• 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

Thanksgiving, 2007

If I have seen further than my fellow man it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Isaac Newton

I vividly remember what Mr. Welch, my fourth grade teacher, taught us about Thanksgiving. Mr. Welch, the youngest grandson of Col. Norman J. Maxwell of the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteers, a union regiment in the Civil War, made very sure his students knew that the first Thanksgiving was celebrated by people who had come to America seeking religious freedom.

Mr. Welch cared a lot about religious freedom, the freedom we Americans have to believe what we wish. Mr. Welch cared a lot about America and all the freedoms we have. A patriot long before the right wing took over the word for their own use, he would come into class on the morning of Election Day carrying the corner of his paper ballot with the number 1 on it, always the first person in his precinct to vote. With freedom came responsibility.

So we learned in Mr. Welch’s class how the Pilgrims had come to America to escape the religious intolerance they found in England. And how the Pilgrims had then become intolerant of other religions but that by the time of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and the other Founders, these wise men had come to understand that separating religion from the State was good both for religion and for the State. And so they did, in the very first Amendment to our Constitution.

In America we were free to believe what we wished, As Emerson reminded us nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own minds.

Mr. Welch’s lessons rang home to me. As a young boy, I had heard stories of how my Grandparents had come to America because Jews had far greater opportunities in America than we had in Europe. Too young to remember the Second World War, I do remember when my Aunt Rosella came to America in the late 1940s, a survivor of Hitler’s death camps … the place where Hitler gassed and burned more than 6,000,000 Jews, along with Catholics, homosexuals, and any others that the Nazi butchers chose to blame for Germany’s troubles.

But in America, we could not be persecuted for our religious beliefs. Christians, Jews, Catholics, Moslems, Buddhists … it didn’t matter. In the eyes of the state, we are all equal.

That’s a lot to live up to. Especially in todays culture wars.

But live up to our ideals we must. This is our responsibility, we, the people.

We, the people, have a lot of people to thank today, for we all stand on the shoulders of giants, men and women whose legacy we have inherited and whose legacy we will in time pass on.

We stand on the shoulders of our parents, our grandparents, our uncles and aunts, our great-grandparents and so on back to the beginning of time without whose hard work, courage, and faith, along with a not inconsiderable bit of luck, we might not even be here at all.

We stand on the shoulders of the Pilgrims and their desire to find a home where they could practice their religion in peace, forever grateful to them for bequeathing to us the concept of a civil body politik.

We stand on the exceptionally broad shoulders of the Founders, extremely grateful for their wisdom and courage in creating a new nation conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, a country where the right to believe what we want is our birthright, not a right given to us by the King.

We stand on the shoulders of our teachers, people like Mr. Welch, for passing down to their young students the great traditions of American freedom and democracy, so that American history might become more than something to be learned in books, but attitudes and behaviors that can infuse our every action, even today more than half a century later.

We stand on the shoulders of our great philosophers and religious leaders who have taught us to pursue justice and righteousness and knowledge and beauty and wisdom and, especially, peace; who have taught us personal responsibility and the true meaning of respect: respect for each other, for our past, and for our future; who continue to teach us that it is our responsibility to get along, to find ways to cooperate, that we are all one people who must learn to live together on one Earth.

We stand on so many shoulders. We have so much to be thankful for.

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget
that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.
President John Fitzgerald Kennedy

So on this Thanksgiving let us give thanks to all who have come before us, all those men and women on whose broad shoulders you and I stand, those men and women who have secured the blessings of liberty for us all.

But let us also on this Thanksgiving rededicate ourselves to the unfinished work that lies ahead … to heal the sick, to raise the poor, to provide equal opportunity for all, to put an end to war, to protect the planet, and to secure the blessings of liberty for our posterity as those who have come before secured these blessings for us.

Let us rededicate ourselves on this Thanksgiving to creating a world in which our children and our children’s children and their children for even a thousand years can look back on our time with gratitude and thanksgiving for having given them shoulders to stand on worthy of the shoulders upon which we ourselves stand.

Let freedom ring.

Copyright © 2007. 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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