I have been referring to the proposition that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights as “the self-evident proposition.” This is the lynchpin issue for which confessional Lutheran education (and all biblical Christian education) is vitally necessary in the United States today. If, that is, the United States is to remain the United States. The revisionist, racialist, and anti-intellectual educational programs generated by Harvard’s Critical Race Theory (CRT), by The New York Times’ 1619 Project, by the myriad diversity and sensitivity programs currently in vogue—all of these educational innovations come to grief on the bedrock of the Self-Evident Proposition. The crux of the matter, then, is whether the Self-Evident Proposition is self-evident to us Americans in this generation.
Someone promoting and teaching those history-heretical education programs such as CRT would likely object at this point by exclaiming, “Well, it’s not self-evident to me!” My reply is, “Regardless of your claim, the politically sacrosanct text of the Declaration declares that it is self-evident, so there is good reason to suspect that anyone who doesn’t agree is either being willful or has a serious gap in his (formal and informal) education.” Elsewhere I address the Nietzschean willfulness, or will-to-power that undergirds the rejection of what is self-evident about the unalienable or universal right to human life.1 However, in this essay let me concentrate on the impoverished education of Caesar that is made manifest whenever someone asserts of the Self-Evident Proposition, “Well, it’s not self-evident to me!”
Thomas Aquinas can help us at this juncture. As part of his analysis of Anselm’s argument for God’s existence from the self-evident concept God, Aquinas points out that something can be self-evident in two senses. “Respondeo [I answer], a thing can be self-evident in either of two ways: on the one hand, self-evident in itself, though not to us; on the other, self-evident in itself, and to us” (Summa Theologiae, Question 2, Article 1).
Consider that the educator, author, elected representative, or neighbor who maintains, “The truth that all men are created with certain unalienable rights is not self-evident to me!” may be speaking against his better knowledge. Then the objector knows better, but is being contrary. This would be a case of the Self-Evident Proposition being self-evident in itself, and to us. It’s just that in that case the objector is being willful rather than reasonable. This is the possibility which Anselm, who applies Psalm 14:1 as the “sermon text” or philosophical insight for his argument that God’s existence is self-evident, holds.
But what about the first sense of self-evident? In that first sense, the Self-Evident Proposition is indeed self-evident in itself (as the sacrosanct Declaration declares) but not to us. How can this be? Well, it is a failure of education. It is a feature of Caesar’s education that, frankly, must be unlearned. It is a mark of ignorance to say, “It is not self-evident to me that all men have an unalienable divine right to life.” Caesar’s educational curriculum with its scientific hermeneutic has overridden the self-evident character of the Self-Evident Proposition. This is how the government is producing Romans who, contrary to the ultimately authoritative sacrosanct Hebrew and Greek texts, look to Caesar and the government for daily bread instead of to our Father in Heaven. We should not be surprised…
But American history bears witness to the Self-Evident Proposition, notwithstanding the systemic Romanizing of our nation’s educational system. The members of the 1776 Congress ratified this text verbatim, including its assertion that the proposition that all men are created equal, from which unalienable human rights follow, are self-evident truths. Historically, first in the Revolutionary War, then in the Civil War, the United States and her institutions ratified the inalienability and self-evidence of this proposition with their own lives and fortunes.
In brief, this Self-Evident Proposition is universally acknowledged as the source of American exceptionalism. Except, that is, where the studied ignorance of Progressivism rules. Wilson and Roosevelt and their introduction of Darwinian science brought Progressivism into the national conversation via the fallacy of begging the question. That is, without a willingness to defend the intelligibility of Darwin’s worldview against the dominant Western understanding of human nature (which I explained a few paragraphs earlier), they simply used the power of their governmental position to make progressivism mainstream on the presupposition of Darwinian science. Thereafter, the Self-Evident Proposition was dismissed from Caesar’s curriculum without debate or the need to defend itself against the sacrosanct authority of the Declaration.2 The political “disappearing” of the Proposition is supported as well by less formal agencies of public education such as the nationalized news media and so on.
