Obedience in America and the Future of our Republic
Finding God Through Meditation (Week 3 of 7)
Obedience is the most grateful oblation to God, wherein man offers himself for a sacrifice. – Finding God Through Meditation, Ch. 2, paragraph 11
When I first read the above quote by St. Peter of Alcántara, I took issue with the notion that obedience is a sacrifice. I thought maybe St. Peter had something wrong; because personally, I’ve always been pretty good at the obedience part. But I’m terrible at sacrifice. Naturally, I wondered how it could be that in obedience I sacrifice, while I struggle everywhere else. Something just didn’t add up.
And then it occurred to me.
Sacrifice is born of love. But often I obey out of fear.
Even as a little girl, I remember believing that someone was watching me even when no one was around. But that wariness about the presence of some other person – whom I assumed was God – was not couched in love. It was shrouded in fear. Fear that I would be punished for my behavior. Fear of being smited by God.
Sadly, not much has changed since I was five years old. While I’d love to say that I obey for love of God, that I long only to please Him and make him proud of my best little efforts down here on earth; the truth is that I fear his disdain more than I seek his pleasure.
And that mindset is not limited to my spiritual life. Truth be told I break down in a torrent of tears if I’m ever stopped for speeding, not because I was speeding, but because I got caught. Because I fear being perceived as a bad citizen. A lawbreaker.
Most of the time, fear keeps me from pushing my limits.
Perfect obedience stems from a motivation of love and not fear. But while fear isn’t the preferred reason for obedience, it tends to work. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, imperfect contrition is still contrition (CCC 1453). Doesn’t it follow that imperfect obedience is still obedience?
It seems that neither love nor fear serves as much of a motivation these days. In fact, in our world obedience has pretty much taken a back seat to autonomy. Disregard for authority is not only growing among certain circles but is even encouraged by elements of the press, the establishment and the macrocosm of social media outlets; young people today are being particularly influenced by this mindset.
Just turn on the TV and you are bound to see another cop harassed or even killed for doing his job. Or you’ll hear about the spiking crime rate in the inner cities. These days a healthy fear of authority (otherwise known as “respect for authority”) is virtually discouraged. In fact, in many altercations between police and even habitual criminals, authority figures are presumed to be in the wrong unless they can prove otherwise.
We live in a culture where love does not provide much motivation for obedience because the greatest example of love we witness in the modern world is a love of SELF. This serves as yet another consequence of secular society – driving God out of the public square left a vacuum that has been filled with SELF-reverence. I am the captain of my ship; the lord of my castle; the master of my destiny.
What room does that mindset leave for love of God? For authority?
Additionally, while fear of worldly consequences may provide a slight deterrent (and the jury is still out on that one), there is no longer a widespread fear of eternal punishment.
Face it. We all know there is no escaping God. For those of us with faith, eternal punishment can be quite an effective deterrent. It’s not that we don’t sin, but in some fashion, we regulate our own behavior, rather than require the services of the state.
Unfortunately, those with little or no faith refuse to recognize God’s authority. The number of those with little or no faith is growing. And as a country, we are paying the price. There aren’t enough resources in the world to control a country full of people who refuse to control themselves.
If we continue down this path, our Constitutional Republic may be in jeopardy.
In the 1830s, a Frenchman named Alexis de Tocqueville traveled extensively through the United States, meticulously recording his observations about the success of this great American Experiment.
In his classic, Democracy in America, de Tocqueville concluded that our democracy worked well specifically because individuals were governed by their religious values, and that those values were, in fact, an inimitable contributor to our nation’s success:
I sought for the key to the greatness and genius of America in her harbors…; in her fertile fields and boundless forests; in her rich mines and vast world commerce; in her public school system and institutions of learning. I sought for it in her democratic Congress and in her matchless Constitution.
Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power.
America is great because America is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.
Unless we are governed by a love for or fear of God, there is no a police force large enough or powerful enough to control us. Not to mention the fact that once a nation becomes a police state, it is – by definition – no longer a free republic. Rule of law in a free society cannot be enforced with tyranny. It must be freely adhered to by a people that recognizes this world as but a valley, through which they pass en route to their true home.
De Tocqueville asserts that, in order to be successful, a democracy must be undergirded by religious faith:
When there is no longer any principle of authority in religion any more than in politics, men are speedily frightened at the aspect of this unbounded independence. The constant agitation of all surrounding things alarms and exhausts them. As everything is at sea in the sphere of the mind, they determine at least that the mechanism of society shall be firm and fixed; and as they cannot resume their ancient belief, they assume a master.
For my own part, I doubt whether man can ever support at the same time complete religious independence and entire political freedom. And I am inclined to think that if faith be wanting in him, he must be subject; and if he be free, he must believe.
1. The quote above sent my mind on a turbulent ride full of thoughts, ideas and considerations regarding obedience, as you can see by my post today. What are your thoughts on obedience? As it relates to your personal life? As it relates to America?
2. Feel free to comment on anything from our assignment this past week!
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