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The Roots of American Compassion

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Abstract:

The faith of our forefathers played a very significant role in the birth of this young nation, shaping the hearts and minds of the founders. Faith and reason shaped the American soul, which has produced both civic order and compassion, one of the fruits of faith. The covenant that shaped our civic order springs from transcendent order, and the hand extended in compassion manifests morality as it moves the human heart. The animating force of this nation that has given us both is potent, invisible, and ebbing away.

Michael Novak writes that the American eagle mounts on two wings: humble faith and reason. “The founding generation moved easily between faith and practical, common-sense reasoning, indeed mounted upwards on both those wings in unison.” He admonishes, “In one key respect, the way the story of the United States has been told for the past one hundred years is wrong. It has cut off one of the two wings by which the American eagle flies, her compact with the God …who brings down the mighty and lifts up the poor; and will do so till the end of time. Believe that there is such a God or not, the founding generation did…Their faith is an ‘indispensible’ part of their story.”

From the earliest colonial times, our citizens have lived out a tension between freedom and order, between selfishness and selflessness. Our founders believed that freedom can be lived out fruitfully only when it is paired with virtue. And the source of their virtue was faith. Their understanding was rooted in a rich spiritual and intellectual history, pushing down deep into the rich soil of civilization of the Western World. Our nation is the fruition of centuries of wisdom that emerged long before our forefathers landed on North American shores.