The notion that there is no God is somewhat prevolant these days in certain institutions and intellectual circles in America. And the idea that we are nothing more than a self-assembled collection of proteins with no underlying intent or design is taught in most of our schools now as scientific fact. Certainly a large percentage of the smart, hip, young, crowd that comprises the majority of opinion on the blogosphere has been raised to hold nothing but contempt for both God and religion in general. At best, God is written off these days as a fairy tale for children and for those among us who cant deal with life and existence as it really is-a thing without purpose or intent.
And yet isn’t it ironic that these people who hold forth so strongly on the internet about their opinions on everything under the sun- life, politics, culture, war, and peace- these people strangely proceed and behave as though they and their thoughts, opinions, and lives MATTER greatly even when the philosophy and worldview which underlies all their aguments demands that they DON’T matter in a life with no purpose.
In a view of our universe where there is no maker, no design, no purpose, no intent, and nothing sacred or divine, we MUST accept that all morality is but illusion and a pretension. What is the notion of right and wrong- of good and evil anyways, but a statement that THIS is how things are MEANT to be, whereas this other thing is NOT as it was intended to be. Without an appeal to a greater plan or meaning, what value can one act or idea possibly hold over another one? In a life where all conceptions are equally meaningless, how shall we say then that this is right and noble, or that this other thing is wrong or bad? What is the special value of a life anyways if we are just random matter flung about in a cold, empty, dead universe ? A clod of dirt or a man- what’s the difference ? To live or to die, to kill or be killed- it’s just re-arranging a few quantum particles to no particular end isnt it?
If the sole meaning behind our lives is survival of the fittest, then why should we care for the weak, the sick,the old, the disabled, the tired, the poor, and the simple? Why do we labor for and care for and sacrifice for them? Why should we bother? What is their assigned role in secular neo darwinism?
This philosophy of a Godless existence which we have so blithely accepted as a matter of fact in our schools and in our society is not a philosophy without consequences, for if we answer to nobody for our actions and for our life, and if we have no responsibility to each other or to a higher moral code than our own wishes and ambitions, then we quickly see what becomes of a nation that founds itself on such things. We soon find ourselves looking around ourselves at situations, events, and at a way of life that doesnt seem to make sense, or to sit right with us on an intrinsic level- like the proverbial splinter in Neo’s mind. Life becomes unfamiliar, strange, and not quite right somehow when we abandon all metaphysical concepts of morality and spirituality in favor of atheistic naturalism and conduct ourselves according to the tenats of that philosophy. That is because we KNOW deep down that this is not as it was INTENDED to be. We are all born with a conscience and the dictates of that intrinsic knowledge of good and evil do not always run parrellel to the intrests of darwinian self preservation. The firefighters who ran into the twin towers on 911 when everyone else was running OUT were not behaving according to their own survival interests, but rather acted contrary to them as a result a belief in metaphysical principles. They chose self-sacrifice rather than self interest as a result of their belief in a higher moral code.
Deep down, we humans all have an innate frame of reference. We KNOW that there is a meaning and a purpose to our lives, and that there is intrinsic value in the lives of others- although we may find that meaning hard to grasp or understand or articulate sometimes. We also know deep-down what right and wrong are, and we know that the foundation of such concepts is NOT survival of the fittest. Rather we see the best that we can be as people in the polar opposite of darwinistic selection – in heroism- when a man or a woman devotes his or her life to serving others rather than themselves, and in the service and bravery of those who would lay down their lives for another. These are lives of signifigance that we hold up as examples for us to be inspired and guided by.
My attitude towards people who have no faith in a life with any meaning higher or more relevant than random particle interactions is this- If you want to write-off life and everything we are as meaningless and random- without design or intent- then by all means please go ahead and do so. But IF you do so, then in the interest of consistency and intellectual honesty, I must also insist that you quit acting and shit-talking to those of us who disagree with you, as though the things you do and say in this life matter- because they clearly DON’T. Without a greater metaphysical meaning to your existence, you need to just accept once-and-for-all that everything you are is nothing but DUST IN THE WIND and therefore nothing you have to say is of any consequence whatsoever to anybody. If that is the path you choose, then please go sit quietly in a corner, in the mud, and sulk- because your life has no point or purpose. Wear sack cloth. Throw ashes on yourself and on your meaningless, pointless life. But why should you bother to trouble those of us who do choose to have faith? If we live our lives as though our short, precious time here actually is special, relevant, and part of a higher plan and meaning designed by a power greater than ourselves, then why should we suffer the insults and scorn of those who claim their lives have no greater purpose? If you have no purpose, then why not go away and be quiet? Why all the sqwawking from these people who claim there is no point or purpose to anything?
