It is Labor Day, a time to honor work, the working man and woman, those who contribute to our world with their time, talent, and the sweat of their brow. It is appropriately also a time to send our children to school to learn how to do this, how to use their lives productively, how to work and to become responsible for their hours and days. So I turn to one of my many labors, my novel-in-progress, hoping to one day carry it to full term and allow it to breathe.
In creating the back-story for one of my characters, I have revisited the huge topic, Western Civilization: what it is and do we want to preserve it, and if we do, how do we go about it?
I am a saver of cogent words, powerful words in print. I snip bits from newspapers and magazines. I file them, where they sleep until resurrected in a moment like this when I am constructing a novel, drawing the blueprint that will become a huge house of many rooms. I am an architect, I suppose, in the planning stages, building inch by inch, word by word, scribble by scribble. Each room is a character, and they meet from time to time in the house, rub shoulders, touch one another’s minds and hearts and souls with their hopes and fears and regrets. Some rooms are dark, some light, some warm, some cold. They are all under the roof of my little novel, linked by halls and doorways and stairs.
The bits and pieces snipped and saved, ideas that will flow into these rooms are expressed by many ponderers from the English-speaking world. They voice concern, and rightly so, that without the Judeo-Christian underpinning of Western culture, the free world will collapse. One doesn’t have to be religious to worry about this… one merely has to face the reality of such a loss and how it would affect, at the very least, our ideas of liberty, law, and democracy.
Thomas Jefferson’s words decorate his memorial in Washington, D.C.:
“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
Jefferson, a skeptic, is referring to slavery, but these words could have been written today. We all wonder, believers and skeptics, whether our liberties can be secure when we remove the author of the liberties, and when we remove the idea that these freedoms are gifts not rights.
Peggy Noonan writes that there are reasons for traditions and arrangements, some are good, some not so good, ways of doing things learned from experience. These ways have also risen from religious roots. Through the centuries since the birth of Christ, the West, under the influence of the Judeo-Christian social philosophy, has organized life based on the belief that God exists, that he loves and desires us to love, that he made man to be a free, thinking, creative being that would respond to him in turn, freely, thinking, and creatively. Behind the rule of law, behind our institutions of family, church, government, and free press, supporting our right to organize our workers, to gather in peaceful assembly, even behind our table manners and Robert’s Rules of Order, lies the Judeo-Christian definition of man and his purpose. So there are reasons for our traditions and arrangements in the Western world; there are reasons we labor to protect them.
The traditions and arrangements have changed from time to time, tweaked here and there, discarded here and restored there, fought over, around, and within, in word and in deed. Slavery challenges and condemns us, in the Classical world, among African tribes, and on American plantations. Today a child in the womb is seen by some to be owned by the mother, the unborn having no rights. Across the world, children are bought and sold, trafficked for labor, sex, surrogacy. Women are in bondage, jailed, beheaded. Believers are martyred. We see these things, we judge them to be right or wrong, and we labor to change them. So there are times when we need to alter traditions and arrangements to better reflect the Judeo-Christian definition of man and his congress with one another. But without the ideal, the standard by which to judge, how can we decide, act, affect the real world?
It is a conundrum, for our ideals of respect and liberty prevent coerced belief, even if belief may be necessary to uphold that liberty. So folks speak of a public square where we honor these ideals and seek common ground to move forward. They say we must reflect before deserting traditional definitions of marriage and family, that is, a man and a woman raising their own children. These arrangements have held and continue to hold society together. Studies show that the father is more committed, the mother more protected, the child more loved, when this traditional view is encouraged by government representing society. There is less delinquency and fewer single parent households.
I believe in the author of this code of life, this Judeo-Christian God, so it is easy for me to believe in these traditions and arrangements. I believe there will be a judgment (perhaps it’s ongoing) – a reckoning not only I will face but the world as well. We reap what we sow.
But I also pray that those who do not share my belief in that God, consider embracing his traditions and arrangements that have been honed through the centuries. If skeptics value liberty and the rule of law, respect for gender and race, care for the poor and handicapped, the unborn and the aged, if they desire freedom of thought, speech and worship, they would be wise to support the institutions that uphold these Western ideals.
I suppose the world is much like my blueprint for the mansion with the many rooms. Every person is different, unique, but together we have a common humanity. We share the earth and we share a long history. We live under the same roof of suns and moons and stars. We meet in common areas to agree upon traditions and arrangements, but we must build on those of the past, rather than begin anew each time. We nail and we hammer, we add here and pull away there, but we must consider why we do what we do and what we shall lose if we don’t. We must not forget how we arrived at this place, in this time, and why the rooms were decorated and arranged just so, before we tear them down. We must recall, if we are graced with belief, who labored to create this great house, our world, and that he calls us to love one another as he has arranged for us to love.
And it’s good to remember President Jefferson’s words, that our liberties are gifts from God our creator, and be thankful.