Recommended by Ricochet Members Created with Sketch. Family Second, Faith First

 

Recently I had the pleasure of listening to Lt. Col. Allen West speak during the service of a local church. His presence and purpose, as much as the words of his excellent message, brought to mind something that I had been mentally digesting since the recent death of the British philosopher and writer Sir Roger Scruton. Both Col. West and Sir Roger serve up mental meals far richer than this poor cook can scramble together but I do have a few beginning bites partially digested enough to serve up a notion or two from them.

It was Scruton’s reflection on faith and family that I had been pondering. He had taken to task the need for government to tout so-called “family-friendly” policies. He contended that when the health of a nation’s faith was solid, the fate of the family was secure. He did not discount the importance and need of a strong family culture for the nation to flourish. But the foundation of that family culture was not in policy but the strong faith of individuals. A nation with a strong culture of faith will have strong families which keep the values of the faith, culture, and nation alive.

It should go without saying that the opposite is also true. So, it might be reasonable when questioning the cultural decline of a nation or society to look first to the strength of its faith traditions. It might also be reasonable for those who wish to pull down a culture or nation to start with that most fundamental element of its foundation.

It has been observed many times and in words much better crafted than mine that our Founders/Framers understood our foundational culture of liberty was steeped in the Judeo-Christian ethic. The liberty which fell to us through those Western traditions is protected by the simple but clear virtues of that ethic. That keen French tourist in the early 19th century US, Alexis de Tocqueville, saw that religion was “the first of their political institutions.” With that bedrock foundation, America was, even at that infant stage, “the most enlightened and free nation of the earth.”

Reasonable (and fair) evaluation of the single best statement of our Founding can make a few things clear with regard to the place of faith in the vision of this national experiment in liberty. Despite its list of complaints against King George, the Declaration of Independence makes clear the concept that the moral laws of “Nature and Nature’s God” took precedence over human laws. The men who put their name to that document were not moral relativists; Natural Law was constant, unchanged by the times or fashion. In this context, liberty is not license. It is the freedom to do what is morally correct. It is a journey to align ourselves more and more with Nature and Nature’s God. If you do not believe that, how can you believe in natural and inalienable (God-given) rights which are beyond the rightful reach of man’s government?

If one follows that reasoning, the very first foundation stone in the nation envisioned by those Founders/Framers is faith. It comes before all else. Then would come the family itself, the necessary link between that personal faith and the traditions which tie it to a surrounding and supporting community.

It is from that community that a civil society sharing a vision of liberty and virtue is built. Without that civil society, there cannot be a successful nation. It is that society that supports the nation, not the other way around. If that society and its foundations are not strong, the nation is weak.

This is one of the great, clear lessons of man’s history. And one does not have to be a person of great faith to see it. The great historian Will Durant, an atheist, observed that each and every great civilization or nation of the past has fallen. And the clearest sign of their decline was that at some point “the intellectual classes” abandoned the founding theology. What we might call today “the ruling class” became just too damn smart to accept basic universal truths that restrict their own designs.

What are some of the characteristics of this faith upon which our nation is to depend? To begin with, it cannot be a national faith unless it is first a personal, individual faith. The nation is the final benefactor of that faith. The next in line to the individual is the most basic relationship of human society, the family. Each foundation stone has to be solid and well-placed for the next stone to be secure.

It is at that family level where faith is grown most effectively. Virtue does not come naturally. To poorly paraphrase Madison, men are not angels and angels do not rule men. The virtue, the moral code of a faith, has to taught, explained, cultivated, and modeled.

Liberty will flourish most when intertwined with faith. Liberty and the free choices that come with it always involve risk. But within those risks lay the richest rewards for the individual.

Both faith and liberty require action. Faith does not silently retreat to a far corner to let the world take its own course. And liberty has to be practiced to either grow or to benefit the individual.

Faith demands responsibility, as does liberty. Neither is license. To accept each is to take its mantle to be worn and its principles to be practiced.

Faith requires strength. Faith without strength is sterile, producing little or nothing. That strength is not just of belief but of will because all faith (and all strength) will be tested. But the test of will is often just a sharpening tool. If one will not actively defend his faith, how can he be expected to defend a nation dependent on that faith?

