In honor of the Fourth of July, I thought I would post a few quotes that are relevant to our nation’s founding principles. First a quote from the Declaration of Independence:
“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. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”
Our Founders recognized that our rights and freedom come ultimately, not from government or politics, but from a Higher Being - a Creator. Governments are established to protect these God-given rights, not to grant new rights where none existed before, and not to redefine human value and worth, but to protect what has already been give by our Creator. Absent this Truth, our system of government cannot survive. If we deny the source of our being and succumb to a Relativism devoid of God and unchanging Truth, the foundation of our nation crumbles, as John Adams pointed out:
"We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
Our Republic was founded on the idea that there is a higher Being (a “Creator”) from Whom we derive our rights, and that moral Truth must inform the conscience of the people. We are all subject to a Greater Truth which defines our rights and our freedom and to which we are morally responsible. If our nation rejects this Truth then our man-made laws and our government will fill the void created in such a Godless society – our government would then assume the role of Supreme Granter of Rights and tyranny would ensue. Our basic rights and fundamental human dignity would be subject to the whims of our government unchained from God and Truth, and our rights could easily be changed or revoked. This is the "dictatorship of relativism" about which our current Pope spoke upon his election. And so, to Pope Benedict we turn for more on this subject [taken from the book Church, Ecumenism, & Politics]:
“The Christian faith awakens the conscience and substantiates ethics. It gives practical reason its contents and shows it the way. The real danger of our time, the crux of our cultural crisis, is the destabilization of ethics, which results from the fact that we can no longer grasp moral reasoning and have reduced reason to what is calculable…There is no way to get around it: we have to be converted again to a broader concept of reason as something rational. For the political system that means that society is never done but must be built anew again and again starting from conscience, which is the only way of securing it…Reason needs revelation in order to be able to function as reason. The reference of the state to the Christian foundation is indispensable for its continuance as a state, especially if it is supposed to be pluralistic.” (Chapter 11, pages 204-206)
“The state must recognize that a fundamental system of values based on Christianity is the precondition for its existence. In this sense it simply has to know its historical place, so to speak: the ground from which it cannot completely detach itself without falling apart. It has to learn that there is a fund of truth that is not subject to consensus but rather precedes it and makes it possible.” (Chapter 11, page 207)
“I am convinced that in the long term the rule of law has no chance of survival in a state that is radically and dogmatically atheistic and that it is necessary to reconsider this question fundamentally – as a matter of survival. I likewise venture to declare that democracy is capable of functioning only when conscience is functioning, and that the latter has nothing to say if it is not oriented to the validity of the fundamental moral values of Christianity, which can be put into action even without a Christian profession of faith, indeed, even in the context of a non-Christian religion.” (Chapter 12, pages 220-221)
It is not necessary that all citizens profess belief in the Christian God, but it is necessary that the state recognize a Higher Power to which it is answerable as a source of moral Truth. Christianity provides this higher Truth for us here in the West, and forms the cornerstone for the founding of our nation:
“The general principles upon which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principals of Christianity… I will avow that I believed and now believe that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.” (John Adams)
This is not a radical, far-right, Christian fundamentalist claim. It is as basic to our nation’s founding as the Constitution itself. Catholics should heed the voice of history and of our current pontiff and join the cause for recognizing the importance of faith and traditional moral values within society. We have as a forbearer the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, the American patriot, Charles Carroll:
“Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure...are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments."
With this in mind, and in the spirit of the holiday, this Fourth of July we should follow the recommendation of John Adams: “[July 4th] ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.”