Editorial — Angus MacDonald
This essay was published in December 2005. Angus MacDonald founded The St. Croix Review in February 1968. This December 2017 issue of The St. Croix Review marks the completion of 50 years of publishing.
The true fortitude of the sage places honor not in glory but in conduct, and aspires to be first in deed rather than in name. —Marcus Cicero
We have those who would remove the Ten Commandments from public places, deny the use of prayer in public schools, pressure us to remove “In God We Trust” from our coins, and delete from the pledge of allegiance “Under God.” They deny a large and, some would say, the most important part of our heritage and would usher in chaos. If God is not supreme, who is?
A few years ago my dentist asked me to officiate at his wedding. I was glad to do so even when he told me he was an atheist. As a matter of fact I was pleased and flattered. He felt he could be honest. My comment was that discussion of God had to begin with understanding what we mean by the word.
God is that than which there is no greater, and the definition we give of God is determined by what we consider to be the greatest. For many people, money is that than which there is no greater. For some, God is defined by sex, or power, or business, or golf. Nobler objects of worship are families, help to those in need, scholarship. People do not lack a belief in God. Their definition of God is inadequate.
No society has been without a belief in God, but they have had trouble defining what they mean by the word. The most common definition says God is that which created the world. The simplest societies defined God in this way and are referred to as animists. It is easy to define God as the creator because creation is an enormous fact to which we must be obedient. The problem with this definition is that the world is a splendid beast, but is not the heavenly father we want God to be — our help in trouble, that which claims our souls for holiness.
God has been defined historically in two ways: in terms of natural law and as an inner response of the soul.
Theories of natural law come to us from the writings of Rome and Greece and Jewish and Christian teaching. There is a law common to all men, in conformity with nature, which commends what is good and condemns what is bad. Men deviate from what they know is good, but they know they deviate. In our pornographic society, when television and print are committed to vulgarity, all but beasts know there is a dignity that is lost. In response to present evil, there are those who condemn vulgarity and call for holiness.
They respond to a natural law written in the human heart to which all pay homage — Asian, European, African. This natural law is universal and immutable.
In our European tradition, the natural law is detailed in the Ten Commandments:
“Thou shall not kill. Thou shall not commit adultery. Thou shall not steal. Thou shall not bear false witness.”
These truths are acknowledged in all societies save the brutish and unstable. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified because he detested and rebelled against hypocrisy and because he taught goodness with simplicity and gave practical illustrations. His world rejected decency and is condemned for all time. He proved there is a distinction between good and evil.
I suppose there are writers who believe we can survive without values, but they must be mad. The best writers call us to God. They may not use that word, but that is what they mean and what we need if they and we are to preserve our reason.
Some years ago I saw a television program that portrayed a lovely lady who lived on some island in the Pacific. You could tell from her face she was saintly because she radiated something special, different from Hollywood glamour. Her life was committed to God’s will and the doing of what was right. Who was the God this innocent person worshipped? He was the immense rock in the sand, just feet away from the ocean. She prayed to this rock, asked for guidance, and obeyed the instructions that came to her.
She was an ignorant fool? No. In her simplicity the rock was an instrument for righteousness, a vehicle to godliness to which she was obedient. We need such a rock, and so does the United States. If we do not, we shall fall into chaos. *
“The real measure of your wealth is how much you’d be worth if you lost all your money.” —Bernard Meltzer