In times like these, it’s easy to make grand sweeping claims about cultures collapsing and the like and it might even be hard to find someone willing to debate the claim. But just because a country’s economy is having a tough year, doesn’t mean their culture is collapsing. There have been many periods of tough economic times, some even worse than our current experience, that have not spelled the end of the culture. To substantiate this claim in a more intellectually satisfying way, we need to make a critical inspection of the foundation that under girds our culture. We need to find clear evidence that the foundation is indeed missing or crumbling before the claim that it’s collapsing can be substantiated. To that task we now turn.
A culture is always defined by the god that they serve. The god of a culture is whoever (or whatever) is acknowledged as the source of life and the source of law. These two, the source of life and law, are inextricably linked because the lawgiver of a culture is the one who by a creator’s right of ownership has the prerogative to define its laws. Conversely, the laws of a society will always reflect who is acknowledged as the source of life by that society.
What about American culture? Who do we acknowledge as the source of life? Let’s look at our culture at the time of its founding in the early to mid 17th century.
I have some copies of almanac covers – about 30 of them spanning the years from about 1650 to about 1750. They are published by different people in different colonies. In typical Almanac fashion, they all have the date prominently displayed. But unlike today’s almanacs with the date discreetly tucked into a corner, these dates are splashed across the entire front page, similar to the example shown in Figure 1.
Figure 1 - Almanack Cover from 1660 (Click image to enlarge)
This almanac – in many ways the cultural equivalent of the magazines that crowd our check out stands today – clearly acknowledges that the very basis of numbering years is the advent of Christ our Lord and that the Creation of the world occurred some 5,600 years ago. In prominently listing these dates on the front page, the almanac publisher was not putting a controversial statement on the front page of his magazine in order to increase sales. Every one of the 30 almanacs I have puts the date of creation on the front-page in a similar way. Clearly these date assertions are as culturally acceptable as the date on Time magazine is today. Just as clearly, our culture, in its early days, recognized Jehovah to be the Creator and his Creation to be recent.
What about our laws?
Did you know that at one time in this county not only was the entire Decalogue incorporated into the civil law of the land, but the most egregious and heinous forms of all but one or possibly two of the 10 commandments were, at some point and time, considered capital crimes – just as in the scripture. Isn’t that astounding?
Fundamental Orders of Connecticut (1639), stated that magistrates “shall have the power to administer justice according to the Laws here established, and for want thereof, according to the Rule of the Word of God; ..."
Around 1639 some of the citizens of Connecticut got together to organize the civil government for their land. The minutes and actions that were taken at that early meeting are preserved for us in the Fundamental Agreement of the Colony of New Haven. In there we find this very interesting statement: When asked “WHETHER the scriptures do hold forth a perfect rule for the direction and government of all men in all duties which they are to perform to GOD and men, in families and the commonwealth, just as in matters of the church?” all assented by holding up their hands, no man dissenting. The charter goes on to record that “Afterwards it was read over to them, that they might see in what words their vote was expressed. They again expressed their consent by holding up their hands, no man dissenting that scriptures hold forth the perfect law for governing in civil matters.
The Massachusetts Body of Liberties, compiled in 1641, listed 12 capital crimes. The very first was: “If any man after legal conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the Lord God, he shall be put to death. (Deut 13: 6 - 10; Deut 17: 2 - 6. Ex 22:20).” Those references are right in the law. It goes on to enumerate 11 more capital crimes relating to blasphemy, perjury in a capital crime, homosexuality, hardened rebellion, and theft of people, which we call kidnapping.
A synod met in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1640 to discuss the question, “Should the civil magistrate uphold both tables of the 10 commandments? If I distill down the pages and pages of explanation and defense, their answer was an emphatic yes.
Clearly, Jehovah was recognized as our God and acknowledged as our Lawgiver in the church and state alike.
Laws against blasphemy, profanity, and swearing continued all the way into the 1830’s.
Many living today remember the so-called blue laws. Some even exist today regarding the sale of alcohol. Even the constitution acknowledged the sanctity of the Sabbath – the President had 10 days to veto a bill (Sundays excepted). That’s not business days like we have today. Saturday was included in those 10 days. Sunday was excepted because there was a universal understanding that Sunday was the Lord’s Day.
When we examine the early days of our culture, we find a people that acknowledged God as Creator and God’s law as the law of the land.