National Religion

William W. Prescott January/February 2015

This expression has been so often repeated that it begins to have a familiar sound. It is constantly upon the lips of certain classes of professional reformers. It is reiterated with great persistency in their writings. It seems to have a kind of unctuous flavor which gives great satisfaction without involving much individual inconvenience. But it is based upon a false assumption, and is an altogether unwarranted combination of words. The false assumption is the idea that the nation is a moral being, capable of professing and practicing religion, repenting of sin and exercising faith in a Savior. . . .

What is the nature of this national religion? What will be the creed of this national religion, and who will formulate it? Who will profess this national religion, and how will the worship be conducted? Who will be the judge of orthodoxy in this national religion, and how will the financial support be provided? . . .

Of course we know without proceeding further with our reflections, that the national religion will be the religion of those who carry this movement to a successful issue, if such a thing is possible; but this means that there will be a religion of the state which will be contrary to the belief of the majority of its citizens, and we shall have repeated those dark chapters in history when a minority, having gained the power, force upon the majority an outward observance of forms and ceremonies which misinterpret the feelings of the heart.

After “a little reflection,” we are decidedly of the opinion that this announced purpose to have a revival of national religion is simply the old purpose couched in a little different phraseology—the purpose to unite religion and the state and to have a state religion. To this purpose in any form we are unalterably opposed. We believe in the Christian religion and belong to the so-called conservative class; but because we believe in the real principles of the religion of Jesus Christ, we repudiate any attempt to have a union of religion with the state or to force religion upon anyone. It is the very genius of Christianity that one should be permitted to believe or to disbelieve, to practice or not to practice religion, and that his choice should be absolutely free. Religious liberty is not the liberty to believe and to act with the majority, but the liberty to stand entirely aloof from the majority in belief and practice, provided always that one does not infringe upon the equal rights of others in so doing.

We do not approve of a national religion, but we do approve most heartily of personal religion, and we labor and pray for a revival of that kind of religion in the hearts of all.

Article Author: William W. Prescott

From Liberty Fourth Quarter 1911.