How many times have you heard those words sung as you rise from your seat with heart stirring?"...land of the free and home of the brave..."
The great thinker Augustine argued that the best way to define a people is by their "loved thing held in common," or what it is they altogether love supremely. Is there any word that would define the common American love better than freedom? When this erupted on the international scene 239 years ago --
"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."
the world changed and Americans' passion for freedom has never really vanished. Sadly, as any formerly star struck lover can tell you, time has a way of unraveling the most intense of emotions. How can our love affair with freedom continue? What must be done to sustain our love affair indefinitely?
The modern day Alexis de Tocqueville, Os Guinness, has considered this question deeply and suggested for this American passion to endure, three things are required. A three pointed triangle, if you will, in which all three support one another in a never ending enduring state.
Here are the components of this non-ending triangle:
- Freedom requires virtue
- Virtue requires faith
- Faith requires freedom
The first of these seems self evident and difficult to deny. Virtue, that old word which means high moral excellence, is truly indispensable. Who watching in recent years the wild rioting in the streets have not despaired over the ruinous effect of low morals?
It inevitably follows that, in order to avoid chaos, laws must be passed and enforced to counter bad behavior. Freedom, then, is diminished. As Benjamin Franklin said so long ago:
"No longer virtuous, no longer free; is a maxim as true to a private person as a commonwealth."
As virtue decreases, laws increase, and freedom declines.
The second point of the triangle, that virtue requires faith of some kind, was something quite clear to the Founders of America. Listen to these words from George Washington in his Farewell address in 1796:
"Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice?
And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
If there is only a view of life as dust to dust, and you are presented with an opportunity to commit a crime in which you believe you can get away with (thus avoiding any lost respect or pain from punishment), then, truly, why not? Conscience? No worries. That is simply the product of social and cultural conditioning, moderns tell us.
In contrast, religion provides an eternal view in which our actions in this life have repercussions in the next.
As faith decreases, virtue decreases, laws increase, and freedom declines.
The last point of the triangle, faith requires freedom, was also readily apparent to the Founders. They were coming out of centuries of bloodshed, the many Wars of Religion and the painfully slow realization that faith needed to be free. As James Madison stated in his monumental work, "Memorial and Remonstrance":
"We hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth that religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence."
State mandated religion would only stifle faith, not encourage it. This realization they enshrined in the first clause of the First Amendment:
"Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion..."
They also understood that for faith to flourish, it must not be restricted in its exercise. We have witnessed in the past century the debilitating effect severe restrictions on the exercise of religion had in the Soviet Union and the eastern bloc. East Germany to this day is still significantly more atheist than West Germany. Faith struggles to flourish in a society that does not grant it the freedom to actively work in the public square.
"...or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
As freedom decreases, faith decreases, virtue decreases, laws increase, and freedom declines.
As I wait to witness the annual fireworks display this July 4, I am feeling like a popular blogger who said recently:
"These patriotic holidays are becoming more reflective than they are celebratory. I feel like a divorcee on his wedding anniversary. I’m thinking about what once was, rather than rejoicing over what currently is."
I believe that faith and virtue are declining in America and thus, slowly, is freedom.
“From whence shall we expect the approach of danger? Shall some trans-Atlantic military giant step the earth and crush us at a blow? Never. All the armies of Europe and Asia...could not by force take a drink from the Ohio River or make a track on the Blue Ridge in the trial of a thousand years. No, if destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher.
As a nation of free men we will live forever or die by suicide.”-Lincoln