I recently received a fund-raising letter from the CATO Institute. Here are a couple of paragraphs from the first of 10 pages:
I'd like to ask you to take a few minutes to read this letter and consider getting involved with what [George] Will calls the organization that is the nation's "foremost upholder of the idea of liberty." Because to us liberty is — or should be — what America is all about. The essence of America is a respect for the dignity of the individual. It should be axiomatic that such dignity is enhanced to the extent one has control over one's own life. All of Cato's projects are developed with that thought in mind.
You know, we treat it almost as a cliché, the phrase from the Declaration of Independence in which the Founders cite certain "unalienable Rights" among which are the rights to "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." But it's a crucially important idea. Furthermore, the whole purpose of government in the Founders' vision was to secure those rights. What a powerful, radical phrase that is.
I have hundreds of links to CATO publications on my website. In fact, the entire structure of my website was originally taken from the CATO Handbook for Congress.
But CATO is an atheistic or "cosmopolitan" libertarian think-tank, as opposed to a more Christian "paleo"-libertarian think-tank like the Mises Institute, or a website like LewRockwell.com.
This being the case, I wonder if George Will is correct when he says that CATO is the "foremost upholder of the idea of liberty." Can liberty be upheld when Christianity is not? Or as Jefferson asked:
And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever....
If liberty is the measure of "political prosperity," then what secures political prosperity? George Washington answered in his famous Farewell Address:
Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion, and Morality are indispensable supports.—In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens. —The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them.—A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity.—Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.—Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure—reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.—
"Rights" exist only in a religious society, because "rights" exist only in a moral society. If nobody believes in the morality of "Thou shalt not steal," you have no "right" to property. If nobody believes in the morality of "Thou shalt not kill," you have no "right" to life. As John Adams put it:
The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If "Thou shalt not covet" and "Thou shalt not steal" were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.
J.Adams: A Defense of the Constitution of Government of the United States of America (Phila: Wm Young, 1797) III:217, from "The Right Constitution of a Commonwealth Examined," Letter VI.
But these commandments cannot be made inviolable if they are perceived as mere social conventions, evolved in a meaningless universe, or arbitrarily imposed on the weak by a privileged class.
The CATO fundraising letter says, "The essence of America is a respect for the dignity of the individual."
Is this really "the essence of America?" If we asked Americans from the Mayflower to the Declaration of Independence, "What is the essence of America?" how would they answer?
Moreover, if those Americans could see America today, would they say that Americans have any dignity in 2008? What if they saw Americans as potrayed on the average TV commercial?
How can Americans have dignity if they believe they are simply impersonal animals crawling up the evolutionary chain? Nobody wants to be a "fanatic," but they all agree with the "animal rights" activists: "A rat is a pig is a dog is a boy." Does this give us dignity? No defense of the dignity of the individual (human) is possible without defending the idea that Man is created in the Image of a dignified God.
"The essence of America" was in fact a defense of this idea. America was "a City upon a Hill," that from this hill the world would learn "the ways of God." James Madison, "Father of the Constitution," said legislators should vote against any bill which is
adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift, ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind...[to] the nations who continue in darkness."
Individuals who live in "darkness" don't have dignity, just as individuals who live in immoral societies do not enjoy rights.
Attacking or denying religion and morality is an attack -- not a defense -- of the liberties and rights of the individual. Those who say that an individual's rights and freedoms are crushed when subjected to the sovereignty of God, and seek to preserve human autonomy by attacking "theocracy," end up losing the rights and dignity of man in a world where the State is god.
Jesus said, "Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it."
The freedom of the creature comes in subordination to the Creator and in surrendering "control over one's own life"; the dignity of the individual is the product of being created in the Image of God.
Next: "the whole purpose of government in the Founders' vision was to secure those rights. What a powerful, radical phrase that is."