The Identity Fountain of Freedom Survived Into the 20th Century

Despite the massive change in your story, Paula Wong helped us to see that your identity fountain of freedom didn’t fully pass away.

To give you a sense for this survival, look at this speech given by President Calvin Coolidge in 1926, in honor of the 150thanniversary of the American Declaration of Independence…

President Calvin Coolidge

When we take all these circumstances into consideration, it is but natural that the first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence should open with a reference to Nature’s God and should close in the final paragraphs with an appeal to the Supreme Judge of the world and an assertion of a firm reliance on Divine Providence. Coming from these sources, having as it did this background, it is no wonder that Samuel Adams could say “The people seem to recognize this resolution as though it were a decree promulgated from heaven.”

No one can examine this record and escape the conclusion that in the great outline of its principles the Declaration was the result of the religious teachings of the preceding period. The profound philosophy which Jonathan Edwards applied to theology, the popular preaching of George Whitefield, had aroused the thought and stirred the people of the Colonies in preparation for this great event. No doubt the speculations which had been going on in England, and especially on the Continent, lent their influence to the general sentiment of the times. Of course, the world is always influenced by all the experience and all the thought of the past. But when we come to a contemplation of the immediate conception of the principles of human relationship which went into the Declaration of Independence we are not required to extend our search beyond our own shores. They are found in the texts, the sermons, and the writings of the early colonial clergy who were earnestly undertaking to instruct their congregations in the great mystery of how to live. They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit.

Placing every man on a plane where he acknowledged no superiors, where no one possessed any right to rule over him, he must inevitably choose his own rulers through a system of self-government. This was their theory of democracy. In those days such doctrines would scarcely have been permitted to flourish and spread in any other country. This was the purpose which the fathers cherished. In order that they might have freedom to express these thoughts and opportunity to put them into action, whole congregations with their pastors had migrated to the Colonies. These great truths were in the air that our people breathed. Whatever else we may say of it, the Declaration of Independence was profoundly American.

If this apprehension of the facts be correct, and the documentary evidence would appear to verify it, then certain conclusions are bound to follow. A spring will cease to flow if its source be dried up; a tree will wither if it roots be destroyed. In its main features the Declaration of Independence is a great spiritual document. It is a declaration not of material but of spiritual conceptions. Equality, liberty, popular sovereignty, the rights of man – these are not elements which we can see and touch. They are ideals. They have their source and their roots in the religious convictions. They belong to the unseen world. Unless the faith of the American people in these religious convictions is to endure, the principles of our Declaration will perish. We can not continue to enjoy the result if we neglect and abandon the cause.

President Calvin Coolidge, Address at the Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Philadelphia, Pa., July 5, 1926

Look at that key sentence from Coolidge…

They preached equality because they believed in the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. They justified freedom by the text that we are all created in the divine image, all partakers of the divine spirit.

There it is, the Identity Fountain of Freedom.

But President Coolidge wasn’t alone in the 20th century in his belief about this Identity Fountain.

He was also joined in that belief by your President Dwight Eisenhower.

President Eisenhower

Most Americans remember Eisenhower for both his presidency and his service to America as Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe during the Second World War.

But there is something very important about him which the clear majority of Americans have long forgotten.

Eisenhower understood the Identity Fountain of American Freedom.

Here’s an excerpt from a speech he gave in 1954…

Milton asserted that all men are born equal, because each is born in the image of his God. Our whole theory of government finally expressed in our Declaration, you will recall, said–and remember the first part of the Preamble of the Declaration was to give the reasons to mankind why we had established such a government: “Man is endowed by his Creator.” It did not assert that Americans had certain rights. “Man” is endowed by his Creator–or “All Men” I believe was the expression used.

So, this connection is very, very clear. And no matter what Democracy tries to do in the terms of maximum individual liberty for an individual, in the economic and in the intellectual and every other field, no matter what it tries to do in providing a system of justice, and a system of responsibility–of public servants to all the people–and identifying the people as the source of political power in that government, when you come back to it, there is just one thing: it is a concept, it is a subjective sort of thing, that a man is worthwhile because he was born in the image of his God.
So we are under tremendous attacks. But it is not that we have just to establish the fact. We have to establish the fervor, the strength of our convictions, because fundamentally Democracy is nothing in the world but a spiritual conviction, a conviction that each of us is enormously valuable because of a certain standing before our own God.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Remarks to the First National Conference on the Spiritual Foundations of American Democracy, November 9, 1954

And the very next year he made the connection again…

On the one side, our nation is ranged with those who seek attainment of human goals through a government of laws administered by men. Those laws are rooted in moral law reflecting a religious faith that man is created in the image of God and that the energy of the free individual is the most dynamic force in human affairs.

