Pepperdine University 2003 Annual Report A Heritage of Faith
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A Heritage of Faith    Spirit of the Past    Wave of the Future    From Sea to Shining Sea

A Spirit of the Past

In his Farewell Address of September 17, 1796, President George Washington, the most respected American of the eighteenth century, said: "Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

In 1798, the great patriot and second president of the United States, John Adams, noted:

"We have no government armed with power of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."

The brilliant author of the Declaration of Independence and third president of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, declared in 1774:

"The God Who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time." He also said: "And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not violated but with his wrath?"

Dr. Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and reputed to be the single most learned man in the colonies. In 1798 he said:

"The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without it there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty, and liberty is the object and life of all republican governments."

James MadisonThe fourth president of the United States, James Madison, observed in 1785:

"It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe."

When there seemed to be an impasse at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, it was the oldest delegate, 81-year-old Benjamin Franklin, who rose to suggest a day of prayer, remarking:

"Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of superintending providence in our favor. To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? Or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth-that God governs in the affairs of men."

It should be noted that the above quotations are not obscure or arcane references, but are typical of the thoughts and convictions of our founders. And it is evident from this small sampling of quotations that, if we were to remove references to God and faith from American history, our history would simply weaken and collapse.

That great, nineteenth century observer from across the Atlantic, Alexis de Tocqueville, noted:

"I have already said enough to put Anglo-American civilization in its true light. It is the product (and one should continually bear in mind this point of departure) of two perfectly distinct elements which elsewhere have often been at war with one another but which in America it was somehow possible to incorporate into each other, forming a marvelous combination. I mean the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom."

George WashingtonAs Tocqueville indicated, in America we see a "marvelous combination" of freedom and faith. Indeed, that is the solid rock, the foundation of Anglo-American civilization. To put it even stronger, Tocqueville seems to intentionally place the "spirit of religion" before the "spirit of freedom," perhaps to indicate that, for Americans, freedom is actually drawn from faith. That was certainly the belief of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and nearly every other patriot of the late eighteenth century.

But as important as that foundation of faith is, faith alone is not enough. Faith must generate courage, which in turn, must produce action. So, from the origins of our national faith far away on the eastern seaboard, we turn toward the West, toward the "Wave of the Future."

Those original colonies, which became the thirteen states that are forever honored in the thirteen stripes of our flag, were only the cradle of our nation. The vast continent stretched westward, and a sense of destiny seemed to call and compel brave people toward the Pacific. We know them as trailblazers, scouts, pioneers, settlers.

Above all, they were dreamers of a new world and they pressed on over hills, prairies, mountains, and desolate places. Until they reached the final edge of the frontier. Along that frontier, there is nothing that quite equals the dynamism of our City of Los Angeles. And that is where a young man from Kansas headed in the early part of the twentieth century. George Pepperdine moved to California to expand his Western Auto Supply Company. And in 1937 he created a different kind of college, a new kind of dream in the City of Angels.