In October of 1798, John Adams wrote to the Massachusetts militia, thanking them for their service. In it, Adams writes that “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.” This quote has caused quite a bit of controversy in past years, so I want to shed some light on his comment and why it is more relevant now than ever before.
To start, I want to clarify what this quote does not mean. It is often used as evidence that the founders believed there should be an official religion for the United States or that laws should be in place that mandate religious affiliation. This idea stands in stark contrast to the first amendment, and should not be viewed as an accurate depiction of Adams’ thoughts on the subject.
Adams’ instead states that the United States can only be socially successful if its citizens are grounded in religion. He correctly argues that the constitution inherently makes American’s more free than any other country in the history of the world. Unlike countries like Iran and China, the United States government will not tell you how you must live your life. While this is one of the most important features of the constitution, it can lead to some unintended consequences. Consequences that Adams predicted in 1798, and that have become reality in 2020.
When you find yourself in a country that does not impart it’s version of moral righteousness on you, you are free to live according to whatever moral code you see fit. This is an efficient mode of governance in a country of citizens who adhere to a moral code of divine origin that has been honed over the course of thousands of years, but can cause problems when the government rules over non-religious individuals.
Unfortunately, the United States has quickly become the very thing that Adams feared. Pew research polls have shown that, from 1943 to 2018, church membership in the United States has dropped from 76% to 50%. Even more solemn is the poll’s findings that millennials are the first generation to have less than 50% of their population as church members (42%). If this generational trend continues there will undoubtedly be less than 1 in 4 American’s who identify themselves with a church in the next 50 years. This is an exodus from religious affiliation that a free nation cannot sustain.
Adams had this in mind when he wrote the aforementioned letter. As a matter of fact, in the same letter, he writes that if the citizens of the United States lose their religion the country will “riot in rapine and insolence, (and) this country will be the most miserable habitation in the world”. Sound familiar? Adams predicted the riots and misery currently plaguing our great nation would be the inevitable result of its citizens’ nonreligion.
While this may seem like bleak news, it is important to realize that the diagnosis of the problem is the first step to fixing it. Scripture is littered with references to the great commission, the obligation to spread the gospel of Jesus. The information above, paired with the reality around us, should illuminate the urgency with which you should take heed of this scripture. If Adams is correct, which he has been so far, then failure to do so will result in “the most miserable habitation in the world.”