Here's Something: Art, science, religion, law hold us together

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Are you sick of the constant political campaign commercials? Sick of hearing the names of the candidates? Sick of hearing how Candidate X is the best thing since sliced bread or the worst, depending on which political party or political action committee paid for the advertisement?

Me, too. (Maybe we should start another “Me too” movement? Rather than targeting sexually aggressive men, we could protest the political system that harasses the populace every fall with incessant TV and radio advertising and roadside signs.)

So, I’m going to focus on what binds us together.

As we all know, there are certain elements of human nature that are universal. As much as postmodernists tried to convince us that each nation’s culture is unique and that morality is situational and relative, we all know this is hogwash. Just as sexual or physical abuse is always wrong no matter where it’s perpetrated, all people throughout history are similar in many regards. From Aboriginal Australians to the nomadic Arab Bedouin to suit-wearing American titans of industry, we all think alike when it comes to core human issues.

I saw a great example of this universality on a visit this summer to the Pennsylvania State House in Harrisburg, which, by the way, is widely regarded as among the most beautiful capitol buildings in the country. It is visually impressive and overwhelming, especially when you live in the sticks, like I do. The designers in the early 1900s, when Pennsylvania was booming, spared no expense in erecting the massive, ornate granite building.

The most searing memory I have is standing in the rotunda, looking up 272 feet to the domed canopy above. There, you can’t help but notice the four massive pillars supporting the 26,000-ton Vermont granite dome. Just as impressive as the stonework and carvings are the inscriptions all over the inside.

There’s an inspiring quote by William Penn, Pennsylvania’s namesake founder, ringing the interior of the dome: “There may be room there for such a holy experiment. For the nations want a precedent. And my God will make it the seed of a nation. That an example may be set up to the nations. That we may do the thing that is truly wise and just.”

And then, inscribed on each of the four pillars of the dome are four words that have shaped civilization itself: Art, Science, Religion and Law. Figuratively speaking, these four words represent the four forces that hold up the dome of civilization. Above each word was a quote capturing the essence of each idea:

“Art deals with things forever incapable of definition and that belong to love, beauty, joy and worship, the shapes, powers and glory of which are forever building in each man’s soul and in the soul of the whole world.” – Greek philosopher Plotinus.

“I am what is, what shall be, what hath been. My veil hath been disclosed by none. The fruit which I have brought forth is this – the sun is born.” – Inscribed on the Temple of Isis in Egypt.

“For religion, pure religion, I say, standeth not in wearing of a monk’s cowl but in righteousness, justice and well-doing.” – Hugh Latimer, English Protestant burned at the stake.

“Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.” – Founding Father James Madison.

As a word guy, I realized standing there that these basic but supremely solid ideas tie us together. These four ideas inscribed on the four pillars of Pennsylvania’s capitol are the four pillars holding up civilization. When pursued and not ignored, they keep us civilized.

Deep down we all know these ideas are central to a good and prosperous society. A life without art is joyless toil. A society without laws is anarchy. A perspective without science is ignorance. And a life without religion is rudderless.

We need these things to survive and thrive. We may define them differently, but conservatives, liberals and everyone in between believe these things. Fascists, Communists and anarchists, whose precepts are anti-American and anti-human because they subjugate people’s free will, do not.

In this era of seeming political divide, we need to realize the division is but skin deep. Americans are united much more than they’re divided. Sometimes it just takes a break from the political rancor and a visit to another state to realize this.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for Sun Media Group, lives in Windham.

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