Be Reasonable, Don’t Leave God Out Of It

Yesterday marked the 150th anniversary of one of the most famous presidential addresses in our country’s history, given by one of the greatest presidents we’ve ever had. Meanwhile, the Internet has exploded over President Obama’s own recitation of the address in which the words “under God” were not included.

There’s been outrage (and outrage over the outrage) on the topic, but whether or not it was Obama’s personal decision to take it out isn’t what I’m concerned about. I’m more concerned about the fact that, one way or the other, the seemingly now taboo pair of words were excluded from an address by No. 44 yet again.

Sure, those words, standing alone in this instance, don’t mean a whole lot. But the fact that this issue is even being raised, especially in light of the happenings of the last Democratic National Convention or at Obama’s second Inauguration, is cause for concern in my book.

1nation under God

Seems like America needs something settled so we can move on accordingly. Were we a nation formed under God? Or were we not? It can’t be both.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll trust the words of the guys who actually founded the country before I trust anyone else.

In George Washington’s Farewell Address in 1796, he said this:
“Let it simply be asked, Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

The men who signed the Declaration of Independence, the ones who actually agreed with the word “Creator” staying in the document instead of it being omitted, also seemed to share the same sentiment about governing.

John Adams wrote, “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

“Without morals a republic cannot subsist any length of time; they therefore who are decrying the Christian religion, whose morality is so sublime and pure (and) which insures to the good eternal happiness, are undermining the solid foundation of morals, the best security for the duration of free governments,” said Charles Carroll.

And, perhaps the most famous of all, Benjamin Franklin said shortly that “Freedom is not a gift bestowed upon us by other men, but a right that belongs to us by the laws of God and nature.”

The list goes on:

“The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind. Where, some say, is the king of America? I’ll tell you, friend, He reigns above.” – Thomas Paine

“If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instruction and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.” – Daniel Webster

I’m not saying these guys were perfect by any means (slavery, anyone?), but their sins don’t make their statements invalid. If that were true, then no words in the history of humanity could be trusted. Heck, even Pope Francis goes to confession every other week.

The next question, then, is WHY were we formed as a nation under God, and on whose authority?

My guess is that our founders saw how imperfect the rule of humans are without a standard of morals by which to live, so they turned to an Authority that literally existed outside of humanity and outside of the world we call home for a few decades.

The funny thing about authority, besides the fact that “modern” people don’t “need” it anymore, let alone adhere to it, is that it either has to all ultimately come from one place or not exist at all. For authority to actually BE authority, it has to be undisputed, and it has to come from a central source, or no authority can exist.

My belief is that authority in question is God, and, faith aside, I think that’s a pretty reasonable belief.

It’s reasonable to believe in God, because it’s reasonable to see that our world is governed by principles that exist outside of our human lives. Like a game of Telephone, if authority were something man-made, it may be passed along through generations, but put 200-some years between the origin and the present standard-bearer and things will look more than a little different. Our government is a good example of that.

Authority that was divinely inspired and thus created to be unchangeable means that there’s something carrying the torch through the centuries that doesn’t depend on humanity. Sure, things can and often do get misrepresented regarding that authority, but that’s not the point.

The point is that a divine Authority exists in order to give direction to humanity. Whether we listen to it could be considered another proof of God’s existence: the fact that we have the free will to decide.

I’m not naive enough to believe that all the Founding Fathers and every president throughout our history adhered to, or even truly believed in, the same set of religious beliefs. I know full well that they didn’t. But it’s easy to see that a true belief in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a belief that causes right action, has helped rulers, and even more so the people they are entrusted to govern, fare far better throughout history than a belief in nothing.

 

———-

Check out Facebook, too…

Quit Being So Nice All the Time

Doing things for the right reasons. One of a million other lines we hear every day is that we should do things for the “right reason”. But what is the “right reason”?

Something else said often, especially to children, is to “be nice” or to “play nice”. What exactly is “nice”? And is it the same thing as “right”?

These two words both have significance because they are used in relation most often to another person, but sometimes with regard to animals and nature as well. For the sake of clarity, I’ll stick to just people. Although both are used in relation to another person, the likeness, in my opinion, ends there. Both words, though having to do with an interaction between two people, don’t necessarily require a genuine consideration of the other person in order to be applied.

It seems that all too often, the words “right” and “nice” are lumped together and intended to mean the same thing, but where rightness is firm, niceties are hollow and trend toward something it bends over backward to avoid: cruelty.

