“We hold these truths to be self evident 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.” Preamble to the Declaration of Independence.
An observation-the men who signed the declaration were certainly not feminists and some of them were lukewarm to God, personally, though there She/He is, in the first sentence of the first act to declare a free nation.
From the beginning this nation has abided people of faith and those who eschew it. Isn't that how it should be? Tolerant. Though in our more enlightened self, we've come to recognize the sins of our founding.
We would be more free, more just, and better in all ways if we would have started differently with native citizens and their beliefs, and if we had not permitted Africans to be made slaves.
At a time, and in a world that was cruel and classist, imperfect though we were, we sought a more perfect union.
No one is required to practice a faith, but the freedom to exercise a belief is essential to a free society. It is a principle this nation was built upon.
A droll and dear friend, a retired Judge, who presided over the process of American justice and who is a student of philosophy, tells people he is a Frisbeterian. He says when a Frisbeterian passes, their soul goes into a frisbee stuck on a roof some place.
From the beginning we've had divisions but despite the differences, our Providential parent was put at the foundation.
The constitution, the very bones of our republic, is signed under the sentence
“...the 17th of September in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred eighty seven….”
This is not an exposition on belief, faith or religion. This is to serve as an understanding that an active allegiance to a Divine power is a keystone to our system of government and it has implications as to how we are as a nation.
My use of the word God in this post is code for the sacred beliefs of all, however it is said or left unspoken, imagined, known, practiced or worshipped. It is the human equivalence of an understanding of the Divine intelligence to which humans have fidelity and devotion.
There is, nor ever was, a unanimity. While Europeans came to these shores for religious freedom, they had different ideas.
Puritans who made Massachusetts Bay their home set up religious communities based on their view of the Bible. They were, however, not friendly to anyone who had a different view.
At the same time Rhode Island was established for the very purpose of religious freedom. In fact Rhode Island welcomed everyone, faith or no faith and it didn’t matter. Quakers and Jews, who had a hard time elsewhere, were free to practice faith as they wished. People with my judge friend's sense of whimsey would not have burned at a stake in Rhode Island.
Coexistence, cooperation, and mutual respect, work.
Bringing this back to the premise, the nation has been built by diversity of people and beliefs, indeed! But always there was a central principle; what we do, how we live, how we treat each other is based on the idea we live in accordance with how God would expect. “…one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” We swear to tell the truth, “so help us God.” The oath of office is sworn on a Bible.
a kind of secular sacredness
Over the centuries, the common center of our experiment in democratic republic has been the power we know by many names, according to varied faiths and beliefs.
We have become more diverse, multi-cultural and our understanding has more flavor and a diversity of accents.
While people have been free not to practice a faith, we all have lived according to our constitutional belief in the source of faith, and the even more ancient texts that are at the core of the belief of the major religious groups.
Jews, Christians and Muslims share the Ten Commandments that are the foundation of law and principles of behavior. Freedom, justice, equality, divinely ordained if you will, for believers and those who are not. Everyone is to be treated the same.
So how are we doing? What happened to our Divine guardian in the last four years or so? Or in the last 50 years? Did someone mug him/her? Did God get fed up with us?
Or, have we abandoned the nexus of our nation? Do we merely purport the faith? Do we walk the talk or merely talk it?
Even those who are agnostic or who claim to be atheist are free to think as such, thanks to our faith in government and the founding document that propounds the importance of living a good life by the measure of a higher standard than merely the doings of we human bipeds.
As a nation do we put those values first? Or have we turned "God" into an ideological or political tool?
I heard a good preacher say, "God is not swayed by our rhetoric or political speechifying?" The principle of strength upon which we premise our right to be a nation, and the guide for the manner in which we will live, has to do with a higher order of things, a power that is just and that knows our intentions.
- What is a nation with a Divine heritage to make of people who do not believe the Covid virus is real?
- Or who flaunt precautions that protect others, including those most at risk?
- Or who do not believe the election results?
- What does a Godly people think of children pulled away from parents, and forced to sleep on aluminum blankets in cages?
- Or of those who approve of political behavior that causes harm, fosters division and hate?
- How can a government vested in a Holy Creator fail to legislate assistance to millions who are unemployed, or the 1 in 4 American children who are food insecure, or people who must decide between food, or rent, or medicine?
- How is a nation under God to react to a man who desecrates honor, tradition, peaceful transfer of power, undermines belief in our system, perpetuates credibility destroying mass lies? And what are to do about those adore him and believe those lies?
a nation endowed
A people who call down a God of the ages, who invoke that divine claim, who swear allegiance, and who promise to navigate by virtues of a holy benefaction must answer true- how are we going to rehabilitate? How are we going to bridge the divide? How do we find a truth or settle on fact?
