“God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the Gift of God?”
— Thomas Jefferson, “Notes on the State of Virginia,” 1781
It’s a good thing to be “out of step with the times” if the times you live in have been so intellectually disconnected from the safety of the known historical trail that you’re being led toward a particularly dark and dangerous future. As we settle into that rarefied space in time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, suspended between the thoughts of the birth of America and the birth of Jesus, we’re offered a unique opportunity to reflect on just how we come to be so blessed, practically and spiritually speaking. The Founders believed the grace of God to be the source of all goodness, which connected us logically to the adoption of Natural Law Theory as our primary philosophical compass, the great ideas which are its essential components: rationalism, separation of church and state, the rule of law, equality before the law, freedom of conscience and expression, inalienable human rights, etc., etc. … being unprecedented in history. [Warraq, Western Values]
As an idea Natural Law theory dates back to Aristotle. In its simplest form it is the belief that the idea of “right and wrong” is known to all mankind in a universal sense. Moses writes in the Book of Deuteronomy: “The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.” Paul writes to the Romans: “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness ...” Thomas Aquinas writes in the 13th century that the law which governs our behavior is “the eternal law,” God being its “entirety,” and so we see a kind of “legal” connection to God even as it expresses itself to us today, extant for millennia.
In “The Abolition of Man,” however, Christian author and Oxford University professor, C.S. Lewis, warns that although there was a time when no thinking person would question the rightness of natural law theory, “the modern view was very different.” He explains that a break from natural law means a likely return to a dangerous case of “the few” ruling over “the many” however they please: “For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means the power of some men to make other men what THEY please.” And he does not mince his words concerning the process he believes such a break would entail: “The process that, if not checked, will abolish Man … goes on. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany: ‘Traditional values are to be debunked’ and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will … of some few …”
In the view of the Founding Fathers, the outworking of the Natural Law allows for the dispensation of God’s divine will from Heaven to be apprehended by mankind and that without it we subject ourselves to the possibility of being formed into the image of power-hungry humans rather than a loving God. So who is the “true progressive,” exactly? As professor Lewis explains: “Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turn, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road.” [“Mere Christianity”]
If memory is identity, who or what are we without the gifts that Thanksgiving and Christmas bestow upon us? Like George Bailey in “It’s A Wonderful Life,” if in the paraphrased words of Joni Mitchell: We won’t know what we’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Without historical precedent, life’s just a big yellow taxi. Paradise? A parking lot. It’s good to be out of step with that which is lost.
Hennessy, of Geneva, has studied the Bible under both Jewish and Christian teachers and received training as a Holocaust educator by staff from the Int’l School of Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem, Israel, the Anti-Defamation League and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. He is author of the book, “Remembrance & Repentance: The Call to Remember and Memorialize the Holocaust.” Email him at danielhen firstname.lastname@example.org.