Renewing American Principle Tour kick-off
August 24, 2001
Declaration Foundation event
Thank you very much, thank you.
Praise God, thank you very much.
Good evening! Well first I'd like to say in my formal capacity as Chairman of the Declaration Foundation, how pleased I am that y'all would come together this evening and help us kick off this effort. It's gratifying to me to see so many folks turned out in our support, and it's also been a really great thrill and pleasure for me to be here on an occasion when we have a chance and have had a chance to say thank you to so many folks that I deeply admire, and the people who have made a leadership contribution to the effort to restore this nation's heart and integrity and get us back onto a track of principle that will in fact preserve our liberty for generations to come. That in fact is, of course, the whole aim of the work we do and will continue to try to do in the years ahead in the Declaration Foundation.
At one level, it's almost a sad comment that we would have to put together a work aimed at keeping alive our sense of the importance and relevance of these founding principles. I say it's a sad comment because you would think that in the natural course of things, a free people would understand that, in every home and hearth and in every school and in every church and in every political campaign and on every occasion where we come together to exercise our judgment as citizens--that would in fact be a living embodiment and application of the principles that make us free. It ought to be that way, but it's not any longer. And that's because we live in an age when not only are the principles of our founding forgotten, those principles are actively challenged. And everything is being done by certain groups in this country to try, in hateful fashion, to discredit not only the principles but the founders themselves who articulated them for us.
I was involved not long ago in something that arose from an effort just like that, a very good friend of mine who was being assaulted by a group of individuals. And why--what was his terrible crime? What had he done that had justified them in attacking him and calling him a man of bad character and saying that he treacherously betrayed all principles of faith and reason? Well, he had actually praised Thomas Jefferson and said that he was somebody worth considering. Think about what it means when we live in an era in America when somebody's going to stand up and take you to task because you praised one of the Founding Fathers. It's not only sad, it's ominous.
And the interesting thing to me is that so many times this assault takes the form of criticizing the Founders for not having somehow waved a magic wand and abolished the evils which the principle they articulated allow us to recognize. Don't you think that's kind of ironic? I suppose it's an example of how "no good deed goes unpunished." And so here you have the generation that actually set in place, for the first time in human history, a republic that was founded on principles that recognized the universal claim of human dignity, and because they could not, with a wave of their magic wand, rid the world of every evil that had arisen from the principles of injustice, we must now take them to task and discard those very [founding] principles.
One of these days somebody's going to wake up and realize how stupid that is, I think. "Since you guys weren't perfect when you articulated this truth, we shall now disregard the truth." I wish it were so simple as that though. I wish it were just a matter of resentment or hurt feelings or people saying, "Well, Jefferson owned slaves and therefore he couldn't have been a good guy," and so forth and so on. It's not that, though. It is actually far more ominous than that, and rather faster than I would have thought. We are already moving into the era when the crisis of principle is translating, even as we watch, into the decisions that will determine, for good or ill, the future of humanity.
I've been thinking a lot about that in recent weeks as I witnessed the long period of anticipation for the speech that President Bush gave about stem cell research. Part of me, I have to confess, watched this whole period of time with a lot of trepidation because the newspeople kept reporting--I think in ways that the White House folks thought were suppose to give us a sense of the conscientious application of the President's mind and judgment to this--and they kept telling us how he was "agonizing" about it. "Oh, this was a terribly difficult decision. It was agonizing decision," and he was consulting everybody and agonizing about it. Every time I heard the word "agonize"--and they used it a lot, I mean, he must have been in terrible pain to be agonizing so much about this--but every time I heard the word "agonize," it would give me a kind of creepy, uncomfortable feeling because I kept looking at this and I kept thinking, "Well, what's he agonizing about?"
As I often used to tell people during the course of the late unlamented presidential campaign when we got into this and that about who stood where on abortion, and I would look at the audience and say, very simply, look at this. If somebody comes to you, and, knowing that you're somebody who has a wealthy grandmother who in her will has left you all of her money and wealth and everything, and they come to you one day and they say, "I'll kill your grandma for you if you give me fifty thousand bucks"--now tell me y'all, what does a decent person do with that suggestion? I mean judging by what I see sometimes, I suppose there are some folks who think that a decent person is supposed to hear that proposition and say, "Okay, give me a little time to think about it." Or I suppose if you're President Bush you would say, "Well let me go into my library here and agonize for a while over this decision. Should I kill grandma for the inheritance?"