On the other side are those who believe–and many of them with evident sincerity–that human goals can be most surely reached by a government of men who rule by decree. Their decrees are rooted in an ideology which ignores the faith that man is a spiritual being; which establishes the all-powerful state as the principal source of advancement and progress.

Dwight D. Eisenhower: Address at the Annual Convention of the American Bar Association, Philadelphia, August 24, 1955

That sounds a lot like what you are fighting over right now in America!

But lest you think this kind of talk was an anomaly for Eisenhower, consider the following references in some other of Eisenhower’s speeches…

Speeches, Nov. 1945-April 1946 (1) [Speech at Texas A & M, 4-21-46, “the truth that man was created in the image of God”] Box 192 Speeches, Nov. 1945-April 1946 (2) [Speech at American Univ., 2-10-46, “man was created in the image of God”; Speech at American Legion Convention, Chicago, Illinois, 11-20-45, only hope for world is “complete spiritual regeneration,” “moral and spiritual values,” “spirit of the Golden Rule”; Press Conference Transcript, 11-20-45, quotes from Bible, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,” “the hope of the world lies in Christianity.]

To Arkansas Veterans, Little Rock, Nov. 5, 1947 [man “created in the image of God;” America is a “spiritual and physical force”]

Farewell to NATO, May 21, 1952 [ref. To “the rights that came to us when we were born in the image of God”]

9-15-52 Warsaw, Indiana [“religious faith;” “each man is a spiritual being created in the image of his God”]

6-11-53 Speech Dedicating Garrison Dam, N. Dakota [ref. to need for spiritual strength and man made “in the image of God”]

October 18, 1961 Al Smith Dinner Talk (1)-(3) [man “made in the image of his Creator;” America’s “strength is military, economic, and spiritual”]

EISENHOWER AND RELIGION, A Guide to Historical Holdings in the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library

And it wasn’t just Eisenhower who understood the connection between foundational identity and freedom.

Consider this from your President Ronald Reagan…

President Ronald Reagan

Let us ask ourselves: What is at the heart of freedom? In the answer lies the deepest hope for the future of mankind and the reason there can be no walls around those who are determined to be free. Each of us, each of you, is made in the most enduring, powerful image of Western civilization. We’re made in the image of God, the image of God, the Creator.

This is our power, and this our freedom. This is our future. And through this power—not drugs, not materialism nor any other “ism”—can we find brotherhood.

Ronald Reagan: Remarks to Citizens in Hambach, Federal Republic of Germany, May 6, 1985

And since Ronald Reagan understood the foundational role image bearing plays in the American heritage of freedom, our team realized it should be no surprise he was also a champion of self-government.

One of the best illustrations of this comes from his famous speech, A Time for Choosing.

Note some of the key ideas related to self-government in the speech…

And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man.


Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.


You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right. Well I’d like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There’s only an up or down” — [up] man’s old” old-aged dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. And regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.

So, it looks like you can argue that… American self-government ultimately flows from… the belief that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God.

Like the Buzzard says, identity matters…

Identity drives everything in life. Everything you do, every decision you make, is driven by your identity. It is driven by how you see yourself.

Justin Buzzard, The Big Story

So consider this from your President Harry Truman, who also embraced the Identity Fountain of Freedom…

President Harry Truman

Our American heritage of human freedom is born of the belief that man is created in the image of God and therefore is capable of governing himself. We have created here a government dedicated to the dignity and the freedom of man. It is a government whose creed is derived from the word of God, and its roots are deep in our spiritual foundations. Our democracy is an expression of faith in the spirit of man, and it is a declaration of faith in man as created by God. On these spiritual foundations we have established a creed of self-government more precious to us than life itself. These soldier graves are a testament to this creed, for these men died for it. While freedom prevails, we–the living–shall keep our compact with these dead. And as long as this Government remains rooted in the dignity of man and in his kinship with God, freedom will prevail.

Harry S. Truman: Address at the Unveiling of a Memorial Carillon in Arlington National Cemetery, December 21, 1949

The basic source of our strength as a nation is spiritual. We believe in the dignity of man. We believe that he is created in the image of God, who is the Father of us all.

It is this faith that makes us determined that every citizen in our own land shall have an equal right and an equal opportunity to grow in wisdom and in stature, and to play his part in the affairs of our Nation.

Harry S. Truman: Radio Address as Part of the Program “Religion in American Life”, October 30, 1949

Think about the elements of what Truman says. At its core is the simple but astonishingly powerful story question…

 “Who are we, here in the story?”

