The Founding Fathers’ belief in a Creator

The Founding Fathers’ belief in a Creator

Commemorating the founding of our nation during the month of July gives rise to the opportunity to reflect upon the Declaration of Independence. This document gives us some insight into the mindset of our Founding Fathers, giving us guidance as to how best to make laws and govern our great nation.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed with by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” This is perhaps the best known sentence of the Declaration. This sentence comes after the statement concerning the need to break with one government so to form another government, one which will foster and protect these unalienable rights.

It is important to note that the Founding Fathers understood human beings to be capable of knowing truth. This implies that the world is intelligible, that is knowable, and that human beings are reasonable, that is rational creatures capable of knowing the world. That human beings come to know reality further implies that reality is something discovered by human beings. Reality is not made by human beings, (even though humankind is capable of shaping reality in various ways, good or evil).

One of the things that human beings come to know is the order found in creation; that creation works in a particular manner, moving toward a particular goal which brings fulfillment. Often this ordered movement toward a goal is called nature. The Founding Fathers understood this, for it is implied by the statement “[men] are endowed … with certain unalienable Rights…. Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Human beings are ordered to pursue life, liberty and happiness. Such an ordering is grounded in the very nature of human beings.

For this understanding to make sense, it is important to note the mention of the Creator. The Founding Fathers believed that a Creator had created the world, human beings included, giving to it the order that has been previously mentioned. Part of this order is the ability of human beings to use reason as they pursue life, liberty and happiness. Again, reason discovers what is given in creation, grounding all its decisions in reality.

This ability to make rational decisions in keeping with the order of creation includes the ability to make laws and form governments. Good laws and good governments are those that are grounded in the ability to know the truth discovered in creation. Such laws and governments promote the flourishing of human dignity by promoting the common good that leads to a just society, allowing for true happiness to be pursued and achieved.

Unfortunately, too often this is not what occurs. Archbishop Fulton Sheen stated that human beings were rejecting the ability to reason for they no longer understood the world, that is reality, as intelligible, that is knowable. Archbishop Sheen would further state that this was due to the rejection of God, especially a God such as the Blessed Trinity who created all that is, giving it order and purpose (cf. Wis. 8:1). Further, the Trinity created humans, male and female, in his own image and likeness (cf. Gen. 1:27), that is with the ability to know, to choose and to experience happiness. The ability to choose is grounded in the ability to know the truth. Decisions based on truth lead to happiness.

Saint John Paul II expressed the danger of the rejection of God. In Evangelium Vitae, he stated, “When the sense of God is lost there is also a tendency to lose the sense of man, of his dignity, of his life” (§21).

Saint John Paul, in Fides et Ratio, further states that this loss of a sense of God also leads to a diminishing in man’s trust in reason to know the truth of reality. When human beings lose the sense of themselves, they lose sight of that which brings true happiness in keeping with their dignity. Further, when human beings lose a sense of God, they lose the understanding that being created, they have a given human nature. No longer grounded in a given human nature, human beings begin to understand themselves as self-determining beings. This self-determination is grounded in the will and not in reason.

When human beings, understanding themselves as self-determining beings, no longer trust reason to guide them in making laws, they turn instead to the will. Instead of making a law in conformity with reason, with that which is true and good, a law will be made in conformity with what those in power want but which might not be in keeping with the order of nature, given by the Creator, which promotes human dignity and flourishing.

To counter this trend, let us remember that the Founding Fathers were men who believed in both a Creator and the human ability to reason. These founders did not think these beliefs to be only for the private sphere but rather, as integral parts of the public square. May we follow their example today, so to form a government which will make laws in keeping with God given human dignity.

Father Jason Rocks is currently in Rome at the Pontifical North American College for Advanced Studies.

Categories: Columns, Growing in Faith

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