So, as we began to explore the different versions of the story we are in, Paula began to open our eyes to the possibility that the Christian story may be a strange exception when it comes to the underlying nature of politics.
And it has the attention of our team, because it is so connected to the simple story question…
Which story are we in?
You see, we discovered that your Founders created a unique formula of freedom, which flows right from the Christian story.
Seriously. Paula Wong began to open our eyes by showing us this…
Cast design is best imagined as a solar system of planets, satellites, and comets (supporting characters) in orbit around their sun (the story’s core character, aka protagonist or hero), burning at the center.Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace
And then she connected a dot we hadn’t seen…
Your God is the necessary being in America’s formula of freedom.
It all revolves around him.
You can see it by looking right there in your Declaration of Independence…
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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.The Declaration of Independence
And that used to be the way most of you Americans saw it…
The belief that certain fundamental rights are God-based — a view held by every American Founder and nearly all Americans throughout its history — is reviled outside of conservative religious circles and held by fewer and fewer Americans.A Dark Time in America, By Dennis Prager, National Review, May 3, 2016
Prager is right, because now most of you don’t see things that way.
But… take your God out of the formula and it collapses.
No God, no unalienable rights. Just privileges. Game over.
And this guy seems to agree with that…
LOPEZ: What do you mean by “the secularist challenge to the American tradition had thus finally reached its logical extreme — America: One Nation Under Nobody”? The pledge would never actually say that, would it?
HASSON: Well, no (although there are some activists I wouldn’t put it past). I was just trying to express the absurdity of the secularist position — that we have rights precisely because there is no Creator to endow us with them.
LOPEZ: Why are fights over the Pledge of Allegiance different? How does such a fight “isolate[e] the essential legal and philosophical debate of the culture war” and take it to “its logical extreme”?
HASSON: It gets to the heart of the matter — whether the rights we have are revocable gifts from the government or inalienable gifts from the Creator.
LOPEZ: Why is it so “important that the government acknowledge the ultimate source of our rights and thus the limits of its powers”?
A government that imagines that it is the sole source of whatever rights it desires to bestow is far different from a government that knows its people have rights that it may not justly transgress. The first is an arrogant government, the second a humbler one.The Government Cannot Take away Our Rights, By NR Interview, April 5, 2016
And these too…
If we are not made in the image and likeness of God, we will not treat every life as created equal and endowed with unalienable rights—indeed, we will view our neighbors as random, meaningless cosmic dust that gets in our way.Natural Law, Social Justice, and the Crisis of Liberty in the West, by Ryan T. Anderson, Public Discourse, March 10th, 2017
The Declaration of Independence provides a philosophical snapshot of the grounds by which the infrastructure of this government was fashioned: “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.” That is, human beings are rights bearers by nature, and these rights are given to them by God. And because the human being, in the words of Justice McLean, “bears the impress of his Maker,” we are in fact creatures of equal dignity and immeasurable worth (even when our government does not live up to this truth).The Question Behind Our Political Divisions, by Francis Beckwith, The Catholic Thing, November 11, 2011
God is the one most radically free being, the Being that is the ground of all being, the One who is subject to no necessity but is instead responsible for all that is necessity to others. For us to be made in His image means this: that we are rational beings with free will. In this consists our equality. From this come our rights.NATURAL RIGHTS, THE IMAGO DEI, AND THE MORAL ECONOMY OF SEX, by Matthew J. Franck, First Things, February 24, 2015
And consider this…
Freedom is a need of the soul, and nothing else. It is in striving toward God that the soul strives continually after a condition of freedom. God alone is the inciter and guarantor of freedom. He is the only guarantor. External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom.Whittaker Chambers, Witness
And look at this from our frenemy David Goldman, aka Spengler…
America’s exceptional history as the only nation in the world with two centuries of political continuity stems from its people’s love for individual rights, which they hold to be inalienable because they are granted by a power that no human agency dare oppose.The Morality of Self-Interest, by David P. Goldman, First Things, June/July 2010
Democracy does not work unless the people truly believe that the individual is sovereign – not the people, I hasten to add. …. Either the individual as a living image of God has such rights as pertain to his station, or not.Will African Christians Raze Mecca? by Spengler, Asia Times Online, June 2, 2004
But our version of the story we are in, which says our story begins and ends in nothingness, leads to the belief we ultimately have no rights, but only privileges which are granted by society or the government.
