• 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 2012

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

-US Constitution, First Amendment, 1791

It was in the 4th grade when Mr. Welch taught me about religious freedom.  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 from the religious intolerance they found in England. Mr. Welch taught us as well about the First Amendment. In America we are free to believe what we wish, nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own minds.

A clash of doctrines is not a disaster — it is an opportunity.
-Alfred North Whitehead
20th Century English Philosopher

In the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, Jefferson wrote that religious freedom is a natural right of mankind, that all men shall be free to profess … their opinion in matters of religion.

I have written before of my friend, Ted (Earth Day, 2008). Ted is a conservative pro-life religious Catholic Tea-Party Republican as I am a liberal free-choice secular Jewish Democrat. I doubt that there’s an issue on the political agenda on which Ted and I agree. Ted and I could be poster children for America’s culture wars. But we’re not. We’re friends.

Ted and I are friends, not because we don’t talk about religion and politics. We’re friends because we do talk about religion and politics. Ted and I get together for dinner every few months, grateful for the opportunity to profess … our opinion in matters of religion.

Ted and I talk about our beliefs. We don’t argue about them. We share them. We describe them. We analyze them. We even debate them. We just don’t argue about them. He accepts that I don’t accept his beliefs just as I accept that he doesn’t accept mine. We accept that about each other.

As we talk we sometimes find common ground, nuggets of gold among our irreconcilable differences. More important than the gold, though, is the evolution that has occurred during nearly 10 years of dialogue. When we started our dinners, our attitude was politically-correct tolerance. Over the years, though, it has shifted to deep respect and friendship. I have found much to admire in Ted’s perspective, as I know he has found much to admire in mine.

Tender-hearted stroke a nettle, And it stings you for your pains;
Grasp it like a man of mettle, And it soft as silk remains
-Aaron Hill
English Poet and Playwright, 1685 – 1750

It’s time for Washington to grasp America’s nettlesome cultural divide. As Lincoln reminded us We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. We must again become friends.”

When Harry Truman was President, he and his friends from the Senate played poker regularly. In the days when Congressman and Senators spent more time in Washington, they had the opportunity to socialize and get to know each other. Legislators from different parts of the country, with different beliefs and different values, representing different constituencies had the opportunity to become friends.

The President can create similar opportunities for our legislators to become friends. The President could host a weekly Happy Hour at the White House for all 535 Congressman and Senators. He could invite diverse groups of legislators to spend the weekend with him at Camp David.

The President could encourage participants to profess … their opinion in matters of religion, just like Ted and I do; not to judge, not to win an argument, but simply to get to know each other: Family, Community, Faith, Values; the “back side of the business card,” as my friend, Carl Terzian, describes it.

Would not the result be an increase in friendship and trust, a greater willingness to work together to meet our challenges? Not by all 535 certainly, but perhaps solid majorities.

If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey that catches his heart, which is the high road to his reason, and which, when once gained, you will find but little trouble in convincing his judgment of the justice of your cause, if indeed that cause be a just one.-Abraham Lincoln
16th U.S. President

We the people can do the same thing. We can choose to celebrate the religious diversity that flows from the First Amendment; choosing to act in accord with what Judge Learned Hand called the Spirit of Liberty: the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women; the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias.

Let us all, this Thanksgiving, dedicate ourselves to grasping this nettle of religious and cultural diversity, seeking out opportunities to grow trust, to become friends, so that we may secure the blessings of liberty for our posterity as those who have come before secured these blessings for us.

Let Freedom Ring.

Copyright © 2012. 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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