Wednesday, April 16, 2008

From the South Lawn

I was quite moved by the Holy Father's words at the White House today, his first since arriving in the United States yesterday. In his words, I clearly find him in the mold of Tocqueville - a European who is fascinated by and respectful of the American experiment in government.
From the dawn of the Republic, America’s quest for freedom has been guided by the conviction that the principles governing political and social life are intimately linked to a moral order based on the dominion of God the Creator. The framers of this nation’s founding documents drew upon this conviction when they proclaimed the “self-evident truth” that all men are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights grounded in the laws of nature and of nature’s God. The course of American history demonstrates the difficulties, the struggles and the great intellectual and moral resolve which were demanded to shape a society which faithfully embodied these noble principles. In that process, which forged the soul of the nation, religious beliefs were a constant inspiration and driving force, as for example in the struggle against slavery and in the civil rights movement. In our time too, particularly in moments of crisis, Americans continue to find their strength in a commitment to this patrimony of shared ideals and aspirations.
The Founding Fathers cannot be understood without reference to the Divine Right argument for monarchy. Put simply, the king (or queen) is anointed by God for the office that they hold. Despite what some may think, this was not a notion of medieval political thought, which clearly recognized the legitimate overthrow of the monarch if said monarch became a tyrant. If a ruler is a tyrant, then his subjects are not bound to follow him.

The Divine Right argument does away with the medieval separation between just ruler and tyrant and declares that the ruler is just by the fact of being the ruler. Therefore, nothing the ruler can do would be tyrannical. The Divine Right argument was first used by Protestant kings and princes in order to consolidate church and state in one complete, unified entity with a single head and a single law. It removed the historical tension that had existed in Christendom between the church and the state. The allure of such a total power-grab was not limited to Protestants, however, as kings of France would use the theory to create what came to be known as Gallicanism.

Following on the principles of John Locke, the Founding Fathers firmly rejected the notion that God gives the right to rule to one man or woman beyond question. No, what God gives us is truth - self-evident truth - that we must then hold firm to in matters of governance.

This is what is so revolutionary about our political heritage! We are not governed by the edicts of man anointed by God, but by the edicts of God as revealed in life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Government, therefore, must include the active participation of all people, since the treasures of these self-evident truths touch us all.

This is why a religious force has historically always been the driving force of our politics. Admittedly, not all of the Founding Fathers were Christians, but none of them were atheists in our modern use of the word. Our founding documents read of a deist theology that calls attention to the reality of a divine force by which we all have life. And in that life, we are called to seek after, to strive for and to know truth.

God bless America indeed!

Mason Slidell

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