In his introduction to The Screwtape Letters, a work exposing the unseen spiritual warfare taking place around us through a series of letters between two demons – the older Screwtape, an instructor, and the younger student named Wormwood – CS Lewis wrote:
There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.
There is a way in which this insight can be applied to contemporary politics and our own political involvement.
The temptation in our current situation is to fall into two separate approaches, both of which can lead us to error. One is to completely retreat from that area of culture and social responsibility referred to as politics.
The other, is to pursue the path of the modern zealot or utopian and believe that politics alone can effect enduring change in the hearts of people and thus in the broader culture.
To paraphrase Lewis, The devils, so clearly active in the current political climate, “hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight.”
In 1947, C.S. Lewis addressed the decline of his beloved Britain in an insightful book entitled “The Abolition of Man: How Education Develops Man’s Sense of Morality.” He warned of the subjective and relativistic trends in the British educational system of the time. He reasserted the timeless moral truths of Christianity as the solution.
Lewis called for a return to the Christian vision of the human person and the cultivation of virtues as the path to true human flourishing and freedom. He defined what he called “the chest” in this work as the “higher emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments or character.” He wrote that without this “chest”, men and women devolve into self-idolatry, losing their human dignity and true freedom.
His words were prophetic.
We live in a Nation, the United States of America, which is increasingly led by men and women without chests. Many of them serve in public office, from both major political parties. Others occupy judicial benches at every level. We are suffering under their poor leadership.
However, this is no time to retreat from politics. We must change it.
It is time for a New Political Movement for the REAL Common Good.
The reason for the crisis we face was expressed by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the recipient of the Templeton prize in 1983 – Men Have Forgotten God.
The mistaken idea that the exercise of freedom can ever be divorced from the moral norms we need to govern our behavior is simply wrong. It will never promote the true common good. Oh, it may use the phrase, common good, but it has absolutely no relationship to the REAL Common Good.
We must openly, and without apology, reject the claim that one can separate moral issues from economic, social, or international issues. There is a moral basis to every social and economic and international concern.
There is a Natural Moral Law which can be known by all men and women because it is written on the human heart. It can be discerned through the exercise of reason. It must also inform every aspect of our life together.
The existence of such a Natural Moral Law is the ground upon which every great civilization has been built. This Natural Moral Law gives us the norms with which we can build a truly free society and govern ourselves. It must also inform the positive or civil law of our Nation or we become lawless and risk devolving into anarchy.
The American founders spoke of the pursuit of happiness with reference to an understanding of virtue as a key to living a happy life. They presupposed such virtue as a necessary component of human freedom.
They did not put forth a governing vision which promised happiness from the government. Rather, they proposed a social and economic order which could provide the best environment for men and women to pursue happiness themselves and expand its promise for others.
The struggle we face in this hour involves a rejection of the roots which informed our worldview and once enabled us to rise to greatness as a Nation. What we need is a recovery of the classical Jewish and Christian social vision which influenced the American founders, whether they were religious or not.
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) warned of the emergence of a Dictatorship of Relativism in our day. Relativism is a philosophy which, in effect, denies the existence of any objective truths. The notion that “your truth” is as good as “my truth” is a recipe for anarchy and moral collapse. We are living under its cloud and reaping the whirlwind.
Morally based positions are not simply religious. They are based upon the acknowledgement of the existence of a Natural Moral Law which can be known by all men and women through the exercise of reason.
Acknowledging the existence of such a Natural Moral Law, and seeking to conform to it, is the ground upon which every great civilization has been built. It is also the source of every great and authentic human and civil rights movement.
We now rightly honor the life and legacy of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the evangelical protestant minister and a heroic champion of human rights. His Letter from a Birmingham Jail was an example of how reliance on the Natural Moral Law is the ground of true freedom. Dr King wrote from jail:
There are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.”
To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.
The Natural Moral Law gives us norms to build a society and govern ourselves. It must inform the positive law of a Nation or that Nation becomes lawless and devolves into anarchy. Our greatest challenge in the United States of America is a moral challenge.
We need men and women to run for office and govern who are unafraid to acknowledge this fact, and can actually begin the long term process of dealing with it. The American founders were not all Christians, or even religious, but they all acknowledged the existence of a common morality rooted in a Natural Moral Law, which formed the foundation of our national polity.
We need men and women to run for office who do the same.
It is time for an unaligned political action movement which asserts its influence in the political arena without being beholden to either major party. I offer four pillars or principles which I propose could lead to the formation of such a movement for the REAL Common Good; life, family, freedom and solidarity.
We must affirm without reservation that there is a hierarchy, or proper ordering of human rights, which begins with the first Right, the Right to Life. When there is no recognition of a preeminent right to life, there follows an erosion of the infrastructure of all human rights.
Human rights do not exist in a vacuum; they are goods of the human person. Without the freedom to be born, there is no person to be the recipient of such rights.
Our failure to recognize that our first neighbors in the womb have a right to be born and live a full life in our community is foundational. Our denial of that right undermines our claim to be a truly free and compassionate society.
