The blog of Dr Glenn Andrew Peoples on Theology, Philosophy, and Social Issues

Happy 4th of July 1010


The 4th of July is American Independence Day, on which Americans celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence (the Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand is also interesting, but that’s for another time). It’s one of those days when revisionary political liberals sharpen their pencils and write letters to the editor to try to offset the natural effect that facts have on people. In other words, they attempt to convince people of things that aren’t so. When it comes to the Declaration of Independence, perhaps the major thing that secular liberals might want to do is to distract people from what the declaration says – especially all that stuff about God – and to remind people of the supposed fact that in a truly free nation, religion stays out of the public square. Reading the Declaration of Independence pushes any such thought well into the background:

Consider the opening words of the Declaration:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bonds which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The basis of human equality, along with the basis of human rights, is explicitly theological God bestows equal status and dignity upon human beings. From Abraham Lincoln to John F. Kennedy, these sentences have held a place of privilege in many political figures since the time they were written.

Some secular liberals, however, are honest. Yeah I know, try to subdue your shock. Within the literature on political philosophy and the issue of religion in the public square, I’ve found that – unlike the opinion pages of the local newspaper – there’s a tendency to actually deal with reality. Take Martha Nussbaum for example. She doesn’t try to re-write history. She accepts the facts of what the Declaration of Independence says, but she’s a secular liberal, so she does the honest thing: She denounces the declaration. In fact, since she realises that a thoroughgoing secular outlook has no way of defending the claim, made in the declaration, that all people are really equal, she declares that this too, along with the reference to God, makes the declaration unacceptable in a secular liberal democracy. I don’t like her ideas, but I love her honesty.1

Glenn Peoples

  1. Martha Nussbaum, “Political Objectivity,” New Literary History 32 (2001), 883-906, especially 896. []


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  1. Martin Snigg

    Charitably, Martha Nussbaum perhaps learned a valuable lesson about honesty after being caught in her ‘cultural warrior’ fabrications in the Romer v. Evans [the 1993 Colorado Gay Rights Case]. The one that Rob George and John Finnis were also expert witnesses.

    “Nussbaum of the University of Chicago, who, in the service of gay rights, gave false testimony in court—and it is hard to believe she did not know it was false—about the moral teaching of Plato and other ancients on homosexuality.” Fr. RJ Neuhaus

    “Contrary to testimony in the case by classics scholar Martha Nussbaum, principled moral condemnation of homosexuality is found widely throughout the pre-Christian world. Indeed, one of the questions raised in the Symposium itself pertains to the particular animus against homosexuality found among the potentates of Asia Minor. The laws and customs of the Hebrews are equally clear on this. As for the proper rendering of tolmêma, it is uncontroversially a term intended to convey shock. Translated as “daring,” it would almost invariably have to connote the kind of rash or heedless action which would be condemned within the morally conservative world of the Greeks.” Prof. DN Robinson Georgetown University.

  2. Tim

    How about the honesty of a Mao Tse-Tung:

    “I do not agree with the view that to be moral, the motive of one’s actions has to be benefiting others. Morality does not have to be defined in relation to others. . . . [People like me want to] satisfy our hearts to the full and in doing so we automatically have the most valuable moral codes. Of course there are people and objects in the world, but they are all there only for me. . . . I have my desire and act on it.”

  3. I find the American Declaration of Independence admirable. For one thing, it is neither angry nor rude about the British (then) Empire; it simply says: We want out, and here is our moral justification.

    Just the same I was personally delighted by Elizabeth II’s appearance recently at the United Nations, as the eldest Head of State there. And it reminded me that, just as I approve of the American Declaration with its republicanism, so I admire, equally, the fact which so many of us seem to have forgotten: that . . . well, let me quote from my Commission as a very junior officer in Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force (a long time ago). It starts:-

    “Elizabeth II, by the Grace of God of the Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of The Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

    To Our trusty and well beloved Martin Charlton Woodhouse, MB, BCh: Greeting:
    WE, reposing especial trust and confidence . . . etc”

    No, ok, this is a splendid document linguistically (and reminds me at once of the months of slogging uphill and down through snow and ice with a forty-pound pack and an ancient Lee Enfield rifle which I did in earning it); but here’s the point:- Mrs Elizabeth Windsor-Mountbatten is my — and your — Queen by the Grace of God. And yes, she’s also a small woman who goes to the lavatory as we do, and presumably used — though not now — to suffer from PMT and colds in the head, and so on; it is through the grace of God, though, that she represents us as something else.

    And I would not give two fourpenny damns if whoever happened to be Prime Minister of the UK at the time — HER Prime Minister, of HER government, let’s not forget — had written to me expressing “his especial trust, etc etc.” But if, as is very unlikely indeed, the UK is invaded and some foreigner points a gun at Elizabeth II, I am obliged as a holder of her Commission as Acting Pilot Officer to kill that person if I am able to do so (unless she commands me not to); just as she is obliged to resist to the death anybody who tries to take from her the Kingdom of Great Britain of which she is — by the Grace of God — the head.

    What does all this mean?

    I don’t know, except that it seems to me that it’s useful that the head of my country (and of yours, unless and until you may decide to become a republic) should be someone I can see and, incidentally, greatly admire. Symbols are symbols, but that doesn’t mean that what they symbolise is unimportant or non-existent. And if I cannot, therefore, tell you whether or not Mrs. Windsor has actually been placed as head of our commonwealth by God, it’s possible that this is the case and it’s important to my wellbeing in some fashion I cannot quite explain.

    When, some time in the future, you and I meet Elizabeth Windsor in whatever the afterlife turns out to be, she will not of course be anything other than a human being like, and equal to, ourselves. I expect to have a conversation with her about what it was like to be a queen (pretty tough, I dare say).

    But right here and now I think she is, or represents, something which has been ordained — just as the United States of America has been ordained, for quite different reasons, as One Nation — by, and under, God.



  4. Just Sayin'

    Weird — this post doesn’t appear to be displaying on your home-page. I could only get to it from the link at Unsettled Christianity blog.

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