Deep down inside us all, sometimes hidden behind the walls of rationalization built in the mind, we know that there is a meaning and a signifigance, and a purpose to this life. We all know it -through our lives, our loves, our aspirations, our tears, our laughter, our joys, our sorrow, our losses, and our triumphs in this life. We see in our desires to act and to prosper and to labor and to create and to bring forth some good thing into this life that there is an intent and a design to this thing- that there is right and wrong- and that we are all part of a plan that is greater than us.
To not acknowledge a maker and a designer is to write off everything we know and love as nothing but quantum dust. That includes every aspect of our lives and thoughts, our families, the birth of our children, the death of a loved-one, home and hapiness, holidays and laughter, jokes and games, neighbors on the porch, education, all our life’s work and aspirations, competition, charity and sympathy, outrage and tragedy, righteousness and a seeking after justice, the notion of freedom and self-determination, sacrifice, labor and harvest, reaping and sowing, freindship, marriage, war and peace. To not acknowledge a greater plan or intent for our lives writes these all off to random particle interactions in the cosmic microwave radiation background.
If you doubt me, then try this experiment sometime- At SOME point in you life, even the most jaded and cynical of souls will be moved to tears by their experience with one of the above-mentioned concepts. On that day, when your moment of clarity comes, and you find tears of sorrow, or of gratitude, or of anger, or of joy streaming down your face-I want you to go on a walk on a crisp fall day when the gold and red leaves are falling around you and the smell of freshly cut grass and the first chill of coming winter is in the air. Listen to the sound of children playing happily in the distance, and smell bread or maybe warm apple pie baking somewhere. Do that and then tell me there is no God, no meaning, no design, no intent and no purpose in this life. I dare you. If, on that day, you can feel and experience all that and you have nothing in your heart that says any of it it matters or has purpose beyond natural selection, then I won’t argue with you anymore because you’ll never get it. I know there are people like that in this life, and I pity them, these walking dead.
But life is not just a solitary experience or a path we walk alone. Men’s greatest hopes, aspirations and acheivements are only possible acting in concert with other men united in a common goal or faith in a way of life with common metaphysical underpinnings. For this reason nations are brought forth among men- groups of people dedicating their lives and labors to a certain way of life, which to them, seems most harmonious with what they perceive to be a greater intent, purpose, or meaning for our time here for a while under the sun and sky. And among these nations is my nation- America, which I love.
To understand why I love America, you have to look at the ideas and charachter of the nation within the context of metaphysical meaning. The interstate highways and the amber waves of grain are NOT what makes America worthy of our love. But rather the ideals, and the principles that govern it, and underlye it, which make lives of signifigance and goodness possible to live.
Freedom and Democracy are not just words or another theoretical model of social governance. They are the ideas of a good, noble, and morally upright way of life that is how Americans believe God INTENDED things to be for men. I can’t put it much simpler than that. The idea that these metaphyical concepts are proper parts of a greater design and plan than our own is WHY patriots hold our nation up as being worthy of sacrifice and being worth fighting for.
The true idea of America is not a mere physical place or a collection of persons individually pursuing wealth- but rather is the living embodiment of great metaphysical ideas. It is the idea of intrinsic human worth, of the divine INTENT for human liberty, and the notion that every human aspiration should be free to figure out what God intended each of us be. It is the idea that each of us is able to see down our own proper path a little further than another can, and the notion that Governments are instituted among men to preserve liberty, not to rule us. If you don’t view America within the context of a greater metaphysical plan, then you simply can’t get the real meaning of it.
That lack of context explains to a large extent why so many are willing to let our nation slide into mediocrity and depravity- why so many are willing to let America stand idly by instead of leading in this world. It explains why some don’t see America as a shining city on a hill. Or as a light of hope in the darkness of this world.