All the talk about compassion for the poor rings hollow when we fail to hear the cry of the ones whom Teresa of Calcutta rightly called the “poorest of the poor”. It rejects our obligation in solidarity to one another.
The child in the womb is our first neighbor. Medical science confirms what our conscience has long told us. We operate upon her in the womb. We send 3 and 4D ultrasound photos of him as he grows in that first home of the whole human race. We all know the truth. These children are members of our human family. It is always and everywhere wrong to kill an innocent neighbor.
The shared knowledge of what is right is the basis for our criminal justice system. We all know it is always wrong to kill an innocent neighbor. This is true even if that neighbor lives in the first home of the whole human race, their mother’s womb.
We still try to hide voluntary abortion behind Orwellian language such as choice and abortion rights in an attempt to make it sound noble, but it is barbarism. It does not free us; it enslaves us.Using the positive law of the Nation to protect it and the common treasury of a Nation to help fund it is immoral. It never serves the REAL common good.
Legalized abortion on demand is an open rejection of the entire ethic of being our brothers (and sisters) keeper and its implications. There can be no enduring lasting solidarity upon which to build a secure future in a culture that kills its own children and calls it a right.
Marriage and Family
We must defend authentic marriage as what it is, ontologically, a bond between one man and one woman, intended for life, and open to the gift of children. Marriage and family form the first vital cell of society, the first church, first school, first economy, first hospital and first government.
We must stand in solidarity to defend marriage as between one man and one woman, intended for life, and open to the gift of children.
The effort to redefine marriage out of existence by opening up the definition to include relationships which can never be marriages, threatens our future as a free, virtuous and healthy Nation. Marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of creation and relation. In the words of the first book of the Bible we read these words, “it is not good for man to be alone”. (Genesis 2:18)
Human society begins with marriage and the family. We can only be fully human – and experience human flourishing and freedom – in relationship with one another. We are by nature – and by grace – social creatures.
Marriage and family have been inscribed by the Divine Architect into the order of the universe. Marriage as between one man and one woman marriage was not somehow manufactured by the Christian Church. It precedes Christianity. Though affirmed and elevated by Christian teaching, it is not based on religion or revelation, but on the Natural Moral Law.
Marriage is the first society into which children are to be born, learn to be fully human, grow in virtue, flourish and take their role in families and communities. We must not be afraid to make the claim that children have a right to a mother and a father. They do.
Of course we must care about the single parent family and the many broken homes. However, their existence does not change the norm necessary for a stable and healthy society. In tact marriages and families are the glue of a healthy and happy social order.
Our claims concerning marriage and family are NOT some outdated notion of a past era but provide the path to a future of freedom. Our position on the objective truth about marriage spans cultures, religious traditions and centuries. In fact, it led us out of the past and secured a future of freedom and human flourishing. It will do so once again.
The recognition and implementation in law and public policy of the truth concerning marriage is the path to true progress. The current use of the word “progressive” to defend opposition to the truth about the nature of marriage is the worst kind of verbal subterfuge and has become propaganda for a new cultural order which will not lead to progress at all. .
This position on the truth about the nature of marriage and the family is not about being left or right, liberal or conservative – within the contemporary politicized use of those words. It is about right and wrong.
There is no word which echoes more passionately within the human heart than that word freedom. The United States of America was founded by men and women who experienced threats to freedom’s promise and risked everything to secure a future of true freedom.
Authentic human freedom has a moral constitution within which we both receive and must exercise our rights as individuals, families, communities and Nations. Freedom is much more than a freedom from; it is a freedom for responsible and virtuous living. The early American founders spoke of the pursuit of happiness with reference to virtue as a key to living a happy life.
We must reaffirm once again as a Nation that there is a moral foundation for a free society. We may be free to choose, but some choices are always and everywhere wrong. We know this is true because it is written on the human heart. It does not require any specific religion to reveal it or to make it obligatory. It is a part of a common morality which should form the foundation of our life together.
True freedom will only grow and flourish when we choose what is good, respecting the truth about the human person, marriage and the family and society founded upon it and what advances the real common good. It is weakened and lost when we choose against what is true and right. In fact, it results in fracturing our common bond as a free Nation.
We must insist that Religious freedom is the first freedom and cannot be denied. It ensures that the leavening role of religion and revealed truth helps us to form our conscience and shape the choices we make as individuals, families and as a truly society. Religious freedom is a fundamental human right which is under assault and we must rise to defend it.
Religious faith, religious institutions and religious speech are protected by the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution for good reason. It is a fundamental human right and serves the REAL common good. We must reaffirm and defend Religious Freedom against growing assaults on every front. We must reassert it as one of the sources of our liberty.
Solidarity Understood and Applied
Finally, we should affirm that freedom brings with it an obligation to do what is right and to care for others. We have an obligation in solidarity to one another and, in particular, to the poor in all of their manifestations. Human poverty is not limited to economic deprivation or economic scarcity.
We are our brother/sister´s keeper. The affirmation of that obligation is neither left nor right, it is human.
The current insistence in so many circles upon a division between social concerns and economic concerns presents a false dichotomy. It will never lead to increased economic opportunity and participation. Yet, expanded opportunity is a path to lifting people out of economic poverty.
