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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Foundation of a Free Society?

The Foundation of a Free Society?
When Alexis de Tocqueville visited the United States in the 1830’s he sought to find out what makes our nation so unique, so exceptional.  After visiting big cities and small hamlets, talking to the great and the insignificant, reading our founding documents as well as local newspapers he concluded, “America is great because she is good. If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”

Is that really true?  Is public virtue really the foundation of our free society?  What is the source of public virtue—enlightened reason?  Good feelings?  God?

In a 1948 BBC Radio broadcast of a debate between the brilliant atheist Bertrand Russell and Father Frederick Copleston regarding the basis for believing in good and evil.  Let me quote from the book, If God is Good, by Randy Alcorn, on what transpired.

               “At one point Russell said, ‘I feel that some
                things are good, and I hate the things that
                I think are bad.  I don’t say that these things
                are good because they participate in the
                Divine goodness.’”

               “Copleston asked him, ‘So you distinguish
                good and bad by what faculty?’”

               “Russell responded, ‘By my feelings.’”

               “Copleston pointed out that Hitler—his
                atrocities fresh in everyone’s mind—did
                what felt good to him.”

Clearly, when it comes to making moral or ethical judgments our feelings fail us.  Just because something feels right for me, it may not feel right for you.  Thus there is no absolute truth about right and wrong.  But what if your different views include lying, stealing, cheating, or even murder?  Should we base the laws and mores of our society on the feelings of a majority of our citizens?  Without any fixed moral standards such a course would surely lead to disaster.

Neither can we rely on nature to tell us what is right and what is wrong.  In nature it is the survival of the fittest.  The Lion doesn’t care about the well-being of the lamb.  There is no mercy in his vicious attack.
Alcorn says, “Atheists believe that some things are right and others wrong and conclude that their doing so proves they can be good without God.  But their logic doesn’t hold.”  And finally, “Choosing moral behaviors because they make you feel happy can make sense, in a Bertrand Russell/Sam Harris sort of way, but what if it makes you happy to torture animals or kill Jews or steal from your employer?”

Doing what feels good or using nature as a guide leads to inhuman behavior, callousness, and corruption beyond our comprehension.

Politics doesn’t provide an answer.  While I strongly believe that limited government, maximum individual freedom, equal justice, and free markets are the best for everyone, they are not the foundation of our society, the glue that holds everything together.  Faith in God and our striving to do His will and obey His word provide the foundation which underpins a free society.  It is this moral consensus that has made America the unique and great nation that is envied by the world.  Our generosity, our compassion, our good will has been the foundation upon which the greatest nation in the history of the world has been fixed.  And all these virtues stem from our faith in God as the creator, redeemer and sanctifier of our life.

Political victory is often important, yet it is a short term solution.  If the citizens of our land continue to stray from God, our love of freedom, virtue and justice will vanish.  Nothing short of spiritual renewal will restore freedom and virtue in our land.  That is the America I hope to pass along to my children and my grandchildren.  But, as Patrick Henry said in his last will and testament, “This is all the inheritance I give to my dear family. The religion of Christ will give them one which will make them rich indeed.”

Henry had it right.

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