This view was captured very well by our friend, the venture capitalist Eric X. Li, in a piece for the New York Times…
The fundamental difference between Washington’s view and Beijing’s is whether political rights are considered God-given and therefore absolute or whether they should be seen as privileges to be negotiated based on the needs and conditions of the nation.Why China’s Political Model Is Superior, By Eric X. Li, New York Times, February 16, 2012
What’s happening in America is that as more and more Americans embrace the secular version of the story we are in, there is less and less “fundamental difference” between Washington and Beijing.
But it didn’t used to be that way…
The American idea did not grow out of the same philosophical soil as fascism and communism.Defending the Founders and the (American) Enlightenment, By Robert Curry, The American Thinker, August 3, 2017
Only Judaism and Christianity among all world religions developed, and still nourish and celebrate, the three central concepts necessary to the American conception of rights. Only they hold to the doctrine that there is a Creator (and Governor of the universe); that each individual owes a personal accounting at the time of Judgment to this Creator, a Judgment that is prior to all claims of civil society or state; and that this inalienable relation between each individual and his Creator occurs in the depths of conscience and reason, and is not reached merely by external bows, bended knees, pilgrimages, or other ritual observances.The Faith of the Founding, by Michael Novak, First Things, April 2003
So, if Christianity is the story we are in, then maybe it is time for you to begin to take this guy seriously…
Thus the root of modern totalitarianism is to be found in the denial of the transcendent dignity of the human person who, as the visible image of the invisible God, is therefore by his very nature the subject of rights which no one may violate — no individual, group, class, nation or State.Pope John Paul II, Centesimus annus, 1991
And this guy too…
There has, historically, been only one counterforce strong enough to prevent the slide from democracy into tyranny, as happened in Athens in antiquity and in France during the Reign of Terror:that is the recognition of the limits of human authority under divine sovereignty.Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, The Great Partnership: Science, Religion, and the Search for Meaning
Of course, this idea of God as a necessary being is not something we usually think about as we go through our daily dramas.
So, here’s how the American Christian philosopher Peter Kreeft explains the basic idea of God as a necessary being…
Every being that exists either exists by itself, by its own essence or nature, or it does not exist by itself. If it exists by its own essence, then it exists necessarily and eternally, and explains itself. It cannot not exist, as a triangle cannot not have three sides. If, on the other hand, a being exists but not by its own essence, then it needs a cause, a reason outside itself for its existence. Because it does not explain itself, something else must explain it. Beings whose essence does not contain the reason for their existence, beings that need causes, are called contingent, or dependent, beings. A being whose essence is to exist is called a necessary being. The universe contains only contingent beings. God would be the only necessary being—if God existed. Does he? Does a necessary being exist? Here is the proof that it does. Dependent beings cannot cause themselves. They are dependent on their causes. If there is no independent being, then the whole chain of dependent beings is dependent on nothing and could not exist. But they do exist. Therefore there is an independent being.Peter Kreeft, The First Cause Argument
And consider this, also…
God – as understood by the Catholic Church and by most other theistic traditions – is not a being in the universe, a superior agent whose existence we postulate in order to explain some natural phenomenon, but rather, Being Itself, that which all contingent reality depends for its existence.God Is Not a Scientific Hypothesis, By Francis J. Beckwith, The Catholic Thing, January 2, 2015
And notice how this is also connected with God as the Empathetic Protagonist and the Empathetic Incarnation…
Hence the mainstream Catholic metaphysical tradition refers to God not as a being but as Being itself. In Aquinas’s pithy Latin, God is not ens summum (highest being), but rather ipsum esse subsistens (the sheer act of “to be” itself). Moreover, Thomas insists that God is not an individual, nor a member of any genus, even of that most generic of genera, namely, being.
Anselm signals much the same thing when he names God “that than which nothing greater can be thought.” At first blush, this seems a straightforward designation of the highest being, but this cannot be the case, for the highest being, plus every other being, would be greater than the highest being alone, and hence not that than which nothing greater can be conceived.
This qualitative otherness of God is also the ground for the permanently stunning claim at the heart of Christianity that God became a creature, without compromising the creature he became or undermining his own integrity. Such a “becoming” is possible only if predicated upon the logic of God’s qualitative otherness to the world.BRIDGING A FALSE DIVIDE: SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY AND SCRIPTURAL EXEGESIS BELONG TOGETHER. By Robert Barron, First Things, April 2014
I would suggest that the best biblical image for God is the burning bush—on fire, but not consumed—which appeared to Moses. The closer the true God comes to a creature, the more radiant and beautiful that creature becomes. It is not destroyed, nor is it obligated to give way; rather, it becomes the very best version of itself. This is not just fine poetry; it is accurate metaphysics. We can find this truth in the narratives concerning David, Saul, and Samuel, wherein God definitively acts, but not interruptively. Rather, he works precisely through the ordinary dynamics of psychology and politics. Nowhere is the God of the burning bush more fully on display than in the Incarnation, that event by which God becomes a creature without ceasing to be God or undermining the integrity of the creature he becomes.EVANGELIZING THE NONES: THE 2017 ERASMUS LECTURE, by Robert Barron, First Things, January 2018
Something is going on there.
