• We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately. -Benjamin Franklin, Freedom Fighter

  • We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. -Martin Luther King, Jr., Freedom Fighter

  • Let us be cautious in making assertions and critical in examining them, but tolerant in permitting linguistic forms. -Rudolf Carnap, Philosopher

  • A clash of doctrines is not a disaster—it is an opportunity. -Alfred North Whitehead, Philosopher

  • If we could read the secret history of our enemies we should find in each man’s life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Poet

  • Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. -Rumi, Mystic

  • If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things. – Rene Descartes, Philosopher

  • A house divided against itself cannot stand. -Abraham Lincoln, President

  • Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them. -Albert Einstein, Scientist

  • Be the change you want to see in the world. -Mahatma Gandhi, Freedom Fighter

Patriots Day, 2005

This year’s Patriot’s Day Celebration marks the 230th anniversary of the start of the American war for independence.

Listen my children and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country folk to be up and to arm.”

The shot heard round the world was fired the next morning on the Village Green in Lexington, Massachusetts. On that spring morning seventy seven American patriots — volunteers all — commenced battle against the mercenary army of King George. Eight were killed in the first British volley.

Fourteen months later America declared its independence from the King and after eight long years of sacrifice, a new nation burst forth on the world stage, unlike any the world had ever seen, a nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Thomas Paine, whose writings contributed much to the success of the American revolution, said this about the revolution

The independence of America, considered merely as a separation from England, would have been a matter but of little importance, had it not been accompanied by a revolution in the principles and practise of governments.

In creating the American political revolution, with its never before seen principles of government, the patriots wove together two distinct European traditions: a scientific philosophical tradition tracing from the ancient Greeks, and a spiritual moral tradition tracing its roots to Jesus and the Jewish prophets.

Paine articulates these threads in his book, The Age of Reason.

I have always strenuously supported the Right of every Man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.

The most formidable weapon against errors of every kind is Reason. I have never used any other, and I trust I never shall.

I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.

The American principles and practices of government flow naturally from these three principles. Our Constitution, with its exquisite system of checks and balances, is an intellectual testament to the power of Newtonian-like reasoning. And the Preamble to the Constitution is an equally powerful moral statement of the purposes of Government: to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and promote the general welfare.

The patriots understood that by governing ourselves so as to accomplish these moral imperatives we secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity. By their knowledge of history and science, they understood the cause and effect that link the moral imperatives of government to the blessings of liberty.

The moral concerns of the Constitution are public morals, for example, how we as a people treat the least among us. The Constitution is not concerned about private morals: what we believe or, heaven forbid, who we choose to sleep with. In this, the far Christian right has diverged from the wisdom of the patriots.

The patriots made clear their belief that Government must not intrude on what a person believes about the fundamental questions of existence, or the conclusions one might draw from having a particular point-of-view about these questions. As Emerson wrote, Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. We are all born to see the world differently and the patriots recognized that liberty demands Government stay away.

The patriots knew the danger — both to reason and to liberty —when King and Priest conspire together: Vigilius burned at the stake for asserting that the earth was round; Jews expelled from their homes in Spain because they refused to worship Jesus. That’s why they bequeathed us the first amendment and why it is so important that we respect it.

The basis for the patriots’ public moral imperatives lies in the Judeo-Christian Bible. America’s moral purpose, as Martin Luther King so often reminded us, comes from our deep religious roots, particularly the Jewish Prophets and Jesus. It is the Bible that contains the moral wisdom upon which America was founded.

It follows, therefore, that if America is to fulfill the great moral purpose that the founding patriots imagined, that we must necessarily study the moral values of the Bible, teaching them to our children. In this, the far secular left has diverged from the wisdom of the patriots.

Teach the Bible we must, but with limits, very strong limits, lest we slide down that slippery slope into a state-religion.

We must teach the Bible, not as religious advocates, but as lovers of liberty. The Sermon on the Mount, for example, should be studied, not as “Thus saith the Lord” but as a particularly beautiful, clear and simple statement of our moral responsibility. We must teach all the world’s Bibles this way, for we are a diverse nation and a diverse world, and we all have much to learn from each other about our moral responsibility.

As we teach the Bible, we must also teach Bible criticism. So as not to dull the reasoning faculty underneath the dogma of religion, our children must know, for example, that neither Jefferson nor Paine believe in the miracles of the Bible, and that both thought the Bible to be a “pious fraud” perpetrated on the people by those who would rule them. Bible criticism acts as a necessary check and balance to the natural human tendency to teach one’s own religion as a protagonist.

We must also teach science, including the miracle that is evolution. One reason is to serve as an antidote for the more extravagant claims of religion. As important … How are we to fulfill our moral mandate if people don’t know how nature behaves or have not been taught how to think? As Paine wrote, reason is the most formidable weapon against errors, the only weapon he has ever needed.

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote a letter to his seventeen-year-old nephew, Peter Carr, to whom he was proposing a course of study. Jefferson advised his nephew to study moral philosophy, telling him that mankind has been created with a moral sense, analogous to our other five senses, and that it is our duty to study this moral sense, to strengthen it as we might strengthen our arms through exercise.

Jefferson also proposed the study of religion to his nephew, advising him to fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion. Question with boldness even the existence of a God … lay aside all prejudice on both sides, and neither believe nor reject anything, because any other persons, or description of persons, have rejected or believed it. Your own reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable, not for the rightness, but the uprightness of the decision.

Jefferson’s wisdom challenges us today. As the 2004 election showed, we are seriously conflicted about morals. We are challenged by the need to return to government the imperatives of public morality, while keeping religious dogma and private morality out. One enemy of liberty wants to get religious dogma and private morality into government. Other enemies of libertywant to keep morality, all morality, out of government.

We, the people, must meet this challenge, saying that neither of these extreme paths is the path of liberty. For the sake of our own liberty, we must set aside religious belief, party affiliation, and the peculiar circumstances of our own lives, fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion.

Therein lies our opportunity to continue the legacy of the patriots, to secure the blessings of liberty for our posterity as they secured them for us.

Let Freedom Ring.

Copyright © 2005. Stan Stahl. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay in its entirety provided its source is identified asThe Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright is included.

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