Bill O’Reilly has been fighting a “Culture War”. A war against people he calls Secular Progressives. He is fighting against residents of Vermont who refused to pass Jessica’s Law, pretty much everyone in San Francisco, and above all else, the Darth Vader to O’Reilly’s Luke Skywalker, the liberal media – specifically the New York Times. Mr. O’Reilly insists these groups are in the process of destroying America’s moral backbone. I don’t contest that these Secular Progressives are wrong, however, Mr. O’Reilly has decided to focus his efforts so singularly on dismantling their agenda he isn’t reiterating true moral principles.
Whether you are left of the social median or right, we all abide by basic human law. Human law is essentially unchanging, founded on the basis of human nature. These moral principles and laws have been in practice since the Greek philosophers Plato, Socrates, and Aristotle. They observed human responses and inclinations and put together objective and universal laws. There are many versions of these natural laws; certainly every major religion has their own version. Most Christians and Jews would recognize them as the Ten Commandments, simply basic principles to live by. Philosophers have written that moral law is based on human nature. That is, what ought to do is based on what we are. For example, the seventh commandment states, “Thou shalt not steal”. That is based on the human value that one should not take what is not his. These natural laws are inherently known and do not need to be learned. We all know killing is wrong, as we also know stealing is wrong. When someone violates a natural law, he goes not against religion – but humanity.
Man, by his nature is prone to love. Not by the emotional or physical sense, but by essence of good will. This love is known in Greek as agape (ah-gah-pay) which means love for others. By wanting what is best for others, and by choosing to do good, one exercises his natural inclination to better himself and others. The emotional and physical feelings are results of practicing agape. We certainly can choose not to love, and in doing so are more likely than not miserable. But when we choose freely to love we better others and ourselves.
Choosing freely or practicing free will is a principle the American Founding Fathers understood very well. They understood that a man is not truly free unless he has the ability to choose his own path and exercise his own will. Indeed, by free will we shape our lives. Without free will, it is impossible to act morally. If we are forced to do what is right we are not choosing to do right and thus not acting morally. Nature inclines us to love, but it also predisposes us towards temptation. It is when we freely resist that temptation that we are acting morally.
But to rely on our natural impulses would be foolish which why we must also shroud ourselves in virtue. Again, religions have their own variations of virtue but everyone can agree on conscience and will. To paraphrase theologian Peter Kreeft, conscience is to good and evil what sight is to color. Conscience is intellectual. We use our minds to deduce what is good and what is evil. It is important to use one’s conscience to analytically choose between right and wrong. When we are emotionally attracted to something that is wrong, a well developed conscience should be able to step in and remind us that while we are attracted, in truth it is wrong. Accompanying conscience is the will. A strong will coupled with an acute sense of right and wrong will guide one through the trials and perils of morality. A human being possesses free will. He and he alone is responsible for the choices he makes. That isn’t to say one is not influenced by surrounding influences, but when a decision is made by us, it comes from us and no one else. Again, the will is not based in feeling. We may feel like doing one thing, but choose to do another. Choice and feeling are separate and not equal.
Because we have will we have the ability to make ourselves free we conversely also have the ability to lose our freedom. By choosing to go against natural law we run the risk of losing our freedom. This not to say if we break the natural law Tarzan will swing down from the trees and put us in a natural prison. No, when we give into emotions, without consulting our conscience nor will we become slaves to our emotions. We live a life committed to feeling good and not being good. It is here, where Secular Progressives and the basic human principle part ways. Secular Progressives strive to attain happiness and freedom through responding to their emotions. By following their emotions in the name of freedom they are effectively less free.
So the next time Bill O’Reilly starts lambasting Secular Progressives and suggests the end of the world, remember that his Culture War doesn’t begin with fighting the demons outside but wrestling with the demons within. You cannot pick splinters out of a San Franciscan’s eye before removing the two by four in your own.