• 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

Independence Day, 2017

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.

Declaration of Independence
In Congress, July 4, 1776

Maybe we hold these truths to be self-evident but we sure don’t practice what we preach.

All men are created equal. Unless you were one of the indigenous peoples who lived here back when our ancestors were the illegal immigrants. We certainly didn’t treat them as created equal back in 1776. And we still don’t.

All men are created equal. Unless you are a slave. It would be four-score and seven years until we ended slavery. It would take another 100 years until their descendants’ right to vote was enshrined in our laws.

All men are created equal. Unless you are a woman. You weren’t even included in that initial Declaration. Your gender isn’t even mentioned. It would take 144 years of struggle until you won the right to vote.

For Blacks and women and indigenous peoples, equality is still a future imperative, not yet an actual reality. We the people have never come close to practicing what we preach.

In today’s culture wars, the words of the Declaration have become platitudes, nice words to pull off-the-shelf every year when we pat ourselves on the back – oh aren’t we good – and then go about working cynically to manipulate the system so our side wins and your side loses.

All men are created equal. Unless you’re a Republican. Or a Democrat. Or a conservative religious Christian. Or a Jew. Or a Muslim. Or a coal miner. Or in the media. Or a Union member. Or a woman. Or an African-American. Or a police officer. Or LGTBQ. Or urban. Or rural. Or rich. Or poor.

No matter what group you belong to, rest assured that there are fellow Americans — proud to wrap themselves in the majestic words of the Declaration — who don’t believe you are endowed with the same unalienable rights as are they.

And where has it gotten us, you might ask. How do we — in the midst of our culture wars — measure up against the objectives the founders set for us, 11 years after the revolution, in the Preamble to our Constitution?

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

More Perfect Union? In today’s hyper-partisan politico-culture wars, my side is good, while your side is pure evil. More perfect? I don’t think so. Grade: F

Justice? While we can’t agree on what justice means, we all seem convinced that it’s something denied to our side while being dispensed freely to the other.  Grade: D

Domestic tranquility? Hate crimes are up. Free speech is under attack from both the right and the left. Congressmen have been shot. And, while the President’s most recent tweet against CNN may not be a call for violence and suppression of the press, it would be naïve to believe that, in an angry gun-carrying culture like we have become, there aren’t crazies who might be incited to act violently against the press. We need to lower our voices, not raise them. Grade: F-

Defense? We seem to be walking away from NATO. We insult our allies. North Korea is saber rattling, and we seem to be rattling back. Russia intrudes with impunity in our election process. Grade: D-

The general welfare? With all due respect to my conservative colleagues, I fail to see how it serves the general welfare to drop 22 million Americans from health insurance. Shouldn’t our national goal be to have the world’s best healthcare, in terms of both outcomes and costs? If not; why not? Grade: F

Securing the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity? We’re way too busy arguing with each other to pay attention to posterity. Grade: F-

**************************

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. … T. S. Eliot

We have been to this place before. We were here at our birth, 241 years ago today. We were here again four score and seven years later. And again at Seneca Falls and Wounded Knee and the beaches of Normandy and the bridge at Selma and at Stonewall and Standing Rock, always returning to our creed: that we are all created equal.

And it is to this place that we must again return; seeing in this place not just our rights, but also our responsibilities. As Lincoln said “As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master. This expresses my idea of democracy.”

If I expect you to honor my rights, am I not morally obligated to honor yours? Isn’t it our responsibility to honor the rights of the people with whom we politically disagree?

Whatever side of the culture wars I happen to be on, don’t I have a responsibility to what Judge Learned Hand called the spirit of liberty?

…the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women. The … spirit which weighs their interest alongside its own without bias.

It is this spirit of liberty we celebrate today on the 241st anniversary of our Declaration of Independence. It is the spirit of liberty that the founders bequeathed to us and it is the spirit of liberty that we must pass on to our children.

And it is here, in our time, that we must again take a stand for liberty, recognizing anew that liberty is not a license to do what we want, but the shared responsibility of doing what we must.

If we are to secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, we the people must bring the culture wars to a close. Our failure to do so threatens the Republic.  The Bible tells us that a house divided against itself cannot stand. We are a house divided.

In the middle of the Civil War, Lincoln wrote the following in his Annual Message to Congress:

Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. … The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation.

We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it.

Saving the Union brings us back again to where we started. To save the Union we must see clearly the moral responsibility we have to one another. By virtue of the fact that we are created equal, we have a moral responsibility to each other to recognize, honor and respect each other … not just when it’s easy … but particularly when it’s hard.

A Declaration of Dependence, so to speak.

And how are we to do this? We can do no better than to follow Lincoln: “If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend.”

The founders had the courage to pledge their Lives, their Fortunes and their sacred Honor to establish as a principle that we are all created equal.

It is now our duty to carry forward that principle, the spirit of liberty for, as Robert Kennedy reminded us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” It is up to us, we the people. It is we who must have the courage.

So let us make a pledge to America today on our 241st birthday.

Let us pledge to rededicate ourselves to the Declaration, to the principle that we are all created equal.

Let us pledge to treat each other, not as enemies, but, as Lincoln said, as friends.

Let us pledge to always seek to understand the minds of other men and women, to weigh their interests alongside our own without bias.

Let us pledge to get involved politically, to support candidates who are committed to bringing us together, to bringing an end to the culture wars. Men and women dedicated to the proposition that we are all created equal with the same rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

On our 241st birthday, let us pledge — we the people — to make this next chapter of the American story be the chapter when we invite all of our people to join us under the big tent of liberty, so that all of our people may partake of the Blessings of Liberty.

Like the giants on whose shoulders we stand, we, too, cannot escape history. We are still “in the very midst of revolution,” as John Adams put it to the Continental Congress 241 years ago, “the most complete, unexpected, and remarkable of any in the history of the world.”

Let Freedom Ring.

 

 

This essay has been published on my blog The Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org. I invite you to visit The Agnostic Patriot to read my other essays on freedom.

Copyright © 2017. Stan Stahl, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. Permission is granted to republish this essay provided the essay is reproduced unedited and in its entirety, its source is identified as The Agnostic Patriot at www.agnosticpatriot.org and this copyright NOTICE is included.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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