-Creedence Clearwater Revival
I remember during my years of Catholic seminary training that there were certain members of the community who always seemed to be worried about what their congregants were doing. The supposition seemed to be that whatever it was that they were up to, it probably included a whole bunch of sin, and for their own good they needed to be controlled. I fell for the argument for a while, but I eventually came to see it as not only counter-productive, but in opposition to the sacramentality that marks what Catholicism is all about. For blog readers who aren’t Catholic, sacramentality is the belief that everything God created can be an experience of God–especially human persons. You see, unlike some evangelical teaching, Catholic Christianity does not accept the notion of total human depravity. Instead, we wholeheartedly embrace the biblical teaching that every human person is made in “the image and likeness of God,” and that God’s presence can be discerned even in those who are not Christian and even in those with no religious faith at all. Do humans make mistakes and wander into sin? Yep, you betcha. But the divine spark remains. This is a very positive appreciation of what it means to be human. We theologians speak of it as “positive anthropology.”
Such insights eventually brought me to the conviction that people need less to be controlled and more to be led, encouraged, reasoned with, and brought into dialogue with one another. Obviously, in any social context there is a valid place for some control. In a society or religious community that recognizes freedom as an expression of a divine presence, however, the controlling instinct should not be dominant. I am most fervently committed to the doctrine that what is true and holy–what is authentically human–is discovered only when the inherent value of free human persons who are agents for their own growth is recognized and enshrined in law. This is an Enlightenment principle that inspired our nation’s Founders, and while they did not all refer to themselves as “Christians,” it remains a profoundly Christian idea. In fact, some historians and philosophers have argued that democratic principles could not have developed as they did without the influence of this form of Christian theologizing.
Sadly, too few of our elected representatives have such a positive view of human nature. The same seems to apply to government bureaucrats. And before you castigate me, let me say again that I’m not arguing for human infallibility or for some romanticized notion of human society. We humans can be selfish, petty, ignorant, petulant, hateful, spiteful, and egocentric. I know all of this. Our varied religious traditions have different ways of explaning this fact. Christians refer to it as original sin. On the other hand, we are also capable of the most amazing kindness, personal sacrifice, goodness, and creativity. These realizations inform not only my theological opinions, but my political and economic ideas as well. Rather than always being focused on control and putting extreme limitations upon citizens and their economic productivity, wouldn’t a government be more effective (and less expensive) if its policies were focused on the encouragement of the best behavior?
I does appear to me that our nation’s constitutional Founders had this same idea. Their vision was for a federal form of government with severely curtailed ability to control the populace. It’s enough that the national government prevent fraudulent, abusive, and violent activities. Leave the rest to the people themselves to decide, gathered together into political subdivisions by State. They reasoned that if legislative folly was enacted, it should happen at the State level where there was more local control, and where political silliness could more effectively be prevented or, if enacted into law, rescinded.
During the first week of this blog (November 2011) I predicted Mitt Romney would be the GOP nominee. That is all but assured at this point. Later, I predicted that he would win the 2012 presidential race. When that happens, we who are inspired by constitutional values must press even harder and more vocally for a return to the limitations of our beloved Constitution. If we don’t, we can count on more of what we’ve seen in the Obama years. There are always politicians available who are thirsty for control. The sunset of freedom is never distant. Lady Liberty demands vigiliance against those who prefer control and coercion backed by the threat of armed force.