What is the most fundamental evil threatening America’s future? What is to be feared most? The possibility of widespread international terrorism? An unexpected, devastating attack on our key cities? A solar event interdicting all modes of communication, beginning with the Internet? A nuclear Iran? Widespread gang warfare within our communities? Legalization of drug use? Traitorous civil leaders or magistrates? The rejection of all laws in favor of anarchy? A proliferation of veritable dictators here or beyond our borders? Disintegration of the family unit as the primary civilizing unit of society? Lack of reverence for human life, from conception to natural death? Disdain for human sexuality and the mystery of marriage and procreation? Abortion and euthanasia?
Every example cited above can severely injure the fabric of a nation, especially America, which was established on clear principles of justice, reverence for human life and respect for God-given freedoms, beginning with freedom of religion, speech and assembly. Moreover, the above examples are just that; many more can be identified. Furthermore, they represent multiple, varied, complicated and insidious areas of exploration.
But there is yet another way to reply to the original question; namely, what is the worst evil that can bring America down? What about a general lack of confidence generated by indifference to the truth? Not only truth as to political speech, but truth as to oaths taken, or as to loyalty to the United States Constitution, or as to one’s very identity in service to the Commonwealth, or as to one’s specific responsibilities in a government, under God, by and for the people.
Truth, in other words, is a fundamental constituent of a nation’s very structure. As Shakespeare expressed it through the words of Polonius to Laertes: “This above all: to thine own self be true, /And it must follow, as the night the day,/Thou canst not then be false to any man.” (I, iii) Truth ensures honesty; truth thrives in the light and withers in darkness; truth grounds every authentic oath, including an oath of office; truth safeguards against disproportionality and injustice; truth remains permanently after death; truth is objective, never merely relative; truth respects whatever is honorable; truth is the guarantor of interpersonal initiatives, including marriage; truth, in brief, lies at the very heart of religion, which reflects man’s relationship to God.
Thus, where truth is ignored, or countered, or rejected, or in any way trampled, all human activity suffers, from ordinary dialogues and modes of communication, to national and even international affairs. The breakdown of a nation, therefore, follows from disdain for the truth. As Pope John Paul II expressed it in a monumental encyclical, the crux of all the problems home and abroad is a “crisis of truth.” (Veritatis Splendor, 6 Aug., 1993)
Indeed, the quest for truth in terms of human conscience, John Paul explained, “certainly represents one of the positive achievements of modern culture.” (Ibid.; Sec. 31) But conscience rests upon objective norms; specifically, “the witness of God himself, whose voice and judgment penetrate the depths of man’s soul, calling him to obedience.” (Ibid.; Sec. 58)
Truth is an essential element in moral action, which, of course, presumes freedom, itself bound to truth. Freedom is not countered by obedience to divine law; on the contrary, obedience to divine law ensures the embrace of truth and loyalty to human dignity. Acting against the truth undermines human freedom, thereby enslaving the agent.
Moreover, truth prevents the separation of faith from morality – a common side effect of secularism today.
Truth is one of the key characteristics of God. Assaults against and indifference to truth constitute assaults against God, therefore. If all legitimate authority derives from Divine Wisdom, then rejection of the Divine is, by its very nature, rejection of truth. Moreover, rejection of God is rejection of his will – his Providence, a love that cares for his Creation. (See Wisdom, 7:22; 8:11)
Where human beings are concerned, wrote Pope John Paul, “God provides for man differently from the way in which he provides for beings which are not persons. He cares for man not ‘from without,’ through the laws of physical nature, but ‘from within,’ through reason, which, by its natural knowledge of God’s eternal law, is consequently able to show man the right direction to take in his free actions. In this way God calls man to participate in his own providence, since he desires to guide the world…through man himself, through man’s reasonable and responsible care.” (Veritatis Splendor, Sec. 43)
The bottom line? A godless nation can hardly survive. Since truth is a key reflection of God; indeed, since truth is sourced in God, it cannot thrive without renewed awareness of and allegiance to God. Even the ancient pagan world knew this.