Each of us can mentally make our own list of ways in which the fundamental elements of the Judeo-Christian ethic has been undermined in the last century, especially in ways that might challenge the very nature of that vital and necessary family unit. There is nowhere that the individual responsible for both faith and liberty is required more than at the family level. In a nation that surely needs a restoration of its original vision, this is the most important place that each of us can begin to have an impact.

Since I began with Sir Roger Scruton, I will close with him as well. “Good things are easily destroyed but not easily created.”

Published in Religion & Philosophy
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  1. JennaStocker Member

    Thank you for an excellent, thoughtful post. This strikes me as one (of many) crucial dominos falling towards a decay of our traditional institutions

    ”Faith demands responsibility, as does liberty. Neither is license. To accept each is to take its mantle to be worn and its principles to be practiced.”

    As the individual decided he held the ultimate determination of moral standards, not the first principles as set by a higher power, there could be no judgment of right or wrong, nor any objective truths. It leads to moral relativism and a ceding of individual responsibility for oneself and one’s family to whomever will take it: in our case a corrupt society diametrically opposed to the objective truths as proclaimed and practiced in religion. Faith and religion demands an adherence to a certain principles, and when that becomes a point of ridicule and deemed not inclusive or even bigoted, culture will follow a path of least resistance: action without consequences or responsibility. In short, if you don’t believe in anything, anything goes; who are we to judge? 

    • #1
    • February 26, 2020, at 6:29 PM PST
    • 4 likes
  2. Stad Thatcher

    Ole Summers: Recently I had the pleasure of listening to Lt. Col. Allen West speak during the service of a local church.

    Great post!

    I got a chance to briefy speak with Col. West on a National Review cruise (too bad there aren’t going to be any more). He’s an impressive individual, and it’s too bad he lost re-election to his House seat because of re-districting . . .

    • #2
    • February 27, 2020, at 5:25 AM PST
    • 3 likes
  3. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Ole Summers: Natural Law was constant, unchanged by the times or fashion. In this context, liberty is not license. It is the freedom to do what is morally correct. It is a journey to align ourselves more and more with Nature and Nature’s God. If you do not believe that, how can you believe in natural and inalienable (God –given) rights which are beyond the rightful reach of man’s government?

    Exactly. Pursuit of truth is what matters; not pursuit of ideas. We share a reality that imposes itself upon us all. 

    The division between Left and Right, and even between fellow rightwing voters, strikes much deeper than politics. It is a division of realities. We have lost common ground. We disagree about human nature, its relevance, relationships, inheritance, and the moral conclusions thereof. Even among fellow Christians and fellow Jews, perceptions of fundementals radically diverge. 

    The most rudimentary nations are families writ large. Clans, tribes, or ethnicities, they are incidental and bound more by blood than creed. Rare nations are founded on shared beliefs and open to any who will adopt those beliefs. Obviously, a creedal nation cannot long survive half its members abandoning its fundamental assertions. 

    A government which attempts to redefine pre-political norms of family and even to revoke nature itself, such as distinctions between man and woman, is a government which has claimed the insurmountable authority of God. We have definitely reached the final stage of civilization. The options now are revolution (cultural), dissolution, or totalitarian rejection of founding principles. 

    Pray, repent, and return to God. That is the only hope for Western civilization. 

     

    • #3
    • February 27, 2020, at 8:44 AM PST
    • 4 likes
  4. Front Seat Cat Member

    JennaStocker (View Comment):

    Thank you for an excellent, thoughtful post. This strikes me as one (of many) crucial dominos falling towards a decay of our traditional institutions

    ”Faith demands responsibility, as does liberty. Neither is license. To accept each is to take its mantle to be worn and its principles to be practiced.”

    As the individual decided he held the ultimate determination of moral standards, not the first principles as set by a higher power, there could be no judgment of right or wrong, nor any objective truths. It leads to moral relativism and a ceding of individual responsibility for oneself and one’s family to whomever will take it: in our case a corrupt society diametrically opposed to the objective truths as proclaimed and practiced in religion. Faith and religion demands an adherence to a certain principles, and when that becomes a point of ridicule and deemed not inclusive or even bigoted, culture will follow a path of least resistance: action without consequences or responsibility. In short, if you don’t believe in anything, anything goes; who are we to judge?