Abraham Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation is a start.
He suggested Americans do "humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience...and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and union."
Healing the wounds of the nation will be hard and challenging, but it is noble and honorable work. It is something every citizen can and should do.
In future posts we'll take a closer look.
In our previous age of division, Lincoln drew strength from the hymn Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory. There are lines in the second verse that push us to be honest about our commitment to truth and justice
"God has sounded for the trumpet that shall never call retreat and is sifting out all human hearts before the judgement seat..."
Truth matters. Justice will prevail. It is in the nations DNA.We are the agents.
Stay well. See you down the trail.
Yes, truth matters, so I will be truthful. I am not a "God" person, but if you substitute the word "Goodness" for God, I am on board. I believe we are all capable of goodness, and that we really do know the difference between goodness and evil, fair treatment and kindness vs mean-spiritedness, generosity vs selfishness.ReplyDelete
As you said, we are the agents. We can practice goodness.
Indeed we can. In all honesty, it is a tool for survival.Delete
Seems to me the issues and questions are exactly the same whether you are a believer, “claim” to be a believer, agnostic, atheist or “claim” to be an atheist.ReplyDelete
True. The claim phrase is probably a subconscious journalism reflex. In the old days, when standards and canons were part of the craft and profession, we sought to be careful.Delete
On a personal note I guess I am still under the spell of a Philosophy prof who insisted Atheist is an improper use of a word to create a supposed class of thinker who exists only because he or she stands in opposition to a belief. Simplified he argued A theist is merely an antonym to the word theist which is borrowed from the Greek Theos. His point was that to choose not to believe is a positive action of thought that integrates into a wider or fuller world view, thus those people who so choose should not be relegated to a description of someone who exists to oppose. He said it is an ill defined word, a construct of a language. He argued people who choose not to believe should not be categorized by the negative of belief or as the opposite of belief. Christians are known as Christians, Jews as Jews, Muslims as Muslims, Buddhist as Buddhists, Taoist as Taoists, etc. He liked the work "thinker" but realized that would imply those who choose to believe are non thinkers and of that we can not know. He used a Greek word that sounded like nomizot. Basically means to think and opine, guess and reckon. But alas we can barely teach people to read, so to be more precise is no doubt a lost cause. Anyway
I was sensitized to think the work atheist might be deemed offensive, so by use of the word claim, I wiggle away from doing verbal assault. Though your point is valid anyway.
One more though: people can't choose to believe or not to believe. They either believe or not. However, some who don't believe or are agnostic do choose to act as though they do believe.Delete
I feel as though I may be walking into an ontological trap here, like one of the Texas Rangers being led into the ambush by the Cavendish gang in Bryant's Canyon.Delete
Still, I reply; don't we have free will, however it may be defined, that is the freedom to choose? Doesn't the human intellect command choice? In a Christological understanding Grace is given, freely. What happens after that is the source of many interesting reactions and is at the nature of differences in various theologies, faiths and beliefs.
I think how the human intellect responds is a choice.
All religions in the world have equivalent importance to their followers but I do take issue with sacrificing virgins and I love a nice pork tenderloin. Many Christians especially, use religion like a vitamin tablet. They take it once in a while but the important thing to them is that they can then say it's part of their lives and can crucify anyone who doesn't have their same shallow commitment. Hell, if you're going to do religion, do it right -- I love the Muslims and Jews who are devoted to their beliefs and I mean, devoted -- 24/7.ReplyDelete
Have reverence for every single thing that surrounds you (Earth and beyond) and devote yourself to telling the truth and in the end, que sera, sera. Truth is love -- love is ? the answer ?
Your last sentence is stunning in it's clarity. That is the essence isn't it?
To many folks think they have THE answer. Like the Mass. Bay folks. A free thinking theologian who I admire, Walter Brueggemann, said on the occasion of a visit to Indianaplolis, "If you think you know the mind of God, you are on a slippery slope."
. . . although "under God" was not added to the pledge until 1954.ReplyDelete
And after some debate. It was Ike's idea as a response to the early '50's "red scare," the fear of communism.
TC - well, a lot here. Sorry to be late to the party. Your reflection on the role of religion/faith/relationship-to-God in and to our country is a deep subject. You would be hard pressed to discount Natural Law as a divine "thing" and even the Deists among the founders believed there was a Supreme Entity that qualified as "Creator" and author of moral sense -- i.e. delineation of good and bad, right and wrong.ReplyDelete
Uniquely among world religions, Jewish and Christian teaching affords separation of church and state -- even though the Jewish conflation of this concept was troublesome in the time of Ceasar Augustus AND today on the West Bank. Christian conceptions come straight out of the mouth of Jesus with his admonition to render unto Ceasar the things that are Ceasar's and to God the things that are God's. So to the extent that other world religions are less clear about separation of church and state (or Christianity unclear about it during times religion WAS the state or so influential as to cause more than a few wars of religion), I'm not quite with you seeing our founding documents as opening the door to a multicultural, multireligious free-for-all. A hypothetical majority opting for Sharia law seems like something to oppose.
