How ’bout them Seahawks?
As a Chicago Bears fan the answer to that question means very little to me, but I did enjoy the annual ritual of binge-eating and loudly talking over friends and loved ones who gathered together around the TV for Super Bowl 48.
One thing that stood out was the tradition of having various NFL players and civil servants recite the Declaration of Independence before the game. Some of the powerful (and unmistakably religious) lines from our nation’s charter of freedom stirred up a few thoughts on the important role theology has played in this nation for more than hundred years.
For many Americans, the term “theology” is a confusing, misunderstood, or even meaningless one. It’s okay to admit that, even if you consider yourself a spiritual person.
Theology is simply the study, or understanding, of God.
Every person has a theology, even atheists, for they make the definitive claim that there is no God. The presupposition of my definition for theology is that one has already thought about God. It is nearly impossible to separate the question of God from our own experience of asking the “Why am I here?” and “What is my purpose?” questions that rightly plague us all. You can brush these questions off for much or all of your life, but the intellectually honest person is confronted with them and eventually says, “Results be damned: In one form or another, I’m going to explore what knowledge is out there on the subject of God’s and man’s existence.”
On a side note: If you have never reached this point of candid self-reflection in your life, I do not intend to debate the existence of God here and now. But we cannot avoid Him in a discussion of American history and public life.
Here is where I believe the theology of an American matters to their neighbor. Don’t confuse theology with “religion.” You belong to a religion, but you believe in a particular theology.
The question before us, as fellow citizens of a representative republic, is the genesis of our rights.
Where do they come from? Does everyone have them? Can they be taken away? Should they ever be taken away? What can and/or should be done if they are taken away?
Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, believed in a Higher Power who created the world, wound it up like a watch, and then walked away to let things play out as they will. Jefferson believed that, like the inner-workings of a watch, there were certain truths, what one might call “Natural Laws,” which governed the universe.
He was what is known as a deist. He was also a lawyer and a rationally thinking man.
The core of his reasoned defense for America’s right to be free from British tyranny was this: “All men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” This, in my opinion, is the single most distinctive thing about America. For, as G.K. Chesterton put it, America is the only nation to be founded upon a creed. The Jewish people of the Old Testament were the first to claim that mankind was made in God’s image. Jefferson, a deist no less, and our remarkable Founding Fathers took the logical next step and said “If God created us, then our rights come from Him, not a king.”
These “truths” were considered to be “self-evident”…as in, “You have to go out of your way to ignore or deny them.”
How does one explain where rights come from without a Higher Power? If it is not God, then our rights are arbitrary and illusionary. If our rights do not come from someone or something higher than ourselves, namely a Creator, then we are entirely dependent on the whims of the State.
You don’t have to worship on Sunday morning at Sarah Palin’s church or profess belief in a literal Six-Day Creation to acknowledge the importance of this point. You don’t have to be the (misguided) type of person who calls America the “Second Israel” to appreciate the uniqueness of this country’s fundamental claims about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The genius of our Founders was this: led by their undeniably Judeo-Christian theological influences and values, they conceived a way to ground our national system in theology without forcing people to be religious. You can believe whatever it is you want about God, Jesus, Buddha or the Hale-Bopp Comet. Go ahead and pray (or not pray) to God in any way you see fit – but we believe in a Higher Power and the only possible chance for sustained freedom and liberty we can see is a nation where everyone, especially those who are lent power to lead, is held to a higher standard.
No one wants a theocracy, but to write the Judeo-Christian heritage out of our nation’s history is preposterous and should not be taken seriously. For better or worse, this is who we are.