• 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, 2010

These are the times that try men’s souls.
Thomas Paine

The skies are dark this Thanksgiving. Winter has come to much of America. Two-plus years into the deepest economic recession since the Great Depression, we, the people have become afraid, fearful for our future and our children’s place in the world. As tensions at home and abroad have mounted, we have become stuck in ideological quicksand, faction against faction, unable to work together for the common good. The Blessings of Liberty are in jeopardy.

It is a time to remember what we are thankful for.

Let’s start with my parent’s generation, that great generation of men and women, those children of the depression who defeated the enemies of freedom in World War II and created the vital alliances that kept us safe during the cold war and the dismantling of colonialism around the world. Their simple example of ordinary men and women working together, doing what needs to be done, sacrificing for us, their children and grandchildren, offers us much to be thankful for.

Not just in my parent’s generation but throughout our history, the same basic qualities show up. It was ordinary men and women, coming to the new world to escape religious intolerance in Europe, who brought us our first Thanksgiving, bringing with them their commitment to a civil body politick, perhaps the first requirement of self-government.

At a time when we, the people, are anything but a civil body politick, it’s important to reflect on the meaning of the Declaration, that all of us are created equal, endowed with inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If we truly believe that we are all created equal then how can we be anything but civil? Isn’t my failure to be civil to you prima facie evidence that I don’t really believe you are my equal, that I don’t really believe the American creed? We need to remember as well the final words of the Declaration: we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor. Where is that sacred honor today?

Securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity requires that we bring our very best intellect to the challenges we face. There are no simple solutions to our challenges, no silver bullets. We are going to have to think our way through them and that requires at a minimum our ability to do critical thinking and problem-solving. That you and I can think as well as we do is a debt we owe to Socrates and Plato, Galileo and Newton, Descartes and Locke, Franklin, Jefferson and Adams, Darwin and Einstein, along with every teacher we have ever had.

It’s not enough that we think straight. It’s equally important that we be wise, that we know how to get along, that we recognize how our fates are intertwined. Liberty and justice for all is not a zero-sum game of winners and losers but a moral conviction, a faith in the miracle of cooperation where we all win together.

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect on faith, part of that legacy of religious freedom passed down from that first Thanksgiving. America is many faiths. And while they all speak differently about man’s relationship to the universe, they speak with one voice about our moral relationship to each other: love thy neighbor as thyself; that which is hateful to you, do not do to another; not one of you is a believer until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself.

America—at our best—speaks with this voice of wisdom, this voice of cooperation. During the cold winter of World War II, Judge Learned Hand reflected the Golden Rule in the spirit of liberty:

The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.

No winter was colder than the winter of 1777 when the spirit of liberty was forged by those early Americans. We who are alive today can’t begin to imagine what that winter must have been like, at a time when our future was never more in doubt. Washington wrote of those brave men at Valley Forge: To see Men without Clothes to cover their nakedness, without Blankets to lay on, without Shoes, by which their Marches might be traced by the Blood from their feet ….

This is what they did for us, you and me, those early Americans at Valley Forge more than 200 years ago; they and all the other men and women who have sacrificed for us, so that you and I could be here today, beneficiaries of the Blessings of Liberty that they secured for us.

Now it’s our turn, our time to secure the Blessings of Liberty to our posterity. It is time once again to ask not what our country can do for us, but what we can do for our country. This is the only thanks that truly matters this Thanksgiving: that we do for others what others have done for us. Otherwise it’s just words and, as the media continues to prove every day, talk is the cheapest of commodities.

In 1934, during the cold winter of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt described the opportunity that is America in his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation:

During the past year we have been given courage and fortitude to meet the problems which have confronted us in our national life. Our sense of social justice has deepened. We have been given vision to make new provisions for human welfare and happiness, and in a spirit of mutual helpfulness we have cooperated to translate vision into reality. More greatly have we turned our hearts and minds to things spiritual. We can truly say, “What profiteth it a nation if it gain the whole world and lose its own soul.” With gratitude in our hearts for what has already been achieved, may we, with the help of God, dedicate ourselves anew to work for the betterment of mankind.

History teaches us that times of crisis are not only times of danger but also times of great opportunity.  The stories of our past are like beacons, lighting our way through the dark night, shining their light on new opportunities. From them we gather the knowledge, the courage and the wisdom to do our part in passing on the Blessings of Liberty from our ancestors to our descendants.

As this year’s winter descends over America, it becomes more important than ever to hold fast to the spirit of liberty so that we may emerge from our time of crisis as earlier generations of Americans emerged from theirs, with a deeper sense of social justice, a clearer vision of human welfare and happiness, a renewed spirit of mutual helpfulness to translate vision into reality, and a strengthened commitment to work together intelligently and compassionately for the betterment of mankind.

As we give thanks this Thanksgiving, let us rededicate ourselves to the cause of freedom, to creating that shining city on the hill where all are created equal so that we may soon say “The winter of our discontent is over. Springtime has returned to America.”

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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