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Getting Back to First Principles

It is obvious people today are looking for a change; at least from the last seven years, but more likely from the last couple of decades.  A couple of facts supporting this assertion.  First, 60% – 75% believe we are on the wrong track; figures that have remained in this range since 2013.  Second, this year’s presidential race has largely been driven by outsiders – anti-establishment candidates – in both parties.  Third, polls show that there is considerable anger with the political establishment, especially on the right.  So much so that the word betrayal is at times used to voice what people are feeling.

The issues we face are serious, but I for one have been appalled by the personal attacks and the carnival atmosphere of this year’s election.  This is not necessarily the fault of the candidates, nor the media.  They are only providing what we the public are demanding.  It often looks and sounds more like a Roman spectacle rather than a serious exchange of ideas to address our problems.  Both parties and the networks should be embarrassed by many of the debates; I know that I am.  The town halls have been somewhat better as there has been a grownup exchange between the voters and the candidates rather than the reality television type of school yard antics expressed in the debates.

The sentiment on one side is the federal government needs broken up.  I agree, it has become too large and too powerful, and as a result has forgotten its place and no longer serves its people.  But breaking it up is only a first step.  Like going to war with Iraq you may accomplish the first part (winning a military war), but you won’t truly win unless you know what to do next.  One approach would simply be to go home after the job is done, but unlike Iraq, that approach won’t work in addressing our problems. 

We shouldn’t destroy what we have when breaking it up, but rather we need an exterminator to clean out a rat’s nest, getting rid of the bad and restoring the good.  A restoration could include an Article V convention of states to both restore the balance of power within the federal government, and between that federal government and the states and people it is sworn to serve.  Justice Scalia was an advocate of such a convention when government did not fulfill its purpose.  The current imbalance has come about through the duplicity of those sent to govern and our benign neglect.  But for us to make meaningful change, we first need to remember who we are supposed to be.

All government power is derived from us – the people.  It assumes that we are a single people, with only one set of mutually agreed upon rights and a shared commitment to the common good.  If those exist, we then need core beliefs that are grounded in both morality and virtue.  Otherwise, the common good will not be met, nor will our agreed upon rights be recognized.  All we need to do is examine the government’s failed war on poverty to see what happens when we relinquish one of our responsibilities, yes ours, to government.

Truth and unity bring strength, growth, and prosperity to a people.  Deceit and divisiveness bring weakness, turmoil, and uncertainty.  It is our choices as individuals and collectively as a people that are reflected in the political leaders we select.  Those leaders generally do not take us in a direction we do not wish to go, instead they are selected because most people agree their idea, plan, or direction.  In that respect they do not lead us, but follow from us.

So what are some first principles that reflect who we are supposed to be?

First, we have a Creator, and He has blessed us with certain gifts – what we sometimes call rights.  It doesn’t matter whether you believe in Him or not, because you are still His creation and He still loves you.  If you don’t believe that, get over it unless you can explain your existence, knowledge, and morality without Him – but you cannot as no one ever has.  Among the gifts He has given to us are:

·       Life.  Nothing has ever been created that our Creator did not create.

·       The freedom to make our own choices, which is essential to our purpose.  That purpose is to become good – as He is good – to become like Him to the extent we are able.  We’ve all been given different gifts, and all achieve that purpose differently, despite sharing the same purpose.

·       The pursuit of happiness.  This phrase means different things to different people.  According to Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, happiness can only be found in something directing us toward our Creator, and that is exactly what religious freedom is all about.  However, some refer to the pursuit of happiness as simply related to property or physical possessions.  That can lead to a kind of happiness, I guess, but one inferior to what our purpose provides.

·       We all share in an equality of nature, but there is never any certainty related to one’s outcome.  This is an extension of the freedom noted above, and a recognition of the common ancestry that we all share.  As we all share an equal nature, we are all due equal treatment under the law.  That is the essence of justice.  No one gets extra rights or privileges, and no one has any less.  And along with those rights come obligations.  Obligations in the way we use them, the actions we take, and when we choose not to exercise them.

Men are not angels, so government exists to serve its people.  Its primary purpose is to protect our Creator instilled rights.  This revolves around human justice and rests on what we can observe; divine justice is not ours to give, but belongs to our Creator alone as only He is able to read another’s heart.  Justice is a moral virtue.  Giving someone what they are due.  These go along with the virtues of charity and mercy that are the giving to someone something that they are not due – resulting in another virtue, forgiveness.  Granted there are also areas related to settling differences between states and our country and others, but these should also stem from the same concept of justice.

There is a relationship between charity, virtue, and our purpose.  All charity begins as an act of faith, is voluntary, and ends in performing an action out of love for another human being – a virtuous act out of love for both our Creator and one of his creation, a fellow man.  We are to give out of our abundance, it is no one else’s responsibility.  While we can abdicate that responsibility, we cannot be relieved of it – it remains with us as charity directs us toward our Creator.  Ever wonder why performing an act of charity makes you feel good?  It is because you are fulfilling your purpose.

This year’s choice is the most important in a generation.  Today we have over $19 trillion in debt and over $100 trillion in unfunded liabilities, compared to only $3 and $4 trillion respectively in 1989.  Our Creator given gifts are being replaced by an increasingly larger more powerful government.   The result is a greater tax burden, more regulation, and fewer opportunities.  We also face a darker more dangerous world.  How will we address these?  Our present course is failing on both fronts.

I’ll close with a tweet Donald Trump issued yesterday, “It is better to live for one year as a lion, than a 1,000 years as a sheep.”  This quote comes from Benito Mussolini, a 20th century fascist, but more importantly is it an indication of where we are headed?  When you forget where you came from, you no longer know where you should go.  But the choice is always ours to make, and we can choose to change.

Posted in: Stewardship

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About Dan Wolf

Dan WolfMy goal is that my writing will help you to get started on your own journey of discovery, or help you along the way on a journey you may have already begun. Our Founders considered education, religion, morality, and virtue to be the cornerstones for any successful society. Being successful requires understanding both the languages of reason and faith; reason alone is insufficient.