Sunday, July 06, 2008

Matt 24 Watch, 60: Happy Birthday America -- reflections on the value and validity of the US DOI

This weekend marks the 232nd anniversary of the US Declaration of Independence, in 1776; an event which is in many ways even more significant than the 60th anniversary of independence of Modern Israel as we discussed some weeks ago.

That is especially so in light of the ongoing war for the culture, and for the minds and souls of men that lurks within it.

For, on one hand, we see an agenda to reduce our understanding of Western Culture and its major contributions to human progress to a one-sided litany of horrors, shame and crimes.

On the other, we see the twisting of the concepts of liberty and rights to promote libertinism, licence and amorality in the name of liberty, and the destructive perversion, subversion and suppression of the right in the name of "tolerance," "diversity" and "rights." (Indeed, we now see ever more clearly, that the gospel is being censored and the biblically based Christian Faith risks being outright censored or even criminalised in such a climate, under labels such as "bigotry," "discrimination" and "hate speech.")

Such demands a cogent response.

An excellent place to begin -- on this its 232nd anniversary -- is with an excerpt of the 1776 US Declaration of Independence:
When . . . it becomes necessary for one people . . . to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident
, [cf Rom 1:18 - 21, 2:14 - 15], 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, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness . . . when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security . . . .

[ . . . . ]

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions [Cf. Judges 11:27 and discussion in Locke], do, in the Name, and by the Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
In short, in the view of the US Founders -- BTW, not just Jefferson (who was writing as a member of a drafting committee of the Continental Congress)! -- our rights are an inalienable endowment from God, our Creator; who has made us all equally in his image.

Thus, on pain of the absurdity that comes from foolishly denying self-evident truth, we must first reckon ourselves to be equals under God.

So also, since we reflect God's image, to abuse or oppress another human being is an affront not only to that person, but to God, who made him or her in his image. Therefore, we may properly make binding moral claims that our lives, liberties and pursuit of our individual life-callings under God (the basis for true happiness) should be respected.

This, in turn, draws deeply on the force of Locke's citation from "the judicious [Anglican theologian Richard] Hooker" in his discussion of the implications of the Golden Rule for the moral order of civil society:
. . . if I cannot but wish to receive good, even as much at every man's hands, as any man can wish unto his own soul, how should I look to have any part of my desire herein satisfied, unless myself be careful to satisfy the like desire which is undoubtedly in other men . . . my desire, therefore, to be loved of my equals in Nature, as much as possible may be, imposeth upon me a natural duty of bearing to themward fully the like affection. From which relation of equality between ourselves and them that are as ourselves, what several rules and canons natural reason hath drawn for direction of life no man is ignorant. [2nd Essay on Civil Government, ch 2 section 5; citing Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity, 1594 -.]
In that context, Governments are instituted among men, with a main duty to protect our rights.

Immediately, that means that if officers of such a government undermine or ignore this duty, the people, acting together under their representatives, and/or through other of their civil authorities, may first petition for redress, then if that is ignored, call and act for reformation under God. (Thus, we can easily see that the US DOI is in part derived from the Discipling Mandate of Matt 28:18 - 20, which calls for the church to teach the nations to obey the Christ of God -- i.e., among other things, to prophetically call for reformation through the direct implications of the Golden Rule of Matt 7:12 etc) .

However, sometimes, the just call of the people for corrective reformation is resisted, through "a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object [that] evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism . . . "

In such a case, the people have a reserve right of revolution, to remove those who have abused the mandate of just civil government under God, and to restructure Government to promote justice and liberty under God. (Thankfully, in our day -- and in no small measure due to the impact of the American Revolution -- we have a regular, peaceful institutionalised potential revolution every four or five years: The General Election.)

So, flawed though the American Revolution inevitably was -- it is after all a work of finite, fallible, fallen, too often ill-willed people (just like us . . . ! Cf Matt 7:1 - 5 on first removing the planks in our own eyes so that we can help our brothers with sawdust in theirs) -- it was a tremendous achievement, and remains pregnant with vital lessons for us today.

Well worth the saying:

"Happy Birthday, America!"

However, there is a very different view of progress in Western Civilisation, especially in the Western Hemisphere.