And while I appreciate your passion on the evil of DJT, and share much of it, there has been considerable lying on both sides the last 4 years. And, for that matter, considerable lying on both sides for the last 250 yrs. Trump's historical mentor, the twice elected Democrat idol and populist pig, Andrew Jackson, authored genuine genocide against the Cherokee Indian Nation and other native tribes who had legitimate treaties and contracts with the USA. And he was a liar and bully of the first order. Narcissism, egomania, rudeness, and stupidity are all anti-God and are hardly inventions of Donald Trump. Even minor offenses, like Kennedy's sex and drug addictions aren't particularly Godly. And so when dragging God into the theater of our creation, I think it's wise to hold God accountable for our capacity for good and willingness to tolerate our inclination to evil.
His/her/its participation in human history, including the last 4 political years, starts and ends with his creation of beings in a reflective image -- possessing of FREE WILL. After that it's none of his/her/its doing. Judeo Christian history is littered with trips into the ditch -- frequently with religious leaders in the driver's seat. In the end, the God-human relationship is a matter of the individual. The amazing thing about the United States of America is that a like-souled group of humans wrapped themselves in Natural Law and continue to do so. You would be very hard-pressed to separate this Natural Law from Judeo-Christian perspective and harder-pressed to let other Faith traditions make an equal claim. You and I may disagree on this but our country gets into trouble when it attempts to incorporate a religious view into government. We are always better off keeping government OUT of the business of belief OR, more relevantly, social justice. What America should stand for is the freedom of citizens to organize themselves as what Tocqueville called "voluntary associations" to mete out charity (the 2nd of two commandments), read broadly to include "the least of our brothers."
There is much to despair in today's polarized political world. Speaking as an outcast establishment Republican, I fear lunatics on the left and right. I fear populism and unencumbered democracy, and mostly I fear the absence of Faith among youth and the destruction of institutions based on the mysteries of Faith in God. For when Faith in God is lost, the USA is unmoored -- as you have persuasively pointed out.
Mark, Thanks for the superb response. It is heart felt, intelligent, and as always well argued.ReplyDelete
It reminds me of how this is the sort of thing worthy of being shared over an amber beverage and a good cigar.
I did not mean to imply the "original sin" in this regard commenced with DJT. No in fact all of our Presidents have been subject to the errs that being human produces.
I appreciation your historical notation re: separation of church and state and the consequences of such, when zeal was the pilot. It is first and most importantly, a personal thing, this relationship with the Divine. Tricky then when it get's politicized and that is not what I suggest, nor what the founders imagined. But we have weaponized faith and shame on us, whenever and where ever it has occurred. Trips "into the ditch" are never good. We are a nation with high aspirations, even Holy by some measure, so then we must continue to measure our national actions against the loftiness of our creeds. And I share your concern about the nihilistic mood among too many youth. I think it is safe to say some of the worst damage done to Christianity, is by some who consider themselves Christians. I would answer your thoughts about natural law, to which many subscribe, with the annotation of Henri Bergson's concept of Elan Vital. One, such as this writer, may be inclined to see a Providential power in the act of unfolding, development and evolution. Could that be akin to Adam Smith's invisible hand? But alas, that opens another departure.
Thanks for the response.
Interesting conjugation of Adam Smith and Henri Bergson. Wld they each be pleased or mortified?Delete
Back to the intersection of faith and government I am suddenly struck by the observation that trouble almost aways ensues when even we’ll-meaning and “good” individuals Collect/Gather/Organize.
Absent extraordinary leadership, organized religion goes amiss when it organizes.
And government organized around religious precepts is almost always a horrid dictatorship — whether in Calvin’s Geneva (see Michael Servetus) OR Puritans IN Salem, Mass.
I’m pretty sure of this conclusion. Not sure at all abt what to do abt it.
For me, my faith (RCC) is my own individual philosophical roadmap for helping me better understand how and why I want to always work to be a kind, gentle, caring person. But, virtually all faiths, and virtually all philosophies have at their core the same basic ideals of trying to do good, trying to be kind, etc. it is sad to me that for some, faith gets used as a tool of division, instead of a method to build and heal. Equally sad is when philosophies can sometimes be wielded in negative ways as well. For
me, what we all need to do is to look inside ourselves to see if we are being the best self to others that we can be.