And seeing this is opening the eyes of our team to why, if Christianity is the story we are in, the story of America has been like no other in world history.
So now, think again about how this works in the formula of American Freedom.
If Christianity is the story we are in …
… and human beings have unalienable rights from being made in the image and likeness of God…
…and if, as the Declaration clearly states…
…“to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men”…
…then God is… the necessary being in the Founder’s formula.
He is the one being in the founding formula upon whom all else depends.
Remove him from the formula …
… and there are no unalienable rights.
Remove him from the formula …
… and the purpose of government is not to secure those unalienable rights — since they wouldn’t even exist!
Like the Guinness Guy says…
The blunt truth is that secularism and other alternative philosophies that claim to replace the Jewish and Christian roots have no adequate root system of their own with which to nourish the ideals. Witness, for example, the inability of the new atheists to provide an adequate foundation for such notions as the sanctity of life, the dignity of the individual person, the responsibility of freedom, justice, equality and universality-let alone any antidote to the mounting inequalities and polarizations in society. Once rooted in the belief that every last human is precious and has an inalienable dignity because he or she is made in the image of God, and that freedom is the gift through which humans most resemble their Creator, such biblical roots have been cut and their fruits are withering.Os Guinness, Impossible People
So, your Founders really did create something unique – and you may want to take this Sasse man seriously…
SASSE: It is such a great line and phrase. Reagan’s way of saying was, “You’re always only one generation away from the extinction of freedom in any republic.” If you don’t pass on what you are about or what your shared narrative is, what our basic presuppositions are as a nation, then it will just evolve into a future battle and everybody will be trying to get more out of each other and of the essential state. Everything will become a zero-sum game. Margaret Thatcher, upon visiting the U.S. late in her prime ministership, talked about how Europe is a continent formed by history, but America is the only nation ever formed by philosophy, that is the fundamental sense that there is a common idea. And the American idea is that God gives us rights. Our 320 million citizens have rights by nature and the government is not the author or source of those rights. God gives us rights and government is our shared tool to secure those rights. That’s what American exceptionalism is. It is an understanding that there was a historically unique thing that happened in Philadelphia, 1787. It’s not a claim that Americans are better than other people. It’s not an ethnic claim. It is a recognition that, historically, no nation had ever really in a broad, declarative affirmation that everybody is created with dignity with inalienable rights. Now government has to come together and its project is to secure those rights.Vanishing Adulthood and the American Moment: A Conversation with Senator Ben Sasse, Albert Mohler, May 23, 2017
And one of our team members came across something which reminded us again how your Formula of Freedom is built around God as the Necessary Being…
Among the most notable features of the Declaration, indeed, is its theistic character. It both opens and closes with references to God — two at the outset in the draft that Jefferson handed over, two at the conclusion inserted by the Congress: “the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” “endowed by their Creator,” “the Supreme Judge of the World,” “a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine providence.” While “Nature’s God” and “Supreme Judge” are eighteenth-century natural theology phrases, the God referred to is clearly providential, superintending, and creative — the God, in sum, appearing in the Bible.Stanton Evans, The Theme Is Freedom
And look at this…
The Declaration of Independence, therefore, although a product of modern thought, bears, so to speak, the genetic markers of a Western tradition in Christendom that is seldom acknowledged as it should be. It is no wonder that devoutly Christian Americans of the revolutionary period—who, after the first Great Awakening, greatly outnumbered the self-consciously “enlightened” types represented by Franklin and Jefferson—could see the God of the Bible and not just “Nature’s God” in the principles of equality and natural rights proclaimed in the Declaration.NATURAL RIGHTS, THE IMAGO DEI, AND THE MORAL ECONOMY OF SEX, by Matthew J. Franck, First Things, February 24, 2015
Natural law was seen as knowable without divine revelation, but ultimately originating from a Supreme Being. Of course, the divine origins of the natural order are made explicit in the Hebrew scriptures:
Created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female he created them (Gen 1:27)
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh (Gen 2:24)
Today, we’re seeing the consequences of a political Left that has rejected the concept of natural law—regardless if arrived at through faith or reason—because it pointed to uncomfortable truths regarding sexuality, marriage, human nature, and a higher purpose. But when we reject the very foundation of our unalienable rights, those rights become arbitrary things granted by government, and very alienable indeed.You Have No Rights Without Natural Law, By Jim DeMint, The Federalist, July 15, 2016
