There's a natural tension between objective truth and subjective truth. Unfortunately, America's colleges and universities today preach the fallacy of subjective truth. This pervasive belief stunts the intellectual growth and development of students. Professors erect a walled garden, trapping their students in a fantasy. A widespread belief in subjective truth is a grave threat to society and human progress.
Subjective truth, at its basic level, is relative. It's something that a person believes to be true without regard to reality.
If your child comes home from school one day and tells you that they are a cat, that would be a subjective truth. They can believe that they are a cat. They can meow, pantomime grooming behaviors, and even crawl around your house on all fours.
If you accept their subjective truth and treat them like a cat, there are consequences. For example, if you drive them to school in a kennel, pack a lunch of kibble, and have them lap their water out of a bowl, you will face charges. As much as he protests, your child is not a cat; he’s a person.
Objective truth is reality. It's the world as it exists, for good or bad. Regardless of how different people perceive reality, it remains unchanged. If you jump out of a second-story window, the laws of gravity still apply. Gravity applies even if you believe that you can fly like a bird with your whole heart. It is objectively true that humans can't fly on their own.
Objective truth is much less fashionable than subjective truth. It's also much less convenient. If I had the power to create my reality, my life would be much better. I could behave as I pleased, and no one could challenge me. Subjective truth is an excellent thought exercise, but there's no overcoming objective truth. I'm not a cat, I can't fly, and every idea I have isn't perfect.
All humans have inscribed on their hearts something called the Natural Law. The roots of the Natural Law lie in Ancient Greek philosophy. Our modern understanding comes through the extensive development done by St. Thomas Aquinas. Natural Law is our basic concept of right and wrong. It's the moral code God grants us at conception to guide us through life. It helps us discover and understand God's Will for our lives and serves as a North Star, guiding our decisions.
The brilliance of the Natural Law is its universality. Its fingerprints are present across all humanity. Despite its development by Aquinas, you don't have to be Catholic to know this Law. You don't even have to be religious to have and adhere to this Law. We all instinctively know that we shouldn't kill people, that we shouldn't hurt animals, that we shouldn't steal. We also instinctively know that we should care for our parents, protect the weak, and serve one another.
The Declaration of Independence is one of the most consequential documents ever produced. This blueprint for the American experiment espouses the central tenants of Natural Law. The connection is in the Declaration's most well-known sentence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.
As core to the idea of America, the framers express that there are moral principles that are "self-evident." Moreover, they believed in freedoms "endowed by their Creator" to all citizens. Although it took over a century from the publication of the Declaration for its aspirations to be fully realized, they're unique in political history.
The authors put these ideas to paper in 1776. A majority of the founding fathers voted in favor of adopting them in the founding documents. It was a time in world history when slavery was the standard way of doing business. Racism was systemic, and cruelty was the norm. The Continental Congress espoused these words, ideas, and principles in these conditions. They defined counter-cultural, and they likely knew how far ahead of their time they were. Undeterred, they signed their names to these aspirations, risking their lives to place these ideals at the center of American democracy.
The United States is history's most successful democracy. We've achieved this status despite the challenges that we've overcome. We are a multi-cultural, multi-racial, and multi-religious nation. Our pluralism shows that hegemony doesn't unite us. Our unity is in our belief in these fundamental principles. It's our mutual desire to build a society, government, and nation based on a shared belief in the Natural Law.
The Natural Law sets the human person apart in the created world. It's a shared, universal set of guidelines that instruct our behavior. It's why people in different cultures can agree that the Golden Rule is an excellent philosophy for life.
We can observe that some animals share similar characteristics with humans. It's true, but only in incomplete ways. The Natural Law helps us understand why the human person is the most important part of creation. It's how we know that the human person has dominion over the planet, nature, and animals. We can use our reason and make decisions for the benefit of others. We make these decisions, even if it isn't in our interest.
A corporation could make more money destroying an ecosystem while harvesting natural resources. But the Natural Law tells us that destroying creation unnecessarily is wrong. Instead, the corporation ought to sacrifice some profits to harvest resources sustainably. Our dominion comes with the responsibility of stewardship.
We can organize the created world into three strata: the human person, animals, and nature.
In the created order, man is at the highest strata. He shares in God's image and likeness. He's rational, responsible for the care of his fellow man, and charged with the stewardship of nature. Creation serves man's needs, and man is to treat Creation with care and respect. This is why it's moral to hunt and use animals responsibly but immoral to pollute or waste natural resources.
Animals are in the second strata. They serve specific purposes within their ecosystems, each contributing to ecological balance. For example, hunters control the population, pollinators provide biodiversity, and gatherers promote plant growth. The importance of animals is secondary to the human person, but they're still part of God's creation. We must treat animals with tender care and respect. Killing an animal for sport, only to waste the animal, is an offense against nature. We see an understanding of this even in civil society. Poachers and those who are cruel or neglectful towards animals receive criminal sanctions.
The third strata are the rest of nature. These plants, trees, resources, air, and water fill the Earth and provide it with great beauty. Like man and animals, creation belongs to God's domain. It's the work of His hands and thus is worthy of respect. Nature provides the environment, food, shelter, and water that humans and animals depend on for life.
All people see that the Earth and created things are deserving of respect. Civil society protects animals and regulations to ensure clean air and drinking water. We can commit offenses against animals and nature, but crimes against the human person are the most serious. Nature and animals exist to serve the human person. This reality confers a special responsibility upon the human person to care for God's creation.
The human person's place in creation, and the Natural Law, are two of the primary aspects that set us apart from the rest of the created world. They help us understand why the human person, and its protection and promotion, are fundamental to our existence.