• 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, 2011

America’s civil war began 150 years ago on April 12, 1861 when Confederate troops stationed in Charleston, South Carolina bombarded Fort Sumter, forcing its capitulation.

Six weeks earlier, the citizens of Charleston and the Union troops at Fort Sumter had each celebrated George Washington’s 129th birthday.  The citizens of Charleston fired 13 rounds in celebration, one for each of the original 13 states. The troops at Ft. Sumter fired 33 rounds, one for each of the states in the Union in 1861, including the seven states that had, like South Carolina, already seceded.

Both sides believed they were patriots. Four years later, more than 600,000 of these patriots were dead.


I grew up in Oil City, Pennsylvania, a small conservative town in the mountains of western Pennsylvania where Oil Creek flows into the Alleghany River. It was in Oil City that my own patriotism took root.

My parents instilled in me—and my brother and sister—strong values of equality. We were taught the Golden Rule, that every human being was worthy of the same respect we wanted for ourselves. They taught us compassion, for there but for the grace of God, go I. And they taught us how to work together; how when we cooperate we can miraculously make 1 + 1 equal 3 and when we fail to cooperate, how 1 + 1 can equal far less than 2.

My parents—along with my grandparents, aunts and uncles—taught us that we had a responsibility to America. My mother, her parents and my Dad’s father counted themselves among the tired, poor, huddled masses who came to America yearning to breathe free. My father and Uncles had fought for freedom in World War II, saving from Hitler’s ovens a few surviving cousins and my Aunt Rosella, who came to America from Auschwitz and who will be 90 in less than two weeks. My family owes much to this country that took us in and gave us the opportunity to live free.

It was Mr. Welch, my fourth grade teacher, who connected the narrative of my family with the historical narrative that defines America’s core vision:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Mr. Welch knew well America’s historical narrative. His grandfather Col. Norman J. Maxwell, a member of the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteers, had, after Ft. Sumter, played a vital role in America’s new birth of freedom, ensuring that government of the people, by the people, for the people did not perish from the earth.


The challenges America faces today are many and they are complex. Like every organization subject to economic reality, we must increase efficiency, we must become more effective, we must be better than the competition, we must invest in our future, and we must get our spending in line with our income. Add things like national defense to this already difficult mix and it’s easy to see that there are no simple solutions.

And like organizations everywhere, the best way to get the best set of solutions to our challenges is through collaboration and cooperation, taking advantage of the creativity and energy that is unleashed when we humans work together, getting 10 from 1 + 1.

And yet, we live in a period of time when we are as divided as we have been in the 150 years since Ft. Sumter.

Some of us are Republicans. Others Democrat. Some belong to the Tea Party. Others are Progressives. Some of us are liberal. Others conservative. Some believe the Bible is inerrant truth. Others view the Bible as a fairy tale. Some of us see global warming as a threat to our species. Others see it as a cynical hoax perpetrated by a cabal of internationalists. Some of us look at Planned Parenthood and see abortions. Others of us look at Planned Parenthood and see abortions avoided through improved family planning.

Two opposing sides, each morally convinced of the rightness of its cause, each seeing itself as the true Patriots.

Am I right? Are you? Where in this morass is truth to be found?

You, of course, believe that you’re right while I, of course, believe that I’m right. I, of course, accept all the evidence that ‘proves’ my side of the argument while discounting all the evidence that would support your side of the argument. You, of course, also being human, do exactly the same thing. We don’t just disagree. We even disagree on the basis by which we might come to agreement.

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

Abraham Lincoln, Inaugural Address, March 1861

There is a different truth, though, a deeper truth, one that brings us together rather than tears us apart: All of us are created politically equal; all of us have the right to sit at the table.

It doesn’t matter how misguided or wrong-headed I believe your beliefs are; if I believe that I have an unalienable right to be treated as your political equal, then I must treat you as my political equal. You must do the same. We all have a seat at the table.


While in Washington, D.C. recently, my niece, Anya, and I went to the National Archives to see the Declaration. I told her how excited I was to be seeing it again, how meaningful its words about equality were to me.

She gave me that post-modern look, full of political skepticism, and said “Sure they wrote those words, but so what. They didn’t believe them. They were just being expedient, writing a lawyer’s brief. Many of them were slave owners, hypocrites.”

“Yes,” I replied, “That’s true. Many were slave owners. Many were hypocrites. But that isn’t the point. That’s not what matters to me.”

“To me what matters,” I said. “is that the founders had the boldness to write these words. We can have the boldness to live them.”

Let freedom ring.



Copyright © 2011. 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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