A French Revolution parable from author Frank Sheed helps explain what I mean. When told the people had no bread, the king’s minister suggested, “Let them eat grass”, to which the king’s wife, Marie Antoinette, replied, “Why don’t they eat cake?”. Though the former was cruel and the latter was kind, Sheed noted that “men will die on a diet of cake just as they will die on a diet of grass”. Neither option could be considered a “right” choice.

The explanation of why something is right lies no further than its absolute and objective nature. There will never exist a sliver of the world where theft is “right” and the opposite is “wrong”; stealing something from another person will always be an objectively bad choice. Don’t believe me? Ask a thief how he would feel if you stole his stuff.

Which is more important?
Which is more important?

Still, so many people in the world today feel the need to argue the objectivity and absoluteness of this portion of truth, as if some level of stubbornness or a large enough portion of the population arguing for alteration could will that truth to change. A person might freely proclaim that killing a person is always wrong, but you could turn around and see the same individual advocating for a woman’s right to choose in the case of abortion over life.

In my estimation, that’s only half “right” and half wrong, but both things could be considered “nice” to do in relation to the other person.

Humanity should try to get it “right” 100% of the time before even considering what’s “nice”, but don’t take my word for it. After all, I’m a finite, human person who will die at some point in the future. After I’m gone, then what? Humanity will still be meant for more, and people will still be bound to the same moral code of “right” that existed when I was alive.

It follows that if what I say doesn’t have any impact on what’s right, and if all human persons are created equal and are to be treated intrinsically as such, then what any other human person past, present, or future says has no impact whatsoever on objective moral truth.

You can’t say the same for “nice”. Niceness is entirely based on human influence, and as a result it mirrors humanity’s flawed nature. Furthermore, all too often an overabundance of niceties without the accountability of “right” behavior compounds on itself and has the potential to create massive problems. It may be nice to tell someone that an ugly sweater looks good on them, and that someone might hear the same thing from everyone they ask, but it still doesn’t mean the person looks good in the outfit (Emperor’s New Clothes, anyone?).

Whether or not you consider the well being of another person is the key, and we’re all guilty of getting it wrong more often than we’d like to admit (for me especially). To treat a person rightly is to consider their long-term well being, while treating a person nicely is only looking at the short-term.

Am I saying that you can never be both at the same time? No. But next time the opportunity comes up, choose “right” first.

———-

Check out Facebook, too…

Who Tells the Truth These Days Anyway?

A topic that has been on my mind consistently over the past several months is the definition of truth, specifically how it pertains to society as as it exists today and how it seems to be understood in today’s culture.

I think of things like Bill Maher’s so-called documentary “Religulous”, where he traveled around to various religious sites and questioned unsuspecting tourists on the tenets of their religion. Most often addressing Christians, Maher played on each person’s lack of knowledge and “corrected” the people by telling them the “realities” behind their obviously made up religion, thereby “proving” the centuries-old Christian denominations were patently false.

Only one thing was wrong with this method: Almost all of Maher’s “facts” were, in one way or another, made up, misguided, or simply unsupported claims. Watch this video for a more in-depth explanation.

Why, then, are commentaries like those by Maher and others in contemporary society so compelling to the unsuspecting viewer/reader/listener?

The answer lies in the path we take to truth. People see someone like (insert pop culture icon here) speak, hanging on their every word, but how often do those people go elsewhere to substantiate or disprove those claims before processing them and spreading them to others? I’m not saying at all that pop culture icons are completely full of it—many very often speak truths and have done great things through their fame—and I’ll be the first to admit that a compelling speech by a person I admire deeply makes me want to shout it from the rooftops before doing some background research myself.

But it’s concerning how often a popular, albeit misguided and deeply untruthful, topic is latched onto by one person after another, then repeated often enough that it eventually passes as truth.

Maybe it’s just easier to do in our fast-moving world, where 140-character tweets and 6-second Vines reign supreme. It’s far easier to listen to a speech from President Obama and be drawn in by his skill as an orator than it is to critically think about what he’s saying, how often he’s said those same words, and how truthful those words are in actuality. It’s substantially more convenient to read articles carrying sensational headlines from the Huffington Post one after the other than it is to stop after the first one and get a well-rounded grasp of the topic.

German theologian Thomas a’ Kempis wrote in his book “The Imitation of Christ” that “our opinions and feelings often deceive us and narrow our view.” Little snippets that are repeated over and over again have an effect on our minds, whether we like them or not. Hear something in a specific tone and setting often enough, and a person is bound to give in to the pressure and believe it without any substantiation, sometimes for fear of retribution for speaking to the contrary, other times because we would cause ourselves discomfort if we swam upstream, oftentimes without even realizing we’re doing it.

