Lawrence P. Grayson
The President has vowed to make America great again by improving the economy, protecting the nation’s sovereignty, and enhancing its prestige among the world’s nations. As laudable as these aims are, they are incomplete.
America is more than a wealth-generating entity with borders. It was founded as the embodiment of a vision, an idea, a set of idealistic principles. Perhaps no one summarized more cogently and effectively what America stands for than Abraham Lincoln in his Address at Gettysburg:
“[O]ur fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…We here highly resolve that…this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.”
The concept of a nation dedicated to liberty, equality and democracy, and subject to an Almighty Being, set forth the fundamental principles upon which America is based. A nation under God was not deemed an objective, but a founding proposition. It was enunciated in the Declaration of Independence and is reaffirmed each time anyone stands before the nation’s flag and recites the Pledge of Allegiance.
While the elements of liberty and equality are in common with the political tenets of Western Europe, the belief in a sovereign God who reigns over nations as well as men sets America apart. In the European tradition of laicism, as shaped by Enlightenment thinkers, religion is a private concern and irrelevant to public affairs. Political development is centered on the rationality of man to the exclusion of the transcendent. Hence, ultimate sovereignty resides in the state which is bound by nothing higher than the will of the people. Since it is the state that defines the rights of the individual, those privileges are provisional for the state can rescind what it grants.
America’s premise of freedom under God is alien to the concept of laicism. The idea that there is a supernatural authority to which the state is subject is intrinsic to this nation’s governance. Americans recognize certain rights of the individual as unalienable because they were bestowed on man by the Creator God. These innate, pre-existing grants may be ignored or violated, but cannot be revoked by the state.
Although certain rights are unalienable, they are not unrestricted. Rather, they are subject to a higher natural law that was instilled by the Creator in the nature of man and are to be regulated through his conscience. This was done so that people would utilize their freedom in a morally and socially acceptable manner. Indeed, America as a nation of liberty under law could not be sustained if the people as a whole were not inwardly governed by a higher imperative.
The great danger to the nation today is a loss of religious faith. As the substance of being an American is rooted in the transcendental, then a loss of belief in God leads to a loss of belief that the rights bestowed by Him are intrinsic and unalienable. If these rights are to be retained, then a belief in God must be maintained.
The early Americans were very aware of the importance of faith among the people. They were convinced that without a societal belief in God the nation’s founding principles would be at risk. From the time of the Pilgrims onward, colonial governors, legislatures, Revolutionary leaders, presidents and the Congress have issued hundreds of proclamations acknowledging the existence of God and calling for public fasting and prayer to seek His grace and thank Him for His beneficence. In time of war, in the Christmas season, and in their traditional Thanksgiving Day proclamations, most presidents have made reference to the Almighty. Congress, even today, opens its daily sessions with a prayer. But much of the present public acknowledgement of God seems to be more traditional or symbolic, rather than sincere.
Presently, too many national leaders profess a faith, but do not publicly practice it. There is a disconnection between what they say they believe and their actions which demonstrate what they believe. This partition between a private conscience and a public position has allowed many individuals to advance their political aims. Rather than using their religious convictions to shape societal practices, they have diluted their beliefs in pursuit of worldly prosperity, acclaim, or social acceptability.
For decades, vocal minorities operating through the courts have been driving God from virtually all public recognition. As a result, God has become less relevant in many lives. According to a recent Gallup poll, persons who self-identified as Christians declined from 92% in 1960 to 68% in 2017, while persons with no religious affiliation increased from 3% to 20%. Currently, only 46% of the people attend a church or synagogue even once a month. Not surprisingly, 20% of people in America are convinced, or are fairly certain, that God does not exists. The nation’s society today is more anti-religious in its policies and regulations, its views and attitudes, its behavior and temperament than it has ever been.
The agnostic secularization of this nation must be rejected and its founding values restored and preserved. America was established on the basis of liberty and justice, as a country where people could enjoy freedom in their homes, churches, businesses, schools, private organizations and public associations, where political liberty would allow faith to flourish, where religious liberty would be protected by just laws. This is a patrimony that has been handed down from generations past and requires a commitment to maintain it for generations to come. As President Ronald Reagan reminded us, “Freedom is never more than one generation from extinction… It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them [our children] to do the same,”
As Americans, let us commit ourselves to support the Constitution, enact laws that protect the rights of every person from conception to natural death, mold public opinion on issues that affect our religious precepts, and promote virtue and morality that must underlie a nation of, for and by the people. As Catholics, let us practice patriotism and citizenship consistent with Church teachings. It is when we live our religious beliefs conscientiously and faithfully and advance them in the public square that we make our most beneficial contributions to the nation.
May America remain one nation under God with liberty, equality and justice for all.
* * * * *
Published July 2018