Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Let them be men

Every motive they try to act on becomes at once petitio [validated by strength of their self declared virtue]. It is not that they are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Natural Law, they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artefacts. Man's final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man. - C.S. Lewis "The Abolition of Man"
Asked recently if Barack Obama is evil I had to stop and think. As a Christian the question of evil is not difficult to come to grips with. The Bible states that "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit...Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." That is the judgement that we are admonished to apply as Christians in discernment of good and evil. But in our pluralistic society, there is a conventional understanding of evil as intentional, focused on the goal of advancing evil for the sake of evil. What we see in men like Barack Obama is not the sort of self-aware evil that we would find in a man keeping a kidnapped child in his basement in slavery for years, or in a genocidal maniac like Hitler. A man that believes in the perfectibility of man and sees himself as an agent of that perfectibility may be confused, even delusional, certainly dangerous, but society will only be confused by assertions that he is "evil". At the risk of over-thinking the question, I would contend that focusing on the agents of evil may not be the most constructive perspective to take.

The tear that forms when a heart breaks at the pain of a friend is a symptom of goodness. It does not mean that the person that shed the tear is good. The judgment of such things from outward evidence should be taken with care. We can appreciate the compassionate tear, or recognize the danger of tyranny without declaring the agents of them good or evil. The agency of goodness or evil is where most of our nurture or resistance should be focused, not simply the agents. This may seem to be a slight distinction, but it is vital to recognize the importance of holding accountable even those elected officials that we think of positively. Our loyalty should always be toward goodness, and our opposition should always be toward evil, regardless of what person we may find good or evil manifested within at any given moment.

Perpetuating the calamity taking place on the U.S. Southern border is evil. We are all conscious of the fact that some children are being horribly abused, and even losing their lives through the process of making their way thousands of miles attended by strangers with agendas of their own. It was also well known that the switch to Obamacare was certain to result in medical hardships, suffering, and some loss of life. These are the logical, and predicted, outcomes of intentional policy. In issues like this we see evidence of that more generally accepted type of evil. It grows from a view that some eggs need to be broken to achieve a desired outcome. But in the daily news cycle we are reminded that these eggs represent the very real hopes, dreams, and lives of innocents. The danger in considering these "crises" in the context of good vs. evil personified arises from ascribing motives too uniquely to Obama that find their genesis in a broadly distributed world view.

When we find our leaders "Stepping outside the Natural Law" as Lewis would say, what is available to them for motive? The options for motives of leaders within societies are limited - Natural Law, or Elitism. Obama clearly rejects the concept of Natural Law. Some people will bristle at the idea that he is an elitist, but words have meaning. Any elected official that believes that the Constitution (Natural Law) is an obstacle to their ability to properly shape society is an elitist - a member of a class that believes they are uniquely suited to direct the detailed affairs of men, to define rights, and to limit the influence of improper views. Obama clearly views himself as an elitist. Unfortunately, all three branches of our federal government are filled with people of this sort - they are currently the rule rather than the exception.

The great irony of progressivism is that it discards the truly revolutionary idea of Natural Law to return to the ancient concept of governance by elites. The elites may get their progress, the rest of us get to have our lives shaped by meddlesome bureaucrats just as our ancestors lived their lives at the pleasure of lords and kings. The assumption of Natural Law in the founding principles of the United States represented a revolutionary change in which the state became the subject of the governed, governors became servants, and the law (Constitution) became the king. Whether Obama is evil or not is of limited relevance. He is currently working against the Natural Law principles our nation was founded on, making progress on taking us back to the old relationship between citizen and state.

If we will not see the end of the American Dream we must first remember what it is. For decades we have watched the subtle re-writing of the American Dream until it is presented as little more than the prospect of affluence - stuff - a good job - a "living wage" - a safe harbor from various forms of injustice. It becomes less about attaining the dream of America and more about escaping a nightmare. The real American Dream is about the right of the individual to determine his own path in ordered liberty. It attracts the immigrant to America because he loves America, not because he hates someplace else. This is the distinction between what is offered by leaders that would see America transformed and those that would see America transform the world. It is the distinction between those that would make men "artefacts" of the state and those that would let them be men.

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