Were the Founders Counter Cultural or Do We Have it Wrong?
Written by: John Kenyon, COO
Recently, a conversation concerning absolutes brought back memories of a class I taught as a chaplain several years ago. In teaching the class and seeking to establish that there are absolutes, I wrote the following math problem on the board: 2+2= and asked what the answer was. An individual realized what I was doing and claimed the answer was three. I then stated, “I want to do business with you, because I am going to get rich if you really believe the answer is three.” Later, a friend told me a better response would have been to ask if the young man had flown in a plane when he reported to that duty station. The reason being that his safety was very much predicated upon the pilot’s ability to compute correctly; his very life depended upon that absolute. As a former aviator, I know a math error can be the difference between a successful flight and one that ends in disaster.
The rhetoric of our day is to emphatically state the mantra, “We will define what is true and what is false.” The cry of the messenger heard in the streets is “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us,” for we will not be bound by the absolute. Often, these individuals who bow the knee only to themselves will proclaim, “There is no absolute truth”. The Providence Forum’s president, Dr. Lillback has often stated the question that then needs to be asked should be, “Is your statement true?” The argument is self-defeating and implodes upon itself; the claim “there is no absolute truth” is a statement that establishes an absolute which nullifies the very statement itself.
This brings me to the point of this blog concerning the Declaration of Independence and the recent celebration commemorating our 242 years as an independent nation. We relished the day off from work, enjoyed the food and friends, and marveled at the fireworks display that lit up the night. Yet, did we stop to think about the importance of that document that ratified the intentions of our representative delegates gathered in Philadelphia in the year 1776? Do those who proclaim “there are no absolutes” realize that our founders proclaimed absolutes as they penned the document that established this nation?
One does not have to look far to find those absolutes. The delegates would ratify the Declaration that stated, “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men … are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” The definition of unalienable is “not capable of being taken away or denied” and modifies “rights” whose definition is “that which is due to anyone by just claim, legal guarantees, or moral principles”. The framers believed their Creator had given man certain rights not capable of being taken away. This is not an isolated thought, as earlier in the Declaration they spoke of the right of a people to a “separate and equal station” established by “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God”. It is also clear their appeal to the cause of liberty was not upon the shifting whims of man but instead was an appeal “to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions”. They declared the course of action embarked upon was “with a firm reliance” in “the protection of divine Providence” for the justification and “the support of this Declaration”. They appealed to an absolute as they established the foundation of the nation.
Why is this important? The reality of absolutes is all around us. The absolute of gravity becomes obvious when one stands on the edge of the Grand Canyon. One false step brings lethal consequences even if the individual emphatically denies that gravity is only a concept and not absolute reality. Another way of showing this comes from another encounter I had with an individual (anthropologist) who was lamenting that our military operations were affecting and changing the cultures of those nations where our forces were fighting the war on terrorism. I responded by asking if the American culture, seen 50 years ago was still the same today. The answer was that it had changed. I then said his premise of it being wrong that a culture is changed could only be true if there was an objective standard that it could appeal to. There must be a standard that allows us to distinguish between right and wrong. If this is not the case then the adage of “might makes right” applies. It is survival of the fittest, or the strongest, or the most powerful that establishes the correctness of something. The condemnation of Nazi Germany is not because they lost the war, but because there is a higher standard given by God that condemns genocide.
The founders understood that an absolute was critical for establishing a nation and for its wellbeing. Their efforts created the richest nation in the world that allowed all its citizens an opportunity to better themselves. It is vital we acknowledge that abuses of power were, are, and will ever be present in our nation. That man can be corrupted was also an absolute understood by the founders, and checks and balances were put in place to provide the mechanism to combat that reality. These absolutes allowed the nation to move forward, correct where it had fallen short, and thrive.
Yet, now we proclaim there are no more absolutes, and man is the master. It is upon this foundation many believe a brave new world will be established. An interesting dynamic is that our national motto of “E pluribus unum: Out of many one” seems now only a distant memory, as our nation is fracturing across many political and cultural fault lines. The fallout of this thinking is well established in the history of the collapse of the USSR and in the present crisis that has enveloped Venezuela.
What is the application of this? Every Lord’s Day, as people of faith, we gather on the absolutes of what Christ has done for us. We must never lose sight of that because if we do, we lose our spiritual foundation, and great will be our destruction. Jesus taught this in the parable of the house built upon sand and the other on a rock. Likewise, as we walk in faith, we must never lose sight of the absolutes upon which this nation was founded. We must look to the founders (flawed men) who understood that because of those flaws, absolutes must be foundational to ensure “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.