Abraham Lincoln was right when he evoked “the proposition that all men are created equal” as a necessary prerequisite for what he described as “government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Regrettably, though “equality” has become a byword in the discussion of political justice in the United States, the very idea of creation has been systematically hunted down and driven from the political arena. It has been stigmatized as a religious imposition that violates what is alleged to be the U.S. Constitution’s demand for “the separation of Church and State”.
Of course, no such requirement is imposed by any provision of the Constitution. The closest it comes is the language of Article VI, which states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” But this language is precisely intended to make sure that no one will be excluded or hounded from such an official position in the U.S. government simply on account of the tenets of their religion. How can this be construed to prohibit the conjunction of church and state? To the contrary, it assures, in effect, that no person will ever be excluded from government service simply on account of the religious congregation (church) in which they profess to participate.
Now consider what it is that constitutes the union in which the people of the United States gather together (congregate) as one nation, one people, despite all the different nationalities (separate and distinct peoples) from which they derive? It obviously can be neither our common ancestry and/or physical appearance (race); nor our native languages or long held tribal customs. Nor can it can be the mere fact that we have come together in the same place. To the contrary, the competition for territory and/or for the opportunity to exploit the physical or human resources our situation happens to offer, has been and remains a source of passionate, even violent, conflict.
We find evidence for this, in the past, in the land use wars among cattle ranchers, or between ranchers and sheep herders. We find it, in the past and at present, in the murderous competition among gangs in the ethnically diverse neighborhoods of our urban conglomerates. It also appears, now and in the past, in the form of conflicts over water and grazing rights, mining claims, drilling rights and land use.
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What is it then that makes of us one nation? From the beginning, it has been more a moral than a material union. As a matter of conscious choice, the cause of our union it has been our adherence to a certain understanding of justice which reflects our understanding of the origin and way of being all human beings have in common. Though the American Revolution began in the name of right as defined by a particular nation (“the rights of Englishmen”), the people of the United States emerged as such in the name of right as defined by the Creator, for all who bear the title of humanity.
In respect of this premise of justice, the people of the United States are, as it were, a religious congregation. Our acknowledgement of right and justice for all, as defined and promulgated by the authority of the Creator, is the tenet that makes of us one people, one nation- not just on the earth or under the Sun and stars, but under God, who made and set them all in motion. In this sense, we cannot separate our national creed from our national state or condition without destroying the very foundation of the way of life we have in common.
As Lincoln understood, the fact that some people insisted on imperiously maintaining a way of life that rejected this tenet of our congregation as one people (our union), made them the efficient cause of the first Civil War. The way of life they sought to maintain (the regime of master and slave) was the formal cause of that conflict. Since the union was predicated upon a regime of government by consent, rather than enslavement, this formal cause subverted the very foundation of the union, and the Constitution devised to perfect it. The economic implications of this constitutional subversion made it the formal cause of the first Civil war. For the premise of human natural equality that made slavery an injustice was the moral tie that effectively brought Americans together as human beings, in respect of a common origin in the Being and will of the Creator, God.
Because some insisted on disparaging this common heritage, and others conscientiously resented that disparagement, those who had been, as it were, brothers and sisters by virtue of their common humanity, were set to oppose one another. This disrupted America’s households, and sundered the communities in which Americans came together to secure justice, as well as the blessings good people may derive from exercising the unalienable right of liberty.
Though many of us are still loath to admit it, America is now engaged in a new Civil War. It threatens consequences as dire as the last, but more likely than before to fall upon us. It is more likely precisely because so many Americans who profess to be of good faith continue to shut their eyes to the reality of the ongoing conflict. Their blindness persists because they have fallen prey to the fatal lie that denies the moral, spiritual, and therefore religious character of our identity as a people. We may not all of us practice the same rituals or acknowledge in our particular lives the same meaning for divinity. But as a people we must uphold the premise that is the reason for our existence, or as a people we must perish as that reason perishes.
Our danger reminds me of that species of nuclear weapon that kills people but leaves most of their buildings standing. What destruction that they can or will not see erases their common life. But in our present crisis as a nation, that common life is what really matters. It is the stuff that makes us who and what we are as one people. We live now as individuals, at ground zero in the path of the ongoing destruction of our nation. Indeed, as a nation, we may already be dead and gone. Like the zombies so in vogue in the programming we mistake for entertainment, we are still moving things, even though we have become inanimate. With pointless intensity, we still calculate the profits we may derive from specious promises of new worlds to come, but in doing so we stubbornly remain oblivious to the truth those profits will be achieved at the cast of dissolving the union that fulfills our promise as a people, which is to be the nation, under God, that represents humanity itself.
The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.