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Wednesday, July 3, 2013

More Than Just Revolutionaries

More than 10 million Egyptians have taken to the streets in Cairo and in other cities across Egypt.  While their immediate goal is the ousting of President Mohamed Mursi, a man associated with the extremist group, the Muslim Brotherhood, their objective is really freedom.  Yes, they are tired of the high unemployment, the restrictions on free speech, free press and other tyrannical measures imposed by Mohamed Mursi.  Each person demonstrating simply wants to be left alone, to be free. 

Over and over again, all across the globe, people seek to be free.  They see the freedom that exists in our nation and they want that freedom.  The problem is that they have no understanding of the underpinnings of freedom. 

But, wanting to be free is not enough.  Desiring to have the freedom to live your life as you wish won’t happen just because you want it.  Since the first king was appointed over a small tribe or nation, men and women have sought freedom.  Yet, freedom the way our Founders experienced it, simply did not exist.  Kings, and dictators, and despots of every stripe and color suppressed and enslaved men and women for thousands of years.  They still do today.

And, in spite of the decline in individual freedom in our nation, we are still the beacon of freedom to the world.  Soft tyranny exists in Western Europe, where government bureaucrats have expanded their control over the lives of their citizens.  Less disguised tyranny exists in Russia, Africa, and in most of South America and Asia.

Yet, people continue to strive for freedom.  And, the United States continues to try to impose democracy, and some sort of freedom on nations around the globe.  It is a fool’s errand.  The truth is that the people of most nations have no understanding of what caused the United States to be free.  It is simply not possible to impose freedom and democracy on a nation of people who subscribe to a belief in a theocacy.  Nor will never be possible to create a free society or a free government in a totally secular nation.  People who believe there are no God given ethical and moral standards,, who believe it is permissible to lie, cheat, steal, bribe, and even kill cannot create a free society.  Neither democracy, nor freedom can be created or sustained in a society that is without moral standards or that seeks to merge government with religion.  The best they can hope for is a somewhat benign dictator.  The best we can hope for is a nation led by someone who is not unfriendly to the United States. 

The Founders were not just revolutionaries.  Fidel Castro and Vladimir Lenin were revolutionaries.  All a revolutionary wants to do is to overthrow government.  Our Founders were much more than revolutionaries.  Actually, they wanted to preserve government as they had experienced it.  They wanted to continue the freedom that had been in existence since the early 1600s when John Smith landed in what is now Virginia and the Pilgrims landed in what is now Massachusetts.  Our legacy of freedom did not begin with the men who signed the Declaration of Independence, it began with the colonialists who came to America for freedom, especially those who sought religious freedom. 

Interestingly, both the Pilgrims in Massachusetts and the men and women of the Virginia Colony tried socialism.  Everyone was expected to work as hard as they could, planting, and tending, and harvesting, and then to share the results equally.  But, their experiment in socialism failed miserably.  They starved, and many died until they tried freedom.  When every man was expected to support themselves through the sweat of their brow and their own ingenuity, prosperity prevailed.  But, there was common glue that made their freedom possible.  As a people, they exercised self-restraint and showed compassion.  Why, because they put their faith in a Christian God who was not only just, but also merciful and loving.  The Bible, unlike the Koran, did not promote a theocracy, a merging of the government with religion.  In fact, Jesus famously said, "Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's."  (Mark 12:17)  Jesus also said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”  (John 18:36)  The people of both colonies were Christians, or at least of Christian heritage.  They did not want government to in any way interfere with the free expression of religion in the public square.  And, they knew that any government not founded on sound moral principles would be doomed to failure.  But, they sought freedom of religion.  They did not want to be compelled to support or to participate in any state sanctioned religion, even though that was the case in several colonies, including Virginia.

Those who signed the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 were simply standing up for themselves as Americans.  They were trying to stop the British government from reducing their freedom.  It was King George III that was violating the Magna Carta by diminishing the Colonialists rights as Englishmen.  King George was standing in opposition to many men in his own parliament including Edmund Burke, who defended and supported the American colonies.  Let us not forget that it was the King who was responsible for the growth of slavery in the colonies.  While George Washington, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson had opposed the continuation of slavery, and wanted to see it abolished, it was King George who continued it for the purpose of his own financial gain. 