Now see, you all are snickering. I understand why. You're laughing because the very idea that if somebody comes to you and proposes that you take an evil step--if you have to spend a lot of time agonizing about whether or not you're going to do it and so forth, that's not because you have a hard decision to make. That's because there's something awfully wrong with your conscience.
And that also goes to the heart of the principle that was involved in this particular decision, the question of whether or not one should benefit from the evil actions of others. Because after all is said and done, if people are going to go around murdering folks because they're in your way there are a couple of attitudes you could take toward that. One might be that you just wake up every day thinking, "Well, I didn't do it but I'm sure glad to benefit from it." And the other might be that you'd report them to the police because even though you're enjoying the benefits, you can't stand the thought of the evil.
We are coming into a time when it's going to be critically important to the maintenance of our own liberty that we be able to think clearly in terms of moral principle. A lot of things militate against that for us because we have gone through so many decades where people have tried to persuade us that we're a "money people," and we're a "power people," we're a people that are characterized by our scientific breakthroughs and our wonderful military establishment and all these sorts of things. They try to convince us that we're all about success and we're all about "practical things" and so forth. And you want to know the truth? Look over this country someday, look at the diversity of our backgrounds, look at all the races and nations that we represent, look at the differences that we represent in terms of background and creed. And then try to convince yourself that somehow or another what brings us together, what makes us one, has to do with all these material aspects that in point of fact are what define our differences. When you want to understand who we are, as one people, as one nation, in spite of all this diversity, there's only one way to do it. And that is to look past the surface, look past the material things and the material success, and to look at the beating heart of true principle that defines the common ground on which we stand in spite of all our differences--as one nation, understanding our common humanity in terms of those great principles, in the light of which that humanity was revealed in history.
It is those principles that we are here this evening both to celebrate and to promote; the principles that allow us to understand that justice isn't just for some but for all; that the authority that stands behind the human claim to dignity is not just a matter of our decision, and convenience, and profit, and benefit, but that it rests on a transcendent will and judgment on which we all can rely--but which none of us, however numerous and powerful we may be, have the right to disregard.
We are a people that can be confident of our future life in freedom only if we remember that the basis of that freedom is the Will beyond our will, the Power beyond our power, that our Founders understood to be the Will and Power of God.
We are in the midst of the crisis that results from so many years when we've been turning our back on this truth. And we've been listening to those who offer the siren's song of self-worship to our people, convincing us that because we've made these and those great truths and we have all this wonderful wealth and we have triumphed so often against our enemies, that that's all we need now, we just need that power. And if we can open up new avenues and vistas of success, then through that science we shall be, as the serpent promised in the Garden of Eden, as gods. You want to know the interesting thing, though? That's no longer a kind of abstract speculation, is it? No. We have folks who are standing right now in the precincts of our science and they're offering to us this very prize: "And ye shall be as God." And one of the first things they're trying to tell us is that we shall now be the creators of life.
I've been trying to be careful in my own speech about a lot of these issues to avoid the fallacy that is now being promoted in the media discussion of things like stem cell research when they talk about how the scientists are "creating" life in the petri dish. I beg to differ with you. No scientist that I've seen has said, "Let there be light," and had any results. And that being the case, the fact that they're able to read in nature the pattern of the Creator's will, and through mimicry then reproduce in circumstances other than the Creator intended the outcome foreshadowed in His Will--that doesn't make them the Creator!
It might be engendering life in that petri dish, but the principle of that life, the Authority that established the laws by which that life is engendered, is the same authority today that it ever was. It is not the authority of science, it is not the authority of President Bush, it is not the authority of Constitution or government. It's the Authority of God!
