rock Foundation, 1995, three videotapes. Available for $65.00 from the Institute on the Constitution, 2648 Pine Acres, Pike Road, AL 36064.
John Eidsmoe's three-volume videotaped series of lectures on the Constitution is one of the most comprehensive ever produced on this subject. Dr. Eidsmoe demonstrates in a manner which can leave no doubt in the minds of reasonable men and women that the government established by the Founding Fathers of this country was consciously set down by them in accordance with Christian principles. There is a widely accepted myth that all or most of the founders and framers were not traditional Christians, but were Deists, followers of a kind of rationalistic, quasi-agnostic offshoot of Christian belief which holds that God created the universe but then withdrew from his creation, never intervening in human affairs and remaining indifferent as to mankind's fate. The author dealt with that fable more than a decade ago in his excellent work, Christianity and the Constitution (1987).
In this video collection, Dr. Eidsmoe examines the evidence once again and convincingly argues that the overwhelming majority of the men who founded our country were practicing Christians of various denominations, not agnostics or Deists. Of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, 28 were Episcopalians (Anglicans), eight Presbyterians, seven Congregationalists, two Dutch Reformed, two Lutherans, two Methodists, two Roman Catholics, three Deists, and one unknown. Since religious belief was taken very seriously in those days, it is impossible to imagine that a document so crucial to the patterns of life as the Constitution would not reflect a Christian outlook. It is a profoundly Christian document, and profoundly conservative as well. The framers looked to Christian teaching as their guide, not to the writings of atheistic philosophers and theorists, which is why our revolution was so markedly different from that of France. This is the primary reason that our Constitution and our whole historical experience are unique in all the world. Let us consider one example, one of many offered by the author, of the Christian influence on the thinking of the Founding Fathers.
According to biblical principles, the purposes of government are threefold: 1) to restrain the exercise of sin (Rom 13:3-4); 2) to enforce God's standards of right and wrong (Rom. 13:3-4); and 3) to maintain order so Christians and others can practice right living (1 Tim. 2:2). However, though government in principle operates by divine authority, Christians have always believed that God places limits on that authority. During the pagan empire of Rome, Nero possessed unlimited power over every living thing in his realm, at least in theory. In contrast, Christian emperors and kings recognized that their power came from God and was limited by God, and in fact many were severely chastised by church authorities when they overstepped the boundaries fixed by God.
The framers of our American form of government sought to limit government by the supreme law of the land the Constitution. And this they did as Christians, mindful always of Christian teaching and moral law. Make no mistake, they would have been more than outraged to know that courts in the 20th century would rule that public prayer was outlawed in schools and other government-run institutions, and that pornography, flag burning, and abortion had come to be protected by the document they wrote.
Apropos of recent court decisions, Eidsmoe, in another valuable section of his presentation, tackles the difficulties surrounding the concept of the relationship between church and state in the American scheme of things. He demonstrates that none of the founders could ever have imagined that the First Amendment clause, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...," would come to mean that all expressions of religious belief must be banished from the public life of the country. The phrase in question, as is evident to any sane and objective observer who has examined the relevant sources, merely means that the federal government must not seek to establish or favor any particular denomination within Christianity and must not make laws that interfere with the practice of religion. The Constitution was meant to protect churches and believers from government, not to shield government and the American people from religion. Modern interpretations of that passage are blatantly preposterous when considered from the vantage point of history.
In his 12 lectures, Dr. Eidsmoe passes carefully through the history of the settlement of the New World and of the traditions which underpin our Constitution. Included with this videotape set is a small book, the Study Syllabus, which serves as an outline and emphasizes the primary points presented throughout the series.
The Institute on the Constitution is an invaluable tool for the parents of home-schooled children, and as a course of instruction for children in public schools, to immunize them against the evil they will be taught there. It is likewise perfect for adults wishing to reacquaint themselves with the truth about the sort of governmental system that our founders intended to create.
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