The Gift of Bethlehem and the Rise of the American Eagle, Part 1

Since 2007 Peter Johnston has periodically used the holiday season to draw attention to the remarkable overflow of cultural common good stemming from the Gift of Bethlehem two millennia ago. Drawing upon the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, join Peter as he documents the constructive contributions Christ and Christians have made particularly to economic, political, and social liberty throughout the centuries.

Last summer while visiting my brother in Boston, my family revisited historic sites related to the birth of our republic and our American Revolution including the Boston Massacre (March, 1770), the Boston Tea Party (December, 1773), the battles of Lexington and Concord (April, 1775) and the Battle of Bunker Hill (June, 1775).  These sites bring to mind the remarkable rise of our nation, symbolized by the American bald eagle.

The rise of the American eagle, from the shots of the Boston Massacre to the shots at Lexington and Concord, then Bunker Hill  through the Treaty of Paris in 1783, and into the 19th century, not surprisingly depended upon two wings, as the flight of any bird does.  It is a self-evident truth.

But strangely, somehow, we as humans can even be blinded to self-evident truths.

In this case the rise of the American eagle, as addressed in a readable and yet thoroughly scholarly way by Michael Novak, depended on one wing of reason and one wing of faith as he addressed in On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the Founding of America.* While the importance of the wing of reason at our founding continues to receive wide acclaim among academics and 21st century historians, somehow even educated folk have been blinded, or forgotten, or chosen to neglect the wing of faith.

But the real story of America’s rise, of America’s freedoms,  required, yes, two wings.

Allow me to whet your appetite regarding that wing of faith and its relationship to the Gift of Bethlehem  this article (part 1) and then give a few more details in a succeeding one (part 2).

Novak humbly, yet brilliantly, demonstrates a marriage of reason and faith, one well understood by our founding fathers.  To the detriment of our American republic that marriage, however,  tragically suffered a divorce in the minds of many as educators, writers, and courts ranged from going silent to voicing hostility toward the wing of faith.

This is not to say that all of our founders held traditional Christian beliefs, but even those who are considered the least religious, i.e. Jefferson and Franklin, recognized the need for religious principles in order for the American eagle as a republic to soar.  Without the wing of faith, the eagle could not fly.  Moreover, while our national government was thankfully never designed to authorize a national denomination, Novak’s thorough research reveals, “[v]irtually all the founders of the American Republic believed mightily that of all philosophies and religions, the Jewish and Christian religion is the best foundation for republican institutions.”

In Part 2, I will elaborate on this wonderful marriage.

*in one of my Pillars for Freedom columns posted in 2017 I touched on some issues from On Two Wings  but felt it important to elaborae with these two columns in 2018.

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