The truth of the matter is that we cannot have human rights that are rightly or justly ordered without acknowledging God and rendering thanks to God.Douglas Farrow, Desiring a Better Country
So, as your drama unfolds, you may want to consider this…
The United States also has its “subterranean stream” running through its history, from the slaveholding South to the Know-Nothings to the white supremacists of the Jim Crow era and the revival of the Klan of the 1920s to the alt-right of today. Although we prefer to forget or downplay the whole boiling cauldron of angers and hatreds and resentments which have been such a big part of our history, the jungle grows in America, too.Robert Kagan, The Jungle Grows Back
Americans may well come out of it, at least partly, as they have in the past. Their politicians can run roughshod over institutions and even over the Constitution, but Americans cannot escape the principles of the Declaration, even if they want to. They have nowhere else to go. Other nations can fall back on blood-and-soil nationalism, but Americans have no such nationalism to fall back on, regardless of what Trump and his white nationalist supporters might wish.
Those unalienable rights really matter. And your Founders eventually created the United States Constitution as the means by which they would secure those rights…
The Preamble of the Constitution crowns its enumeration of the ends of the Constitution by declaring its purpose to “secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” No words of the Constitution reveal the intention of the Constitution more profoundly than these. The Preamble is the statement of the Constitution’s purposes, and this culminating purpose embraces and transcends those that have gone before. Alone among the ends of the Constitution, to secure liberty is called a securing of “blessings.”What is a blessing is what is good in the eyes of God. It is a good whose possession—by the common understanding of mankind—belongs properly only to those who deserve it. We remember that the final paragraph of the Declaration of Independence appeals to “the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions.” It is by “the authority of the good people of these colonies” that independence is declared. It is because of this assurance of their rectitude that this good people, and their representatives, placed “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence.”The American Founding as the Best Regime, By Harry V. Jaffa, The Claremont Institute
And here is the text of the Preamble…
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
But all this forced us to ask the question, where do those “unalienable rights” come from?
Yeah, we know the Christians will say, “Oh, they come from God.”
But when we looked for the term “unalienable” in the Bible, it wasn’t there.
Neither was “inalienable” or “alienable.”
So what makes them “unalienable”?
Well, we found out it has to do with the Christian answer to the simple, but astonishingly powerful story question…
Who are we, here in the story?
It turns out that, if Christianity is the story we are in, your freedom flows from your foundational human identity.
And as we explored Stage Two of Robert McKee’s Eight Stages of story, we began to see that, if Christianity is the story we are in, there is a deep personal connection between human beings and your God.
Robert McKee points out that one of the things which makes a story compelling is when it has an empathetic protagonist…
The PROTAGONIST must be empathetic; he may or may not be sympathetic.
Sympathetic means likable. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, for example, or Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn in their typical roles: The moment they step on screen, we like them. We’d want them as friends, family members, or lovers. They have an innate likability and evoke sympathy. Empathy, however, is a more profound response.
Robert McKee, Story
Empathetic means “like me.” Deep within the protagonist the audience recognizes a certain shared humanity. Character and audience are not alike in every fashion, of course; they may share only a single quality. But there’s something about the character that strikes a chord. In the moment of recognition, the audience suddenly and instinctively wants the protagonist to achieve whatever it is that he desires.
A core character must be empathetic; she or he may or may not be sympathetic. The difference between these two is this: Sympathetic means “likable” – an amiable, companion ate person the target audience might want as friend, family, or neighbor. Empathetic means “like me”-an innate trait shared by both the core character and the target audience.
Sympathy is optional, empathy essential, for this reason: Audience involvement hinges on an act of personal identification. No matter how charming, attractive, and sympathetic a character may seem, an audience will not connect on good looks alone. Rather, the psychological bond of empathy only develops when an audience subconsciously identifies with a positive human quality emanating from within the character. This quality becomes the story’s center of good.Storynomics, By Robert McKee and Tom Gerace
So, if Christianity is the story we are in, then your God is deeply connected with human beings.
what if that connection is also
essential to the story of America?