(RNS) — Within the early Nineteenth century, throughout America’s first period of infrastructure growth, Christians have been a few of the nation’s strongest supporters of what have been then often called “inside enhancements,” and its political leaders have been fast to quote ethical imperatives for the nation’s growth.
In his first annual message to Congress, printed on Dec. 6, 1825, President John Quincy Adams laid out a daring plan for infrastructure growth. He refused to separate the nation’s communication and journey networks from what he known as “ethical, political, and mental” enhancements.
Adams believed that developments in these areas have been social “duties” and “obligations” assigned to all People by the “Creator of Our Existence.” As president of america, he believed that he had a “sacred and indispensable” duty to “the progressive enchancment of the situation of the ruled.” Something wanting exercising this duty was “prison and odious.”
For Adams, God was on the aspect of infrastructure.
He concluded his speech by saying that the identical “Creator” accountable for the “superior excellence of our political establishments” additionally known as residents to make use of their liberty “to ends of beneficence, to enhance the situation of himself and his fellow males.” To do in any other case, Adams warned, could be “to solid away the bounties of Windfall” and “doom ourselves to perpetual inferiority.”
At this time, the necessity to restore America’s infrastructure goes past defending our place on the planet. We have to shield our individuals.
In June, a pedestrian overpass fell on Route 295 in Washington, D.C., injuring a number of individuals. It was in poor condition.
In July, an influence cable on a Portland, Oregon, bridge warped underneath 112-degree warmth, forcing the town to briefly shut its streetcar system.
Greater than 77 million People do not have access to ample dwelling web connections, a actuality that got here to gentle in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
City colleges are falling aside and struggling to seek out lecturers. Some People don’t have clear water to drink. The price of childcare, pharmaceuticals, and well being care is hovering.
Joe Biden needs to do one thing about these issues. If we care about life, we should always, too.
But, Democrats in Congress can not appear to agree on two of essentially the most vital pro-life payments Congress has ever thought-about. If they can’t get collectively and go Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure invoice and a model of his Build Back Better plan, will probably be an enormous ethical failure. This could concern all People, however particularly Christians.
The ethical crucial behind Biden’s payments is extra pressing exactly as a result of inside enhancements of the Nineteenth century didn’t attain all People. On Might 24, 1844, Samuel B. Morse, a religious Calvinist and the son of a well-known clergyman, sat within the chamber of the U.S. Supreme Courtroom and despatched the primary transmission throughout the telegraph. The phrases he typed got here from the Previous Testomony e book of Numbers: “WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT?”
As historian Daniel Walker Howe has famous, Morse’s selection of phrase couldn’t have been extra acceptable. He believed that his invention, and by extension all inside enhancements and technological developments, furthered divine functions on the planet. He would later say that the biblical verse he despatched throughout the wires that day “baptized the American Telegraph with the identify of its creator”: God.
Within the early years of the American republic, it was understood that God’s blessings on america went along with scientific progress and the growth of the nation’s transportation and communication infrastructure. Telegraphs, roads, bridges, canals and railroads would assist construct America and, on the similar time, assist the Gospel unfold to each nook of the continent and past.
These efforts to develop throughout North America, giving individuals the choice to rise above the tyranny of place, would make the nation distinctive and its individuals free. This was what God had wrought for america.
The pursuit of progress usually led Morse and his era to darkish locations. For Morse, progress meant retaining Catholics overseas. In 1836, he mounted an unsuccessful bid for mayor of New York Metropolis on the Nativist Occasion ticket.
Progress, as Morse understood it, additionally led him to defend slavery. He infamously stated: “Slavery per se just isn’t a sin. It’s a social situation ordained from the start of the world for the wisest functions, benevolent and disciplinary, by Divine Knowledge.”
Morse’s God didn’t present the identical alternatives to poor Irish and German immigrants that he did to white middle-class Anglo-People. Underneath the banner of “Manifest Future,” his God purged the continent of the Indigenous individuals who stood in the best way of progress.
Morse’s life and profession remind us that Nineteenth-century infrastructure growth opened the American Dream for some however not all People. Biden’s infrastructure proposals, alternatively, signify an funding within the lives of People who have been overlooked of earlier inside enchancment efforts.
Not solely will the president’s plans create jobs, however they may enhance public colleges in poor neighborhoods, join less-privileged People to the data superhighway, combine city neighborhoods segregated by interstate highways, strengthen public transit, restore damaged roads and bridges in city areas and make a big funding in traditionally Black schools and universities.
Christianity teaches that human beings are created within the picture of God and thus known as to train creativity on the planet. Enhancements in transportation and the communication of information (whether or not via a telegraph or the web) open vital potentialities for such work. They supply a scaffolding that allows ladies and men to flourish.
Biden’s infrastructure plans signify a big break from Morse and his fellow worshippers of the God of progress. We must always commend Biden for trying squarely into the previous and fixing what’s damaged.
It’s time so as to add infrastructure to the pro-life agenda.
(John Fea teaches American historical past at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, and is the chief editor of “Present.” The views expressed on this commentary don’t essentially mirror these of Faith Information Service.)