Dr. Owen Anderson
I was recently told that there are contradictions in The American Project, and these are coming to the surface in current events. I know what contradictions the person who informed me was thinking about. But for me it brought a different contradiction to mind. It is one I addressed in my book The Declaration of Independence and God. My book addresses the contradiction in the claims that it is self-evident we are created equal. Perhaps the term “shortcoming” is better than contradiction. The Declaration of Independence comes short in providing the foundation needed. The proof of this is in many divisions and tensions that have developed since the Founding Fathers’ time about how to understand God and human equality.
There is a further shortcoming in the emphasis on happiness. The individual pursuit of happiness has been in tension with the communal pursuit of happiness. Both are mistaken because happiness is not an end in itself. Rather, happiness is the effect of possessing what we believe to be good. So our focus should be on answering the question: “what is the good?” The proof of this shortcoming is in the history of tensions that have arisen over competing visions of the good. Sometimes these are local and sometimes these are national and international.
I don’t want to give the impression that I have a low view of the Declaration of Independence. Its famous statement, “We hold these truths to be self-evident . . .” gives us the structure we need as we think about philosophical questions. The Declaration begins with a statement on epistemology, moves to metaphysics, and ends with ethics. What I want to highlight is that problems arise in ethics, in the world of choice, when we do not get our epistemology and metaphysics correct. Rather than asserting that it is self-evident we are created (and therefore that there is a Creator), the claim we are created beings needs to be established through reason and argument. We must begin by showing that it is clear to reason that only God is eternal and God created all else. This then establishes that God, as the Creator, is the determiner of good and evil for humans. The good, based on our understanding of God the Creator, is what gives lasting happiness.
When I hear people talk about contradictions in the American Project I do not hear them getting back to showing the clarity of God’s existence. If we stop at second or third level tensions and do not get back to conflicting answers that are given to basic questions, we will not resolve the contradictions and they will get worse. The system cannot simply go on with tensions like this; their effect is disunity and division over time that result in collapse. The alternative is to grow in meaning by first getting foundational truths into place.