The market was made for man and not man for the market. Only a moral people can ensure that a market based economy remains truly free. That is why I prefer the term free market economy. Freedom is a good of the human person. The dynamism of the economic order does not come from monetary capital – but from human capital.
The division between moral concerns and international policy is also a false one. The REAL common good presupposes that though we are citizens of our own Nation – and that identification has a priority of application – we are joined together in a common humanity which obligates us to one another.
We live in a broader network of international relations which obligates us to work with other nations to promote and defend the REAL common good of all. Of course, that will requires leaders who respect proper principles of such international relations, men and women who have moral character and courage.
New Language of Government
We need to apply the social ordering principle of subsidiarity in discharging our obligations in solidarity in the exercise and understanding of government – as well as in the economic order. This principle insists that governance should always be exercised at the lowest practicable level.
That begins with the family.
Larger governing entities must never usurp the rightful role of families and the mediating structures of society such as religious institutions, associations, charities and small self-governing structures between the family and the institutions of civil government.
The American founders constructed a system which affirmed a separation of powers, and what they called limited government, for a good reason. The founders had experienced the danger of monarchies which had usurped their authority by oppressing the people – in a top down usurping of fundamental human rights and a failure to recognize the right of the people to govern themselves.
The founders turned the governing equation upside down, asserting that government and authority moves from the people up and not from the State down. This principle was institutionalized in the American polity, but it is under a ferocious assault and we must reassert and reaffirm it.
Stat-ism and collectivism never work, whether of the rightist or the leftist version. They squelch freedom, creativity, and initiative.
They impede genuine human compassion by arrogating to the State what should be done – and is best done – by families, associations, churches and other mediating associations. The local governments and State government should support the efforts of mediating institutions and not usurp them.
The centralized state or federal government should do the same.
Not because government is intrinsically evil – it is not. We need to stop using language which sounds like we are anti-government! God governs. He has entrusted governance to us, as individuals, families and associational groupings.
Large, centralized, federalized, bloated big government is usually not very good at caring for the poor. Nor is it very efficient. Finally, history bears witness to the fact that such a governing approach can quickly devolve into tyranny by fueling large bureaucracies which lose both their focus and their soul.
The question we should ask in evaluating the exercise of governance at every level beyond the first government of the family is whether that government is ‘good’ – in the sense of efficient and effective as well as healthy and moral. That can best be assessed by considering who does the governing, where it happens and whether such governing reflects truly moral values.
The American founders carried a vision of authentic human freedom into the experiment in ordered liberty called the United States of America. They did not come up with this ennobling and enabling vision on their own. They received it from the treasury of Western civilization which is found in Christendom and its Jewish roots.
It is the reassertion of the Jewish and Christian vision of the dignity of the human person, as created in the Image of God, the primacy of marriage and the family founded upon it, and the acknowledgement of the existence of normative, fundamental moral truths, which must be reaffirmed in the United States of America.
The truths revealed by the Natural Moral Law and the influence of this vision have fueled our determined efforts to build a truly free society for all men and women. They have ensured our survival against totalitarianism of every ilk and every political persuasion. When embraced and welcomed once again, they will spark a renewal of our life together, help us to properly govern our life together and keep the flame of freedom burning in the torch of Lady Liberty.
If rejected and replaced, we will continue our path to collapse and degradation, succumbing to the various forms of tyranny which pretend to liberate but only lead to slavery. That is the current trajectory we are on as a nation. We must act, and act now.
Both major political parties in the United States of America are corrupted, tired and ineffective. Many who lead them have either forgotten or simply decided to deny that there even is a moral basis for a free society. Their leaders insist that social and economic issues are separate, proposing a form of social schizophrenia.
They are mistaken in that assertion. Just as the human person is a unity of body and soul – and the separation of the two can lead to dualism – so, in the body politic, the separation of moral truths from economic and international concerns erodes a Nations foundation and leads to collapse.
We need men and women to run for public office who are morally coherent. We need candidates who will promote authentic and responsible human freedom; not a libertinism masquerading as liberty or a selfish individualism rejecting our obligation to one another.
These candidates will need thick skin because they will face the brunt of the intolerant secularists along with the derision of some within their own political circles.
The secularist censors of the hour want any truth claims to be confined within the Walls of church buildings. That is because they disagree with our truth claims concerning the dignity of every human life and our defense of marriage and the family founded upon it. First, they claim they are only religious positions, in order to disparage those who hold them and offer them for the common good.
Then, they insist that such positions are not an appropriate subject for public policy or political discourse. They seek to prevent them from being heard. Finally, they deny the Constitutional safeguards of our cherished freedoms of speech, press, assembly and religion with a mistaken legal analysis and use the Police power of the State to silence us.
This is tyranny.
There is a difference between a secular state, a state which welcomes all religious expressions or none at all, and secular-ism, an oppressive anti-religious regime which seeks to censor out of the public forum the wonderful contributions of the Church, people of faith, and the great ideas informed by faith which have shaped the West.
It is time for a new political movement for the real Common Good.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.