• 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, 2015

Start Close in … David Whyte

I am most thankful for the breath of life, for without it I am nothing … reminded by my very own breath of those who no longer breath … those whose life has been cut short by the hatred of terrorists and racists … the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut and Russian Airbus A321 and Mali … the victims of hatred at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina … the African Americans, Gays and Lesbians, Christians, Jews, Moslems … and police … killed simply for being who they were … and the innocents in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Israel, throughout the Middle East, in Asia and in Africa killed in a madness that seems to be gripping the world.

Death is final and grief is real. So I am today most grateful to the men and women who keep us safe; men and women in law enforcement, in our military and intelligence agencies, and the first responders like my son and his colleagues in Team Rubicon; brave men and women who dedicate their lives to keeping us safe in these increasingly perilous times. Were it not for those who keep us safe, philosophy would not be possible.

We hold these truths to be self-evident …

I wrote my first Freedom Essay on the Thanksgiving following the atrocities of 9/11, expressing my deep gratitude for the birthright bequeathed to us by our forefathers, a legacy of freedom, liberty, and, from the Pilgrims who gave us our first Thanksgiving, a civil body politic.

The world has become darker and more dangerous in the 14 years since I wrote that first essay, beginning my exploration of the American ideal, an ideal having as its foundation the words of the Declaration: 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.

These 36 words serve as a constant reminder that all lives matter. Black lives. White lives. Christian lives. Jewish lives, Moslem lives. Buddhist lives. Atheist lives. Straight lives. LGBT lives. All lives matter!

All men are created equal is not the ideal of ISIL who — like totalitarians throughout history — want to compel us under pain of death to be like them.

Nor is all men are created equal the ideal of racists who — like bigots, homophobes, xenophobes and their ilk everywhere — believe these words apply only to people of their particular race or nationality or religion or some other artificial distinction they use to separate themselves from us.

Indeed, terrorists and racists are the same for neither believes that all men — and women — are created equal. Both believe that they are more equal than others, that they have the authority — even the duty — to deny Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness to those who are not like them.

These are the times that try man’s soul … Thomas Paine

The recent terrorist attacks have again brought us face-to-face with death, making us fear that government — whose purpose the Declaration of Independence tells us is to secure our rights — is unable to do so, unable even to protect our lives, let alone our liberty and the pursuit of our happiness — think of the people in Paris that Friday evening at a concert or in a restaurant — what could better illustrate the pursuit of happiness in the early 21st century in one of the most beautiful and cosmopolitan cities of the world.

Racism — along with bigotry, homophobia, xenophobia and the like — are increasing in the United States and have been since Obama was elected President. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center there were 142 Neo-Nazi groups and 72 active Ku Klux Klan groups in America in 2014; a country — our country — dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Just this week white supremacists shot 5 people at a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Minneapolis.

And it’s not just terrorism and the various forms of racism. Our challenges are deep and complex. America’s middle-class hasn’t recovered from the recession. Our nation faces escalating costs brought on by the aging of our population. Our workface faces increased downward pressure on prices as labor moves overseas and jobs continue to be lost to computers. It doesn’t help people to tell them that in the long run we’ll all be better off when their children are hungry today.

Times are tough and are apt to get tougher. Our weather has become increasingly destructive — whether or not caused by climate change and whether or not climate change is caused by humans — leaving us to fear that maybe the solution is beyond us.

And the political goings-on in Washington and on the never ending campaign to the 2016 elections … We can’t expect solutions from Washington anytime soon.

Which is why it’s important to be especially thankful to Winston Churchill this Thanksgiving — and not just for his leadership in defeating the racist Nazi terrorists and preserving our way of life in World War II.

It was Churchill who encouraged us: “As for me, I am an optimist. It does not seem to be much use to be anything else.” If you’ve ever in your life come back from the brink, you know how important an optimistic attitude is to success. We’re likely to need his optimism in the years ahead.

For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives, and the dream shall never die … Senator Edward Kennedy

Optimism is bred on faith. Faith that through our efforts — our works — tomorrow can be better than today.

Faith that the world will become increasingly safe as we defend our homelands and contain ISIL in the Middle East. Faith as well that to the extent we actually live our creed that we are all created equal, to that extent we lower the probably that someone will become a terrorist and we give ourselves the greatest opportunity that the sons and daughters of our enemies might become our friends. Peace begins with a smile, as Mother Theresa reminded us.

Faith that America is once-again grasping the nettle of racism and, by doing so, will peel away one more layer of America’s original sin. Today’s spotlight on racial inequities serves to heighten our consciousness about the extent to which all the forms of racism are still — post post-Racial-Obama —very much alive and thriving in America. The faith that as we begin to peel away this next layer we will come to more deeply understand that working to diminish the forms of racism isn’t a matter of “political correctness” — it’s a matter of being true to the American ideal, of treating others as we would wish to be treated.

Without faith that our efforts can make tomorrow better than today there is no justification for optimism.

This is the faith that brought my immigrant grandparents to America. It’s the faith of the men and women who have stood up for freedom, today and throughout history whenever there was oppression.

And it’s the faith of the founders, brave audacious men and women who took on and beat the King of the mightiest empire on the globe, bequeathed to us the Declaration and bestowed upon us a Constitution, one of who’s objectives is to secure the Blessings of Liberty to us and our posterity.

Faith manifests through actions. So let us take this Thanksgiving as a time to reflect on who we are as a people and what America means, not just for our own lives, but those who have come before and those who will come after we are gone.

And on Friday, after the turkey and the football games and the reflection, let’s go back out into the world with renewed dedication — with all the optimism we can marshal — and stand up for America, stand up for the sacred proposition that all men and women are created equal.

Let Freedom Ring.


Copyright © 2015. 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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