The preacher, who was the son of David and king of Israel, once wrote, "The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there anything whereof it may be said, See, this is new? it hath been already of old time, which was before us. There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after" (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11).
The New International Version renders this a little more clearly when it translates it thusly: "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, Look! This is something new? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow."
The person who wrote those words was King Solomon, who is reported to be one of the wisest men the world has known. Even to this day his wisdom is revered and renowned.
Today, as in other times, it is common for people to debate ideas and issues and it is becoming more generally accepted that one idea is just as good or as valid as another. This viewpoint comes from those who argue, "Who can say what is right and what is wrong?" According to this kind of reasoning, known as moral relativism, there is no such thing as "truth." Instead, "truth" is relative, which is to say that what may be true for one person may not necessarily be true for someone else.
An example of this could be marriage. The argument is made that it is society who determines what is right and wrong and if a society decides that marriage should only be the union of a man and woman, then that is what is the "right" kind of marriage. But, if a society decides that marriage can also be the union of two men or two women, then such a marriage is also "right." Just because for thousands of years society has decided that marriage should only be one way doesn't mean that's the only way things can be. According to this kind of thinking, while one person may like being married to someone of the opposite sex, another person may be just as happy being married to someone of the same gender. Therefore, they argue, one kind of marriage is just as good as any other and it is therefore wrong to say that there can only be one style of marriage.
Another example is the issue of sexual conduct. Not too many years ago it was strongly believed by society that sexual intimacy should only occur between two people who were legally married to each other. Anyone one caught having an illicit affair with someone other than their spouse was looked upon with condemnation. Now the moral relavists argue that there is nothing wrong with having sexual encounters with someone before marriage. In fact, they argue, such behavior actually makes each partner a better lover after marriage. According to this way of thinking, one kind of behavior is just a valid as the other thereby illustrating their idea that there is no one "right" way to do anything. It all depends on what each person feels comfortable doing.
When someone says that God has decreed that marriage and sexual intimacy is only to be between a man and a woman, the moral relavists argue that God is just an imaginary Being, invented by someone who wanted to force their idea of right and wrong onto others. They dismiss the idea that anyone, including "God," has any right to dictate how someone should or shouldn't live their life.
This kind of relative thinking also extends to our political life. When it comes to the Constitution of the United States there is a growing number of Americans who argue that one form of government is just as good as another. In fact, some go so far as to say that our Constitution is outdated because it doesn't adequately meet the demands of our technologically modern society. There have been some who have even advocated holding another constitutional convention to write a new legislative document that will give us a better form of government.
When some people talk about the need to strictly interpret our Constitution according to the way our founding fathers intended, the moral relavists ask "Who are they to say what is the right way or wrong way to be governed?" Considering that our American forefathers lived in an era that was totally different than ours, relavists argue that perhaps the Constitution was good for people who were mostly farmers and had very little in the way of material things and education but today we're wealthier, more sophisticated, and better enlightened than they were. Therefore, they conclude, that it is only reasonable that we should interpret the Constitution in light of our current way of living and thinking and not according to the way people thought and behaved more than 200 years ago.
Although this may sound like valid reasoning to some, it is based on a faulty concept. King Solomon pointed out that what has happened in the past will happen again and what has been done in the past we will find being done in our day as well as in the future. It was for this reason that he said there is nothing new under the sun. Some people will say, "Look, this is something new" but it is not because if we look back in history we will find that whatever we think is new has already happened before. The French historian, Alexis De Tocqueville in his book, Democracy in America, described it this way: "History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies."
Solomon went on to say that people tend to forget the things that have happened in the past. This is what he meant when he said, "There is no remembrance of former things." The NIV renders this as: "There is no remembrance of men of old," meaning that we tend to forget what our forefathers said and did. Solomon can say this because there is nothing new in this kind of behavior. Nearly every generation does it. Even those who will come after us will not remember us even though they follow after what we have done. This is what Solomon meant when he said, "neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after." De Tocqueville described this situation in these words: "When the past no longer illuminates the future, the spirit walks in darkness." It is this very concept that has led to the saying, "Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it."
In the Book of Mormon, one of the most repeated pieces of advice is to remember what God has done in the past for our forefathers and what they have taught us (see 2 Nephi 3:25; Jacob 3:9; Mosiah 1:6, 27:16; Alma 9,9; 29:12; 36:2; Helaman 5:5; Ether 6:32). The Old Testament is filled with stories of human drama showing the consequences of both good and evil behavior. As such, the scriptures are a history of mankind and God's dealing with them. If there is nothing new under the sun then, by studying the scripture as well as secular history, we have a reliable source for coming to a better understanding of what brings true lasting happiness, peace, and prosperity, and what brings only temporary satisfaction but which eventually leads to misery.
Our founding fathers were well acquainted with the effects of tyranny, having experienced it first hand for themselves while living under the rule of England. After declaring their independence and fighting a long and bloody war to gain their freedom, the leaders of our new nation then sought to find a form a government that would protect and preserve their hard won liberties for themselves and for all future American generations.
Although they had differences of opinion about what kind of government we should have, our founding fathers were united in their desire to do what was in the best interests of the American people and they studiously sought how to do that. In all of their deliberations there was never any thought of forming a government for personal power, reward, achievement, or glory.
Their first attempt was to find some existing government in Europe or Asia they could emulate and adopt as their own but, as they looked at each one, they found serious flaws that would eventually lead to a loss of freedom. Next they studied all the ancient governments going as far back as the Greeks but again they found within each one "the seeds of their own destruction." Therefore they created a unique form of government, one that combined the best that could be found in others along with safeguards to prevent it from degenerating into tyranny as other governments had done before.
