by Alan Keyes
These days, we celebrate the Fourth of July as Independence Day. Actually, it’s the day when the first American patriots declared their decisions to break away from the people of Great Britain and stand thenceforth as the people of the United States of America. The Declaration includes, as it were, a bill of impeachment against the king of Great Britain. But it does not begin with a statement of grievances. It begins by stating the convictions, in respect of right, rights and justice, in light of which its signers concluded that the actions of the king’s government were violations of the highest Sovereign’s will, grave enough to justify the war that had already begun.
I often write and speak about the logic of the Declaration of Independence. The fact that it begins with this positive statement of conviction goes to the very heart of what I mean. Even these days, some few politicians still mouth words from the Declaration (though they almost never have the courage to do so verbatim). But logic isn’t just about the words. It’s about the orderly thinking they are meant to convey; thinking predicated on respect for the authority of the the rules of human understanding. These rules establish the form and functional meaning of the definitions, postulates and axioms that govern reasoning, and that must therefore govern the articulation of rational thought warranted by its demonstrable judgments and conclusions.
In this respect, the first premise of the Declaration of Independence is the authority of God, whose will-in-being provides the power that substantiates and informs our understanding of the whole of His creation. In respect of this understanding, the name of God refers, in the first place, to the power by which truth secures its victory over the mind of man. This victory is, at its root, the literal significance of the word “conviction” (from the Latin com-. intensive prefix + vincere “to conquer”). Obviously, it is not won by force of arms. Rather it proceeds, like the Chinese game of Go, by rational constructions of thought that leave the mind with no avenue of escape.
These days, most American politicians are likely to say that July Fourth is the day we Americans celebrate our freedom. But the document adopted on this day was, in fact, a product of deliberations that had taken place among the American people, and their forbears, for several centuries. Those deliberations often preceded or resulted from great battles, won or lost in the name of justice, right and liberty for some tribe, class or denomination. But in the years just prior to America’s Declaration of Independence, many American patriots, by reason of their faith in the justice of the Creator, saw and embraced its meaning for the whole of His creation, including all humanity.
This led them to views that look beyond human traditions, to the orderly existence of created things. That order was increasingly evident to human beings who chose to surrender to the power that rules human understanding. It impelled them down the path laid out by the rules of thought. Along the way, careful and systematic observation reveals and clarifies the systematic activity that informs all things. So, the willingness to observe and follow the logical rule by which God’s Word governs human understanding opens the mind’s eye to see the formations of power (formulas) that are, as it were, instructions, allowing us to construe being in God’s way (which is otherwise beyond our existence, much less our comprehension) according to the intention of God that preserves and respects our way of being.
In this respect, on account of the deliberative power by which God informs their understanding, human beings can deploy, in regard to their own existence, the power by which He governs their universe—using it for good (which is to say, in ways that respect the rule that encompasses the possibility of their own existence) or ill (reaching beyond those ways, to grasp at the power that lies beyond the possibility of their existence, so that what they strive to comprehend, even while being its truth, is also its end.) Isn’t this why, in the biblical account, God warns against consuming the fruits born of understanding the knowledge of good and evil? To understand that distinction one must be capable of being beyond the determinations that make existence possible. One must be capable of God’s being (being God). But God’s being is as it is, within or without existence, including of course, the existence of man.
God’s injunction against consuming what we call the “forbidden fruit” is thus the proof of His commitment to human existence, a commitment that signifies Love precisely because His being is wholesomely, absolutely perfect, in and of itself, whether we exist or not. Like His Peace, the Love of God surpasses our understanding, because He is willing to understand us before we exist, and to extend Himself for our sake, longing for us before we belong to ourselves in any way.
These days, people who pretend to be “humanists,” deeply committed to the self-realization of humanity’s supposedly infinite potential, fault America’s first patriots because they regarded government with suspicion. They were always on guard against its potential for abuse. Aside from the fact that the whole of human experience tends to justify this caution, the criticism of America’s founding generation fails to consider the countervailing significance of their faith in human liberty, rightly understood. Why were they so anxious to assume the goodwill of individuals, yet so distrustful of the notion that human governments will use the power of government for good?
Because they were a generation steeped in Christ’s understanding of the Kingdom of God and governed by the law of His Love. The aim of God’s law is to prepare and preserve the possibility of human existence – liberating humankind in the primordial and most essential sense. How can we be free in any other way unless we are first of all free in respect of the boundaries that distinguish our existence; and the bond that, by obliging us to God, substantiates and preserves the distinctive way of being by which He fulfills that existence? By nature, human law constrains. In Love, God’s law fulfills and replenishes. It imposes no constraint but to preserve the distinction that casts our existence into high relief against the background of the infinitely becoming yet unchanging being of the Creator God, from Whom it flows.
“There are more things in heaven and earth … than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” So, the character says in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.” But all such things are not more than God knows, however difficult this is to for us to conceive. Yet the leading lights of America’s founding did conceive of His knowledge, enough to act on the authority derived from the conception. Not because they were “philosopher Kings,” but because they studied to be children and siblings of the King of kings, the Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 17:14, 19:16), the God of gods (Deuteronomy 10:17, Psalms 136: 2, Daniel 2:47).
With a prudent wisdom beyond the sophistication of modern “philosophy,” they took up the challenge of devising a Constitution that would make government safe for liberty, as God gives us to understand it rightly, much as that godly understanding of liberty makes human freedom safe for the world as God makes us to know it. This is not because they were all “philosopher kings.” Rather, it’s because more than an influential few were willing to be practitioners of Christian statecraft. So, they sought to restore, through human self-government, the liberty wherewith, in Love, God makes us; and, in Truth, Christ makes us free, if only we accept to live by Their goodwill.
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