    Well said, and what a great post! We get a daily snapshot of it in action. I really like Lt. Col. West. He ran for a political seat at one point, but no longer? Maybe he stays out of the way for a good reason. This post is the basic understanding of our success as a country, even with its failures, and is no longer taught.

    • #4
    • February 27, 2020, at 10:52 AM PST
    • 1 like
  5. Ontheleftcoast Member

    The most recent Tikvah Podcast which is on Jewish sexual ethics and Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits is very relevant to this post.

     

    • #5
    • February 27, 2020, at 11:35 AM PST
    • Like
  6. Lilly B Coolidge

    While I don’t doubt that you’re on to something critical for the strength of families and our country, I wonder that this emphasis on faith may lack appeal to many Americans. My parents emphasized good behavior and personal responsibility, but it was more like “family first, faith maybe.” Sometimes I think they left behind religion, as so many in their generation did, because it seemed normal. And yet, there were deeper disappointments and possibly painful personal reasons that they and others turned their backs on their childhood religious practices. 

    My mother was from a Jewish family attempting to assimilate to suburban American life, and her father embraced secular humanism. After the horrors experienced by Jews in World War II, the more philosophical and less religious path apparently had its appeal. 

    My father recently told me that he believes religion is a lie, and yet he lives as if guided by religious moral principles. I think he fails to appreciate that he and so many people who form the backbone of this country have benefited from a strong faith tradition, even if they no longer share the faith.

    Also, I think the abuse scandals in the Catholic Church have also done significant damage. I don’t claim to know how to repair it, but I have met many people who have left the Catholic Church for that reason and others related to its perceived intolerance. Churches need to have better answers to the challenges posed by our country’s continual pursuit of civil rights for various groups of people who perceive themselves to be oppressed by church teachings. Ideally, they could do this without abandoning a commitment to truth. 

    • #6
    • February 27, 2020, at 12:15 PM PST
    • 1 like
  7. Manny Member

    What a superb post! This is at the heart of conservatism. This is what the Libertarians fail to realize. Moral relativism despite economic prosperity decays a culture. It’s posts like this that make me glad I paid for Ricochet. 

    • #7
    • February 27, 2020, at 1:42 PM PST
    • 2 likes
  8. I Walton Member

    Outstanding essay. Thanks. Can we return? Not easily, but when we look across the US we see people filling the old faith hole with new cooler less demanding faiths, which means they are open. Part of it is we’ve given too much power to the center, to government, which can’t play any role in these vital matters and is in fact now hostile. Government, where it must exist, grows out of the people as well except where it can’t, foreign and defense policy.

    • #8
    • February 27, 2020, at 3:39 PM PST
    • 1 like
  9. GLDIII Temporarily Essential Reagan
    GLDIII Temporarily Essential Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Stad (View Comment):

    Ole Summers: Recently I had the pleasure of listening to Lt. Col. Allen West speak during the service of a local church.

    Great post!

    I got a chance to briefy speak with Col. West on a National Review cruise (too bad there aren’t going to be any more). He’s an impressive individual, and it’s too bad he lost re-election to his House seat because of re-districting . . .

    Stad, spoke w/ Jack last night, stay tuned on the “no more cruises” issue. We should be seeing a notice from NRI in a few weeks….. keep your calendar clear for some time after veterans day. 

    • #9
    • February 28, 2020, at 7:14 AM PST
    • 1 like
  10. Stad Thatcher

    GLDIII Temporarily Essential (View Comment):

    Stad (View Comment):

    Ole Summers: Recently I had the pleasure of listening to Lt. Col. Allen West speak during the service of a local church.

    Great post!

    I got a chance to briefy speak with Col. West on a National Review cruise (too bad there aren’t going to be any more). He’s an impressive individual, and it’s too bad he lost re-election to his House seat because of re-districting . . .

    Stad, spoke w/ Jack last night, stay tuned on the “no more cruises” issue. We should be seeing a notice from NRI in a few weeks….. keep your calendar clear for some time after veterans day.

    Man, I hope they change their minds and hold one.

    • #10
    • February 28, 2020, at 9:03 AM PST
    • Like