In Part One we looked at the Judeo-Christian concepts of virtue that formed the moral civic glue of the American republic at its founding. Since Mr. Obama is partial to the American philosophy of pragmatism… let’s drop false ideas of separation of Church and State and get pragmatic. Explicit State support of the Judea-Christian values found in the Ten Commandments can help re-center the traditional cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, courage, temperance) in such a way as to produce citizens capable of fostering a more perfect union; citizens capable of making a market economy work despite its selfish tendencies; capable of establishing just relations with other nations and overcoming enemies with real values.
Cardinal Virtues and Pragmatism
Our enemies see through talk of ‘freedom’ when it is a mask for licentiousness. We’ve gotten too accustomed to using one another for immediate gratifications instead of caring for one another. Without a certain level of the cardinal virtues as found in the Judeo-Christian tradition we will end-up victims of new found tyrannies; constantly trying to reinvent a freedom which only the Judeo-Christian vision carries within it. No other religion carries this light forward because no other religion carries a vision of freedom that respects an order established by a loving God who would be willing to suffer for us… for those He made to be His image and likeness… a likeness only found in selfless love.
Too often the “separation of church and state” is invoked to stop government from showing partiality to recognizable Christian values. Let’s call a spade a spade. Such a concept of “separation” does not really exist except in the minds of those who wish to weaken Christianity in general, recklessly undermining the development of the cardinal virtues in the citizens as they do so. The original intent of the First Amendment was to prevent any church from attempting to govern and to prevent such allegiances as those which led to the wars of religion suffered by 16th and 17th century Britain. (Such a threat no longer exists and the Vatican no longer has armies or a Holy Roman Emperor.) Newly independent America was not about to let Anglican England re-establish a foothold through the churches, nor let Rome with its alliances and loyal armies have influence in its affairs. The republic would be staunchly independent, resisting all foreign entanglements, allowing all types of Christians, Jews, Deists, and agnostics to live in peace according to the freedoms which the Constitution promised to protect as a rule of law.
It would protect freedom of religion as the best way to protect minorities and foster virtue amongst the citizenry, but only to the extent such practices preserved real freedoms and values understood by the Judeo-Christian society that voted to make the Constitution work; a society which generally understood that human dignity derived from the fact that human beings were made in the image and likeness of God (“their Creator”). The Constitution was never intended to pretend one religion was as valuable as another or deserving of the same protections, especially if it led to a lack of morals which endangered the State, for the State existed for the safety of its citizens, to protect domestic tranquility as it protected freedom of worship — and the Judeo-Christian family.
The Constitution was dependent upon the Declaration of Independence which clearly laid the foundation for law within a Judeo-Christian context of values. As the Christian Founding Father and second President of the United States, John Adams wrote: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other” and “It is Religion and Morality alone which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure virtue , and if this cannot be inspired into our people in greater measure than they have it now, they may change their Rulers and forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting liberty” (Federer, The Ten Commandments and Their Influence on American Law , pp.19-20, emphasis mine).
Ultra-secularists have played the fear card for too long now — cynically blaming religion for mankind’s wars and problems in total contradiction of the Founding Fathers. Borrowing the words of President Obama’s inaugural address, such radical and cynical secularists would well be reminded, “What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.” The anti-Christian politics of the 19th and 20th Century have given way to better possibilities for reaffirming human dignity in God’s image and likeness and recalling the true intent of our Founding Fathers.
Christianity always best served human freedom and domestic tranquility because its standard is that humans are made in the image and likeness of God, a God Who is love because God is Trinity — a mystery of eternal self-giving. Man (male and female) — made in God’s image and likeness — was to be respected for his end: growing in God’s likeness; becoming love. This gave an understanding of what freedom was for and not just how freedom could be used. This understanding gave wisdom and not just legal technique. Humans, still hampered by original sin, were never perfect in realizing the justice which following Christ entailed, but our constant repentance and desire for communion with our Creator (revealed by Christ to be our loving Father), always renewed the original vision of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
There is no other paradigm that can take us forward and preserve us in the virtues necessary to realize freedom and prosperity than the one that holds man aloft as the image and likeness of God and guided by the Ten Commandments. Any attempts at renewing the nation apart from understanding humans as the image and likeness of God will prove only a regression of freedom — not its realization — and a disintegration of the real ties that bind us. If these ties dissolve then only the worst of dictatorships will continue to keep us together and freedom will become an illusion as liberty vanishes under meaningless parchments.
