Posts for July, 2011
Today is the 4th of July, or more often just "the 4th." The newspaper refers to it as "the 4th" in story after story about celebrations, beach parties, backyard barbecues, countless fireworks displays and endless parades. Only on the calendar is it called by its real name, Independence Day, the day on which we commemorate the birth of freedom in this country. On this day in history, July 4th, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved, signed by 56 members of the original Congress--about a month later according to historians. It contains one of the clearest and most forthright statements of basic human rights ever penned:
"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."
Yes, we are indeed a free country, arguably the most free on this Earth, with guaranteed rights that establish that freedom. A huge price was paid for freedom 235 years ago. Many the Founding Fathers ended up badly, broken men and in an early grave. We fought two World Wars to preserve that freedom, with horrendous loss of life. Even today our military is fighting and dying in Southwest Asia for something, I'm not sure what. I hope it is to defend our freedom but it's a little hard to tell. We also fought a terribly costly Civil War to preserve our Union, a tragedy out of which grew the powerful, prosperous and beautiful nation we live in today.
I fear that many fail to appreciate the miracle that is the United States of America and how fortunate we are to be living in this marvelous experiment in free society. For example, I walk around the neighborhood each morning. There was a time, sadly long ago, when on this day the whole block would be festooned with red, white and blue. Today, there were eight houses displaying the flag, four on permanent outdoor flagpoles, one (mine) permanently on a house-mounted pole and three others put up just for the day. That which we take for granted we are in danger of losing.
Some of that early freedom has been lost to a self-serving, elitist know-it-all government, at both the national and state levels. This is sad. We have surrendered it in exchange for protection and security. We ignore at our peril the words of historian Edward Gibbon, who wrote in his classic "Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire", referring to the city-state of Athens:
"In the end, more than freedom, they wanted security. They wanted a comfortable life, and they lost it all – security, comfort, and freedom. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished for most was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free and was never free again."
Freedom is a rare and precious possession. So few in this world have our freedom of action, enterprise, expression and worship. We live under a democratic form of government where our political leaders are answerable to us, despite the masters of spin at work in Washington and Madison. Complacency is our enemy, as Gibbon suggested. Freedom is not free; it requires constant attention, defense, effort and sacrifice. We are an independent society, where we are at least in part our own masters. However, today I fear that independence may be in jeopardy from a ruling class that thinks it knows best.
So, on this holiday, let us remember that its name is Independence Day, not to be lost in the smoke of fireworks and charcoal. The price of freedom is vigilance and independent thought. There are many who would create dependence and security in exchange for power over our lives. Let's not let that happen for, just like ancient Athens, it would mark the end of our precious and costly freedom.
Have a Happy 4th of July and remember Independence Day!
"Cry 'Havoc!' and let slip the dogs of war" --Julius Caesar, Act 3.
(Disclaimer: I filched this quote from a column by Leonard Pitts, a liberal but articulate and intelligent columnist who I read regularly and with whom I sometimes even agree, at least in part.)
I have been agonizing for some time over what subject(s) to write a post about and find myself transfixed in the headlights of a veritable witches' brew of rancor, accusations, demogogeury, protests, recalls real and threatened, lying campaign ads, riots and now, mass-murder terrorism in that bastion of liberal benevolence, Norway, of all places. I have no idea where to start, partly because this extremism is unprecedented, at least in my long recollection. I do have a strong feeling, though, that all this cacophony is merely symptomatic of a larger problem. So, I'm going to try to address that basic.
Somewhere, we have lost a sense of decorum, of respect and--yes--nobility. Every disagreement becomes a cause for violent response. We can't lose gracefully but must go down in bloody combat. When have you heard someone say, "Why, yes, you're right, Senator."? People fight like rabid dogs over pieces of ideological meat. Even in this blog, I constantly battle to keep the discourse civil, with limited success.
The reason is, I believe, that we, at least some of us, have lost respect for each other as, for the most part, decent human beings with whom we happen to disagree. At the root is a loss of morality and positive values. As an employee of mine once said, "It's all awful!"
Christianity teaches us to "turn the other cheek." This Biblical exhortation has been widely misinterpreted and may be poorly translated from the original Hebrew. A better translation, according to Clark, is: "Do not repel one outrage by another." Meaning, he that does so makes himself precisely what the other is, a wicked person. The Jews always thought that every outrage should be resented; and thus the spirit of hatred and strife was fostered.
Some may disagree, but morality in our society is largely based on Judeo-Christian ethics. Morality is the basis of our values, which control our conduct. Respect for others is a moral precept, as are tolerance and empathy. Present day rancor expresses little if any of these. You liberals out there, what is your opinion of Governor Scott Walker? You conservatives, what do you think of President Barack Obama? Is there any respect, tolerance or empathy in your reaction?
So, what happened to us over the years? Where did decency and love for our fellow man (even those with whom we disagree) go? I believe it went the way of morality. When I was in grade school, we were taught moral principles. We were taught respect for others and for authority. Over the years it trickled away, much like the boiling of the frog. I believe this de-emphasis was all part of a general purging of Judeo-Christian principles from public education. Maybe even the pseudo-scientific religion of Evolution was a factor, in that it is totally incompatible with the Christian philosophy.
Despite the philosophers among us, Humanism is not a substitute for moral structure. Left to ourselves, we are not very nice people. That is why we have, or had, a societal and religious set of rules and standards, some codified into law, to keep us civil and safe. Based on the 60's ethos of "Let it all hang out," much of this structure has gradually eroded, leaving society much the coarser. If we eliminate interpersonal morality, the result is inward-focused selfishness and disregard for others. Tell me that is not the basis of much of what bothers you about our present social structure.
Christianity has no lock on morality. Most major religions, even Islam, espouse moral conduct. This country is largely Christian, at least according to polls, which establishes it as the appropriate source of moral teachings. The Hebrew Yeshiva is equally moralistic. In fact, the sole repository of moral teaching today is the parochial school system. (I include all religious-based schools under the label "parochial".) Unfortunately, these last bastions of gentility, virtue and human ethos unfortunately constitute only a minor part of the public education system.
William J. Bennett wrote a book on education--The De-Valuing of America: The Fight for Our Culture and Our Children (1992)--wherein he warned that the elimination of morality education in our schools would result in the creation of a generation of monsters. That's a bit excessive, but we have seen an alarming rise in juvenile lawlessness and inappropriate behavior over the past 20 years. Without morals, conduct becomes driven by self-gratification and anger.
Much of our public education system has descended into chaos itself, reaping the whirlwind of the elimination of morals, respect and self-discipline from the curriculum. Unguided self-expression is not a useful tool for function in society or in the classroom. I don't advocate the teaching of religion in the public schools, but ethics and morality instruction based on Judeo-Christian principles certainly could be structured acceptably, even for the ACLU. I'm not holding my breath.
Until we begin again to respect each other and teach our children to sympathize, empathize and appreciate our fellow man, not just in high-sounding rhetoric or soup-kitchen volunteerism but in real interpersonal relations--yes even with politics--the dogs of war will feed ever more ravenously and our society is in real danger of descending into chaos. Bennett's prediction may yet be realized.
It need not be.
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