Oh, I know that the Titanic facilitated a voyage of death and the loss of 1,500 souls. But the Charter entrenched a culture of death and the loss of a nation’s soul. What’s more, the ship of state sank on dry land. The Titanic didn’t sink in dry dock. That’s where it was unsinkable.
I realize that nations don’t have souls any more than e-mails have bodies. The body of an e-mail refers to its principal part. The soul of a nation refers to its principles.
Ours used to be Christian backed by natural law. Now they’re secular backed by unnatural law. One Christian principle we all know about requires that neither church nor state encroach on the other’s territory. You might call the separation of church and state a principal principle. We know about it because the state keeps reminding us. If we forget it, the state gets our attention by violating it. Violations include bribes to limit religious expression and penalties for following a religious conscience.
I don’t mean to suggest that the state has abandoned the principle. It hasn’t. It has just abandoned the part that applies to itself. It faithfully adheres to the part that applies to the church. Maybe it believes that half a loaf is better than none or that we should rejoice because the cup is half full. If we’re religious, it may not seem like the better half. It may seem like the bitter half. But it’s our half.
It wasn’t Caesar, as emperor, who said “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” It was Christ, as God. If Caesar had said it, his subjects might have considered the declaration redundant. Many of them thought that Caesar was a god. Although not God-like, our state sometimes acts like a god. I guess that’s how it exempts itself from basic principles.
Most agree that separation of church and state means what it says. Many, though, think that it also means what it doesn’t say. They think that it means separation of religion and civil society or of morality and state. Hence, the ascent of secular principles backed by unnatural law. Or, if you like, or don’t like, the descent into secular principles backed by unnatural law.
Natural law isn’t about nature in general. It’s about rational nature in particular. That is, it’s about us. But being rational by nature doesn’t ensure that we’ll be reasonable. If it did, there’d be no need for law and little work for humorists.
Because we’re rational, we can choose to be unreasonable. We can even choose to act against goods fundamental to our human fulfillment, like life, community and truth.
Natural law dictates that we act for, not against, such goods. In fact, the first principle of natural law, self-evident in its simplicity, is to do good and avoid evil. Based on our fundamental reality, natural law precedes and transcends state law. Murder isn’t wrong because states forbid it. States forbid it, or ought to, because it violates natural law. If states allow it, as they do when they legalize abortion or euthanasia, murder is still wrong. It acts against life.
Same-sex “marriage” is wrong even when states legalize it. Same-sex “marriage” acts against the communal good of sexual complementarity and the life-affirming good of procreation.
I’m not saying that such legal maneuvers are entirely without merit. When politicians and judges rule against fundamental human goods, they deliver a valuable lesson in humility. They remind us that we who are rational can act unreasonably.
When contrary to natural law, state decrees are political and legal constructs. They have no basis in our fundamental reality. They may use the language of natural law: rights, freedoms, equality, life and so on. They mean something else. Take, for example, equality, a key Charter value. Disconnected from reality, it can mean that good and evil are equal. The verbal transformation is a feat of misdirection worthy of a magician. Maybe our politicians and judges missed their calling.
So reflect on the Charter and its offshoots. As long as they prevail, commemorate them, lest we forget.