Thanksgiving is a religious occasion, my father wrote, but not one belonging to “Protestantism or Judaism or any other particularist faith.” Rather, it belongs to all Americans as part of “what has been called the American Civil Religion.”

This religion’s “Supreme Being,” my father wrote, “is Jefferson’s rights-giving Creator, Washington’s First Author, Lincoln’s Judge — an American Providence.” The only orthodoxy it demands is belief in the core principles laid out in its foundational holy texts: Most important, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

It is important to recognize that we are speaking here about belief. Not proof, but faith. Our founding documents declare “these truths to be selfevident.” But are they? What, exactly, is so “self-evident” about them? One cannot empirically prove that “all men are created equal” or that the purpose of government is to protect individual rights and human liberty. These are moral and metaphysical assertions that operate on a separate plane from scientific inquiry.