There is an intellectual gap, a curricular censorship, systemic in public education broadly speaking, which is the reason for the ignorance of self-evident truths, such as the fact that all men have been endowed by their Creator with unalienable (that is, natural) rights, such as the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This educational gap is what accounts for the widespread and false assumption that the only rights we have are those granted to us by the government, an assumption that is itself contrary to the sacrosanct texts of the Declaration and Constitution. So, we must address that gap in the education of those who support these uneducated, anti-historical curricula, as well as in the plethora of unconstitutional faculty and workplace seminars that contradict the self-evident character of the Self-Evident Proposition.
To this point, I have argued that one reason the Self-Evident Proposition, which is self-evident in itself, may not be self-evident to Americans and others in our generation is a systemic failure to read our sacrosanct American texts as the normative texts that they are. Another, related explanation of the self-censoring of the sacrosanct texts by educational innovators is a systemic pre-canceling of texts from great Americans who knew and meditated deeply on the sacrosanct texts, both the normed texts of the Declaration and Constitution and the norming texts of the Holy Scriptures—many of whom laid down their lives so that we can live out the Self-Evident Proposition. In other words, the ignorance of the self-evident truths of the Declaration’s first paragraph is due to more pernicious factors than simple ignorance of a sacrosanct American text. In order to find the way back to the point where it is self-evident that all men are created equal, and so on, consider the words of Abraham Lincoln:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth, upon this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here; while it can never forget what they did here. It is rather for us, the living, we here be dedicated to the great task remaining before us that, from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion that we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain; that the nation, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.3
Clearly, this leads all thoughtful, open-minded people to ask, “Where did President Lincoln get such words of meaning and words of significance?” The short, historically verifiable answer is that Lincoln learned such words from the books he read and reread and thus memorized and wrestled with throughout his life, notably the books of the Bible, the Scriptures. He learned such words from the Declaration of Independence, through which he understood the Constitution in such a way that he was inspired to fight a Civil War in order to put an end to the institution of slavery. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …”
President Lincoln’s speech was written in his office, but he worked on it during his train trip to Pennsylvania. It came from his heart and his lifelong learning of the sacrosanct texts. Thus he spoke in a cemetery of American veterans who, he said, had given their lives for us to remain one nation under God. “Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure.” The words of 1863 are also words for the current year of our Lord.
Clearly, the Self-Evident Proposition is a normative or authoritative statement of a particular way of life—a way of life lived in and with the sacrosanct texts. To honor all those who have safeguarded and bequeathed to us the Self-Evident Proposition, we must, as we say regarding the Holy Scriptures which undergird those unalienable human rights, “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the sacrosanct texts.
As I have said, to do this requires chewing on the sacrosanct texts of the Holy Bible in order to take to heart the Self-Evident Proposition of the Declaration of Independence which is founded on what the Creator has granted all human beings, prior to any and all governments. This means that, in order for the founding proposition of “one nation under God” to become self-evident to our sons and daughters and to our neighbors’ sons and daughters, we must become immersed in the repetition of the words of God revealed to us in the Bible. Repetition is a distinctly Lutheran way of identifying our need to be in constant dialog with the sacrosanct texts of the Bible. So, we turn from the Self-Evident Proposition considered by itself to a form of human life in which such self-evident truths are evident both in themselves and to us.
Still to come in Part 3 – Thirdly, I will conclude with a consideration of how the Creator cited as the norm of the Self-Evident Proposition becomes a person’s way of life, but only in terms of what Kierkegaard calls repetition.
1 See my forthcoming book, The Fellowship of His Sufferings: Four Mission Briefings on the Insurgency of Death on Demand and the Counter-Insurgency of Pastoral Care, MISSION BRIEFING #1 OF 4: The Fellowship of His Sufferings and the Insurgency of Death on Demand.
2 Woodrow Wilson, “What Is Progress?” his 1912 presidential campaign speech, accessed 2 July, 2021 at http://www.mrtripodi.org/students/wp-content/uploads/2012/12/wilsonspeech.pdf
3 This is from the Nicolay Text of President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, spoken in Pennsylvania on November 19, 1863. For more on the text and the background of his speech, see http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/speeches/gettysburg.htm.