Pam Hoffecker, A Pennsylvania mother and author, in commenting on the "educational" video The Columbus Controversy shown to her son in a high school history class, gives us a telling insight:
"When I looked at the video about Columbus, I was very upset. It began with a teacher grabbing a purse from a student's desk, saying "This is my purse. I didn't steal Samantha's purse. I discovered this purse." Columbus was presented as an anti-hero who sought gold and slaves, brought genocide to the indigenous, and should be ridiculed. It never mentioned that the supposedly peaceloving Carib Indians owned slaves and would fatten, castrate and eat male babies in cannibalistic rituals. True, the European immigrants did exploit Indians, but there are two sides to the story. . . ." [NB: From my recent reading of Samuel Eliot Morison on the European voyages of discovery from 1492 on, it is plain from multiple contemporary records that there was indeed widespread cannibalism, slavery, war and oppression in Amerindian cultures across Central America, the Caribbean and South America.]
But, immediately -- even obviously -- we should know that the act of discovery is morally and logically distinct from wrongdoing that may have been done by sinful, fallen discoverers, their companions, and those who followed them. So, "discovery" should not be in effect equated to stealing or a justification for it. That sort of distorting, unfair rhetoric has no proper place in the classroom.

Moreover, the act of discovery -- in the broadest sense [geographical, scientific research, inventive, social, political, commercial, etc ] -- is a high-risk, technically very difficult, and important achievement. That should be recognised, not least as the hope of future discoveries due to the enterprise of free men seeking to fulfill their calling under God is a vital step to opening up positive possibilities for our own future in the face of the manifold, daunting challenges of our day. (Indeed, that basic lesson is a direct point of comparison between our own time and the hemmed-in, hard-pressed Europe of Columbus' day. Yes, we should learn from the flaws and sins of the discoverers of the past, but we must also learn from their achievements! And, for that matter, the then innovative patents mechanism put into the US Constitution has been a major engine of free enterprise-driven technical and economic progress.)

Similarly, the in large measure biblically-rooted breakthrough in government and liberty that the Reformers, their predecessors and their successors had pioneered for centuries found culmination in the tremendous achievement of the US Declaration of Independence, Constitution, creation of a free, self-governing republic dedicated to liberty and justice for all -- however imperfect it has been at any given time.

So, a balanced history education programme should teach us to appreciate the positive achievement of discovery and the doors to massive progress it opened up, while also recognising the sobering impact of the wrongs on both sides of the situation.

This is precisely what we do not find here, and on many other topics relating to the good that Western Civilisation -- formerly known as Christendom -- and its underlying biblically rooted Judaeo-Christian tradition have done.
Q: Why is that so?

A: Because, for many decades now, there has been an active politically messianistic agenda driven by evolutionary materialist secularists, post-modernist neo-pagans, homosexualists and many others, to gain a critical mass of support to reject the Judaeo-Christian heritage of our civilisation, and to replace it with one species or another of a radical secularist-pagan utopia. So, they have set out to [a] one-sidely rewrite our history to emphasise the failings of the West, to [b] uncritically boost the achievements of any other culture or religion [thus leading to the perceived moral and cultural inferiority of the West], and to [c] generally destroy the remaining influence of the biblically anchored Judaeo-Christian tradition.
But, as we have just seen, it is precisely that tradition that is the tap-root of the liberty and democracy that we enjoy.

Indeed, it should be plain that if: we are all created equally in God's image, which gives us inalienable rights, and that Governments are instituted under God to do good, promoting justice and restraining evil-doers, then: Government is accountable under God for justice, and has no just power to "create" new rights out of whole cloth that run counter to the order of Creation. Nor, may it "erase" those creation-order based rights that are endowed by our Creator. In short, Government under God, properly, is strictly limited and accountable under God and before the people, who are also under God. [Cf Ac 17:16 - 34, also the 2002 JTS/CGST public lecture on ethics and development.]

That is precisely why those who have agendas to manufacture new "rights" that run counter to the obvious Creation-based order of Nature -- so-called same-sex marriage is an obvious case in point [Cf Matt 19:1 - 6] -- and/or to suppress true rights, seek to undermine, discredit and even suppress the Tradition that materially contributed to the rise of modern liberty.

So, much is at stake in the ongoing battle for the soul of our civilisation.

Will we rise to the challenge, or will we be like those who stood on the sidelines -- or, worse . . . -- 232 years ago?

Again, let us reflect: why not now? why not here? why not us? END


UPDATE, Jul 7:
Additional links, minor edits. Additional comments on discovery and its extension to the patents mechanism.


IlĂ­on said...

On behalf of America: Thank You.

Gordon said...

Let us pray, work and trust that our civilisation wakes up before it is too late.