Monday, February 4, 2013

The End of America, Part I (political contemplations by an orthodox rebel)

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." -"The Declaration of Independence"

Most hot-button issues in American politics revolve around some particular thing that many accuse (amongst other things) of potentially destroying the country. Take gay marriage for instance. This is certainly a hot-button ("boiler plate," some call it) issue in this country, and the doomsday arguments have been made. They are not without their merit, mainly because they are not without logic (or historical precedent). The two main ones go something like this: since homosexuals cannot biologically or naturally breed, they cannot have children; and if they cannot have children, then they will destroy the country, because no society can survive without function family units, containing both children to be the next generation and parents who can pass on good citizenship and love of country to said next generation. Furthermore (and slightly in correlation to the previous), children in homosexual "families" are in danger of "damage"; if not spiritual or physical, than at least psychological and emotional (since they belong to a currently ostracized group). Thus is the thrust of the basic political argument(s) against gay marriage.

Unfortunately, neither one of them holds real water, not because they are not true (e.g., societies do need stable family units), but because we have found ways around their truth. For example, while it may be true that homosexual couples cannot have children biologically (i.e., the "plumbing don't fit that way"), they can and have used adoption, or (in the case of some lesbian couples) they use insemination services. Anyone who works in certain other social movements (pro-life, anti-sex trafficking, etc.) can tell you that their are plenty of children out there to adopt (and there is, apparently, also plenty of semen to go around), so anyone trying to stand against gay marriage on the grounds of social and national dissolvement has to recognize that homosexuals can form "family units" too. And as for the "damage" argument, the stories from children like this young man seem to effectively counter it. Even if he and others like him are the exception to the rule, their mere presence is enough to rob all claims of "damage" of its debatable force.

There are, of course, biblical arguments against gay marriage (and a myriad of other "social ills"), but I have come to realize that they are of no use in a political discussion in America. Again, it is not because they're not true (how could I, being a Christian, say they are not?). Rather, it's for two often overlooked reasons. First (more generally speaking), politics concerns itself with the passing cities of men while the Bible concerns itself with the eternal and coming City of God. To put it less abstractly, the Bible says things like homosexuality are bad, not because it will dissolve the nation, but because it will damage your soul. More to the point, it says that all sin is a symptom (one of many) of an already damaged soul, a soul that needs to be brought back to God through Christ. In short, it is concerned with our spiritual welfare, not our political one. As far as politics goes, all the Bible says about it can be summed as follows: (1) be a good citizen and live peaceably, (2) governments (even bad ones) are ordained by God and they (3) ought to, as far as you can, be submitted to, (4) ought to punish wrong and reward good, and (5) are always passing away.

The second reason why biblical arguments are of no use in a political discussion in America is because specifically in America, one of the safeguards for our freedom is that no one religion is allowed any kind of special weight, treatment, or consideration. All voices are to be equally valid voices, and no one is to dominate the space. Thus, the best a biblical argument can hope for is to become just one voice among many, a voice that easily gets lost (or diluted or mutated) in the onslaught of competing ideas and notions. Simply put, the very freedoms that we have and hold to be so precious are the very things that nullify the effectiveness of biblical arguments (a point I'll return to in "Part II"). If we are to remain "free," then we can never become a theocracy, no matter how sympathetic we are to its doctrines. Hence, the frustration of the "moral majority" and its adherents: playing the game by its own rules necessitates your defeat. The whole thing feels like a unbeatable cheat, a necessary evil.

It was at the end of these ponderings that I was struck by a dilemma: "Well, if all of my traditional political arguments are nullified, and if all of my precious biblical arguments are true yet easily cast aside by the system itself, then what can I say against such things? Where is the real argument against them?" Though I never really arrived at any better arguments, I nonetheless stumbled upon certain facts that stumbled me further along a certain progression of ideas that lead me to one inevitable conclusion, a conclusion that troubled me deeply. It appeared that when I spoke earlier that homosexuality (and any other sin) was merely a symptom of some deeper ill, I hardly knew the truth of what I had said. America will be destroyed. It will be dissolved. But things like gay marriage are only symptoms of the deeper dissolvant, which is America itself.

You see, America is fundamentally fragmentary in its construction. Of course, there is the idea of decentralization, i.e., the federal government is divided into three separate branches (one of which is divided further into two), and every state is a nation unto itself (with their own constitutions, laws, resources, militaries, etc.), and every city contains its own government, etc. In addition to that, however, is the fundamental premise of American "freedom". By its own basic definition, freedom is necessarily fragmentary: it is a centrifugal force, moving outward beyond all boundaries. I believe our founding fathers knew this, and that they also knew that while freedom is necessary for human happiness, no nation can survive solely on its shifting sands. There has to be a unifying factor as well, some solidifying variable that could enter the equation and allow the whole edifice to hold together and stand erect. They found their unifying factor, and its name was God.

