The light of freedom
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. But when I became an adult, I set aside childish ways.” I Corinthians 13:11 (NET Bible)
This column’s title comes from a 2011 essay by a group called the United States Patriots Union. The original essay includes many simplistic, “feel-good” ideas meant to convince people that America had a Golden Age in the past, and if we could just get back to those ideals, our country would be in great shape. They also want to put the blame for all our ills on anyone who tries to work with actual facts.
As children, we are often taught a simplified version of American history, to help us understand the basic ideals that shaped our country. As we mature, however, we begin to understand that sometimes things happened that do not fit the ideals we were taught. There is a large portion of the American public who can’t handle this fact; they want to pretend that everything America has done has been perfect, and it’s only progressives who think otherwise. “But through progressive politics, educational propaganda and out and out lies about who we are and what we are, many have lost sight of the America that our Founding Fathers gave us.”
What was this America?
Thomas Jefferson, who wrote “all men are created equal” and were entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” owned slaves, as did many of the founders. One quote from the essay says this regarding slavery: “Sure, they made mistakes like the sin against god and man, like the introduction of slavery in America, and though it would take them better than half a century, their progeny bled and died to end the generational transgression and atone for the sins of the fathers. That friends, is exceptionalism.”
This quote entirely ignores the fact that England ended slavery and its slave trade in 1833, 30 years before America, without bloodshed. Personally, I find that exceptional.
The essay describes the quest for religious freedom this way: “They came to America to plant a land where God could be honored, where men could live out their lives in freedom and have the liberty to worship as they were led by the Holy Spirit.”
In reality, the people who escaped from religious persecution in Europe came here and set up their own system of religious persecution.
The Plymouth colony, founded by the Pilgrims, passed laws in 1658 to punish Quakers who expressed their religious beliefs. First offense, one ear cut off; second offense, the second ear cut off. For the third offense, the tongue was pierced with a hot iron. Quaker women were whipped. Three Quakers were executed for their religious beliefs. Not exactly an atmosphere of religious freedom. The Pilgrims wanted religious freedom for themselves, but they were not willing to extend that to others. When certain groups claim they want to go back to the values of the founders, is this what they mean?
These are just two examples of how this essay tries to convince people that America would be a perfect country, if we could just get back to our original values. It completely ignores issues such as child labor, institutionalized segregation (including beatings and lynchings), genocide against Native Americans, suppression of women’s rights, exclusion of groups such as the Chinese, support of oppressive dictatorships and many other dark episodes in our national history.
This isn’t “blame America first” but an attempt to look at historical realities. As adults, we should be able to examine our past honestly and then work for a better future. We shouldn’t act like children, preferring sugar-coated fairy tales to possibly unpleasant facts. When we ignore the truth, we can’t fix anything.
I love America and what she stands for. I don’t love the times we have strayed from our declared values. The founders were amazing people attempting something brand new. They had remarkable success, but they also knew there would be many difficulties along the way. They faced them honestly.
As we celebrate the birthday of our country, we should work to promote the values our forefathers wanted us to achieve. We don’t have to fear reality. We won’t always be perfect, but if we ignore our mistakes, or excuse them, we can never fix them. And we should always honor the truth, no matter how distasteful it may be at times. That is a real grown-up American value.
Jeanette Strong’s column appears every other Wednesday.