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George Washington Praying at Vally Forge

A Nation Formed by Something More than Power


When I first ran for political office I remember being told by some GOP-recommended “political consultant” that during a political campaign there was no time to waste trying to use reasonable, common sense arguments to persuade people. You had to find out where they were, and say and do what would get them to vote for you.

This was said with the sort of contemptuous vehemence one uses to shame a neophyte into accepting as unquestionable the judgment of people who “know what they’re doing.” It was one of the things that put me off of so-called “political consultants”. (That and the fellow who told me that his wife thought I should “lose the beard.” I told him my wife liked it just fine.)

As I watch the degenerate tenor of the presently ongoing campaign for the GOP’s nomination for President, I can’t help but think that, as a nation, we are being force-fed the vile smelling fruit of that consultant’s manipulative way of thinking. Once you toss out persuasion, what’s left is pure manipulation. What’s left is also an ever more unbridled abuse of anything available that is likely to pull people in your direction, or draw them away from your opponent. It doesn’t matter whether what you say is true or false. It doesn’t matter whether the passions you arouse are, in consequence, just or unjust, good or bad.

So long as they move people the way you want them to move in the time left to influence them before they vote, anything goes. As I noted recently, this is the way of thinking that has Ben Carson endorsing Donald Trump, while shamelessly wiping away the spittle of Trump’s campaign of deceitful slurs against him with the remark “It worked.”, or words to that effect. To succeed is all that matters. Which is just another way of saying that forceful power is all that matters.

But if such power is all that matters, the notion that “all men are created equal” is a lie disproven by the whole of human experience. If superior power is all that matters, then the notion that a God-endowed understanding of right puts all human beings under an equal obligation to do right is a lie. It is proven to be such every time well-armed thugs – too strong to be bothered by that unarmed prophet, conscience—lie, cheat, and physically or verbally intimidate their way to mastery over decent people.

For better or worse, conscience makes decent folks hesitate before returning the favors of the wicked, in kind. But it also immunizes them against the worst harm evil can inflict upon its enemies, which is precisely to induce them to fight in ways that allows it to reproduce itself within them. Thinking to defeat it the un-inoculated practice the rites that worship it, generally prescribed by the exigencies of power.

Power worship is not supposed to prescribe the rites that express the character of the American people. We are supposed to look to rights that God endows for all, if only they will do what’s right by their humanity, which He ordains. This view of rights, equally available to all, is the bedrock foundation of our way of life., It gives to those who fulfill its one condition the leeway to go as far as their thus proven good will may take them. Provided, of course, that they allow the same leeway to others.

Obviously, this isn’t the freedom to do anything you please, provided you have the power to back it up. It’s the freedom to do all that is complaisant to God-endowed humanity; all that serves and preserves our good selves and the community of good will formed by those who join in doing likewise (being mindful that our use of “good”, in this respect, is not mere vanity.)

Though on a few rare occasions people come along who preserve the common good of humanity almost perfectly—in all they say, do and even think upon—most of us fall rather short of such perfection. But the equal human right all human beings are heir to, isn’t about being perfect. It’s about seeking perfection; and therefore acknowledging the possibility of doing better, made known to us— by God! —within. This, His endowment of conscience, helps us keep progress in view, even when doing so forces us to admit that we aren’t making any.

Here we come to the great divide that threatens to unknit the once healed union of the American people. When the nation began, the standard of right its Founders evoked was the one Christ Jesus raised, when he said “Be ye perfect, even is your Father in Heaven is perfect.” But these days, we are told (as if it’s something new) that not everyone believes in God and Jesus Christ. All kinds of folks have gathered here—some who believe in many gods, others in no God at all.

To be sure, the American people now includes people who practice many rites, without a common sense of which is right. It also includes people who believe in nothing but their own pleasure, ambition, passion or compassion as the rule and guide for action. It reflects the grand diversity of soulful, soulless, solitary and multitudinous humanity—with an inclusiveness that is part of what our nation is all about.

But the only reason our union of increasingly diverse humanity has come this far, through times that both sullied and illumined our common hope for dignity and justice, is the Founding premises of the community to which this great diversity was drawn. Those premises offered everyone who came an equal chance to prove that they could strengthen and raise themselves up, in respect of a standard of right and justice that all who were willing to extend it to others could strive to attain for themselves.

Of course, this was never done without great effort, including lifelong and even life-extinguishing sacrifice. As in every place and time on earth, people of goodwill who labored to build their lives in these United States, had to live with and among people whose only will was for their own advantage, achieved by any and all means necessary. What was exceptional about the American way of life was not that the promise of justice was always kept, or even generously offered. What was exceptional was that that promise was on the record. It was, as it were engraved, upon the foundation stone of our very existence as a nation. That record proclaimed that it was not a promise made exclusively, to this or that particular human tribe or race. It was made to all of human nature, even as the figurative hand and actual will of God introduces us to the world.

The self-contradiction of our benighted times involves the absurd belief that we shall sustain this precursory union of humanity even though we deny the more than human Being which made and keeps us fit to compose it. The further down this foolish path we trod, the more we fall away from the promise that was our true opportunity for greatness. For it is a promise made for us by God—on our behalf but also for our good. We are bound to keep it, but only so long as we refuse to default on the surety of faith that heretofore has kept us on the path toward its fulfillment.

But we are defaulting now. The proof is in the silent screams of our posterity, perishing by hands meant to preserve them. The proof is in the raucous voices that purport to defend our nationhood, yet seem purposed to forget that the whole of humanity is included in our vocation. It is the name we have answered to when visited by peril, tragedy, hope, or joy.

We have gathered, as it were, the strands of that humanity, not as a woven garment that covers us without, but as a helical stairway, unwinding itself within, that leads us from the peoples we have been toward the people we are becoming and shall become—in which humanity comes to itself all the more clearly because what we have made as good individuals remains, in various ways, extant. It informs our common spirit, our common truth, our common sense of right. It makes of us a nation, distinguished in our own very human way, by our remembrance of the Creator, God; whom, when brought into a certain light, we more than incidentally resemble.


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