Our founding fathers were also well aware of the passions of human nature, such as honesty, integrity, sacrifice, greed, pride, and the lust for power. They had seen how all of these had influenced the way governments either prospered or destroyed the liberty of their people. During the Constitutional convention of 1787, the delegates often had heated exchanges of opinion with one another on how our new government should be designed but, in the end, they came up with a revolutionary idea which was to give the people the power to govern themselves and place checks and balances on their government officials to kept them from misusing what little power was granted to them.
At the end of that convention Benjamin Franklin stood up and said (in part) "Mr. President, I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise...
"In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution… It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; … Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best."
The Constitution was written with a deliberate attempt to help keep honest men honest and to prevent men of ambitious minds from exploiting the liberty of the people. In commenting on this, Thomas Jefferson asked, "Is the spirit of the people infallible or of a permanent reliance? No, not at all. History teaches us that the spirit of the times may alter, will alter, our rulers will become corrupt, our people careless."
At that point in our country's history, our founding fathers were well aware of how hard it was to gain the liberty they now enjoyed and how easy it could be lost. Jefferson, among others, was also well aware that as people began to take their liberties for granted they would become careless and lazy with it and that men who were hungry for power would exploit this carelessness for their own selfish purposes.
From their study of history they found that this was the natural course of human behavior. This is why John Adams wrote: "There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty" and why James Madison wrote, "I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations."
Jefferson's expressed his solution to this problem when he wrote, "The best then is to make the most of the moment, like the American revolution, the moment when precious things can be made provisionally secure against ambition and avarice. It can never be too often repeated that the time for fixing every essential right on a legal basis is when our rulers are honest and ourselves united."
This is exactly what our founders did. While the precious gift of liberty was still alive and vibrant among our people, they made provisions to protect it against the ambition and avarice of unscrupulous men by securing our freedom in a legally binding document known as the Constitution.
However, today there are many voices who propose a different way of being governed, saying, "Look, this is something new and better than what we currently have," but what they are proposing has been tried many times before and history has shown that all such methods have always ended in the subjugation of those under its rule and has brought only poverty and misery.
But, because people today do not know their past, nor do they remember what those of old have said or done, they are easily lured into thinking that a large government that does more and more for them is better than a small government that requires its people to do more for themselves. This is why John Adams said, "Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom," and Thomas Jefferson wrote, "Enlighten the people, generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like spirits at the dawn of day."
Alexis De Tocqueville observed, "The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public's money." Today more and more Americans feel they are entitled to receive money from the government for such things as food (stamps), housing (loan subsidies), education (student loans), retirement benefits (Social Security), heath care in old age (Medicare), unemployment, welfare, and a growing list of other entitlement programs.
Congress has been so successful at bribing its own citizens with their own money that the American public has come to demand that Congress give them more. And, indeed, they have. "Between 1966 and 2006, Medicare and Social Security grew from 16% of the budget to 40%. [while] Defense declined from 43% to 20% of the budget during that period" (Wikipedia).
However, the problem isn't that there is a flaw in the Constitution that needs fixing. Instead, the flaw is in the people who live under its rule. John Adams, the second president of the United States and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence wrote: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution is designed only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for any other."
Since it is we, the people, who elect those to represent us in government, if we as a nation lack the morals of honesty, virtue, integrity, self-reliance, and accountability for our actions, then we shouldn't expect those who represent us in Congress to have them either. And without these values, no people can remain free for very long.
Alexis De Tocqueville, pointed out, "Liberty cannot be established without morality," and George Washington similarly told the American people in his farewell address, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
Thomas Jefferson observed, "An honest man can feel no pleasure in the exercise of power over his fellow citizens." When those in Congress desert the rules of morality they then begin to feel the desire to disregard the Constitutional laws that are based on the morals of virtue and integrity. And, in time they will begin to feel emboldened to enact laws that are contrary to the very document they swore an oath to uphold and defend. When that happens they not only are being dishonest with those whom they represent by using the force of law to exercise power over those whom they govern but they are also engaging in an act of vandalism that weakens the strength of our Constitution. If this is allowed to continue unchecked, the Constitution will eventually be unable to stop men of "ambition and avarice" from taking away all of our liberties. This was the very thing our founders feared could happen.
As Benjamin Franklin told the delegates at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention, our newly created form of government "can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other." When we, as a nation, have lost our moral bearings to the point where we willingly elect people to office who themselves have low ethical standards, then, as Benjamin Franklin has pointed out, we have become unfit to be governed by anything other than a dictatorship.
The claim of moral relativism that "right" or "wrong" is whatever society wants it to be, is usually used by those who are seeking to find an excuse for advancing their own selfish interest. It is rarely used to selflessly promote the good of others, although relavists always claim they are only interested in the benefit of others. When politicians employ this method of reasoning it is dangerous to our liberties but when a large segment of our population agrees with this kind of thinking then we, as a nation, are undermining the very foundation upon which our freedoms rest. When that foundation crumbles, our form of government will quickly fall into tyranny and despotism.
John Adams wrote, "The only foundation of a free Constitution, is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People, in a great Measure, than they have it now [then they will not be free]. They may change their Rulers, and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty." In speaking about the Constitution, Alexander Hamilton wrote, "So long as we are a young and virtuous people, this instrument will bind us together in mutual interests, mutual welfare, and mutual happiness. But when we become old and corrupt, it will bind [us] no longer."
These are the things our founders learned in their search to create "a more perfect union." If we are to preserve the freedoms they gave us it will not only be by remembering the former things these men of old said but by also teaching them to our children and grandchildren as well as to those we associate with. It will be by boldly standing up for that which is right and not being afraid to speak out against that which is wrong as we strive to do our part in restoring virtue to our society. If we fail to do that then what our founding fathers had learned the hard way we will have to learn the hard way as well. We know this to be the case because history has taught us that this is the nature of men.
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