The challenge, as Truman understood it, was that the free world faced a foe which denied that “human freedom is born of the belief that man is created equal in the image of God and therefore capable of governing himself.”

Heritage Event: Presidential Faith and Foreign Policy: Are Times Changing?, Dr. Elizabeth Spalding, Heritage Foundation, January 19, 2007

Notice what then flows out of our identity as image bearers… if Christianity is the story we are in

Self-government and human freedom.

Not exactly the Party we’re hosting.

And if the Chinese people begin to think like Coolidge, Truman, Eisenhower, and Reagan, then we might to have to start listening to this haunting song.

We’re hoping instead you Americans help us keep the Party going by forgetting where your freedom ultimately comes from.

We hope you continue to ignore insights like this…

If we are to recover the promise of the West, we must recover the core ideas and values of the culture, beginning with the critical elements of the biblical worldview we have lost. …. [T]he key idea is the recovery of a fully formed appreciation of the image of God shared by all people. When Western Civilization embraced a robust vision of the image of God, we had our greatest successes; when we ignored it, we had our greatest failures.

Dr. Glenn Sunshine, Why You Think the Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home

FRANK LUNTZ: In two or three sentences, and then we’re going to explore it: what is the greatest moral threat — not economic, not national security — what is the greatest moral threat facing America today?

RAND PAUL: I think the greatest threat we face is in losing track of where rights come from. I believe that our rights pre-exist government; that they come from our Creator. And if we lose track of where rights come from and what government was instituted to do, to protect our rights — that is the greatest threat we face.

What Is the Greatest Moral Threat to America?, By Thomas Valentine, ThePulse2016, November 23, 2015

We live in a civilization that has rejected its own foundations and embarked on a project to build what he calls a new, secular Babel. But it’s becoming ever clearer that this secular Utopia can’t hold together.

Why? Because the very belief in freedom that made Western liberal democracies uniquely successful is crumbling, replaced by the concept of consensus. As Os points out, the Christian doctrines of the Imago Dei, of Original Sin, and transcendent truth undergird our belief in freedom. Secular modernity lacks these foundational doctrines. Like a cut flower, it can maintain its beauty only so long without its roots. Soon it will wilt, and ultimately die.

New Os Guinness Book Is a Manifesto for Our Moment, By Eric Metaxas, Christian Post, August 27, 2016

‘What is the West about?” asks Larry Siedentop, an emeritus fellow of Keble College, Oxford. Years of reflecting on the character of Western societies lead him to an answer that resembles the one given by most political thinkers: namely, that the West is about liberty, with official authority deriving from the people themselves and with official institutions having only a limited say in the conduct of the citizen and the course of society. But Mr. Siedentop’s full answer is unusual. In “Inventing the Individual,” he asks where the Western understanding of liberty comes from and finds—unlike most political thinkers—that its source is Christianity.

This part of the answer, as Mr. Siedentop notes, may prove irritating, because it flies in the face of the comfortable idea that democratic liberty, like modern science, grew out of the 18th-century Enlightenment and, in particular, out of the Enlightenment’s struggle against a reactionary and oppressive church. Not so, he says. Western freedom centers on the notion of the responsible individual endowed with a sovereign conscience and unalienable rights, and that notion emerged, in stages, during the centuries between Paul the Apostle and the churchmen of the Middle Ages.

Where ‘I’ Comes From, By DAVID GRESS, Wall Street Journal, Dec. 19, 2014

And look what was once written about your Newt Gingrich guy…

Further, he said, “I believe the most important question in the United States for the next decade is: ‘Who are we?’ Are we in fact a people who claim that we are endowed by our creator with certain unalienable rights?” Or, are we “just randomly gathered protoplasm — and lucky for us we’re not rhinoceroses — but that in the end our power is defined by politicians and their appointees? Once you decide on this, almost everything else gets easier.”

“No longer conservative about his religion,” by Dana Milbank, Washington Post, November 10, 2009

To help you see more clearly how all this ties your story together, here is a fascinating thing our team found from a famous volume in America’s past called The Federalist Papers, which consists of a series of articles written by some of America’s founders, designed to persuade the public to accept the American Constitution…

The first question that offers itself is, whether the general form and aspect of the government be strictly republican. It is evident that no other form would be reconcilable with the genius of the people of America; with the fundamental principles of the Revolution; or with that honorable determination which animates every votary of freedom, to rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.

James Madison, FEDERALIST No. 39. The Conformity of the Plan to Republican Principles

Self-government. We don’t do that in China.

