Archive for the ‘ The Historical Muse ’ Category

Self-Evident Truths & Inalienable Rights

When the Founders declared independence, they debated the document that Jefferson drafted. All the debate centered around the specific charges against the king. No one raised any objections or questions about the opening paragraphs.

The second paragraph, in particular, spoke of self-evident truths—beliefs that everyone in the room held to without needing some type of external evidence to bolster those beliefs. Self-evident truths are obvious; they are implanted by God Himself in each person. The Founders identified at least three self-evident rights that people possess: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These were granted by God; therefore, government could not take them away arbitrarily. That’s why they are called inalienable. Yes, someone may lose all three, dependent on his behavior [murdering another person means you may have your life taken from you by the state; theft may result in your imprisonment, which would also impact any pursuit of happiness]. But the state cannot take these away without a sound reason.

That paragraph does say that these are not necessarily the only inalienable rights God gives; it says that they are “among” the rights. So that leaves the door open to other inalienable rights that may be self-evident as well. What those other rights might be must be understood within the context of the 18th century when the Declaration of Independence was written. They would have to somehow be connected to basic rights that all people accepted as self-evident. The key to knowing them, during that era, was knowing the Bible and the God who granted them.

We have changed the formula in our day. Now we have concluded that government is the source of rights. We have made some things into self-evident truths and inalienable rights that the Founders never would have imagined. You might recognize some of them in this recent political cartoon.

How have we come to this? I hate to sound like a broken record, but I will repeat: we are at this point because we have rejected God as our source. We no longer think Biblically as a society. The only solution is to return to that Biblical basis and renew our thinking. We must break up the new foundations that are being laid and place the historic Christian faith once again as our cornerstone.

The Reagan Perspective

One of my students asked me this week if the Obama administration would do so much damage to the country that there would be no hope of repairing it after he leaves office. I was of two minds as I tried to answer.

First, I think the potential damage is so staggering that America might not ever recover. The massive debt, the inevitable leftist court appointments, the unrestricted access to abortion [which has begun already], and the stamp of approval given to homosexuality by the government could be the death knell of this republic.

On the other hand [and I don’t say this cavalierly or as a knee-jerk response], with God all things are possible. We are going to have to recognize, though, that The Great Recovery will never come primarily through government action. It must occur first in the hearts of individuals. What we need is a spiritual awakening—and not “spiritual” in the sense of anything-goes New Ageism, but an awakening specifically Christian.

Ronald Reagan recognized this even as he faced off against the threat of the Soviet Union. In his 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals—the one often referred to as the “Evil Empire” speech—he constantly made reference to the need for such an awakening.

Reagan Gave a Message of Christian Renewal and Hope

Reagan Gave a Message of Christian Renewal and Hope

There is so much of value in this speech that it is difficult to pull out the most significant lines, but I will try. Reagan could have been talking about our present time when he said:

Now, I’m sure that you must get discouraged at times, but you’ve done better than you know, perhaps. There’s a great spiritual awakening in America, a renewal of the traditional values that have been the bedrock of America’s goodness and greatness. . . .

We must never forget that no government schemes are going to perfect man. We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin. There is sin and evil in the world, and we’re enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might.

One of my favorite paragraphs in the speech points to exactly what we see today via the government policies and the politicians and bureaucrats who make them:

It was C. S. Lewis who, in his unfogettable “Screwtape Letters,” wrote: “The greatest evil is not done now in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labor camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clear, carpeted, warm, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.”

And then there is this key paragraph that deals specifically with what I stated above:

While American military strength is important, let me add here that I’ve always maintained that the struggle now going on for the world will never be decided by bombs or rockets, by armies or military might. The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.

Reagan’s words from 1983 are still true today. The real crisis we face at this hour is not an economic crisis; that is only the result of the real crisis. That real crisis remains one of moral will and faith. Will we be up to the challenge? With God all things are possible, but it depends on our obedience to Him.

Lincoln Book Recommendation

Whenever I read a good book, I’d like to pass on a positive review. Last week, I commented on Lincoln, as his 200th birthday was upon us. I am presently reading Harold Holzer’s new Lincoln book (Holzer is a LIncoln scholar and a fine writer), Lincoln, President-Elect: Abraham Lincoln and the Great Secession Winter, 1860-1861. It is fascinating.

What did Lincoln go through, what did he have to deal with, as he awaited his succession to the presidency? From November 1860 until his inauguration in March 1861, he was virtually powerless to make policy or to stop the secessions of Southern states. Holzer’s book takes you into Lincoln’s mind and details his activities during this crucial period in American history. What’s more, the writing makes you feel as if you are reading a novel. Even though I know the outcome, I find myself eager to know what is going to happen next.

So, even if you are not a Lincoln admirer (which is really a sad situation), I heartily recommend that you read this book. It will be difficult to find a tyrant in the newly elected president as he prepares to shoulder the burden of a nation coming apart at the seams.

Happy Birthday, Abe

Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of the birthday of Abraham Lincoln, a man who has been a source of great controversy among conservatives. They are divided: some respect him greatly, while others consider him a violator of the Constitution and a tyrant.

