Fulton Sheen’s ‘Declaration of Dependence’ Is a Prophetic Look at America’s Future
‘Admitting that we do not know everything,’ says Sheen, ‘there is one truth we will never relinquish: an absolute trust in the Providence of God even in adversity, sorrow, depression, catastrophe, and war.’
Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s Declaration of Dependence, which was just rereleased, originally appeared in print on July 4, 1941. The United States was tottering and being pulled toward World War II. But visionary Sheen’s thoughts were already far beyond this immediate moment.
Like the prophets of old who saw what was just over the horizon and warned the Israelis about what they were heading into, Sheen saw clearly what was happening in the United States and the world and would worsen if people remained on the same disastrous course.
What was happening in the world then — and obviously is still continuing in even stronger terms and ways — Sheen said “is shattering our illusions, and principally two of them that have become assumptions of our modern life: first, that man is naturally good and indefinitely progressive; and second, that personal and social perfection is attainable in this world.”
He continues, “There is no one in this country and few in Western Civilization who have not had these false assumptions driven into his mind by the press, by education, or by word of mouth until they became unchallenged dogmas even for those who wanted no dogmas. False prophets a few years ago were saying that progress is natural and inevitable …”
He runs through a list of society’s illusions including observations “that science, which has gained mastery over nature, will soon master the imperfection of man; that freedom means the right to do whatever you please; that to inculcate in the growing child a sense of right and wrong is to be unprogressive … that a League of Nations and peace treaties can produce peace without the Prince of Peace; that universal education can root out the propensity to evil …”
Things were not going well, because people were living these delusions. And that was a time when children still prayed in school, and there was a sense of right and wrong.
Elsewhere, the visionary Sheen reminds of the obvious: “Education failed us, as it trained the young to live without telling them the purpose of living. Reason failed us, as it became divorced from Eternal Reason and taught the wrongdoer how to rationalize his evil. … Science failed us, as its very inventions, which should have ministered to life, are now turned to our destruction.”
In another place he asks rhetorically, “What would happen to America tomorrow if all our children who are educated without God and the moral law suddenly decided to live out their godlessness?” Sadly, the results became clearer and clearer in the 21st century.
Yet, Sheen writes, “Even we Americans who went to the last war ‘to make the world safe for democracy’ lived under the illusion that it was the war to end all wars. Our utopianism, born of a sophistication emancipated from religion, crashed on our heads like a hurricane from a clear sky.” The emancipation from religion that he foresaw ruining America — a turn to a false declaration of independence — only continued on after World War II and no doubt remains running wild in the present.
Sheen the seer continues. “History repeats the same lesson: man left to his own wisdom, science, and organization is very likely to make a fool of himself.”
“The writing is on the wall as clearly as in the days of Belshazzar. Shall we be blind to it, as they were in the days of Noah: ‘Eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, even till that day in which [Noah] entered into the ark, and they knew not till the flood came, and took them all away’ (Matthew 24:38–39)? Shall we be as it was in the day of Lot, when ‘they did eat and drink, they bought and sold, they planted and built. And in the day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all’ (Luke 17:28–29)? Shall we go on with our godless education, our shattered family life, our class wars, our political intrigues, and our undisciplined and uncircumcised hearts, because we foolishly believe the only enemy we have is across the sea? In the name of God, let us face the facts: If the human and the historical have broken down, how are we to be saved from our propensity to self-destruction? Obviously, only by the intervention of something supra-human and supra-historical — something beyond man and beyond history.”
And who is beyond man and history? But has not our Declaration of Independence been twisted to remove God from much of public life?
Sheen reminds future generations, “Our Declaration of Independence affirms that this country trusts in God. Americans should take this literally. Admitting that we do not know everything, there is one truth we will never relinquish: an absolute trust in the Providence of God even in adversity, sorrow, depression, catastrophe, and war.”
In those conditions — and considering the condition of today’s society — do we see, as Sheen foresaw, “The myth of human progress is without validity. Materially and technically, we are certainly better off than our ancestors; but have we progressed in peace and happiness? Can we honestly say there has been a qualitative advance in social justice, in purity of national morals, in business honesty, and in neighborliness?”
Furthermore, he also envisioned, “The repudiation of Christ, the sanctity of marriage, and His revelation was reparable, for men still had a rational knowledge of God left. But when nations that believed in God embraced as ‘friendly’ those nations that officially denied God; when His name was banished from our schools; when jurists said there was no source of law except the State, no Truth but individual whims, and no morality but a point of view; then nations brought chaos on themselves like a man who saws off the very limb on which he is sitting.”
