• 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, 2018

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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

It is 242 years since our ancestors wrote those words. Their enemy was the despotic King George, III.

This year marks the 155th anniversary of the battle of Gettysburg, 155 years since Lincoln told a divided nation “we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”

And now, in our time, we are once again engaged in a great civil war, testing once again, whether our nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. There has been no attack on Ft. Sumter, but one only has to follow the news to see the battle lines.

Immigration and the separation of families. The rights of gays and transgenders.  The rights of the sincerely religious. The now open seat on the Supreme Court. Science and climate change. Who gets to vote. Affirmative action. Managing the nation’s health care. A woman’s right to choose. A fetus’ right to life. Who are our friends around the world and who aren’t. The right of a political party to gerrymander for political gain.

We seem inexorably split into two opposing camps. In one corner is the Republican Party —what was once the Party of Lincoln — and in the other, the Democratic Party. 242 years after going to war against the King, we are at war with each other.

In a major poll commissioned by Former President George W. Bush and Vice President Joe Biden, “half of Americans think the United States is in ‘real danger of becoming a nondemocratic, authoritarian country.’  A majority, 55 percent, see democracy as ‘weak’ — and 68 percent believe it is ‘getting weaker.’ Eight in 10 Americans say they are either ‘very’ or ‘somewhat’ concerned about the condition of democracy.”

We are in the vortex, spinning as if out of control. We don’t know when — or even if — we will come safely through the storm. 2018? 2020? 2022? 2024? Our future is hidden. We don’t know.

And unlike Lincoln who found the narrative to bring us together —conceived in liberty and dedicated to proposition that all men are created equallet us judge not that we be not judged — With malice toward none; with charity for all — unlike Lincoln, our President goes out of his way, not to bring us together, but to amplify and exacerbate our divide.

And, being human, we are all apt to follow the lead of our President. We are human. Which means we are tribal. In the presence of division and in the absence of leadership to bring us together, we ‘hunker down,’ clinging to our guns and bibles, as Barack Obama inelegantly put it. We’re like two NCAA schools on a Saturday afternoon in the Fall:  “Yay my side. Boo your side. Rah Rah Rah.”

It’s a losing strategy.


My reaction to a recent article in the New York Times illustrates my point. Following the recent incident where the owner of a restaurant asked Sarah Huckabee Sanders to leave, Michelle Goldberg wrote a piece in the New York Times titled We have a crisis of democracy, not manners. Goldberg asserts that “Trump officials deserve public shaming” and being the good social liberal that I am, I read Goldberg’s piece feeling “Yay. Right on. They deserve it.”

And then — as my inner-Walter Mitty was imagining me shaming Adolph Hitler in a Munich beer hall in 1932 — I found myself trapped inside my own cognitive-dissonance. You and I are created equal in our right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and I believe it is OK to shame you?

Somehow, it seems, that if I believe you and I are created equal, then I really shouldn’t be shaming you. If you and I are created equal, shouldn’t I treat you with the same respect I would want you to treat me?

This is not just a philosophical position over which one can split innumerable hairs. It’s also a very practical one. Have you ever changed someone’s mind — or what they feel in their heart — by publicly shaming them? Rarely does it work that way.

I shame you. You shame me. I shame you back. On and on it goes until, as Gandhi said, An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.

The alternative?

The winning strategy?

As Lincoln put it: 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, say what he will, is the great highroad 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 really be a just one. … On the contrary, assume to dictate to his judgment, or to command his action, or to mark him as one to be shunned and despised, and he will retreat within himself, close all the avenues to his head and his heart; and though your cause be naked truth itself, transformed to the heaviest lance, harder than steel, and sharper than steel can be made, and though you throw it with more than Herculean force and precision, you shall be no more be able to pierce him, than to penetrate the hard shell of a tortoise with a rye straw. … Such is man, and so must he be understood by those who would lead him, even to his own best interest.

Today, on our 242nd birthday, in the midst of powerful forces seeking to tear us apart, let us say no to those who would divide us, let us rise up and live out the true meaning of our creed, let us reaffirm our commitment to the great cause of equality that has bound us together for these 242 years.

The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of other men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interest alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten – that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side-by-side with the greatest. — Judge Learned Hand

Happy birthday America.

Let Freedom Ring.


Copyright © 2018. 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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