The Day Before Thanksgiving: Are There Still Self Evident Truths and Unalienable Rights?
This richly diverse Nation reaffirms its reliance upon God as the source of its liberties.
This unique American holiday called Thanksgiving has a profoundly religious core. So too does the American experiment in ordered liberty. This richly diverse Nation reaffirms its reliance upon God as the source of its liberties.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - We are all ready to stop thinking about politics. I find myself grimacing every time I see or hear another purported analysis of what happened in the last Presidential election. I am ready for the celebration of Thanksgiving - and so is the United States of America.
Many households are already filled with the smells associated with the pies and side dishes which will accompany the Thanksgiving Feast. Last minute shopping for the celebration will bring neighbors to stores throughout the day and prompt early closure of many businesses.
There is something so very good about this day - and we all seem to know it intuitively. This richly diverse Nation reaffirms its reliance upon God as the source of its liberties. We stop to give thanks.
Though Thanksgiving is referred to as a secular holiday, it is most assuredly NOT a secularist Holiday. Secularism as an ideology seeks to exclude religious influence and the values informed by religious faith from our common life. That is profoundly at odds with the American idea.
This American holiday called Thanksgiving has a profoundly religious core. So too does the American experiment in ordered liberty.
The Declaration of Independence, the Birth Certificate of our Nation proclaimed: "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."
The words are still memorized by at least some of our schoolchildren and can bring a tear to the oldest American eye with little effort.
The principles the Declaration communicates have informed our history as a free people and inspired our neighbors in other parts of the world to stand up against all forms of tyranny. Our forebears were not declaring their independence from Divine Providence. Rather, they were trusting in the primacy of the Governance of God over their own lives and their noble undertaking.
They sought independence from a monarchy which had become tyrannical precisely because it had forgotten the implications of the primacy of Divine Providence. The principles set forth in that Declaration were a rallying cry which called forth extraordinary sacrifice from ordinary men and women.
They were rooted in something much greater than political expediency. That is why those principles became a measuring stick against which all governments of men would be measured in the future.
The founders of this Nation actually believed there were truths - objective truths- to be held and that those truths are self evident.
Those truths include the existence of unalienable rights which are given to all men and women by a Creator. Rights to Life and Liberty, including religious liberty, the first freedom. They believed that those truths and those rights can be discerned by all men and women because they are revealed by the Natural Law which is written on all human hearts and is a participation in God's eternal law.
Of the 56 men who signed the Declaration, Charles Carroll of Carrolton, cousin of the Archbishop John Carroll of Baltimore, was the only Catholic signer. At the time of his signing it was illegal for Catholics to hold public office or to vote in Maryland. Yet, he still pledged with all of the signatories:
"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." He knew the importance of the vision of freedom, rights and liberty which that Declaration proclaimed in those three profoundly simple but supremely powerful words: "We Hold These Truths."
There are competing visions of the human person, human dignity, human rights, marriage, family and human freedom contending for the future of the American experiment. The very foundation of our freedom is at risk as a result of confusion over the very notion of human rights; what they are, who receives them and where they come from.
Human rights are goods of the human person. Therefore, there must be human persons to receive and exercise them.
The recognition of the preeminent Right to Life which is so clearly set forth in the words of this Declaration is now routinely undermined by the positive/civil law of the Nation which the Declaration helped to birth. How can a Nation which has enshrined the killing of innocent children in the womb in its positive law now claim that that it still recognizes the unalienable right to life?
Certainly all of the American founders would have agreed it is wrong to kill an innocent neighbor. How can we read Jefferson's words, "God who gave us life gave us liberty" and not see the evil of a jurisprudence which puts the police power behind the intentional taking of her/his life?
What makes this even more profane is that the ground for such a violation of fundamental human rights comes from Supreme Court opinions which manufactured out of whole cloth some alleged "right" to commit a heinous crime, claiming to find it within a so called "liberty interest" of the U.S. Constitution.
At the core of the American founder's vision of a "good" society, one where all men and women could pursue happiness, was a bedrock belief in the need for a common morality upon which this virtuous and free society could be built. After all, the classical vision of happiness was a reference to the moral life where human persons flourished by living virtuously.
While the founders embraced a freedom of religion, they did not ascribe to an enforced secularism, a freedom FROM religion, where the influence of religious principles or the leavening role of religious institutions was viewed as some kind of threat to true liberty. Yet, we face the awful threat of the HHS mandate through which the Affordable care Act which seeks to compel Christians to violate their conscience.
If we had the ear of the founders today, would anyone really argue that they would have viewed marriage and family as expendable, capable of being redefined by judicial fiat or a feat of legislative alchemy?
The two parent, man/woman, marriage bound family was viewed as the first government, first school, first economy, first church, and first mediating institution. Yet, we walk under the ominous cloud of a libertine counterfeit of marriage and family being forced upon us all by the police power of the State.
A question asked by Thomas Jefferson cries out for an answer on this day before Thanksgiving: "Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?"
The entire infrastructure of human rights and freedoms is at risk when we fail to recognize the preeminent Right to Life. Liberty is at risk when there exists in our positive law a so called "right" to kill the human person required to receive them or to exercise them.
