Friday, July 4, 2014

Homily: Independence Day: 2014

Two words come to mind this 4th of July: Hobby Lobby: and the panic and hysteria that these two words have inspired, despite the narrowly defined scope of the Supreme Court decision and the fact that, while it secures religious freedom, it in no way interferes with access to the desired product.

Revolutions for the most part have rarely accommodated religious freedom. It is true that from the French Revolution to the Communist revolutions to the Iraqi Islamic Revolution religious freedom has been given a nod. But in practice political revolutions have invariably been violently opposed to the practice of religion. Whatever the founding documents of revolutionary governments may say the Guillotine and the Gulag and Stoning tell another story.

You can argue all you want about American exceptionalism. The fact is the first amendment of the Constitution is the exception to the rule: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. At least in more recent years debate has flourished about whether this amendment is primarily concerned with the separation of church and state or primarily concerned with protecting the church from the state. But the amendment as it stands would seem logically and grammatically to refer to both concerns.  The business about ‘establishment’ may be a bit embarrassing to Anglicans who have a romantic attachment to the established Church of England.  One unintended consequence of the Reformation was endless and violent warfare over which form of Christianity would get official governmental sanction over all the other forms. Politicians including the Founding Fathers thought the best course of action was to remove the prize.  That is why church and state are separated. It was not the case that a bunch of atheists thought that this was a good way to wipe out ancient superstitions. On the contrary a bunch of Christians, not in every case perfectly orthodox Christians, but at least solid theists, realized that not only was this a good thing for the state but good for the Church.

Still if you look at the matter strictly from a political standpoint something else has to be added. “The free exercise thereof.”  Public order and peace require more than no establishment of religion, namely that the government not pass laws, which interfere with religion. That was to the Founding Fathers a sure recipe for strife and conflict. Far from imaging as most revolutions have envisioned that without state support religion will simply disappear, as our active secularists envision since they have lost their religion, the 1st amendment realizes that religion is inevitable and you cause way too many problems if you try to regulate it.

St. Thomas Aquinas explains not only the inevitably of religion but it moral imperative. It is a matter of justice, to use the favorite but much misunderstood word of the secular elite. St. Thomas says that because God is the origin or first principle of our existence we are indebted to Him and we must exercise the virtue of religion, that is. worship. In the natural order we are similarly indebted to our parents and our country, the origin of our birth and sustenance. This requires the virtue of piety, which among other things, means dutifulness.  

Many folks in the world must give thanks for their country in spite of its governing principles. We, however, are in the enviable position of giving thanks for our country precisely because of its governing principles.

Not least of all for Hobby Lobby.

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