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….
Declaration of Independence
July 4, 1776
These are pretty familiar words to many of us, hopefully all of us. They are especially timely given the July 4th Holiday. I’m certainly no Constitutional lawyer or an expert on American history. Certainly the Founding Fathers were not all Christians. Many were Deist – recognizing “God” (as Creator, in some manner) but not necessarily Jesus Christ as Savior and Messiah. Even today, the United States is noted for being a religious (and in current terminology, a spiritual) nation. Belief in God is still prevalent. Yet I wonder, however, to what extent we as a united people truly understand ourselves, as a norm, as subject to the Creator (capital “C”). Identity politics, victim language, and exertion of rights today across the spectrum tends to be more rooted in a sense of self-creation and self-will. In this sense, roles are reversed. Self-created creatures subjugate the Creator to our desires and whims, rather than recognizing a proper ordering of our desires and whims to the Loving Will of a Creating God. The desire to will what ‘one wants to be true’ is partnered with an intolerance of anyone who points out the Truth given by the Creator, whether wanted or willed, or not.
I wonder what, if any, ‘self-evident truths’ we could all agree upon today as a nation. Certainly laws of nature (chemistry, physics, thermodynamics, etc) would be held in common. But that is not the kind of ‘self-evident truths’ to which the framers of the Declaration really had in mind. They thought there really are eternal, universal, philosophical, epistemological truths that were attainable, graspable, and communicable among all peoples. I would certainly agree. For there are Eternal Truths that express reality as created by the Creator God. We do ourselves a disservice as a people when we set aside such ‘self-evident truths.’ More than a disservice really. It is a kind of self-imposed violence and self-harm to reject such deep self-evident truths about the dignity, purpose, and reality of creation – our creation as human persons made in the image and likeness of our Creator God.
As Catholic Christians, in particular, we of course recognize the innate dignity of every human person from conception to natural death, and have always done so. Even the earliest first century Christian texts speak of tending to the sick & dying as well as the horror & sinfulness of abortion & ‘exposure’ of newborns. And while first century Christians did not understand biology as we do today, they recognized a life created equal to all others from the first moments they could understand a child to be present, within the limits of their knowledge. It has not been lived out perfectly, yet early Christians had a much greater understanding of the equality of men and women than the greater culture or cultures it encountered and evangelized. And so should we still today!
Rights language, in general, was not the language of the Church, for the vast majority of Her history. We tended to speak in terms of virtue & vice (the perfection/deformation of our true received nature), moral duty to God & neighbor, and Natural Law (the intended inner working and purpose of created nature according to God’s plan, which includes laws of nature but are not their equivalent). The Creator created and saw that all was good, yet our creation is not perfect. We creatures have distorted it, and continue to distort it still, through our sinfulness, our refusal to acknowledge and live by the Creator’s plan. We seem culturally slow to acknowledge this. This failure to recognize, at its heart, leads to a failure to recognize a need for a Lord and Savior. And in turn, often means a subtle loss of understanding of our shared humanity as needing to be redeemed & assisted in its sinful & broken state. We can’t save ourselves, nor are we innately perfect, even while we are innately loved and lovable. This confusion hampers our response to the real challenges humanity faces. We can easily give into hubris that we are enough. We aren’t. We need God. We need His Law. We need His Forgiveness. And apart from our Creator, even the pursuit of Life, Liberty, and Happiness will be impossible.
Holy Family, Pray for us.
~ Fr Jeremy M. Gries