And we hope you finally fulfill what Lincoln saw…

A constant theme runs throughout Lincoln’s writings, from his years as a young Illinois politician to the last great speeches of his life: the supreme value of self-government. Everything depended on this idea, “our ancient faith,” which itself was “absolutely and eternally right.” But its endurance was never guaranteed. From the start of his career, Lincoln foresaw how American democracy might end—not through foreign conquest, but by our own fading attachment to its institutions. “If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher,” he said in 1838. “As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.”

The Suicide of a Great Democracy, By George Packer, The Atlantic, January 8, 2019

By the way, we don’t do this, either…

In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves — the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed.

Gilbert K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

And for another take on this from early America, consider this from what is perhaps the most famous book about early America, Democracy in Americaby the Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville…

In the United States, the sovereignty of the people is not an isolated doctrine bearing no relation to the prevailing manners and ideas of the people: it may, on the contrary, be regarded as the last link of a chain of opinions which binds the whole Anglo-American world. That Providence has given to every human being the degree of reason necessary to direct himself in the affairs which interest him exclusively—such is the grand maxim upon which civil and political society rests in the United States. The father of a family applies it to his children; the master to his servants; the township to its officers; the province to its townships; the State to its provinces; the Union to the States; and when extended to the nation, it becomes the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people.

Thus, in the United States, the fundamental principle of the republic is the same which governs the greater part of human actions; republican notions insinuate themselves into all the ideas, opinions, and habits of the Americans, whilst they are formerly recognized by the legislation: and before this legislation can be altered the whole community must undergo very serious changes. In the United States, even the religion of most of the citizens is republican, since it submits the truths of the other world to private judgment: as in politics the care of its temporal interests is abandoned to the good sense of the people. Thus every man is allowed freely to take that road which he thinks will lead him to heaven; just as the law permits every citizen to have the right of choosing his government.

The American republic, then, rests on the foundation of self-government. And self-government rests on the capacity of human beings to govern themselves.

And we also found this… 

From the day of our founding, we have proclaimed that every man and woman on this Earth has rights and dignity and matchless value, because they bear the image of the Maker of heaven and Earth. Across the generations, we have proclaimed the imperative of self-government, because no one is fit to be a master and no one deserves to be a slave. Advancing these ideals is the mission that created our Nation.

George W. Bush: Inaugural Address, January 20, 2005

Our Party, of course, doesn’t think human beings have that capacity to govern themselves.

The people of China need the Party.

But it looks like your American Founders did believe differently than we do…

From a biblical standpoint, conferring such total power on a ruler or body of men, and the reasons given for it, are equally repugnant. No human being can be treated as divine, or above the law, or entitled to make his will the rule of society’s existence. Nor can the people over whom the rulers wield their power be treated as a herd of atomistic beings, animals, or objects; they are persons created in God’s image, possessed of dignity and reason, and capable of living out their earthly lives in a regime of liberty. Such was the foundation of our political culture, and the provenance of our freedom.

Stanton Evans, The Theme Is Freedom

And by the way, your Benedict Option guy gets this stuff too…  

The Renaissance brought into Western Christianity a greater concern for the individual, for freedom, and for the dignity of man as bearing the image of God.


Christianity taught that the body is sacred and that the dignity possessed by all humans as made in the image of God required treating it as such.


The human being bears the image of God, however tarnished by sin, and is the pinnacle of an order created and imbued with meaning by God.

Rod Dreher, The Benedict Option

So, to help you see through the lens of story the dangerous direction America’s story is going, we’re going to take a look at the massive change which has taken place in the story of America.

Because if this Sunshine guy is right…

While far from perfect, Western civilization has brought more economic prosperity, more scientific and technological advancement, more political freedom, and more concern for human rights and equality than any other civilization in history. And all of this was based on a biblical worldview which believed that human beings are made in the image of God and thus have both the potential to understand the physical universe and an inherent dignity and worth that cannot be taken away.

We have already largely lost the idea of the image of God in Western culture, leaving us with a free-floating conception of human rights devoid of any overarching framework to support these rights.


If we are to recover the promise of the West, we must recover the core ideas and values of the culture, beginning with the critical elements of the biblical worldview we have lost. …. [T]he key idea is the recovery of a fully formed appreciation of the image of God shared by all people. When Western Civilization embraced a robust vision of the image of God, we had our greatest successes; when we ignored it, we had our greatest failures.

Glenn Sunshine, Why You Think the Way You Do: The Story of Western Worldviews from Rome to Home

… get ready for a wild ride.