In my early years, I tended to lean in the latter direction. I was so devoted to states’ rights and so distressed over the growth of the federal government that I felt Lincoln was a large part of the problem. There’s a remedy for that point of view, though. It’s called research.

I held those views of Lincoln without any real knowledge of the man, his writings, or the circumstances under which he took office. I wanted to believe that slavery was not the real issue in the Civil War, but when I read the statements of Southern leaders, I had to conclude that states’ rights was only important to them in the context of maintaining the institution of slavery.

Ultimately, I had to alter my views on Lincoln. The more I read about him, and the more I examined his speeches and saw the spiritual growth in the man over the years, particularly after he became president, the more respect I gained for him. I have come to believe that he was one of the greatest of American presidents.

So, happy birthday, Abe. And I sincerely hope that the spiritual awakening you seemed to experience in your later years was genuine. I’d like to speak with you someday.

A First Amendment Guarantee

Besides the freedom of religion clauses of the First Amendment, there is another guarantee there that is threatened: freedom of speech. Now, we have, over the years, added some rather foggy ideas of what freedom of speech entails. It has been expanded to include coarse language that used to be avoided and artistic expressions that can only be legitimately described as obscene. That’s not what the Founders intended by the phrase “freedom of speech.”

For them, it was primarily freedom of political speech that needed protection. They wanted the guarantee that they had the liberty to critique government policies without fear of prosecution. Our new Congress, dominated by the Democrats and encouraged by their leadership, is toying with the notion of reviving something called the Fairness Doctrine.

This sounds innocuous enough. Who can be against fairness? In practice, though, it means that if anyone espouses strong conservative views on politics, the media have to provide a forum for the opposing view to be aired. Again, while this may sound “fair,” one needs to consider that the media is already overwhelmingly liberal and no similar requirement will be enacted for programs that already have a liberal perspective. The goal here is to diminish the conservative point of view. The target is clear: talk radio. This is the one part of the mass media (besides the Internet) that liberalism does not dominate. The Fairness Doctrine is an attempt to neutralize the conservative voice in that arena.

Thus, one of the most basic freedoms enunciated by the Founders in the Constitution is under fire. Can it happen? With a Democratic Congress and White House, it is now conceivable.

Great Power or Great Responsibility?

So many people want to be president. Perhaps it would do them some good to remember comments by America’s first three presidents.

When Washington was elected to the presidency, he wrote to Henry Knox:

My movements to the chair of Government will be accompanied by feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution: so unwilling am I, in the evening of a life nearly consumed in public cares, to quit a peaceful abode for an Ocean of difficulties, without that competency of political skill, abilities and inclination which is necessary to manage the helm.

Washington understood the immense responsibility that would rest upon him.

When John Adams succeeded him eight years later, as he and Washington were leaving the scene of his inauguration, he later wrote:

Methought I heard him think, “Ay! I am fairly out and you are fairly in! See which of us will be the happiest!”

Adams had reason to be concerned. Imagine what it would be like having to be Washington’s successor, having to follow the man considered to be the Father of the Country. Regardless of Adams’s many accomplishments, he didn’t measure up to Washington in the eyes of the nation. Certain congressmen and senators, in a rather direct display of disrespect, even referred to him as “His Rotundity.”

Then there was Jefferson. He added the Louisiana Territory to the country, thus doubling its size. He sent out the Lewis and Clark expedition to see what he had bought. He was reelected easily. Yet, at the end of his second term, when he signed a bill stopping all shipping (in order to avoid a European war), he alienated all of the New England states, which made their living by that very shipping. The historian Paul Johnson comments that Jefferson left office a beaten man. Jefferson said:

Oh for the day when I shall be withdrawn from [office] ; when I shall have leisure to enjoy my family, my friends, my farm and books!

Too many individuals seek what they think will be greater power, only to come to the realization that the responsibilities can be overwhelming. I prefer to entrust power and authority to those who don’t want it so badly. Perhaps they will handle it more wisely.

We Don't Need Another "Deal"

History Repeats Itself Again?

History Repeats Itself Again?

When Time magazine decided to show a cover depicting Obama as FDR, I could only shake my head. And now Obama is trying his best to be the next FDR, talking about a massive plan for public works.

The little secret, which isn’t really much of a secret anymore (except to those who refuse to listen) is that FDR’s New Deal never brought America out of the Great Depression. By the end of the 1930s, the economy was just as depressed as when FDR took office. The unemployment rate was virtually the same.

When the public sector spends more money, there is less to go around for the private sector, thus slowing a recovery. Of course, it looks good to spend this money and provide short-term jobs, but it doesn’t really deal with the problem.

We need to return to the Reagan solution. Yes, I know some people say this is a different time, so different solutions are called for. Well, if that’s the case, why are we rehashing the 1930s? Reagan’s concepts are still viable today because they are principles that apply at all times: reduce taxes, cut government spending, allow the people to keep more of their own money, and let them develop their entrepreneurial ideas. It worked in the 1980s and it can work now.

When will we ever truly learn from history?