• 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

Memorial Day, 2008

To everything
There is a season
And a time for every purpose under heaven

Memorial Day is the season of our mourning. It is the time for us, the living, to remember those, the dead. It is the time to grieve for those who fell so that you and I might live free. It is also the time to grieve for all those who died without ever tasting the sweet blessings of liberty.

But that is not its purpose, this mourning, this grieving. No. The purpose of Memorial Day is to help us set our moral compass, charting our future, creating a world where all are free, where none need die so that others might live free.

How many years can some people exist
before they’re allowed to be free?

In less than 3 weeks Rita and I will be in South Africa. While Rita has been planning this trip for nearly two years, I feel like I have been preparing for this trip my whole life. For I see in South Africa bookends for the entire human experience from which evolves our commitment to freedom. And I am so looking forward to tasting this experience, not in books and movies, but first-hand with my own eyes and my own heart.

South Africa and the lands to its North and East are the birthplace of our species. It was here that our ancestors not only first stood on their hind legs but also began to evolve the moral compass that two million years later would lead directly to the great American experiment in government of the people, by the people and for the people.

South Africa is also today home to its own great experiment in freedom. Fifteen years ago South Africa was legally segregated by an Apartheid in which native Africans were not free; they had no liberty and little justice. For the last fifteen years South Africa has been struggling mightily to reset its moral compass, intent on evolving a future where all are free. They are doing it without violent revolution and with a commitment to reconciliation, and it is in the world’s interest … it is in our own interest … that they succeed.

One hundred and forty five years ago in 1863, America’s own experiment in freedom was in jeopardy of perishing from the Earth. Four score and seven years earlier our fathers had brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. In 1863 America was engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

Lincoln at Gettysburg, at this bloodiest battle of America’s civil war, at this time of the greatest sacrifice our nation has known, set clearly America’s moral compass:

It is for us the living … to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is … for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The human heart hungers to be free. We see this in our children as they first crawl and then walk and then even more when they turn two, or become teenagers. Freedom is built into us, every bit as much as the instinct to breathe.

Our hearts don’t hunger only for our own freedom. Our hearts also hunger for the freedom of others. Every parent knows this. Our hearts understand that, as Martin Luther King reminded us, justice denied anywhere diminishes justice everywhere.

It is in our hearts’ deepest yearnings for freedom that we give that last full measure of devotion. That’s what lets a man throw himself on a grenade so that his unit may live. It’s what lets a woman fly a chopper into battle so she can rescue her comrades. It’s what led James Cheney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner to their deaths bringing freedom to segregated Mississippi in the summer of 1963 as it led Stephen Biko to his in South Africa in 1977. My sense of history, if not my religious beliefs, leads me to think that this is what led Moses back to Egypt and Jesus to the cross.

To die for someone else, to die for a cause greater than ourselves, to give that last full measure of devotion … this most miraculous aspect of our human spirit had its origins with our species two million years ago on the plains of Africa, at a time when giving one’s last full measure of devotion often meant being a meal for a pride of lions.

Two million years ago on the plains of Africa … that’s how deeply the love of freedom lives in our hearts … that’s how deeply we are bound together as a species … that’s how deeply we care about liberty and justice for all … The love of freedom lives at the very core of our moral being, an expression of the very logic of our DNA, the essence of what it means to be human.

So let us use this Memorial Day as an opportunity to check the setting of our compass, pointing it always towards freedom, not just for ourselves but for all of us. As we remember those who died securing our freedoms, let us open our hearts to those who are still not free. And let us also always act in ways that are respectful of the freedom of others. “Let us,” as Lincoln said, “have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.

Let freedom ring.

Copyright © 2008. 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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