Secularism or Christianity?
In his 1995 encyclical, Evangelium Vitae , Pope John Paul the Great leaves us with important observations about where the path of secularism leads:
Consequently, when the sense of God is lost, the sense of man is also threatened and poisoned, as the Second Vatican Council concisely states: "Without the Creator the creature would disappear … But when God is forgotten the creature itself grows unintelligible". Man is no longer able to see himself as "mysteriously different" from other earthly creatures; he regards himself merely as one more living being, as an organism which, at most, has reached a very high stage of perfection. Enclosed in the narrow horizon of his physical nature, he is somehow reduced to being "a thing", and no longer grasps the "transcendent" character of his "existence as man". …
Thus, in relation to life at birth or at death, man is no longer capable of posing the question of the truest meaning of his own existence, nor can he assimilate with genuine freedom these crucial moments of his own history. He is concerned only with "doing", and, using all kinds of technology, he busies himself with programming, controlling and dominating birth and death. Birth and death, instead of being primary experiences demanding to be "lived", become things to be merely "possessed" or "rejected".
Moreover, once all reference to God has been removed, it is not surprising that the meaning of everything else becomes profoundly distorted. Nature itself, from being "mater" (mother), is now reduced to being "matter", and is subjected to every kind of manipulation. This is the direction in which a certain technical and scientific way of thinking, prevalent in present-day culture, appears to be leading when it rejects the very idea that there is a truth of creation which must be acknowledged, or a plan of God for life which must be respected. Something similar happens when concern about the consequences of such a "freedom without law" leads some people to the opposite position of a "law without freedom", as for example in ideologies which consider it unlawful to interfere in any way with nature, practically "divinizing" it. Again, this is a misunderstanding of nature’s dependence on the plan of the Creator. Thus it is clear that the loss of contact with God’s wise design is the deepest root of modern man’s confusion, both when this loss leads to a freedom without rules and when it leaves man in "fear" of his freedom.
By living "as if God did not exist", man not only loses sight of the mystery of God, but also of the mystery of the world and the mystery of his own being. (#22)
Belief in God was always the real check and balance upon human power and false concepts of freedom. The underpinnings of law and society at the founding of the U.S. Constitution were underpinnings of a Creator who made us in His image and likeness — created free and intelligent with God as our end. As beings full of potential for freedom in God we were called to develop these potentials intelligently: observing justice by a properly formed conscience/intellect which considered future outcomes (prudence ); overcoming fears when fortitude is demanded to obtain greater real goods; and never thinking fellow humans made in God’s image and likeness could ever serve as mere means for our own selfish ends (finding self-restraint in temperance ). Our freedom was to be realized within a belief that love really makes the world go around. Love was supposed to be found in the first realm of education known as a human family as a man and woman lived out their mutual, life-long, and exclusive sexual commitment by caring for their offspring — but of course without the cardinal virtues, marriage is just as impossible as the State.
President Obama practically hit the nail on the head when he closed his inaugural address:
Our challenges may be new, the instruments with which we meet them may be new, but those values upon which our success depends, honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.
I am not quite sure when tolerance made it beyond a civic virtue, or how curiosity did anything other than get cats killed, but “courage and fair play” certainly echo fortitude and justice.
President Obama seems to come so close to calling again for a renewal of the cardinal virtues. His frequent reference to God would make one assume he would expect the Judeo-Christian interpretation as to what guides and forms these virtues. How deep does Obama’s sense of God go? "When the sense of God is lost, there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man. " To break with God is to break with each other. Enough talk of a new age when now is always the time to establish a Golden Age based on the dignity of every human made in the image and likeness of God. The true infrastructure which enables our prosperity and supports our bridges is the infrastructure of virtue as informed by the Ten Commandments.