A Declaration of Dependence

EVERY JULY 4, we Americans celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence when the founding fathers declared our freedom from the British. At the heart of our fledgling country was the belief that the citizenry could not live in harmony unless there was a strong religious element in the culture. Our founders believed that human nature is broken and prone to sin. The tendency to self-centeredness had to be held in check, they believed, by fostering a general spirit of religious worship.

When religion becomes isolated from or foreign to a country, its legal, social and cultural institutions gradually disintegrate. Instead of being concerned with the common good of the nation, citizens madly scramble for pleasure, license and material possessions. Since the end of World War II, religion in our country has lost its influence on individuals (fewer churchgoers) and on institutions (the unraveling of laws protecting family life).

Respect for the divine laws underpinning civil law has been lost. The notion that we do not have dominion over human life means nothing if we no longer believe in God. When religous indifference prevails, Congress, the courts, and other agencies determine the parameters for acceptable human behavior. This gives rise to situations in which women insist on total control of their bodies, dismissing the rights of the preborn, of fathers, and even God.

In America, both the government and the culture at large continue making small declarations of independence from God and religion.

The human race has always wrestled with what constitutes permissible behavior. At times we've been too rigid about what is allowable under God's laws (alcohol consumption or reasonable cigarette smoking), and other times too tolerant (genetic manipulation, assisted suicide, same sex marriages, etc.). In America today, both the government and the culture at large continue making small declarations of independence from God and religion.

Religion, as defined by St. Thomas Aquinas and others, is a declaration of dependence on God. Adoration or its absence has tremendous repercussions on society because people need to pursue common goals and values in a cooperative way. If the goals are confused, the means for achieving them will be obfuscated by clever lawyers and judges who will circumvent stringent laws in the name of a confused freedom.

Msgr. George Kelly has written several books about the “battle for the American Church.” The more critical battle, I believe, is for the cultural soul of the American Republic. If grace presupposes nature, and nature becomes distorted by bad laws and a culture that glorifies vice, then saving Catholicism in any given country is only part of a broader re-evangelization. The battle to be fought is for what is truly natural in the human sphere, as opposed to what people want to be true.

Our religion is a supernatural creation of the Son of God. It calls us to live beyond mere precepts and principles by acquiring the mindset of the beatitudes. We are called to an excellence that can be realized only with the gifts of the Holy Spirit inspiring us each day.

Living under the power of the Holy Spirit presupposes reasonable behavior but goes beyond mere “right reason.” But when a culture denies the use of reason in establishing ethics or determining moral action, then the few who believe in the existence of a moral deposit in the depths of human nature must realize that doing “violence” to enter the Kingdom means fighting, first of all, for what is essential to living, as both responsible citizens of our country and faithful children of our Heavenly Father.

Father Basil Cole, O.P., is a member of the Western Dominican Preaching Team which gives parish missions and renewals.