"Edward Gibbon (1737-88) said that the following five attributes marked Rome at its end: first, a mounting love of show and luxury (that is, affluence); second, a widening gap between the very rich and the very poor (this could be among countries in the family of nations as well as in a single nation); third, an obsession with sex; fourth, freakishness in the arts, masquerading as originality, and enthusiasm pretending to be creativity; fifth, an increased desire to live off the state. It all sounds so familiar. We have come a long road...we are back in Rome." (From "How Should We Then Live?" by Francis A. Schaeffer)
Two-hundred-thirty-five years ago, 56 men met one last time and affixed their signatures to a document declaring the bonds of the American colonies "dissolved" from Great Britain. In this they pledged "our lives, our fortunes, our sacred honor." Whether it is now politically acceptable or not, what they created that fourth day of July was a Christian nation.
True, the word never appears in either the Declaration of Independence signed that July 4th, or in the Constitution that would later follow. But, in the world in which those 56 men lived Christian was the only nation conceivable.
This is not to say, as some would now like to believe, these were necessarily devout, rightwing, conservative Evangelicals. It is most likely many of these men were Deist (who believed in a god who created the universe and then went off to do other things). It is fair to say they were Christian in the sense that this was the community in which they lived; Christianity being the view of the world they held as regard to man's dealings with man; and, most importantly, holding that Biblical principles were absolute truth. On this latter was a nation brought forth. To this Francis Schaeffer comments, "To whatever degree a society allows the teaching of the Bible to bring forth its natural conclusions, it is able to have form and freedom in society and government."
It was on the basis of these so-called Biblical absolutes we formed a nation. Whatever we became, whatever we are, it is based on these absolutes. Then as a people we spent two centuries and 35 years finding out what that meant and how much fortunes and honor were at stake.
We fought a Civil War, making the United States a singular noun and righting a terrible wrong. On the basis of right and wrong absolutes we sent young men to die around the world to fight for other people's freedom. Along the way there were bitterly disputed elections, yes; but, rarely revolutions or riots in the streets. There were sins of commission and omission, but we knew them to be wrongs.
Nationhood turned out to be a long and hard journey; but worth the taking because of a sense of certain things being right and others wrong, whatever way the winds blew.
Sometime, possibly even in this writer's lifetime, another generation arose which knew not the founding fathers, nor the moral absolutes on which they established a new nation. The Way We Were drifted into the aloofness of time and space and science and civil rights and political necessity. In the name of looking forward we stopped looking back. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, martyr to anti-god Communism tyranny, speaks in "The Gulag Archipelago" of an old proverb: "Dwell on the past and you'll lose an eye." To which he adds, "Forget the past and you'll lose both eyes."
Thus, to those who seek no absolutes beyond the will of the majority and refuse looking back to The Way We Were, I present a caveat: If nothing is either absolutely right or absolutely wrong, then anything can be called right...and we are back in Rome.
David L. Lewis is an observer of and sometimes commentator on life who may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.