Creation Is a Pivotal Issue for Civilization
Attorney General William Barr, in a recent speech on religious liberty, affirmed the centrality of creation for cultural survival.
Family Research Council today (Oct 21) devoted the whole hour of its Washington Watch radio program to a speech given by Attorney General William Barr on religious liberty. Tony Perkins called it “one of the most powerful given on religious liberty by a government figure in decades.” It was delivered at Notre Dame University’s School of Law on October 11. The audio of the approximately 50-minute speech can be downloaded at the link above. A transcript is available from the US Justice Department.
Near the beginning of the speech, Barr pointed back to the principles of America’s founding fathers.
The imperative of protecting religious freedom was not just a nod in the direction of piety. It reflects the Framers’ belief that religion was indispensable to sustaining our free system of government.
In his renowned 1785 pamphlet, “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” James Madison described religious liberty as “a right towards men” but “a duty towards the Creator,” and a “duty….precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.”
At a key point in the speech, Barr differentiates between the beliefs that lead to a moral society, usually reinforced by religion, or a degenerate society giving individuals unbridled expression of their passions.
Part of the human condition is that there are big questions that should stare us in the face. Are we created or are we purely material accidents? Does our life have any meaning or purpose? But, as Blaise Pascal observed, instead of grappling with these questions, humans can be easily distracted from thinking about the “final things.”
Indeed, we now live in the age of distraction where we can envelop ourselves in a world of digital stimulation and universal connectivity. And we have almost limitless ways of indulging all our physical appetites.
A key feature of Barr’s speech is the way he draws the line between the contrasting worldviews – creation or accident – and the resulting consequences for society. In that regard, creation can be seen as a pivotal doctrine on which society is balanced. Rejection of creation, and of the religious education that usually follows from it, leads to a tipping point with many dire consequences. This time, he warns, secular society is doing its utmost to put artificial bandages on the cancer.
There is another modern phenomenon that suppresses society’s self-corrective mechanisms – that makes it harder for society to restore itself.
In the past, when societies are threatened by moral chaos, the overall social costs of licentiousness and irresponsible personal conduct becomes so high that society ultimately recoils and reevaluates the path that it is on.
But today – in the face of all the increasing pathologies – instead of addressing the underlying cause, we have the State in the role of alleviator of bad consequences. We call on the State to mitigate the social costs of personal misconduct and irresponsibility.
He follows with specific recent examples of how state and federal governments have been doing this. Then he ends with calls for turning education back to the values of the founding fathers.
Education is not vocational training. It is leading our children to the recognition that there is truth and helping them develop the faculties to discern and love the truth and the discipline to live by it.
We cannot have a moral renaissance unless we succeed in passing to the next generation our faith and values in full vigor.
The times are hostile to this. Public agencies, including public schools, are becoming secularized and increasingly are actively promoting moral relativism.
As a Catholic speaking at a Catholic university, Barr naturally suggested that Catholic education needed reinforcement, but his reach extended “more generally [to] religiously-affiliated schools” based on the Bible. “By and large, the Founding generation’s view of human nature was drawn from the classical Christian tradition,” he says, and he also notes that “man is fallen” in another reference to Genesis.
I think we all recognize that over the past 50 years religion has been under increasing attack.
On the one hand, we have seen the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system and a comprehensive effort to drive it from the public square.
On the other hand, we see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism.
By any honest assessment, the consequences of this moral upheaval have been grim.
Barr shares some grim statistics that underscore that point.
Predictably, Barr’s speech was harshly criticized by the secular media. Though delivered in Barr’s characteristic measured and subdued tone of voice, the speech has been described as a “wild misreading of the First Amendment” where he “blasts militant secularism” and implies that “God is Trump’s Co-Conspirator.” Ironically, that kind of hateful, vilifying response illustrates Barr’s point. The Bible’s moral precepts, he had pointed out in the speech, “start with the two great commandments – to Love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind; and to Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.”
Just read the speech. Or listen to it. CEH does not promote Catholicism or any other particular branch of what might be included in the broad “Judeo-Christian” category, but some principles exist that all of those branches can agree on: There is a Creator, and we are responsible to him. What we appreciate is that Barr showed in such clear terms the stark contrast in consequences between belief in a Creator and denial of a Creator.