Viewed in a godless, purposeless frame of reference, that’s all understandable. But I do see America in a greater metaphysical and spiritual context. And so do others. And that’s why we love her and why we love what she stands for. Not out of war-like boastfulness or competetive pride, but rather out of a love for the good things she has brought forth here on this sad, weary sphere of ours. I see the true spirit of America in every child’s lemonade stand, and in the purple ink that stains the finger of every sad, tired Iraqi citizen who thought that it was worth risking their life to go stand in line to vote. I see the true spirit of America in neighbors helping neighbors and in old men at the barbershop speaking their half-baked opinions on whatever they want without fear of government reprisal. I hear the true spirit of America lifted up in thanks to God for all he has given us, from the pews of ten thousand places of worship, and I see it in the flags that fly over the graves of our veterans who gave the last ounce of devotion and love for a metaphysical idea that is America.
Put simply, America is most properly understood within the context of God and his greater plan and intent for what humans can be if we follow that plan. Indeed, the Declaration of Independance basically is nothing but a defiant proclamation of what the founding fathers believed was God’s INTENT for Man. Read it and you will see that that is actually the case. It EXPLICITELY appeals to a higher justice and to a divine intent that man should be free. The whole nation and everything that it has brought forth since it’s birth therefore HAS to be viewed in that context to be understood. It was ALL built upon faith in a divine intent.Given that , it should come as no surprise that sometimes prayers lifted up to God for our nation capture and articulate the essence of America best.
I want to share two prayers for America with you. They were not written by me- I could never write anything so beautiful, but rather were uttered by two Americans ministers at two memorial services seperated in time by more than a century. Both prayers captured with a few words some of what is best about our country. One prayer was given at a time of great national and personal sorrow, and another at a time of celebration. But both were spoken out of thanks to God for what he has given us. Both ask for his blessing and lay out the reasons why we should expect to hope for that blessing, by expressing succinctly the purpose of America within the context of God’s greater plan. Both prayers also remembered those who made the ultimate sacrifice for a few metaphysical ideas that were deemed greater than the value of their own lives. Across so many years, and through so many trials and tribulations that this nation has been through, it is remarkable to note how much these prayers have in common.
The first prayer I want to share is one that was read by Major General Lorraine Potter, US Air Force Cheif of Chaplains, October 11nth, 2001 at the memorial service that was held to honor those who died in the 911 attack on the Pentagon.
” Let us pray. Almighty God, from the watchfires of a thousand circled camps, to the flames within the Pentagon offices, the World Trade Center, the Pennsylvania landscape… Our great land has known the brutal sounds and sights of war. The truth of Democracy, the truth of goodness found within this nation goes marching on. You destined our great nation to be birthed as a free land from sea to shining sea. We have taken our purple mountain’s majesty and made them a shining beacon of hope to a world in conflict. We have been inspired by your holy grace to use our amber waves of grain to feed the hungry of the world. We do not forsake our destiny now. We remember those who have now made sacred this hallowed ground by the sacrifice of their lives. Bless them and those who celebrate their lives and deeply mourn their loss. May the citizens of our nation be inspired by the devotion and service of our national leaders, and of all soldiers, sailors, and airmen, marines, coast-gaurdsmen and civilians of our military in the removal of terrorism from this world. May this and all nations be assured of our thoughtful seeking after Justice. Creator God we stand in the history of your presence within our land, assured that you do bless America today and into the challenges of the future. May our world see that you oh Mighty God, Jehova, are indeed in this place. God bless all those who serve the cause of freedom, and God bless America. ”
The second prayer I want to share was sung as a hymn at a service held on July 4th, 1847, to dedicate a monument that was erected at the Old North Bridge in Concord Massachussets to the memory of the farmers who died there and fired the first shot of the American Revolutionary War. It was written by my favorite poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“By the rude bridge that arched the raging flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once embattled farmers stood and fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conquerer silent sleeps;
and Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem ,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To Die and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee. ”
The hearts that wrote those words and lifted up those sentiments to God on behalf of America spoke for me too, and were inspired by the same love I have in me for this nation, and for human liberty which she rightly stands for. I know I am not alone in that.