Over the past week as I watched G.K. Chesterton’s parable of the fence play out in real time, I began to consider what it is that made Western Civilization, in general, and America, in specific, so special in the annals of civilizations. I first thought it might have been Christianity but there were times when organized Christian religions were as bad or worse than the savagery that came before them. Then I thought about capitalism and the opportunities for economic and societal mobility that provided. I even moved on to things like the ideals of individual freedom in the Magna Carta of 1215 and the Scottish Declaration of Arbroath in 1320 – but none of those when considered individually or in concert seemed to provide a pivotal change, they were all evidence of evolution – points along a trend line toward individual freedom.
And then I realized what makes them all work – and I found them in biblical teachings.
The first is the idea that the sins are not transferable. In verse 16 of Chapter 24 of the Book of Deuteronomy, it reads:
16 The fathers shall not be put to death for the children, neither shall the children be put to death for the fathers: every man shall be put to death for his own sin.
In verses 18 and 19 of Chapter 18 of the book of Ezekiel, it reads:
19 Yet say ye, Why? doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, [and] hath kept all my statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live.
20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him.
The second is the idea of forgiveness. In verses 3 and 4 of Chapter 17 of the Book of Luke, it reads:
3 Take heed to yourselves: If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him.
4 And if he trespass against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee, saying, I repent; thou shalt forgive him.
Why are these concepts important?
It is because they allow cultures and societies to move forward without the baggage of the past. We are commanded by God not to charge the sons and daughters with the crimes of their ancestors. We do not consider criminal acts to be generationally determined – the individual stands alone in the dock of both earthly justice and the judgement of God. We are similarly commanded to forgive those who wrong us when they are rightly and truly repentant before those they harmed and God – and by implication, should you not accept another’s true repentance, it is you who have sinned against that person and God.
America’s doctrines of war evidence these concepts liberation and protection take priority over conquest.
Those concepts are not exclusively Judeo-Christian, nor are they exclusively religious concepts – but they ARE explicit in the founding of this nation. You do not need to believe in God to understand how powerful they are in eliminating the dangerous social construct of collective and generational guilt.
If one truly knows the history of the Constitution, one knows that slavery was a struggle for them. The bargain they made was living with the devil while laying the groundwork for his destruction.
It is no more logical to hold any white child born today responsible for slavery than it is to hold a German child responsible for the Holocaust. It is also illegitimate to hold white Americans, as a group, responsible for slavery any more than it is to hold black Americans responsible for genocide in Rwanda.
Some say America collectively repented through a cleansing Civil War, trillions of dollars spent in support since, enacting Civil Rights reforms, affirmative action programs and special carve outs – and yet, a century and a half after the Civil War ended, it seems America has not done enough. While it took too long, in the minds of some, America still can never do enough.
Of course, there are still racists in America – but there are racists on all sides. Blacks that hate whites, Asians that hate Blacks (and vice versa) and I don’t have an answer for individual racism – but I do know that America can never move forward as long as there are those, black or white and for whatever reason, refuse our repentance and continue to transfer the sins of our ancestors to those living today.
This refusal is what will drag us back to the pre-Civil War battles already fought and will restrict our ability to move forward.
That would be bad for all of America.