I'm quite sure that historical reconstructionists everywhere are already gearing up the torches and pitchforks. I would humbly ask them to hold their ire for a moment and face certain facts. It may be true that the founders were not traditional Christians, that they were deists or Unitarians or else various shades of agnosticism. I grant the possibility of such a premise; I also hold that it makes no difference whatsoever. Even if they weren't all Christians (an idea I hold suspect), and even if the Bible played a minimal role in their decisions (an idea I hold as possible), the fact remains (in all their subsequent writings) that they all believed in "God," a God somewhat analogous to the Christian God (for what other God was there for white, European males?). They held that there was some absolute, all-powerful Being who ruled over all. Furthermore, this Being had a moral character that had been transmitted to us (either by holy writ or other, more deistic means) as moral conduct. It was from this God that we received our "inalienable rights," and it was to this God that our rights were to be directed. This is what would unify us: a God-centered and God-based morality. It would give our freedom focus and our nation solidarity. Now we had liberty, liberty to become better men and women with a manifest destiny to change the world for that same "better". We were free, free to follow and spread the ten commandments.

I may be oversimplifying a bit, but I am not overstating. God haunts our political structure to this day (in debates, in documents, on buildings, on currency), because He was the glue that held it all together, that kept our nation from scattering to the four-winds, that kept our fundamentally fragmentary freedom from tearing us into pieces. The principle is found in the "Declaration" itself: our inalienable rights include "Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness," both of which speak to freedom and its fragmentary power. But prior to these rights, we are told that we were "created" and "endowed" by a "Creator". In America, God must be the first premise if freedom is to be kept sane. Deistic or otherwise, a "God" of some sort must be there. What's more, if you want to "dissolve" or "destroy" the nation, then you must dissolve/destroy its unifying factor. In America, you must dissolve/destroy God.

(To be continued in "Part II")

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013


  1. I think this subject is a bit more clear-cut than you have put it here. The ideals of "America" differ from that of any other nation in the history of the human race because they are abstract ones, that relate to humanity most generally, and do not rely upon nationality per se. Ideals such as the ever-expanding frontier, freedom, human enlightenment, and yes, God, are what we are talking about here, and what we are really talking about is the human need for truth and certainty.

    To speak of the destruction of America, what you (and really most everyone else who speaks of this) are really talking about is the destruction of humanity in its current formulation, a humanity that harbors no truth.

    In this regard, there is a quote from Barry Lopez that I really like (I believe you read it already on my wall). It does very well, I think, in connecting our lived experiences in such a world to the idea of what it is to be human, and the search for meaning:

    "How is one to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in life, when one finds darkness not only in one's culture but within oneself? If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. One must live in the middle of contradiction, because if all contradiction were eliminated at once life would collapse. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light."

    The human experience is one that is lived in a state of paradox. The forces that would "destroy America" are really the same ones that would do so in the act of changing/altering/destroying our concept of what humanity is today. In understanding this, our lived existence can only make sense within a frame of mind in which one accepts responsibility for living in such a paradox, and understands the importance of their own life in how they live it.

    So, getting back to what you were saying, whether one believes in the Christian God as Truth or not, it is easy for all to see how the world falls apart when you take away the unifying abstraction. To paraphrase another, truth in life is love and power, and no man has both in an absolute sense.

  2. This post reminds me of Richard Weaver.
    "It has been remarked that when one passes among the patients of the psychiatric ward, he encounters among the several sufferers every aspect of normal personality in morbid exaggeration. … As one passes through the modern centers of enterprise and of higher learning, he is met with similar autonomies of development. … The scientist, the technician, the scholar, who have left the One for the Many are puffed up with vanity over their ability to describe precisely some minute portion of the world. Men so obsessed with fragments can no more be reasoned with than other psychotics."

  3. Yours reminds me of another similar quote, from Chesterton's Orthodoxy:

    "Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Supermen. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums. ... That drunken poet from whom you would not take a dreary tragedy, he believed in himself. That elderly minister with an epic from whom you were hiding in a back room, he believed in himself. If you consulted your business experience instead of your ugly individualistic philosophy, you would know that believing in himself is one of the commonest signs of a rotter. Actors who can't act believe in themselves; and debtors who won't pay. It would be much truer to say that [man] will certainly fail, because he believes in himself."

  4. Anon 1:

    You're addressing a more general premise; I'm taking that premise and applying it specifically to one nation. So...I agree with you, and you with me, and that's cool.


    Is that from Ideas Have Consequences? I liked that book a lot.

    Anon 2:

    That is my absolute favorite Chesterton book. I've read it around five times.