Tuesday, July 04, 2017

"Christianity rests here on a firmer foundation than in any other country in the world." ~ Alexis de Tocqueville, 1831

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"Religion is no less the companion of liberty in all its battles and its triumphs; the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims. The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law and the surest pledge of freedom."
~Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America, 1835
This quote comes courtesy of Alexis de Tocqueville's previously well known but now practically neglected work, Democracy in America, written beginning in 1835.

A Frenchman and a Catholic, de Tocqueville (1805-1859) traveled around the US in the early 1830s observing with fascination how the American republic functioned. Perhaps the one aspect of the American nation which impressed him the most was the positive effect of the Christian religion upon society and politics. Here is the above quote from Democracy in America with some additional context:
“Religion perceives that civil liberty affords a noble exercise to the faculties of man, and that the political world is a field prepared by the Creator for the efforts of the intelligence. Contented with the freedom and power which it enjoys in its own sphere, and with the place which it occupies, the empire or religion is never more surely established than when it reigns in the hearts of men unsupported by aught besides its native strength. Religion is no less the companion of liberty in all its battles and its triumphs; the cradle of its infancy, and the divine source of its claims. The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law and the surest pledge of freedom.” 
To read more, see Democracy in America on Google Books.

In a letter to Count Louis de Kergorlay dated June 20, 1831, while situated about forty five miles from New York, de Tocqueville related thoughts relating to the future of religion in the United States, particularly to the expansion of Catholicism and Unitarianism at the expense of the traditional Protestant sects.
"My observations incline me to think that the Catholics increase in numbers. They are considerably recruited from Europe and there are many conversions. New England and the valley of the Mississippi begin to fill with them. It is evident that all the naturally religious minds among the Protestants the men of strong and serious opinions disgusted by the vagueness of Protestantism yet ardently desirous to have a faith give up in despair the search after truth and submit to the yoke of authority. They throw off with pleasure the heavy burden of reason and they become Catholics. Again Catholicism captivates the senses and the imagination and suits the masses better than the reformed religion thus the greater number of converts are from the working classes.
De Tocqueville from a modern sculpture.
"We will pass now to the opposite end of the chain. On the confines of Protestantism is a sect that is Christian only in name I mean the Unitarians. They all deny the Trinity and acknowledge but one God but among them are some who believe Christ to have been an angel others a prophet and others a philosopher like Socrates. The last are pure Deists. They quote the Bible because they do not wish to shock too much public opinion which supports Christianity. They have a service on Sundays. I went to it. Verses are read from Dryden and other English poets on the existence of God and the immortality of the soul. There is a sermon on some moral subject and the service is over. This sect makes proselytes in about the same proportion as Catholicism, but its recruits come from the higher ranks of society.
In these two observations, de Tocqueville seems to be rather prescient considering the present make of of Christian America. Speaking more generally about the impact Christianity has on American society, de Tocqueville goes on to say in the same letter:
"Christianity rests here on a firmer foundation than in any other country in the world which I know and I have no doubt but that the religious element influences the political one. It induces morality and regularity it restrains the eccentricities of the spirit of innovation above all it is almost fatal to the mental condition so common with us in which men leap over every obstacle per fas et nefas to gain their point. Any party, however anxious to obtain its object, would in the pursuit feel obliged to confine itself to means apparently legitimate and not in open opposition to the maxims of religion which are always more or less moral even when erroneous."
The above passages are taken from Memoir, Letter and Remains of Alexis de Tocqueville, Volume 1, beginning on page 308.

Thus we see the genesis of de Tocqueville's belief, echoed in the maxims of the Founding Fathers, that only a religious and moral people can properly maintain a republican form of government. And his belief that Christianity is on firmer footing in American than elsewhere around the world has certainly borne out given that among Western nations today, the United States is practically the only one where the Christian faith endures among a large majority of the people.

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