• 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, 2010

… that these dead shall not have died in vain

Four score and seven years before Abraham Lincoln spoke these words at Gettysburg, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

America’s world was dark in 1863. Our new nation was then engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. Two years earlier, Lincoln’s inauguration, the secession of seven Southern states and the attack on Fort Sumter had split the nation. The survival of the world’s only government of the people, by the people, for the people was very much in doubt when Lincoln spoke those words.

Today America’s world is again dark. Storm clouds continue to gather.

American soldiers continue to give their last full measure of devotion in the 9th year of our war against Al Quada and its friends.

North Korea is again rattling its now nuclear-armed saber, more aggressively than it has in several years. Iran fools no one when it asserts that its atomic projects are intended only for peace.

Since the Fort Hood shooting last November, we have had two attempted terrorist attacks on the homeland. That both failed reflects the attacker’s amateur attempts, not the security of our defenses.

The world’s economy is teetering on a knife-edge. Will the people of Greece accept the reforms that Europe is insisting on? Will Greece’s problems be repeated in Portugal, Italy, or Spain? Will Europe’s problems become America’s problem? Given America’s debt and our economic circumstances, what economic sacrifices must we be prepared to accept?

As I write, oil continues to gush from a man-made hole in the floor of the Gulf of Mexico.  Even as I’m confident that we will seal this hole in the Earth’s crust, there is no way I feel confident that we know what we’re doing. As one trained in mathematics and science, it seems clear to me that we are way over our head on this one. Is an accident waiting to happen an accident or willful negligence … or just plain stupidity?

And the closeness between BP and our Government that allowed the Gulf oil spill to happen … just like the closeness between Wall Street and our Government that brought on the recession in the economic meltdown of 2008 … clear signals that when it comes to the economy, ours seems no longer to be a government of the people, by the people, for the people.

The time is dark indeed. It is a time of doubt—a time for fear—as nothing seems to be working right.

A house divided against itself cannot stand
Abraham Lincoln, 1858

Yet instead of lighting candles to pierce the darkness, we yell at each other across ideological divides that seem designed to keep the light out. Like the Civil War, we, the people are once again divided, at war with ourselves.

It’s hard to say when America’s second civil war began; perhaps with the televising of the McCarthy hearings in the 1950s. But 50 years or so ago, we, the people stopped listening to one another. Instead of listening, we took positions. Are you for or against a person’s right to sell his home to whomever he pleases? Are you for or against the war in Vietnam? Are you pro-choice or pro-life? Are you for or against guns? Are you for or against government regulation? Are you for or against gay marriage? Are you for or against the GM bail-out? And the list goes on.

Good questions, all of them; the kinds of questions that take us right to our basic moral principles, particularly as they shape our conception of the meaning of America. And sound moralist that Americans are, we’ve spent the last 50 years or so trying to make everyone in America believe in our vision of the right answers to these questions.

Over the years, meaningful dialogue has given way to yelling at each other, like the spoiled 2-year olds we seem to have become. And our politicians fall all over themselves becoming who they think we want them to be.

The dysfunctional American family: it might be taken as black comedy … if the consequences weren’t so serious.

But the consequences are serious, extremely serious. Take a look at the above list of challenges. Now add all the things I haven’t even listed. By talking past each other instead of listening to each other, we, the people have put America at risk. These are once again the times that try men’s souls.

And let’s get real. When was the last time your mind was changed by someone screaming obscenities at you? No one is going to change anyone else’s opinion by yelling, screaming, spitting, cursing or holding up an obscene poster. Anger only breeds more anger. It doesn’t solve problems.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.
Rumi 1207-1273

We are not going to solve the myriad challenges that beset us unless and until we open up our minds, open up our hearts and start listening to each other.

It is time for a New American Patriotism, a patriotism defined by our willingness to work together, to cooperate, focusing on what draws us together and what we need to do, not on what divides us. Let us meet on that field of Patriotism out beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing, free men and women, conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, and committed to working together in the best tradition of America to meet the challenges of our time, just as earlier generations of Americans met the challenges of theirs.

My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you—
ask what you can do for your country.
President John F. Kennedy, 1961

This is what we can do for America. We can find opportunities to cooperate, to lower our voices and begin again the long journey of America to that more perfect Union, to that City on the hill. This is what America needs from us at this moment in our history. This is how we best honor the sacrifice of those who gave their last full measure of devotion so that we may be free.

We owe this New American Patriotism to our posterity as well, for it is our responsibility—our generation of Americans—to bequeath the blessings of liberty to our posterity just as earlier generations have bequeathed them to us.

So let us take this occasion of Memorial Day 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.

Let Freedom Ring.

Copyright © 2010. 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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