In the Book of Wisdom the writer derides those who see the awesome creations of God and mistake His creations to be gods -- worshipping, for example a moon god, or sun god, or a god of the sea: "All men are in nature foolish who are in ignorance of God, and who from the good things seen, do not succeed in knowing Him who Is ... but [worship] either fire or wind ... or the mighty waters ... or the luminaries of heaven."1 Then he goes on to say that much more pitiful than these are the men who worship the things they themselves have made: "Doomed are they ... who termed gods the work of human hands: gold and silver, the product of art, the likenesses of beasts, or useless stone the work of an ancient hand."2 In his time, the writer was referring to idols. If he lived today, he would equally mock those who worship any of the other forms of human endeavor instead of the God of Heaven.
Men, you see, are supposed to know of God's existence, even if they do not have the benefit of revelation -- even without Bible or catechism, or priest, or Church man has the capacity to recognize the existence of his Creator from the evidence of creation. Sometimes those who are careless will make the errors described in the Book of Wisdom, worshipping the things of nature, going astray in their zeal to find God -- but some knowledge of God is inescapable even though it may, at times, be imperfect.
In a similar way, man is capable of knowing God's moral law, even if that had not been revealed to us. Even before Moses went up the mountain to receive the tablets of God's Law, men pretty much knew that it was wrong to cheat. and steal, and rob, and rape, and murder, and so forth. There might have been some argument about the fine details, but the general principles were revealed in the nature of things. Just as man cannot live without some apprehension of God, human societies cannot function without observing the basics of the natural moral law.
It was in fact, to "the laws of nature and nature's God" that the founders of our Country appealed to justify revolution and the overthrow of the English Crown on American soil.3 Our Republic was founded on the recognition of God as the overlord of nations. For good reason, It established no national church, but in no way could it be called a Godless nation. It established no national church because many of the founders had seen themselves, or their near ancestors had seen, Catholics killing Protestants and visa versa, Protestants killing Protestants, and Jews being put out if not put to death. While they understood the importance of God, they also understood that such wholesale slaughter was a senseless violation of "the laws of nature and nature's God."
But again, in declaring that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," in the very same sentence, they continued, "or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."4 There would be no state church, but everyone was free to worship God whenever and wherever he wished. This was a fundamental right -- not a privilege granted by government that might some day be taken away. In no way was the honor due to God denied by our founders. There was no mention whatsoever of anything like "separation of church and state," and certainly noting as impossible as a separation of God and state, for the only way a state could serve its people and its purpose was by adhering to "the laws of nature and nature's God," and making sure that they were observed throughout the Land. People were free to pray in public; in schools, and in legislatures, and in military service -- indeed the government did and still does employ paid chaplains to lead some of that prayer. President Washington would be called upon by Congress to declare the first day of Thanksgiving observed under the new Constitution. You have heard his address before, but let me remind you that it starts out, saying that : "It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor ...."
This past week we witnessed the utter insanity of a Federal judge trying to claim that the Pledge of Allegiance to our Flag was somehow "unconstitutional" because it speaks of a "nation under God." Imagine what sort of swollen pride it must take for an elected official to think that by his say so, he could declare freedom from God -- as though such a thing could be possible or desirable. As our Lord told Pilate "thou wouldst have no power at all over me if it were not given thee from above."5 And this is the very basis for the Republic -- which I remind you again -- justified its entire existence by appealing to "the laws of nature and nature's God." In declaring the lunacy of its "freedom from God" the Republic loses its very justification for existence. The whole idea is something like laying a foundation, building a tall building, and then pulling the foundation out from underneath it -- the catastrophe that will ensue is obvious. (The 17,000 people being laid off because someone at WorldCom capitalized $4 Billion dollars in expenses now understand this, at least instinctively.)
Now, there was great bi-partisan outcry over this judge's decision. Some of it was genuine, no doubt. Some of it is likely to have been a smoke screen so that people will not think too clearly about the mess that has become of the way in which judges are appointed and confirmed -- and left in office even when they fail miserably, as one did last week. Some of the outcry resulted from the elected politicians' fear of the electorate -- actually, a sort of healthy thing; God help us when they lose all fear.
But I would suggest that last week's decision ought to be a warning, or more accurately, a wakeup. I say a wakeup because we have seen this sort of thing happen in the past, and not be turned around. We are in danger of believing, when we are told by a federal judge, that the Constitution means the opposite of what it says. We are in danger of believing that the 14th Amendment gives a woman the right to murder her child -- even though it says that "no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law," and strongly implies that unborn babies are persons. We are in danger of believing that the 2nd Amendment denies the right of self defense to individuals and organizations of individuals, reserving it only to a government maintained National Guard. We are in danger of believing that free speech is prohibited, no matter how true it might be, if it offends some self appointed group of victims. No matter what is done with last week's ruling, we are in danger that it will be repeated -- perhaps more slowly and more subtly -- but repeated nonetheless.
I have asked you in the past, and last weeks events only point up the urgency, to make yourselves more familiar with our Constitution and the way our government works -- to make your objections known to your elected leaders when objections need to be made; and praise, as well, when something is praiseworthy. In short, to do your duty as Catholics and as citizens of the Republic
In a few days we will celebrate our national independence. I ask all of you to keep our Country in your prayers -- particularly on that day -- come to Mass, or pray a Rosary, or whatever you can do, even if you have to turn the ball game off for a few minutes -- and remember, and maybe remind your friends, that our Nation and its independence are based on "the laws of nature and nature's God."