We deny that authority, and we are running a risk that goes way beyond the lives that we are in fact taking when we destroy embryos in the womb or the petri dish or where ever they are. We run a risk that we shall kill not just that life of cells but the very life and soul of our republic. That's what's dying, and it's dying at a time when its life is even more important than it ever was to the future of humanity.
For, one of the things that I think was so important about the founding of America was that we didn't just see a generation that asserted the right of the people to rule themselves, that indulged in a lot of rhetoric about the importance of democracy and all this. We saw that in some other parts of the world, you saw it in places like France during the French Revolution. The beautiful thing about the American founding wasn't just that on behalf of the many, on behalf of the "people," on behalf of the masses, claim to power was asserted, no. It was that it was done on the basis of a set of principles . . .
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. . . That sense, that we live in freedom because we accept an Authority higher than our own is what I believe has made possible our decent life in liberty. It is what has made possible the progress in justice, and away from injustice, that has characterized the history of this country. And the sad thing is that, as we stand here at the threshold of the 21st century, as we walk these first steps into the future, we have those who are offering to us these tempting mimicries of divine power to tell us we can throw off the yoke of that discipline, that we can stand alone as creators, as gods, unto ourselves.
But what will the result be? I think we actually saw that result foreshadowed in this discussion about stem cells. I remember watching one of these "talking head" programs, and I can't remember whether it was Senator Hatch or Senator Gordon from Washington state, but they were basing their position on the fact that you got to treat life engendered in the petri dish in a different way than you treated life engendered in the womb. When you're grasping at straws to come up with the basis for your position, you will make all kinds of strange distinctions. And so, if the embryo comes about in a way that is the consequence of the usual act of sexual procreation, then, they're claiming, we respect it. But if it comes about in the petri dish then we don't.
Have you ever thought about the consequences of that distinction? Because the first thing you should ask yourself is how far are we going to take that? And one of the sad things is they are now seeing this distinction and saying, "But, but, you must make sure that if you engender life in the petri dish, you do it ONLY in order to destroy it." See? So the first thing you have to understand is that if you're going to engender that life, it must be for the sake of murder! Because if you carry it beyond a certain point, well, see, that's the danger, isn't it? A person whose life starts in the petri dish, but who by some mischance manages to escape the headman's ax and ends up sitting some day at a dinner like this one--do you think that person is entitled to the same respect in their dignity that you or I are entitled to?
There's the rub, isn't it? We think that we're debating the fate of some cells in a petri dish. In fact we may be debating the misery, the oppression, the enslavement, the manipulation, the destruction of whole new classes of human beings. And here we sit, looking back on a history filled with the saga of human oppression and tragedy, filled with the wars and the conquests and the oppression and the slavery and the holocaust--how many people went out to die, how many speeches were given, how many times have we, in this generation and the ones just before, declared our adamant opposition to all these evil things for the sake of which our forebears fought and died in war after war after war! And now we stand on the threshold of a new era in which we are about to give license to science to create new classes to be oppressed, to create new millions to be destroyed, to create new races to be enslaved to the whim of some domineering future people.
This is what we're deciding. It's not just a decision being made about here and now. We are in the position of those who might have spoken up against the first enslavement, against the first conquest, against the first domineering repression of human decency but who instead found some excuse to go along. And so we have around us now so-called "leaders" who are finding this excuse--thinking that, because we may not live to see the awful fruits of our corruption, we shall not be cursed until the last stage of the world for opening the door to it. But we shall.
What is the antidote to all of this? Well, I think it's pretty simple. I think that if you simply remember the principles whereby we claim our rights and dignity, you can see with crystal clarity what are the limits on our claims to power. The principles that are the basis for our claim to freedom limit our claim to the abuse of power. It's very simple. And I know this for a fact because I just sat there thinking to myself during the whole course of all this "agonizing" Bush was supposedly doing, that if the man would just sit down and read the Declaration of Independence and think about what it means, this issue would have been really simple. Because the Declaration says we're all of us created equal. It doesn't make a distinction between whether that creation is published in the womb or in the petri dish. It just said that God's Will determines our dignity, not human action, not human intervention. In the forgetting of this principle, you open the door to a plethora of evils. In the remembering of it, you lay the solid foundation for further human progress but in dignity and in decency and in honor. I think that that is the real meaning of our gathering tonight.
