A Little Context
As I sit to write this column, Independence Day approaches. Frankly, what is on my mind is some of the visceral reactions (both good and bad) to my last article on what ‘The fear of God’ means coupled with this impending celebration of the birth of this exceptional nation; and more, how we today have lost some of our understanding of the founding of this extraordinary nation while we yet live on the capital of the Founders’ and subsequent generations’ work.
What follows is not my attempt to ‘convert’ anyone to my religious and spiritual proclivity – it’s not a sermon; but, food for thought. How does the Chaplain and/or Peace Officer live out his convictions in this contemporary age of cynicism? And yes, I admit, I have often pondered as a peace officer and now as a chaplain, how do I live my Christian convictions in the face of the stereotypes from the so-called ‘main-stream-media’ ... how do I do it with elegance and an eye toward being the servant (Romans 13:4) I am called to be?
Thus, I desire to celebrate the birth of this nation by acknowledging what Bernard of Chartes once said about theology and applying it to the good life I have in the greatest nation on this planet: “We are like dwarfs, seated on the shoulders of giants. We see more things than the Ancients, things more distant, but it is due neither to the sharpness of our sight nor the greatness of our stature. It is simply because they have lent us their own.”
What is the ‘character’ that they – the Founding Fathers – have lent us? The celebrations on July 4th across this nation are about our declaring our independence from what the Founders perceived as the tyrannical rule of King George III and his onerous taxation of the colonies in America. In the face of the might of the British Empire, the Founders rejected the idea of ‘might makes right.’
This is the context in which the Founders of this country set forth the idea, in the Declaration of Independence, that governments, in order to be legitimate, have to be based upon the consent of the governed; when they, by adopting that principle, put in place the basis for what has become our system of self-government, they did so declaring quite explicitly that the reason that this idea of legitimacy was correct had to do with a principle that acknowledged that there is a ground for justice in human affairs that goes beyond human will, beyond human success, beyond human rationality, beyond human strength, and that establishes a principle by which justice can be understood and determined, and through which even those who have no strength and no prospect of success can nevertheless assert to be respected in their basic dignity - can seek justice; can declare grievance, even against their well-armed oppressors.
In the Declaration this principle was stated simply: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
This is well known. Each of us in one fashion or another is willing to hear and acknowledge it. Yet, despite our seat upon the shoulders of these giants, our society, more and more wants to leave out the ‘created’ part. (And more we can’t say ‘men’ anymore can we – because we have become so uninformed that the generic use of the word escapes us, so we have to use the word, ‘people.’)
The Founders articulated the principle ‘all men are created equal,’ but they also went on to say something about the source of that equality: “and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
For now I’ll put aside the cavils that are bound to be raised by those who adhere to the current malformed understanding of the so-called ‘separation of church and state.’ For today, I’ll simply point to the fact that what that means, if it means nothing else, is that our rights are not the result of any human determination. Even in the midst of the varied opinion on what the word ‘Creator’ conveys, even if we are unwilling to speak positive regarding what might be the attributes of this Creator, we can safely say that if what the Declaration says is true than by negative inference our rights do not have their source in any human determination or will.