Saturday, August 5, 2017
Francis's Church and Trump's State #3
Here is an expression of the American Principle: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
Called the American "idea," it is also a Unitarian Universalist and mainline American Protestant idea. And thanks largely to John Courtney Murray, it is a Catholic idea adopted at Vatican II. The principle has many other expressions outside of diverse cultures and religions. Can this principle be a source of unity and consensus for America and indeed for the world? Yes, indeed it can, I affirm. Does such unity and consensus exist in America? The answer is No. And we are more divided than ever, a state that threatens the American "idea."
But allow me to consider the American principle as intentional as opposed to this principle as literal. That is the difference between human existence as experienced in action and human existence as expressed in words, stories, and other media.
For example, take the expression above. Taking this principle literally could mean that I believe in a supernatural entity, a Creator God, and creationism over evolution as the explanation of life? It could mean that I agree that all persons are in fact equal, that there is no oppression, domination, or slavery? It might mean that I affirm that all persons have the same qualities, opportunities, advantages, gifts, and intelligence?
Rather I take this statement to get to the principle it is intending. What this statement is getting at is not an accomplished, static, objective fact of equality, freedom, and justice in America, but rather an aspiration that I experience in my own intentional existence, in my desires and drives for wholeness as a human person in America and the world.
The ancients identified three fundamental drives or desires: the desire to live, the desire for meaning, and the desire for recognition which correspond to the economic, cultural, and political dimensions of humanity. Others cut it differently. For example, the psychologist Abraham Maslow identified up to 7 human needs towards self-actualization. But the point is not the number or label or even rank of these needs or desires, but the dynamism of human beings, personally and collectively, to be all that we can be.
This returns us to an earlier distinction between faith and belief. Faith is the dynamism that impels us to critique and transcend the beliefs that are expressions of faith. We can share the same faith while expressing different beliefs--which theologians call the content of faith. When the symbols of our faith are confused with our faith as transcending existence, e.g. wearing flag lapel pins, hanging a cross, saying "Merry Christmas," carrying guns, praying, singing the national anthem or hymns, these symbols become idols of worship.
The American Principle, however expressed and lived, is intentional and so perhaps doomed to be disappointed in certain concrete times and places. It is a political principle, not cultural content. The principle is power, the ability to act in concert, creating safe public space, which defines our human being in the world. That dynamic principle can unite us. It makes us a nation. It makes each of us citizens of the nation and citizens of the world.
John Courtney Murray teaches that this principle is founded on "natural law," by which he means the nature of humanity with all our needs, drives, and desires. Natural law transcends any particular national, religious, cultural, economic, or even political expression. It is this law which we as citizens try to live out and act by even within our inadequate expressions.
Natural law stands in judgment of our behavior and expressions. Even natural law is not absolute but develops as our species develops. And how we understand natural law develops as we grow in knowledge and wisdom.
In your religion, you may hold that natural law was promulgated by God when he created nature. Or you may not. But, in any case, nature is accessible by humans through observation, reflection, and verification. Faith, whether religious or not, is the drive of human existence to transcend. And whether religious or not, we humans can share that faith and become one even as we are many. That is the American idea.
Next: In Francis's Church and Trump' State #4, I will try sum up by showing why the Trump-Bannon policy based on assimilation beliefs threatens human being and Francis's policy based on pluralism in faith that transcends cultural beliefs.