I can't decide as I contemplate the future that lies in front of us whether we are at the threshold of a golden age or at the threshold of an age of darkness and misery such as mankind has never seen. Whether we are at the doorstep of a time when the blessings that God has showered on our nature will reveal themselves in "a thousand years of peace and hope and prosperity," or whether we stand instead at a time when our own corrupt willingness to disregard the Creator and to put ourselves in His stead will introduce us to a thousand years of darkness and misery in which our nature itself will be monstrously distorted and destroyed.
The difference between the darkness and the light could very well for us, as a people, lie in our willingness to look back in our won history and hold fast to the torch of principle that our Founders lit for us: the torch that directed us to a Will beyond our will, that directed us to an understanding of justice grounded in something other than our own selfish interests and benefits, and that therefore makes possible a foundation of discipline, and responsibility, and dignity that we could continue to offer to all our people and to the world.
How can we assure that that positive force of understanding will do its saving work in this generation? Well that's the question that, in part, the Declaration Foundation seeks to answer. What do we do? Well, the first thing we have to do is to try to make sure that that flame of principle is not extinguished in the understanding of our young; that they will grow up with some sense that these are principles that must be known and understood and respected and applied.
But that can't just be a work of historical renovation. That's necessary, but you and I both know that the most important instruction for our young comes not in what we teach them from the history books--however beautifully Richard [Ferrier] writes them. No, what's really going to teach them the most is how we apply those principles to the great challenges that we face in our economic, in our social, in our political, in our scientific, in our moral lives. If we are no longer willing to accept the limits to our lust, to our greed, to our hunger for power that are implied in those principles, then whatever we teach our children from the books, they will learn from us in the world that there is no constraint, that there is no claim to dignity that should not be violated for the sake of profit and power. The Declaration Foundation exists in the hope that if you can renew a sense of knowledge and understanding, you will at the same time renew a sense of commitment that can then work itself out in action and decision. Knowing, of course, that in a society still governed as we are for the time being by its people, if you can but shape the judgment and conscience and heart of the people, then you will have done what is necessary, most necessary, to reform the practices and the laws.
It is to this task that we invite your attention and support this evening. It's not, I guess, quite as immediate or urgent as it might be if I was standing up here and saying, "Go vote for this one," or "Let's storm the bastions of the Legislature and pass this or that bill," no. Because there are some things that we have to do that go beyond the elections of the moment, that go beyond the choices of today, that are about how well we are preparing--not the moments of the present, but the whole future on which our country depends.
We have a chance, if we are willing to grasp it, to have an influence on that whole future, right here tonight. We have a chance, if we are willing to grasp it, to make sure that this nation will remain in the 21st century what it was in the 20th: a great reserve for decency, a great resource in those darkest moments when it looks as if the evil will triumph, but when the reserve of righteousness that remains in the American heart is still there to help renew and save our world. That's what has happened. Will it happen still?
I think that if we simply look at what's going on in the councils of our leadership these days we might not be very sanguine about the future. But if we're willing to look into our own hearts and, based on our own commitment to the things that we know to be the truth, to those things that we know to be the real sources of our nation's strength--if we are willing to act on that commitment then we here tonight will make the difference. We will guarantee that there will be more Rick Greens and Colleen Parros--that they will come forward in all the places and all the communities and all the times when they are needed, because we have taken pains to guarantee that the principles of heart and mind that in the end make it possible to shape the character of such leaders will still be there amongst our people.
That's what the Declaration Foundation is about, the understanding that this nation, like the bodies we ourselves enjoy, will not die so long as the soul still lives within it. And the Declaration principles--they are the soul of America. And like our own soul, they depend in the end on our willingness to hold fast to the truth and glory of our God.
If we can keep our nation secured in the acknowledgement of that One Source of true and living power, then, I believe, we will be able to face the difficulties and confusion of this present age, and walk into the sunlight of a better age--secure in the knowledge that this nation will still represent its light of freedom, will still offer its hope of dignity and decency to all the world. God bless you.