Ponder that prophetic utterance from Sheen.
Hope and Help Remain
“The Church is not optimistic about history; it has always seen that the final product of history will be anti-Christ, the concentration of diabolical evil in human souls. And the only way out of that horror will be not a new social order but the Second Coming of Christ to judge the living and the dead,” reminds Sheen. “Every year, in the Gospel of the Mass, the Church reminds her children that there will be no perfect state in the world, for while good men sow wheat, evil men sow cockle; and both will be permitted to grow together until the harvest (Matthew 13:24–30).”
If “modern man despairs because his utopian progress has failed,” Sheen explains, “Not so with the Church! Her insight is far more realistic. Never expecting man to be a god, the Church does not feel that all is lost because he turns out to be just a disillusioned man. The perfections for which man is made are free gifts of God to be received through repentance and faith and forgiveness. Man’s despair today is only his proud and impenitent pretension to be independent of God and His love. The Church patiently waited for the drugs of scientific materialism to wear off and for the sellers of those drugs to become more and more discredited. But modern man would not learn. So great is human pride that the illusions of power without God do not become apparent short of disaster. In this sense, war is a revelation. It has brought man back to earth, to his misery, and to his need of God.”
The churches were filled after World War II. But then? Yet the Church waits as many moderns still entrench themselves deeper into the night. “But,” warns Sheen, “they can be sure of this: if they continue to exile morality and justice in the next postwar generation, as they did in the last, they will only prepare for another dirty mess, wherein apostate democracies by progressive demoralization will outbid one another in the surrender of the last vestige of Christianity.” Is this not happening today in many places?
And does this sound familiar that prophetic Sheen also foresaw? “There has never been an anti-American movement in the United States that did not, in one form or another, appeal to the Declaration of Independence. Communists base their right to destroy democracy on the Declaration of Independence; monopolistic capitalists invoke it to escape even a just government supervision for the common good; the so-called progressive educators appeal to it to mold children independently of religion; spurious defenders of civil liberties tearfully quote it to justify every attack upon the foundations of liberty; in a word, the Declaration of Independence has come to mean for a group of our fellow citizens nothing other than independence of authority, law, and order.”
As back then and as now, Sheen makes clear, “We are living in days of fear, and there is no escape from fear except trust. Everything else we trusted has failed us: universal education, progress, science, liberalism, totalitarianism. There is no one left to trust but the Father whose house as prodigal children we left for a false freedom. There is hope for those who trust in the only moral left in the world; the authority that did not tamper with Christ’s message. …Trust in that religious authority would reverse the present order and inaugurate a reign in which, instead of politics setting limits to morality and religion, morality and religion would begin to set limits to politics.”
“If man can look nowhere but to himself and to his time machine, he is doomed to perish,” Sheen warns.
He sees, “The Church must defend democracy not only from those who enslave it from without but even from those who would betray it from within. And the enemy from within is he who teaches that freedom of speech, habeas corpus, freedom of press, and academic freedom constitute the essence of democracy. They do not. They are merely the accompaniments and safeguards of democracy. Given a freedom that is independent of God, independent of the moral law, and independent of inalienable rights as the endowment of the Divine Spirit, America could vote itself out of democracy tomorrow. How can we continue to be free unless we keep the traditions, the grounds, and the roots upon which freedom is founded?
“The choice is clear: we will as a nation either go back to God and the moral law and faith in Christ, or we will rot from within. In exiling God from our national life, our politics, our economics, and our education, it was not His Heart we pierced — it was America we slew! May God forgive us!”
And he will forgive if we follow the answer. “His only hope is in a Power beyond him, who can do what he cannot do and give him a truth that he does not know.”
This Fourth of July there needs to be more than just flag-waving. The prophetic Sheen ends A Declaration of Dependence with this admonition and guidance:
“That is why I say our Declaration of Dependence on God is the condition of a Declaration of Independence of Dictatorship. The greatest defenders of America are not necessarily those who talk most about freedom and democracy; it is the sick who talk most about health. For that reason, there should be less loose talk about democracy and freedom; instead of judging religion by its attitude toward democracy, we should begin to judge democracy by its attitude toward religion. For in a crisis such as this, America will save her Stars and Stripes by grounding them on other stars and stripes than those that are on the flag: namely, the stars and stripes of Christ, by whose stars we have been illumined and by whose stripes we have been healed.”