All Commentary
Sunday, November 1, 1992

The Moral Foundation of Western Culture

Western culture, and all that we enjoy as a result of it, has at its foundation faith, family, property, and justice.

Mr. Mattocks, a telecommunications specialist, resides with his family in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.

Each week, sometimes twice a week when the weather is conducive to growing grass, I drive my teenage son into town where our family lawn mower is transformed into a tool of production in a mutually beneficial voluntary contract: cold cash for a mowed lawn.

I take the trimmers along and help out a little while I’m waiting to help him load the mower back into the trunk. It’s a small yard but inevitably there is free time, and this week I thought to myself, what a good idea it would be to take along this month’s Freeman for some enjoyable reading to pass the time. It is partially due to The Freeman that I have come to understand and appreciate the workings of free market transactions like the one I was now supervising. But before I had time to locate the magazine and take it with me to the car another thought came to mind from another publication that has likewise helped me to become a better student and proponent of the limited government, private property, individual freedom way of life.

In the sixth book of the Bible, in what may be one of the earliest success seminars, we find this instruction (my paraphrase): “This book of the law should not depart from your mouth, but you should meditate on it day and night, so that you might be careful to do all of it—then you will have success.”

So I decided to use my free time along these lines—meditating on God’s law.

We loaded up the mower, drove into town, my son went to work bringing order out of chaos in the sphere assigned to him, and I chose as my focus for meditation a familiar portion of God’s law that I have committed to memory: the Ten Commandments.

I remembered there are four having to do with our relationship with God (having no other gods, having no idols, not taking his name in vain or using it loosely, and remembering the Sabbath) and six that concern our relationship with men (honoring parents, not murdering, staying faithful in marriage, not stealing, not bearing false witness, not coveting).

As I watched my son mow and thought about these concepts I began to receive one of the benefits the writer no doubt had in mind when directing those seeking success to meditate on God’s law: insight.

I realized that two of the Ten Commandments have to do with family and two have to do with private property. Another one respects life and liberty, and another concerns a man’s honor (justice). Still another has to do, albeit through the back door, with productive enterprise; that is, six days we are to labor and the other we are to rest. My insight was that these moral tenets are the basis for the standard of living and way of life we have come to enjoy and appreciate in the West, one that continues to draw immigrants to our shores and is a model for other nations to emulate.

I had recently read in Dinesh D’Souza’s Illiberal Education that the trend on many leading college campuses is away from an appreciation of Western culture (all the while enjoying its benefits). My meditation gave me this insight: Western culture, and all that we enjoy as a result of it, has at its foundation faith (a personal respect for God to whom we are accountable for our thoughts and actions), family, property, and justice. Western culture stems from the ideas and practice of countless individuals whose lives have been influenced by the Bible and have sought to influence others by it. We have had great success as a people by thinking about the Word of God, by telling others about its application, and by practicing it.

That night around the dinner table I shared these insights with my family on their level by making our devotion time after supper into a quiz game. Which two of the Ten Commandments have to do with the family? Around the table we went and my ten-year-old daughter and twelve-year-old son rose to the challenge with no problem. I was impressed.

Okay, which of them has to do with private property (capitalism)? “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” answered my teenager. Prophetic perhaps, knowing Jesus’ later teaching, but not really the practical application I was looking for. Had the question been “Who is in first place in the National League eastern division?” it would have been no problem, but as mentioned earlier there are powers at work to cause America to forget her faith-filled historic roots.

As it turned out, my wife answered it, and around the table we went.

Faith, family, private property, productive enterprise, justice: We were sowing thoughts that would grow actions that would bear future success.