Blessed John Paul II wrote the "Gospel of Life" in 1995. He warned of what he called a "remarkable contradiction" which has been unleashed in our current age, precisely at the "level of politics and government. He cautioned of the emergence of a "tyrant State" and the "death of true freedom":
"The process which once led to discovering the idea of "human rights"-rights inherent in every person and prior to any Constitution and State legislation-is today marked by a surprising contradiction. Precisely in an age when the inviolable rights of the person are solemnly proclaimed and the value of life is publicly affirmed, the very right to life is being denied or trampled upon, especially at the more significant moments of existence: the moment of birth and the moment of death - the original and inalienable right to life is questioned or denied on the basis of a parliamentary vote or the will of one part of the people-even if it is the majority."
"This is the sinister result of a relativism which reigns unopposed: the "right" ceases to be such, because it is no longer firmly founded on the inviolable dignity of the person, but is made subject to the will of the stronger part. In this way democracy, contradicting its own principles, effectively moves towards a form of totalitarianism.
"The State is no longer the "common home" where all can live together on the basis of principles of fundamental equality, but is transformed into a tyrant State, which arrogates to itself the right to dispose of the life of the weakest and most defenseless members, from the unborn child to the elderly, in the name of a public interest which is really nothing but the interest of one part".
No matter how diverse the American founders were in their religious convictions, or even lack thereof, they all affirmed the self evident truths the Declaration proclaimed and recognized that the unalienable rights which flowed from them were given not by civil government but endowed by the Creator. The implication is obvious; they could not be taken away by civil government either.
On April 18, 2005, in a homily preceding his selection as the Successor of Peter, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger asked a probing question and shared a prophetic insight: "How many winds of doctrine have we known in recent decades, how many ideological currents, how many ways of thinking?"
"The small boat of the thought of many Christians has often been tossed about by these waves - flung from one extreme to another: from Marxism to liberalism, even to libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism; from atheism to a vague religious mysticism; from agnosticism to syncretism and so forth. Every day new sects spring up, and what St Paul says about human deception and the trickery that strives to entice people into error (cf. Eph 4: 14) comes true".
"Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be "tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine", seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one's own ego and desires".
In May of 2005, when he took possession of the Cathedral of the Bishop of Rome, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, he explained the Petrine mission: "Peter expressed in the first place, on behalf of the apostles, the profession of faith: 'You are the Christ, the son of the living God.' This is the task of all the Successors of Peter -- to be the guide in the profession of faith in Christ, the son of the living God."
"This teaching authority frightens many men within and outside the Church. They wonder if it is not a threat to the freedom of conscience, if it is not a presumption that is opposed to freedom of thought. It is not so..The power conferred by Christ to Peter and his Successors is, in the absolute sense, a mandate to serve."
The Catholic Church has a vital task in this hour. She must point the way to authentic human freedom in a world deluded by a multitude of counterfeits and competing claims. She offers authoritative teaching concerning the existence of self evident truths in an age which insists there are no truths at all.
To make such a claim is not politically correct in a culture which has adopted the notion that there are no objective truths. According to Pope Benedict, freedom was Blessed John Paul II's mission, "when, in face of all attempts, apparently benevolent, in the face of erroneous interpretations of freedom, he underlined in an unequivocal way the inviolability of the human being, the inviolability of human life, from its conception until natural death."
Now it is Pope Benedict's mission - and he needs our help.
Catholics are the champions of freedom in an age rushing toward a new form of slavery. The work of exposing the "erroneous interpretations of freedom" and proclaiming the full truth concerning its constitutive nature is integral to the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI. In one of his seminal works entitled "Introduction to Christianity" wrote:
"One could very well describe Christianity as a philosophy of freedom." And, so it is. Philosophy deals with existential questions such as what is freedom and how it is to be exercised. This neo-pagan age has become intoxicated on the wine of a false notion of freedom as a power over others who are weaker and the "right" to do whatever one wills.
In the same homily, the Pope uttered these profound words "The freedom to kill is not true freedom, but a tyranny that reduces the human being to slavery." While they call doing what is wrong a right contemporary men and women are being bound in the chains of self delusion, atheistic materialism and nihilism. The new slavery of this age treats persons as property to be used rather than gifts to be received.
The task we have as Catholics is to proclaim a different way, the "more excellent way" that St Paul writes of in his letter to the Corinthians, the way of love. (I Cor. 12 and 13) That is the only way to authentic human freedom. The Catholic Church proclaims the words of her founder, Jesus Christ - that all men and women can "know the truth and the truth shall set you free." (John 8:32)
As sons and daughters of the Catholic Church living in America, we need to live the truth and be willing to defend it. On the day before this Nation pauses to give thanks, a defining question must be asked of all Americans: are there still self evident truths and unalienable rights?
Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for December 2013
General Intention: Victimized Children. That children who are victims of abandonment or violence may find the love and protection they need.
Missionary Intention: Prepare the Savior's Coming. That Christians, enlightened by the Word incarnate, may prepare humanity for the Savior's coming.
Keywords: Thanksgiving, American founding, Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll, Inalienable Rights, Religious liberty, marriage, family, Right to life, Self Evident Truths, Deacon Keith Fournier
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