• 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, 2017

We are in the very midst of a revolution, the most complete, unexpected and remarkable of any in the history of nations — John Adams

The revolution continues … a revolution that began with a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equala revolution that will not end until we the people rise up and live out the true meaning of our creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

The most recent battleground is in Alabama, with allegations that Republican Senate Candidate Judge Roy Moore sexually abused under-age teenagers when he was a District Attorney in his 30s.

The Moore story is part of a larger story calling attention to sexual misconduct, one that extends beyond politics. Bill O’Reilly. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Charlie Rose. Donald Trump. Bill Clinton. Al Franken. #MeToo. The list grows every day.  America is being forced – finally – to confront the challenge of sexual abuse.

And in confronting the challenge of sexual abuse, America is rediscovering our moral soul. Sexual abuse is wrong. Exploitation is wrong. Forcing yourself on someone is wrong. Taking advantage of power or position is wrong. And abusing a child is heinously wrong.

The logic from first principles to moral outrage is clear. Begin with the hypothesis that we are all created equal with the same rights to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. This implies that – as Americans we have a duty – it is our responsibility – to respect each other’s right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness; for if we don’t respect the rights of others, what right do we have to insist they respect ours? And this means that sexual abuse — any abuse — any failure to respect the rights of another — is wrong. Period.

We found this same common moral ground in Charlottesville. Even as the President equivocated that there are good people on both sides, the American people are saying no. We are all created equal. There is no place in the American tent for the racist beliefs of neo-Nazis, the KKK, and white supremacists.

The same common moral ground surfaced with the discovery of racist graffiti at the Air Force Academy in September. The Academy’s superintendent, Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria, turned the situation into a teaching moment with a speech about diversity and tolerance, a speech which was viewed more than one million times on the academy’s YouTube channel.

“If you demean someone in any way, you need to get out,” General Silveria said in the speech. “If you can’t treat someone from another race, or different color skin, with dignity and respect, then you need to get out.”

Or, as Lincoln said, Those who deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves; and, under a just God, can not long retain it. 

A clash of doctrines is not a disaster but an opportunity — Alfred North Whitehead

What then of the founders? Washington and Jefferson owned slaves. And while slavery existed only in the south, the slave trade was an important part of the North’s economy. All of America benefitted from America’s original sin. Except the slaves, of course. And the indigenous people whose lands we stole and whose rights we also ignored.

What are we to make of our past, those on whose shoulders we stand, whose moral values don’t comport with today’s moral perspective?

If we start with fundamentals like the Golden Rule we should view our past as we would want future generations to view us.

Imagine, if you will, a time far enough out — 250 years from now, 500 years, 1,000 years — that the revolution has been won. Imagine if you will that we the people are living out the true meaning of our creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

How would we want this future to view us?

Wouldn’t we want them to see the heroes of our time as the men and women with the courage to stand up proud and tall for a freedom based on values of equality, justice, and mutual respect?

Wouldn’t we want them to distinguish between those who march to take away another’s rights and those who march to defend the rights of all?

Wouldn’t we want them to view us with compassion, appreciating not just our human imperfection but also that we live at a moment of time when values are in deep flux?

Wouldn’t we want them also to be brutally honest — compassionately honest — about our shortcomings, for how else are we to advance if not by recognizing and correcting our errors?

And with that, wouldn’t we want them to honor our attempts at redemption, at reconciliation?

If this is how we’d like to be viewed, then isn’t this how we have to deal with America’s past?

Don’t we have to say of Jefferson that his ownership of slaves was evil? For to do less suggests, perhaps, that slavery isn’t evil. So we have to call him out on it.

On the Northeast Portico of the Jefferson Memorial are his words “Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.” Jefferson, a man of immense contradictions, understood.

So even as we call him out on it, shouldn’t we also be grateful to him for the ideal that we are created equal, an ideal which provides a moral basis on which to say that slavery is evil; a moral basis  independent of any particular religious belief?

You’ll never have a better future if you insist on having a perfect past — Anonymous

Looked at from our perspective, our ancestors were flawed human beings. Looked at from the future’s perspective, so are we. It should make us humble.

We need to learn from the past. And we need to see our past from their moral perspective, just as we want the future to see us.

This informs us as to what to do with the monuments. To leave them where they are is to honor people who fought against the United States on behalf of a system that explicitly allowed for slavery. The Confederacy seceded. The Confederacy fired the first shots at Fort Sumter. And while there are many causes of the Civil War, the Confederacy was established to support slavery in opposition to its abolition.

So we can’t leave the monuments where they are. Nor do we want to destroy them, as that would waste a valuable teaching moment … that there was a time when some of us believed slavery was right, that slavery was God’s intended order, and even after slavery had been exorcised from America, there were still – and still are – people like those who built the monuments, seeking a political system in which some are created more equal than others.

It is vital for us as a people to remember those times, as they are sure to come again. The monuments need to go into museums to teach the truth of our history to our children, our grandchildren, and their children, so they have the tools to defend themselves from false prophets.

 If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend ― Abraham Lincoln

If we are to complete the revolution, it will be the result of building bridges, not walls. As Martin Luther King, Jr reminded us, We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.

Building bridges takes reaching a welcoming hand out to the other side, seeking out creative opportunities where we can – all together – be what we ‘ought to be.’

That’s our challenge this Thanksgiving: to find the grace to reach across the great divide that is America in 2017, doubling down on our resolve to rise up and live out the true meaning of our creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”

Let Freedom Ring.



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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