Sensationalism seems to have replaced accountability in our society. No longer do people care to learn the truth, for the truth is so often uncomfortable to hear, to feel, or to believe.

As Pope Pius XII once said, “So it happens that men in such matters easily persuade themselves that what they would not like to be true is false or at least doubtful.”

How to find the truth? I thought of a few simple steps to take:

1. Think for yourself. I don’t mean the “everyone defines their own truth” kind of thinking for yourself, because that’s silly. Instead, don’t take everything you read at face value. CHALLENGE things and make them accountable through your own God-given brain and ability to think and research critically.

2. Consider the background and credibility of the source in question and compare it to the source of the subject itself when inquiring the subject’s legitimacy. For example, in a story from CNN on the the rate at which policemen eat donuts on a national scale, should you take CNN at face value, or should you ask a policeman who eats donuts before believing the story?

3. Delve deeper into the origins and history of things, then use it to further your understanding of how that thing operates. Pass over regular outlets of media and search through library archives and history books, then look beyond even those and find the sources used to write them. Chances are, the farther you go in understanding the origin of one thing, the more things you’ll end up learning about in the end.

Bottom line: Never stop learning.

It may be way easier to plop on the couch and watch season after season of Breaking Bad on Netflix (guilty), but we have brains that can think and reason FOR a reason. Sure learning the truth may be difficult, time-consuming, uncomfortable, challenging, even world-changing, but I’m a firm believer that, like Teddy Roosevelt said, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Take Your Time And Pay Attention

Humans are creatures of habit.

Now, whether that habit is good or bad is another argument entirely, but we do things in cycles and in routines that, if absent, would otherwise make our worlds spin.

That spot on the couch that you always sit at to read or watch TV.  The route you always take driving/biking/walking to work.  The way you brew your coffee in the morning, or where you walk first after getting out of bed, or what you do first when you get home from a long day at work.

All of these? They’re habits, and whether we recognize it or not, things just seem to happen that way.

Still, the things I listed are probably pretty harmless for the most part.  What inspired me to write this came from a realization of the habits in life that maybe aren’t so harmless.  I’m talking about the ones that lead to and foster a particularly damaging mindset.

Complacency.

We’ve all seen it. We all know what it looks like, whether it be in the lives of others or that of our own.  It’s the New England Patriots riding an undefeated season into the 2008 Super Bowl, where absolutely everyone expected them to win.  It’s Margaret Thatcher in her early years as Britain’s prime minister.  The inability to stay focused on what’s important and not taking the value of diligence for granted is just as vital the 10,000th time we do something as it is the first time.

Our fast-paced, instant gratification style of life these days is only making it worse.  Our boredom with anything that doesn’t have a screen, among other things, has had an impact on the diligence with which projects are put together and, inevitably, the patience and attention span people have for things outside of the realm of technology.  This isn’t to say that technology is robbing people entirely of compassion or their capability to think of and accomplish new things, but society’s capacity to take its time putting together well-thought-out projects seems to be slipping.

It’s what seems to have happened with this whole Obamacare debacle. When universal healthcare became a hot-button issue a few years ago, the government  hurried to put together a plan to fill that supposed need.  But what’s better, a shoddily compiled plan or an intricate and well-designed one that maybe took a few years longer?  Or, if the latter was just not possible after exploration and some investment, is the shoddy plan still better, or would it be better to not have one?  I’d put my answer on the second of the two in both questions, but that’s not my point.

It bugs me that there’s so many more “reactionaries” today than there are those who think about whatever project, dilemma, thing that’s in front of them.  It bothers me even more that (from my own experiences) the current generation seems almost predisposed to this attitude.  Am I saying every person in the world today is guilty of this?  Of course not.  Are there still great ideas and programs and projects being devised today? Absolutely.  It’s just the trend that’s bothersome, especially among people my own age and younger.

I’m only now starting to finally take a step back from all the technology and, among other things, breathe again on a regular basis.  It’s remarkably enlightening to let my intellect come up for air by reading a book written hundreds of years ago on something other than a backlit computer screen, and I’m finally starting to see the value in letting my future children come from the womb and NOT handing them an iPad to entertain themselves.  I’m thankful for the realization that an attraction to technology, gone unchecked, only leads to a dependence on it.

So, what’s the point?  We’re creatures of habit, sure. But is habit an inherently bad thing?  Mindless habits, sure, but a conscious occurrence where the person is always seeking to better themselves through a willed decision? No way.

Don’t get complacent, and start a new habit.