The Catholic Thing
"With One Heart and One Mind" Print E-mail
By James Schall   
Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Barack Obama’s essay on Martin Luther King Day cited the First Inaugural held in Washington, that of Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson said: “Let us, then, fellow citizens, unite with one heart and one mind.” These words Mr. Obama made his own.

During Sunday’s concert at the Lincoln Memorial, with Pete Seeger, everyone sang that most "singable" refrain: “This land is your land, this land is my land, from California to the New York Island, from the redwood forests to the Gulf Stream waters, this land was made for you and me.”

As I thought of those words, I wondered just who did make this land “for you and me?” And what does it mean to have “one heart and one mind?”

Someone recently remarked that, in fact, this land is going in the opposite direction from its motto, E Pluribus Unum. We are going rather from one nation to an enforced diversity of nations, languages, lifestyles, and religions. Our theories are not those of unity but those of diversity.

The “one heart and one mind” thesis now seems rather to mean that we accept everything without asking about what is compatible with what. In the name of unity, we overlook differences that constitute the integrity of what we are.

Theories of diversity precisely cannot answer the question of “Who made this land for you and me?” Moreover, to have “one heart” we need to have “one mind.” We need to agree on first principles of what we are, of what makes us human.

A friend of mine told me of a Foreign Service diplomat he knows who insists that America is a place where, in principle, no agreement exists. We agree that we cannot agree. In this view, talk of one mind and one heart is, if anything, antiquated if not downright undemocratic.

President Bush was criticized for taking the Declaration of Independence seriously. There is a theory of American particularism and a theory of American universalism, both of which have roots in the first president to be inaugurated in Washington.

America is still the main nation to which people seem to immigrate, one way or another, if they can. It does not seem mad to think that other nations, if they could, might want to live under a rule of law, freedom, and prosperity. Some regimes are better than others. It is not a crime to state this difference, though it is dangerous. I have often remarked that the most dangerous exercise in which one can engage is accurately and objectively to describe one’s own regime or another that one is examining. Officially, everyone lives in the best regime, whatever it is.

The trouble with lofty appeals to “one heart and one mind” is what is left unsaid. The heart and the mind are not, as it were, blank checks to be filled in with whatever we want to put there. Many hearts are moved to unworthy people or causes. To “give my heart away” always presupposes the giving it to someone worthy. We are aware that giving our heart to the wrong object has enormous consequences.

And the “one mind?” We are familiar with Pascal’s “the heart also has its reasons.” Pascal implied that human life is more than mind. He also knew that when the heart did find “reasons,” they really were reasons that the mind should recognize on its own.

Though it may sound shocking, we cannot have one heart and one mind if we do not have one truth about the essential things. As I suggested, there is a theory of “democracy” that is based on the idea that there is no truth. The enemies in this form of rule (and it does rule) are those supposedly “fanatical” ones who maintain that there is a truth about the fundamental things.

Jefferson’s Declaration was so rash as to speak of “self-evident” truths. Behind the structures of all polities and personal ways of life stand these self-evident things. They are designed to preserve the very kind of being we are. The “denial” that we are in fact a certain kind of being deriving our existence from the Being who “made this land for you and me” means that we have nothing on which we can really unite.

This truth that our “oneness,” the “what we all are,” is given to us, not something of our own political or scientific construction, alone can make our diversity ultimately one. When we talk of our “one heart and one mind” without talking about the one truth that grounds our being, we speak a language in which good or evil can pass for our unity. Unity of hearts and minds is not a sentiment. It is a response to the truth of what we are.

James Schall, S.J., is a professor at Georgetown University, and one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America.

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Comments (4)Add Comment
Who, indeed?
written by Thomas C. Coleman, Jr., January 21, 2009
Is it bad taste to point out that the words "made for you and me" were penned by Seeger's Marxists buddy Woody Guthrie, who intended the song as a Communist reponse to God Bless America? But the joke is on Woody, since "made for you and me" implies a Creator, and the song inspires no Red thoughts. Nonetheless, we should remeber where it came from and what the likes of Seeger still have in mind for us.
written by William Dennis, January 21, 2009
Yes, indeed. Another insightful essay by Father Schall! It is prophetic in the sense that it portrays, I'm afraid, a rampant expansion of moral relatavism that will exude forth from the "New Regime" like an infected wound!
written by Reg Gallop, January 21, 2009
In decision-making,the mind offers a range of ideas, the will picks one, refers it to the conscience, our "security system," when "armed". Then if the idea passes, it goes to the "heart", which reveals the degree to which we like or dislike it. Then we have the options, of edit, save, delete, or print. If we choose print, the idea becomes "flesh",by imprinting into matter, with energy, during time. But Relativism says all ideas are equal, at zero!. Hence, Nihilism, then Anarchy, must follow.
written by Adam Hermanson, January 22, 2009
Quite so, Fr. Schall. Thank you. Another thought crossed my mind insofar as your remarks reflect our contempoary Catholic liturgical practice. As our Holy Father has stated so eloquently, it is our common orientation and attentiveness to the Lord which unites us, not our inward re-presentation of ourselves to ourselves. Thus, our one heart and one mind can only be properly understood in light of that great and good reality of our being made in the image and likeness of the Creator himself.

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