Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Fixed Point
Mitt Romney gave his speech on religion in America's history and political founding. I thought it was a good speech in that it spoke to the long arc of how religion motivated our political founders - whether in the birth of the colonies themselves or later on during the consolidation of the separate States into a unified whole under the US Constitution. The salient point being that the specifics of each President's personal religion don't matter as much as the general point that religion informed and established our founding as a nation and that the strength of the nation will endure so long as we remain in communion with this foundation.

In Romney's speech, what particularly resonated with me was the historicism of his argument. Much of our political discourse is mired in the now - blovations on health care, alternative energy, border fences and guest worker programs. These politicians sound like waiters reading off the daily specials menu. Aside from Romney's speech, I have heard no politician stray beyond these narrow confines, to venture into broader space and speak towards the longer arc of America's journey as nation and people - from the founding to the present. Romney did this and it is what I most liked. Indeed, what I most liked was a reference to a generic God who guides the leaders of men. Indeed, our founders were such people. They endeavored to ensure no state religion, simply because their view of a generic God (some would say this is the Deist view of God) overlapped the boundaries set forth within particular faiths. However, they knew that man's inalienable rights were derived from God. This declaration is extremely important as it is the very wellspring for the American colonists decision to cast of the yolk of kings and aristocracies. The Rights of Man are not derived from man - they are derived from God and cannot be undone by Man. This is the very essence of our Declaration of Independence and the basis that undergirds the rights spelled out within the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Romney's speech made me think of President Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, which shows 1) how religion and politics were comfortably intertwined in our political discourse in earlier times, and how 2) Lincoln reminds us how man cannot deny for man the Rights that God has enshrined within all men.
One-eighth of the whole population were colored slaves, not distributed generally over the Union, but localized in the southern part of it. These slaves constituted a peculiar and powerful interest. All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war. To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it. Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with or even before the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. 'Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.' If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said 'the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether'.

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan -- to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
It is sad how in today's day we would fear such repetitious mention of God in a political speech.

Indeed, the trend of today's politics is to cast away God. The trend by many in progressive and intellectual elite circles within the West is to move towards a new politics founded within a moral foundation based upon a secular humanism rather than the spiritual moral foundation set forth by our founders. In this secular humanist universe, inalienable rights are not God derived, but derived from moral man, the difference being that man is the final arbiter of those rights and not God. This rationale is most entrenched within European politics as it is also with American intellectual circles and the burgeoning atheist movement in the US, as evidenced by efforts to remove spiritual symbols from the public square and remove mentions of God from US currency and from the US Pledge of Allegiance.

What is most alarming about any move towards secular humanism as our final basis for informing what we do to each other as people and what we allow ourselves to do as people is that is shifts the final arbiter of justification away from the unseen perfect God and puts the power in the hands of imperfect man (riddled with insufficiencies and ruled by the passions). This is not an insignificant shift. Indeed, it turns us away from Plato, whose view of man and Earth as being a reflection of perfect Forms (of "heaven") and turns us toward Nietzsche who said God is Dead. Without God, it is just us left. And if we are sole and final judge (and not God) it means everything that we devise for ourselves is informed by our final judgements (and not God's). Hearkening back to the passage I quoted from Lincoln's Second Inaugural, the power of Lincoln's speech would simply be incomprehensible if spoken to a people informed by and entrusted to the protection of a secular humanist system. If man is the final judge of his own actions, God's wrath to let man know that man has failed would not exist. In the end, it becomes man's place to judge for himself what is simply right and wrong. Inalienable rights, God derived, are more inviolable than those derived by Man.

Which leads to my fundamental problem with secular humanism. Man Giveth, and Man Taketh Away is far more dangerous than God Giveth, and God Taketh Away because it is easier to argue with Man than it is with God. This means that anything Man bestows to himself resides on shakier ground than the firmer foundation God provides. With man as final judge, there resides the potential for man to fall into the man-derived hell that George Orwell frightening reveals in his novel 1984. To know what I mean by this, here is the salient passage between hero (and prisoner Winston Smith) and his interrogator O'Brien:
You believe that reality is something objective, external, existing in its own right. You also believe that the nature of reality is self-evident. When you delude yourself into thinking that you see something, you assume that everyone else sees the same thing as you. But I tell you, Winston, that reality is not external. Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which can make mistakes, and in any case soon perishes: only in the mind of the Party, which is collective and immortal. Whatever the Party holds to be the truth, is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party. That is the fact that you have got to relearn, Winston. It needs an act of self-destruction, an effort of the will. You must humble yourself before you can become sane.'

He paused for a few moments, as though to allow what he had been saying to sink in.

'Do you remember,' he went on, 'writing in your diary, "Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make four"?'

'Yes,' said Winston.

O'Brien held up his left hand, its back towards Winston, with the thumb hidden and the four fingers extended.

'How many fingers am I holding up, Winston?'

'Four.'

'And if the party says that it is not four but five -- then how many?'

'Four.'

The word ended in a gasp of pain. The needle of the dial had shot up to fifty-five. The sweat had sprung out all over Winston's body. The air tore into his lungs and issued again in deep groans which even by clenching his teeth he could not stop. O'Brien watched him, the four fingers still extended. He drew back the lever. This time the pain was only slightly eased.

'How many fingers, Winston?'

'Four.'

The needle went up to sixty.

'How many fingers, Winston?'

'Four! Four! What else can I say? Four!'

The needle must have risen again, but he did not look at it. The heavy, stern face and the four fingers filled his vision. The fingers stood up before his eyes like pillars, enormous, blurry, and seeming to vibrate, but unmistakably four.

'How many fingers, Winston?'

'Four! Stop it, stop it! How can you go on? Four! Four!'

'How many fingers, Winston?'

'Five! Five! Five!'

'No, Winston, that is no use. You are lying. You still think there are four. How many fingers, please?'

'Four! five! Four! Anything you like. Only stop it, stop the pain!'

Abruptly he was sitting up with O'Brien's arm round his shoulders. He had perhaps lost consciousness for a few seconds. The bonds that had held his body down were loosened. He felt very cold, he was shaking uncontrollably, his teeth were chattering, the tears were rolling down his cheeks. For a moment he clung to O'Brien like a baby, curiously comforted by the heavy arm round his shoulders. He had the feeling that O'Brien was his protector, that the pain was something that came from outside, from some other source, and that it was O'Brien who would save him from it.

'You are a slow learner, Winston,' said O'Brien gently.

'How can I help it?' he blubbered. 'How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.'

'Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. You must try harder. It is not easy to become sane.'
Two plus two equals four is God revealed through a mathematical relationship. Take away God and it becomes much easier for two plus two to equal five or 30 or whatever. And that's a whole can of worms for us to deal with if we continue down a path away from God.

2 Comments:

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen, brother. -GCS

 
At 8:51 PM, Anonymous Lee Cantrell said...

I wounder if you have ever really looked at what being a secular humanist means? Personally, I prefer optimism to pessimism, hope to despair, learning instead of dogma, truth over ignorance, tolerance instead of fear, love over hatred, compassion instead of selfishness, and reason instead of blind faith or irrationality. We are not monsters, we are not out to destroy the world. We are trying to save the world. We do not object to your beliefs. We only ask that you offer us the same consideration. Please go to: http://www.secularhumanism.org/index.php?section=main&page=declaration

 

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