Those who founded the American Republic, and who signed the Declaration of Independence were, by and large, well-educated men.  Nearly half had seminary training, and the primary book read by all was the Bible.  They had also read history and the classics.  They well understood the fallen state of man and that freedom had really never existed in the world.  The only reason the Colonialists had enjoyed such vast freedom was that they were far from the mother country and both transportation and communication was distant and infrequent.

But now, the King sought to do something England had never done before.  He sought to fill (or re-fill) the coffers of the Crown by levying heavy taxes on Americans.  England was already benefitting greatly from trade with the Colonies, but now the King needed money to assist him with his military adventures in Europe.  Like all politicians, the King never had enough money.  He always wanted more. 

The Founders were among the most respected, and accomplished men in the American Colonies.  They did not seek to break with England.  They tried over and over again to negotiate and to reason with the Crown, but all efforts at reconciliation failed.  The King was determined to bring the American colonies to heel, and to put them under his thumb. 

It was a dangerous situation for the Founders.  If they did not give in, if they continued to resist, they were likely to be thrown in prison or be hung from the gallows.  The very idea of independence from Great Britain was almost ridiculous.  On the basis of reason alone, the likelihood of breaking with the most powerful government in the world at that time, was very slim.

But, the character, wisdom, and courage of the Founders was truly remarkable.  They knew that if they gave in, they would never again experience the level of freedom they enjoyed.  They would simply be subjects of the Crown, who danced when the King played the fiddle.

The Colonists were not satisfied with simply setting up a new government, with a new king.  They had enjoyed a great measure of freedom under their representative Colonial legislatures.  Even though the Governor was appointed by the King and colonial crony capitalists had enjoyed special privileges from the Governor, the level of freedom they enjoyed was exceptional.

Their goal was nothing less than a government with minimal power and people with maximum power over their lives.  They sought limited government, and maximum freedom.  It was the first time in history that such a nation had been established, and although other nations have tried to emulate the vision of the Founders, none have entirely succeeded.

That is why the United States of America is such an exceptional nation.  We are exceptional because of the vision and values of our Founders.  Who were these Founders? 

In a letter to his daughter dated August 20, 1796, Patrick Henry wrote:

“Amongst other strange things said of me, I hear it is said by the deists that I am one of the number; and indeed, that some good people think I am no Christian. This thought gives me much more pain than the appellation of Tory; because I think religion of infinitely higher importance than politics; and I find much cause to reproach myself that I have lived so long, and have given no decided and public proofs of my being a Christian.  But, indeed, my dear child, this is a character which I prize far above all this world has, or can boast.”

President Thomas Jefferson, who regularly attended church and donated to Christian missionaries, wrote to his friend, Reverend Ethan Allen and said…

“No nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion—nor can be.  The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I, as Chief Magistrate of this nation, am bound to give it the sanction of my example.”

President George Washington, who served on the Vestry of several Episcopal parishes, said…

“It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible.”

Our second President, John Adams, said…

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

There are many, many more quotes by the Founders on the importance of the Christian religion to their lives and to sustaining a free nation.

While President Obama may not understand or believe that the United States of America is any more exceptional than England of Greece, you and I know that it is the most exceptional nation in the history of the world.  It rests on the understanding of the Founders that man, by nature, is corrupt and, that the only way to restrain men in government from aggregating power over others is to limit the power of government.

You and I also know that without what the Founders called “virtue” there is no self-restraint and there is no compassion.  Without compassion we would not be the most generous, the most compassionate people in the history of the world.  And, without our Christian heritage, neither self-restraint, nor compassion would exist.

How blessed we were to have such wise men found our nation.  As we celebrate Independence Day, let us celebrate our heritage and drink a toast to the Founders.  And, let us re-dedicate ourselves to preserving the priceless legacy of freedom that was bequeathed to us by those who first arrived on our shores and those who founded our nation. 

Happy Independence Day!

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